Himeji Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period.
Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep.
In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618.
Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures.
Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan’s three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it is currently undergoing restoration work that is expected to continue for several years.
Himeji Castle’s construction dates to 1333, when a fort was constructed on Himeyama hill by Akamatsu Norimura, the ruler of the ancient Harima Province. In 1346, his son Sadonori demolished this fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place.
In 1545, the Kuroda clan was stationed here by order of the Kodera clan, and feudal ruler Kuroda Shigetaka remodeled the castle into Himeji Castle, completing the work in 1561.
In 1580, Kuroda Yoshitaka presented the castle to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and in 1581 Hideyoshi significantly remodeled the castle, building a three-story castle keep with an area of about 55 m2 (592 ft2).
Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted Himeji Castle to his son-in-law, Ikeda Terumasa, as a reward for his help in battle. Ikeda demolished the three-story keep that had been created by Hideyoshi, and completely rebuilt and expanded the castle from 1601 to 1609, adding three moats and transforming it into the castle complex that is seen today.
The expenditure of labor involved in this expansion is believed to have totaled 25 million man-days. Ikeda died in 1613, passing the castle to his son, who also died three years later.
In the Meiji Period (1868 to 1912), many Japanese castles were destroyed. Himeji Castle was abandoned in 1871 and some of the castle corridors and gates were destroyed to make room for Japanese army barracks. The entirety of the castle complex was slated to be demolished by government policy, but it was spared by the efforts of Nakamura Shigeto, an Army colonel.
A stone monument honoring Nakamura was placed in the castle complex within the first gate, the Diamond Gate. Although Himeji Castle was spared, Japanese castles had became obsolete and their preservation was costly.
“Diamond Gate”, the first of the castle’s 21 remaining gates.
Himeji Castle is associated with a number of local lore. The well-known kaidan (or Japanese ghost story) of Banchō Sarayashiki “The Dish Mansion at Banchō” is set in Edo (Tokyo), but a variant called Banshū Sarayashiki “The Dish mansion in Harima Province” is set in Himeji Castle.
There is a disputed claim that the castle is the bona fide location of the entire legend, and the alleged Okiku’s Well remains in the castle to this day.
According to the legend, Okiku was falsely accused of losing dishes that were valuable family treasures, and then killed and thrown into the well. Her ghost remained to haunt the well at night, counting dishes in a despondent tone.