Japan's First World Heritage Site Lives Up to Its Billing
14.11.2016 - 14.11.2016
Perhaps Japan's most beautiful castle, Himeji Castle seemingly lords over the city of Himeji. Nicknamed the White Heron or White Egret Castle, the castle--although immense--looks like it could sprout wings and fly away.
We spent a day visiting the castle and its nearby attractions. This after a night in the worst hotel we've ever stayed in in Japan. Not only was the room tiny even for Japan, we could feel the bedsprings in the beds and hear the traffic on the busy thoroughfare below, not to mention the drunks getting out of the bars late at night. Worse and although the room was designated a nonsmoking room, all that seemed to mean was that we weren't smoking in it. The smoke from smoking rooms, however, poured in through the ventilation system late into the night.
At any event, the main attractions of Himeji are centered around the castle, so the city has wisely provided a "hop on, hop off" shuttle that circumnavigates the castle, stopping at each of the main attractions. We were happy to take advantage of this, since the distances can be quite long.
Himeji Castle was Japan's first World Heritage Site. With its roots in a fort built in the 14th Century, the 83-building complex was rebuilt to look much as it does today in the 17th Century, complete with moat. The complex has survived many attempts to destroy it. After the castle was abandoned in the 19th Century, the government included it in a list of castles scheduled for destruction, but an army officer managed to persuade the powers that be to leave it alone. Then it was sold at auction for the equivalent of $2,258, but the cost to demolish it (the buyer wanted to redevelop the land) proved to great. Much of Himeji City was destroyed by World War II bombing, but the castle survived that as well. Even the Great Kobe Earthquake, which wrought much destruction in the city (Kobe is only 29 miles away as the crow flies), failed to destroy the castle. This is amazing, since the stone walls appear to have been built using the dry stack method of masonry, i.e., there is no mortar between the rocks.
The castle complex covers 576 acres (in contrast, Woodland Park Zoo is only 92 acres). Signage is in both Japanese and English. Visitors can climb to the top floor of the main keep, which offers great views of the entire complex. In this photo, the castle property goes as least as far as the white building with the windows.