I'm Dreaming of A White Castle

By Christina Kim - June 09, 2016


I grew up on fairy tales; I am sure almost everyone did too, during their childhood.
The magical world of imagination, though fantasy, presents a lot of wonderful possibilities out there.
From fairies who fly and watch over us (Fairy Godmother), to genies granting our wishes, or helper elves and kind dwarfs, to the dashing white horses and perhaps, a charming prince riding on it (for the ladies) or a beautiful princess, a damsel in distress waiting for her hero to the rescue.
The list is just endless.

If you notice one thing, there is always that world which is one we would all want to live in, and somehow or another, there is always, always a castle involved.

I guess it is like a symbol; where it is a forte of protection, to shelter one from the dangers of the world and after all, that is what a castle is for in the first place.
To shield against the evil forces outside.

A castle, tall and might, sends that assurance that once the gates are closed and you are inside, will protect you from all the harm.
It is in reality the case; which also at the same time, led to its depiction as a safe haven.
The place where you will always be safe from danger.

I have always loved castles; well, partly due to the fairy tales effect of course, but at the same time, there is also just that something about castles that make them so foreboding yet magical at the same time.

Have you ever had the feeling that the castle looks menacing when you are standing outside and before it, and yet when you are inside, you just feel so empowered and strengthened?

That is what I meant, by the power of the castle.

I am blessed to have seen many castles during my travels, and there are times when I do hunt for the castles too, if I know they have one in the place I was heading to.
I would leap for joy if I know there is a castle there, and I would not leave until I have visited the castle.
I just love castles that much.

Of the many castles I have seen, they come in many shapes and all of them are just so beautiful, but of them all, I have to admit that my love are for those in white.

A castle that is all white, is just like that is straight out of a fairy tale.

It brings back those lovely dreams; dreams of hope and that magic does exist.
(What, you don't believe in magic?)

White castles are not fantasy, they do exist and I did find one, on my trip to Japan (hooray!).

I was leaving Tokyo, to head to my next destination in Japan (which will be up shortly) and I simply had to make my way to this beautiful castle which is located in Hyogo Perfecture.

Himeji Castle


The most famous and most visited castle in the whole of Japan, not to mention that it is the largest castle in the country too.
It was even the biggest castle in Asia, at a time in the late 16th century (1500s).

Located on the hilltop in Himeji, the castle, also known as Himeji-jo (姫路城) is a fine example of the old Japanese castle architecture particularly of the feudal period.

With a vast 83 defense network in the buildings of advanced systems for its time, the castle is indeed forward in its design during its construction back in 1333.

In fact, the castle has five structures which has been designated as National Treasures along with a Special Historic Site titled for the unique area within the middle moat in the castle compound.

It is one of the top three premier castles in Japan as well, along with Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Perfecture) and Kumamoto Castle (Chuo-Ku, Kumamoto Perfecture).

It is therefore no surprise that the castle is on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites as it made its way to the list, making it the very first one in the country.

The castle has proven its resilience, for it has remained intact and survived even the atrocities of war; the World War II when Himeji suffered the wrath of extensive bombings, and then most disasters including the 1995 Great Harshen earthquake.


The castle is just majestic in its presence and it is indeed one of the most important landmarks in Japan, which also saw the castle undergoing continuous restoration works in the efforts of preserving most of the buildings (as can be seen in the photo above).

History of the Castle
Originally a fort built by Akamatsu Norimura back in 1333, it was then demolished and rebuilt in 1346 as Himeyama Castle.
It was only two centuries later where it was remodeled into the Himeji Castle we see today.

Further remodeling took place in 1581, with the addition of three-story keep to the castle by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and close to a decade later, in 1600, the castle was presented as a gift; a token of appreciation from Tokugawa Ieyasu to Ikeda Terumasa who had rendered his assistance and support during the Battle of Sekigahara.

As Ikeda took over the ownership of the castle, he proceeded to rebuild the castle once again; a process which took almost another decade - 8 years; from 1601-1609, to expand the castle into a larger and far more spacious building complex.
Subsequent buildings were added to the castle complex from the years 1617-1618, by Honda Tadamasa.
Honda had also included a special tower for his daughter-in-law, Princess Sen.

There were many castles which were destroyed during the Meiji Period, which was from 1868-1912 and even Himeji Castle was left abandoned in the year 1871 with most of its gates and walls torn down to make way for the Japanese barracks.

The castle was even ordered for demolition by the government and fortunately an army colonel by the name of Nakamura Shigeto, who stepped in to prevent that and had a stone monument erected in honor of his efforts, which can be seen in the castle complex within the first gate.

Had it not been for Nakamura, we may not be able to see Himeji Castle today, let alone it being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

It is also magical, and somewhat mystical, as mentioned earlier, that this particular castle remained unharmed despite the heavy bombings in Himeji in 1945, during the World War II.
A firebomb was allegedly dropped on top of the castle's roof, yet it failed to explode.
Five decades later, the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck in 1995 and almost took the whole of Himeji with it, yet this castle remained unscathed.

Even the bottle of sake kept on the altar at the top place was unmoved.

Magical and miraculous, yet also logical proof of the amazing resilience and resistance against disasters in the overall design of the castle.


Architecture and Design of the Castle


Himeji Castle is one of the remaining castles retaining the old architecture of the ancient castles, staying true to the Japanese prototypical designs, including that of the defensive systems the castle has in place.

Most of the castle is built with wood and stone, and there are even family crests; traced back to that of the feudal period, known as kamon (家紋); which are tell-tales of the legacies of the lords who have resided and inherited the castle throughout its existence.

There are a total of 83 buildings in the castle complex; with 74 being preserved as Important Cultural Assets, which include:-
11 corridors
16 turrets
15 gates
32 earthen walls

These are the major structures making up the vast complex of the castle which spans across an area of 233 hectares (or 576 acres).


The most important structure in a Japanese castle is the Main Keep, or the main tower as it denotes, which is usually known as Tenshu (天守, 殿主, 殿守 also called tenshukaku, 天守閣)

The Main Keep here in Himeji Castle is the daitenshu (大天守), and comprises of six storeys along with a basement, standing at 46.4m (152 feet) high; and together with another three smaller or subsidiary keeps, they form a cluster of towers in the castle complex.


Each floor in the Main Keep are defined by their own characteristics; though the notable ones are:-


1. First Floor (5960 sq ft): Known as the "Thousand-mat room" for it has more than 330 Tatami mats.

Weapon racks(武具掛け bugukake) can also be found on this floor and at one point, there was as many as 280 guns and 90 spears kept in this very castle.



2. Third and Fourth Floor: There are stone-throwing platforms (石打棚 ishiuchidana) placed at the north and south windows which allow the defense against attackers by simply casting the stones from these specially designed platforms.



Further defense are strengthened with the existence of the "warrior-hiding place"  (武者隠し mushakakushi), in the form of small rooms where the defenders in the castle could spring surprise attacks on attackers who made it into the castle as their final line of defense.


The attackers are not going to have it easy to take down the castle with such well-planned defense network.





3. The Sixth Floor, or the final floor is probably designed for the viewing platform whereby the feudal lords and their families could enjoy the panoramic view from above.
Today, for safety reasons, there are iron bars in the place of the windows where it was once open and clear from obstructions for a grand view.


(A shachi, or a tiger-headed fish perched at the arch of the roof; traditionally used on top of castle towers to ward off occurrences of fire)


There are also various defense systems found throughout the castle; mainly:-

- Loopholes(狭間 sama) in various shapes and forms which are used to allow attacks on the invading forces without being seen.

- Stone-drop Windows (石落窓 ishi-otoshi-mado) within designated points of the castle windows whereby the defenders could drop the stones or even boiling oil (gasps!) on the attackers' heads as they pass under these windows.
For this reason, the castle was also built with resistance against fire with the use of white plaster in its establishment.

Other structures located within the grounds of the castle are:-
- Warehouses for storage (food)
- Salt Turret (塩櫓 shioyagura); a building which was built entirely for the purpose of storing salt (salt was very important back then and still is until today)
- Wells

Another amazing feature in the castle is the complexity of the paths leading to the keep; which was designed in a maze-like manner, to create the confusion should there be an invading force heading to conquer the castle.

Some of the castle walkways can even turn backwards; to prevent one's navigation through the paths.

Also, most of the paths leading to the castle's keep are steep, narrow and with diversifying heights which make it really challenging in terms of navigation and that well serves the purpose for the defenders to keep watch on any intruders and to launch attacks when necessary from all their secret hideouts.


However, since the castle never experienced any attack since its establishment, the defense system was never put to test, though it was somewhat proven perplexing for the tourists to the castle today; for some reportedly lost their way even with the clear signs indicating the directions.

I guess the system did work to its intended effect, for all it's worth, don't you think?


On the outer grounds of the castle complex, as you exit the confines of the building interior, you will come across the vast compound.



The castle is just as majestic as viewed from this part of the complex.

Legends, Folklores and Ghost Story

While the castle is well-defined and renowned for its defense system and architectural or heritage value, there are also various legends and folklores which surround the place, and one of them include a haunting ghost story which is said to occur on this very ground.

Well, I guess that is to be expected since we are talking about a castle centuries in age, and some of the reputed places even stood their ground and marked in its spot till this very day.

The most famous which has its place in the Japanese ghost stories or kaidan, is of the Okiku's well which is located within the compound of Himeji Castle.

Famous Kaidan: Okiku's Well


Legend has it that Okiku was a maid serving one of the feudal lords in this castle, and a case of missing dishes, which were treated as valuable treasures led to Okiku being mistakenly accused and prosecuted whereby her body was then thrown into the well (above).

It is said that Okiku continues to haunt the well, and she can be heard counting the number of dishes in despair, to prove her innocence.

It was quite a sad story, if you ask me, rather than scary in nature.

Another touching story related to the castle was one of its construction; which was the Old Widow's Stone (姥が石 Ubagaishi).
It was said that during the building of the castle; Toyotomi Hideyoshi ran out of stones to build the three-storey keep and a widow, who heard of his plight; offered him her own trading tool - a hand milestone.

Soon, many heard of the lack of stones and rushed to the rescue to help in the construction of the castle to its completion.

However, the stone; the first one which was proof of the widow's might can be found covered in net in the middle of one of the walls of the castle.

You can perhaps try to locate the stone, finding your way through the complex and winding paths leading to the castle and peering up at the walls.

The highest wall here is of 26 meters high (85 ft), and the walls of Himeji Castle appears to be a little curved and are said to resemble that of giant fans (扇子 sense).


In fact, the castle, with all its magnificent commanding white presence, is also implied to resemble that of a bird positioned to take flight, hence leading to it commonly known as Hakuro-jō or Shirasagi-jō; which simply means the White Egret Castle or the White Heron Castle.


A magical name indeed and what a way to view the castle, though aptly so, for such a dreamy castle which holds the many secrets in its keep for centuries and for more to come.

The castle which will continue to stand in might, withstanding the test of time and of course, all in its white splendor, as one of Japan's most classic and timeless castles.

A castle I will always hold, in my dreams and memory, for I have seen it in reality.

The grand white Himeji Castle, magical and inspiring, for all time.






















Getting to Himeji Castle:
By Train
If you have Japan Rail Pass (which you should consider getting - I will be sharing the guide soon), you can access via the Sanyo Shinkansen Line through the following counties:-

From Tokyo
1. It takes three hours on the Nozomi train; one per day (~15,710 yen)
2. Using the Japan Rail Pass, take the Hikori train which runs every hour through Himeji (no cost using the pass). Duration: 3 hours 40 minutes (makes three stops)

From Osaka: (one of the cheapest ways)
1.Take the Shinkaisoku (新快速), the Special Rapid commuter trains; via the JR Kobe Line (JR 神戸線) from Osaka.
You can take the train from Kobe's Sannomiya Station (38 minutes - 950 yen) or Osaka Station (57 minutes - 1450 yen)
2. Private trains via Hanshin and Sanyo railways; longer than the JR line and is only worth if you are using a 3-5 day pass for the Kansai private Railway system.

From Kyoto:
Take the Hikari Shinkansen to get to Himeji directly, in less than an hour and at no charge via the Japan Rail Pass.

By Bus
Overnight bus by Shinki departing from either Shinjuku or Shibuya in Tokyo.
Please check on the bus schedule and fares.

Location of Himeji Castle: 
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture 670-0012, Japan


*Author's Note: 
This is not a sponsored/promotional post, and solely based on author's personal opinions and do not represent the general public. 
Experiences vary from one individual to another.
You do not have to agree with me.

Art Direction and Photography Styling by Me.
Photos/Videos all belong to me and are copyrighted.
Please kindly ask for permission if you need to use any of my images.

LIKE my Facebook Page
Follow Me on Twitter @Angelstar
Follow my Google+
Stalk me on Instagram @AngelstarChristy
Check out my Pinterest @Angelstarc

Subscribe to my YouTube

Follow me on my live updates on my life, happening on SNAPCHAT @angelstarchrist


  • Share:

You Might Also Like