Castle Spotlight, Himeji Castle, Japan

Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle, also called Shirasagijo (White Heron Castle) due to its white outer walls, is one of the best-preserved castle in Japan. It is located in Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture and comprises 82 wooden buildings. Unlike many other Japanese castles, Himeji Castle was never destroyed in wars, earthquakes or fires and survives in its original form. Himeji serves as an excellent example of the prototypical Japanese castle, containing many of the defensive and architectural features most associated with Japanese castles. The tall stone foundations, whitewash walls, and organization of the buildings within the complex are standard elements of any Japanese castle, and the site also features many other examples of typical castle design, including gun emplacements and stone-dropping holes. Himeji Castle was originally built in 1346 by Akamatsu Sadanori as a fortification against local shoguns. After the emperor, Nobunaga Oda, took control of the Harima district in 1577, he placed Hideyoshi in control of the castle, who converted the fortified building into a castle with over 30 turrets.

In 1601, Ikeda Terumasa (1564-1613) was handed control of Himeji Castle as a gift for his support of Ieyasu Tokugawa in the Sekigahara battle against the Toyotomi Daimyo. He intended to model the castle after the emperor's own castle at Azuchi. He undertook a nine year construction program, at the end of which Himeji Castle assumed its present day form. The area which Terumasa ruled over, the districts of Harima, Bizen, and Awaji, was filled with sympathizers of the Toyotomi clan. Thus Himeji Castle played a crucial role in enabling Terumasa to assert his rule over the districts.

Some historians believe over 25,000,000 man days were spent on the construction of the castle, which included a five-storied tenshu and a middle and outer moat. Materials from Hideyoshi's old fortress were used in the construction of the castle which was ironically used to prevent Hideyoshi's son from communicating with the lords in the west. Several families took control of the castle after Terumasa, including the Honda, Okudaira, Matsudaira, Sakakibara, and Sakai. One of Himeji's most important defensive elements, and perhaps its most famous, is the confusing maze of paths leading to the main keep. The gates, baileys, and outer walls of the complex are organized so as to cause an approaching force to travel in a spiral pattern around the castle on their way into the keep, facing many dead ends. This allowed the intruders to be watched and fired upon from the keep during their entire approach. However, Himeji was never attacked in this manner, and so the system remains untested.
Himeji, Japan
Himeji Castle is a hill castle located on the Harima plain. Actually the main complex, which consists of one main donjon and three secondary ones, is located on two hills. The main tower, almost 150 feet tall, is located on one hill and the western tower is located on the other. The size of the entire complex is 140 meters on the east-west axis and 125 meters on the north-south axis. The main tower is connected by corridors and passages (wateriyagura) to the other three towers, forming an inner court. At the base of the main tower once stood a palace, which was later destroyed by fire.

In the southeast corner of the court is an area called harakiri-maru, which was where a samurai would commit suicide. The main donjon consists of seven floors, five of which are visible. The tower is strengthened by two wood columns that run from the fifteen meter stone foundation to the roof. The eastern and western towers consists of four floors, three of which are visible. The northwestern tower has five floors, only three of which are visible from outside. In addition to the main complex there are several other buildings at Himeji Castle, which are serve as residences and storehouses. These buildings are enclosed by the the middle and outer moat, as well as stone walls. These buildings are also connected to one another by corridors and passages. The design of Himeji Castle is that of a spiral with the main complex located in the center, which the remaining buildings surround and protect. In 1992 Himeji Castle was recognized by UNESCO as a building of world significance and was added to the World Heritage list. Himeji Castle is an excellent example of traditional wooden architecture and its stone walls with their white plastered walls have been well maintained.

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