During our Christmas trip to Kyoto, Carl turned to me with big huge puppy dog eyes and asked if we could go to Himeji Castle. I felt awful; where we were staying was almost 3 hours train ride from the castle, and going there meant canceling all of the other plans we’d made. As soon as he asked, Carl seemed to read this in my face and revoked the question. My heart sunk and I promised we would definitely, definitely go next time.
I knew I was a truly horrible wife if I neglected his one wish for the trip. He talked about Himeji Castle as a “world wonder”, and when he asked my grandmother about it on the phone, she confirmed that it was the “number one castle in all Japan”. These two.
A Bit of History
Himeji Castle is, in fact, the number one rated castle in Japan, highly regarded as the best surviving example of Japanese architecture. It is famously called the “White Egret” castle because of it’s white painted walls and resemblance to the egret taking flight. It was originally built in the early 14th century, and has had a great influence on film and popular culture. Himeji Castle was bombed in WWII, but the castle itself was never damaged.
On our first full day in mainland Japan, we were on a bullet train to Himeji, and I was determined to redeem myself. The train from Osaka to Himeji was direct and fairly empty, which is always a bonus when you’re a tourist carrying bulky luggage around. At the train station, we ditched our bags in a coin locker and headed out to the castle (about ten minutes walk from the station).
Carl loved the castle for its history and its tactical advantages. According to the brochure, the entire town was purposely built to be confusing.
Weirdly, this ancient, historic castle was recently combined with a zoo that boasts over 100 animals. Unrelated to the zoo, stray cats lounge on the lawns and take treats from tourists.
Once inside the massive castle, we were amazed at how many twists and turns we took. At times, you had walk to away from the castle in order to take the most direct route to the keep.
We were also interested to find murder-holes in three varieties made specifically for the employment of bows, crossbows, or muskets (Himeji Castle was in use until the mid-1860s). They were all set at angles that collectively achieved interlocking killzones and mutually supporting fires.
Himeji Castle was truly impressive, and remains one of the highlights of the trip. Although it can be a full day to get out there (we left Osaka at 9AM, made it to Kyoto by 5pm), it was completely worth it.
This is Carl’s #1 moment of the trip!