Himeji-jo is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, comprising 83 buildings with ... More
Himeji-jo is the finest surviving example of early 17th-century Japanese castle architecture, comprising 83 buildings with highly developed systems of defence and ingenious protection devices dating from the beginning of the Shogun period. It is a masterpiece of construction in wood, combining function with aesthetic appeal, both in its elegant appearance unified by the white plastered earthen walls and in the subtlety of the relationships between the building masses and the multiple roof layers.
For anyone who wants a feel a historical part of Japan, this is it. It was just awsome to roam around in the castle at my own pace. By the way you can't wear shoes while you are inside, you need to carry them with you. I spent a good portion of the day there.
I have been told for the three years I have lived in Japan that Himeji Castle is a must see, and the finest castle in Japan. Having finally seen it, I was not disapointed. It is a truely amazing site. The white walls glisten in the sun, and in the evening reflect the warm orang3e and pink tones of the sunset. Bring a camera and plenty of film/memory cards.
I decided on a whim to visit Himeji Castle because my guidebook stated that it was one of 5 remaining original condition castles (that is, not rebuilt in modern times). I had visited a half dozen other castles in scattered towns during my trip, but I must say, Himeji Castle was the shining crown jewel among all the castles and, I would say, a not-to-be-missed site for anyone touring central Japan.
Not only were the structure and surrounding grounds beautiful and well-preserved, but the real treat (for me) was the amazing access to the interior! Winding our way through the battlements, one could easily imagine the carnage and casualties at every turn as giant, heavy gates restricted traffic through narrow passages lined with overhead musket-ports or slits for dropping boiling water or arrows, until we reached the main donjon itself towering over us. With shoes removed, we entered this massive timber structure, shadowy and dark and echoing with sounds from the past (as footfalls from levels above could be heard on the smoothly polished boards). What impressed me immediately was the sheer amount of lumber that surrounded me. I realized how vulnerable it was to some random vandal and it was amazing that it has survived almost 700 years intact... I mean one errant cooking spark, one tipped over candle stick, one moron with a cigarette and it could all be gone.
I felt like I was in some great living thing. The lower levels were mainly the storage areas (for siege, I suppose) and the defenders and service staff would occupy those levels. Just outside was the main well, from which the critical water was supplied. And though I didn't see it, somewhere in the stone foundation were the gigantic toilet jugs for.... you know. I was just blown away to see those familiar signs of Japanese culture that are still used today. Like rooms are divided into sections, based on the size of a "tatami" or straw mat. The sections are divided by rice paper "shoji" screens which slide along on grooved tracks on the floor... the 4 shoji tracks are clearly visible, and the standard 2 1/2" depression in the floor is where the tatami would have fit in flush with the floorboards. The big storage cabinets for storing small furniture, nightly bedding, and other accessories were still there too! I could almost see how the inhabitants of the castle lived from day to day. As I climbed the steep steps (BTW no wheelchair access here, sorry!) to the upper levels I saw the gunnery ports, the wooden racks which held the muskets horizontally, and the small wooden pegs from which gunpowder and fuses once hung. At higher levels, there were elevated stands for the gunners so they had a better downward angle to shoot. Looking out the slit windows, one could imagine being an archer or musketeer standing watch and one could easily make out the logical tactical sector that each gunner should cover. The 3rd level of Himeji Castle is a bit bigger (higher ceiling) than the others, and therefore appeared to be the most spacious, with even a landing on the stairway for safety. On the upper two floors, I really tried to imagine the daily life for the Daimyo there, wondering which one was the main "audience" chamber and which was the sleeping room. These rooms were surrounded by a corridor on all four sides which I imagined were filled with the most loyal retainers and bodyguards constantly on watch. Even up on the upper floors, I found the signs of the old cabinetry and storage areas in the corners and sides.
I was thoroughly impressed by the degree of preservation and "authentic" feel to the atmosphere. It completely transported me back in time for a few hours. I highly recommend a sidetrip to Himeji Castle.
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