Located in the town of Himeji (pop. 475,000) in Hyōgo prefecture, Himeji-jō is praised as Japan's most beautiful feudal castle. It should be on top of your list if you only have time to visit one castle in Japan.
Often compared to a white egret, Himeji castle captures perfectly the spirit of the samurai-age architecture. Its massive stones, white plastered walls and wooden interior make it the best possible representative of all Japanese castles.
The history of Himeji start in 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort at the current location. After Tokugawa Ieyasu's decisive victory at Segigahara (1600), his son-in-law Ikeda Terumasa started the digging of three moats and the erection of the present castle, completed in 1609. The Honda family, who inherited the castle, added some building in 1618. The castle subsequently passed to the Matsudaira, Sakakibara and eventually Sakai families, until its nationalization when the end of the feudal system came in 1868.
The main tower is 46m high and covers an area of 2400 m². The inner grounds of the castle stretch on 23 hectares (57 acres), but the outer grounds are 10 times as large.
Himeji castle was added the the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992.
How to get there
The town of Himeji is located on the Sanyō shinkansen line between the Ōsaka and Okayama and can be easily accessed from Kyōto, Ōsaka or Kōbe by train (45 to 90 min depending on the train).
The castle is about 10 min walk north of the station. Admission is ￥500.