Castles can be found throughout Japan and they are very similar to each other. Thanks to the elegant tower surrounded by massive stone walls, they have an unique architecture. The original function of these castles was as military fortresses. They were erected in key locations to defend surrounding areas. Over the centuries, many castles have become centers for the growing population around which whole cities have been developing. Today they attract crowds of visitors.
However, there is one castle that stands out from the others. Himeji is famous for its white plastered exterior walls. Plaster has been applied on all elements, from walls, through tiles, to the latticework. It is a traditional finishing material with good resistance to fire and water. The white Himeji emerging from the green surroundings gained the nickname White Heron Castle. In 1993 it became the first place in Japan inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. The layout of the Himeji Castle contains many features designed to repel attackers trying to reach the central tower.
The Japanese walls of the castles were built from the bottom up by stacking stones. The stones were slightly cut but they were clearly not cut into rectangular blocks. Wall building artisan built walls by stacking stone on the stone, carefully considering the placement one by one. The walls of the Himeji Castle form a network of labyrinth, in which there are numerous dead ends, as well as places allowing to hide the castle’s defenders and suddenly attack the enemy.
In the walls of European castles, the gaps between the stones were filled with mortar to strengthen them. The Japanese castle walls were deliberately made without mortar, so that stones could slide between themselves as a result of strong forces, such as an earthquake. Then, the walls became even more stable and strong. When the stone walls were made, they calculated the curves very precisely. The corners of the walls were particularly important, which is why special attention was paid to laying corner stones.
Small stones arranged between large ones supported the entire wall construction. Building with irregular stones is time-consuming, but the walls are very durable. Even if the strength is strong, the irregular shape and size of the stones help to dissipate the pressure. This is possible thanks to the 400-year-old art of laying stones, which continues to this day. Currently, the 15th generation of defensive wall builders is involved in the reconstruction of castles or in the repair of damage. This tradition and knowledge is passed from generation to generation. It is also used to build modern structures, for example expressways.
On some of the corners of the walls, guard towers were built to repel the attackers and allow the recognition of the enemy’s strength, even when they was in the distance. The watchtowers have many defensive features built into it. The bars in the windows make it impossible for intruders to enter. There are also shutters that blend in with the walls after closing. The slit-like windows were used to firing guns or shooting arrows. An important function of the watchtowers was to have an elevated vantage point where they could see attacking enemies in the distance.
It was also impossible to get to the castle grounds throughout the gates. The attackers would have to force ten of them.
Even if the enemy went inside the castle, there were also steep stairs to overcome, which are not easy to climb. The main donjon, or residential tower, is equipped with an underground warehouse. It could be provided with enough food to withstand a long-lasting siege. At the base there are two central pillars, each 25 meters high and 95 cm thick. The pillars give the tower its structural strength. This method of construction has a very long history, it was used during the construction of pagodas in Buddhist temples. It is a very strong construction that provides resistance to earthquakes.
Samurai materials and techniques have protected Himeji Castle for over 400 years. It was never conquered or destroyed, even during the bombings of 1945 during which the entire area was destroyed. However, Himeji underwent numerous renovations consisting in replacing rotten wood or applying a new layer of plaster. The last one began in 2009, and the new opening of Himeji was in 2015.
As for the interior of most Japanese castles, well… There is not much to see. There are no decor elements in them. If you see the inside of one castle, it’s like you see them all. The layout is very similar. Long wooden corridors, steep stairs and simple rooms.
There is much more to see outside the castle. There are gardens around Himeji which like the defensive walls, surround the castle. You can see Himeji from different angles. And since we’re in Japan and in the Japanese castle, there must be sakura trees in the gardens. Himeji looks the most beautiful during the Hanami. White color combined with various shades of pink and green. It looks so beautiful.
There is one important reason why you should consider the risk of breaking teeth on slippery, steep stairs. This is a view of the city. You can also look at the tangle of defensive walls with defensive towers. Only from this height you can see how huge the Himeji Castle construction is.
A tile with an killer whale figure was placed at the two ends of the top of Himeji Castle. It is an incantation against the fire and is called Shachi-gawara.
Can be a better spot for Hanami than place with a view of Himeji? I do not think so. Japan is a country where you can admire the achievements of a man perfectly composed with the works of nature. We can really feel that the world is beautiful. In this joy, do not forget about the cream with a sun filter. Although Hanami takes place in early April the sun can be quite treacherous. I burned my nose and half of my forehead.
When we celebrate Hanami, there must be sake. Himeji Castle has its limited edition of sake. You must also go to the souvenir shop but be careful! You will leave this place with a lot of souvenirs and no money. Remember that I warn you!
I hope that I have tempted you to write on your list of travel destinations Japan and the castle in Himeji. It is worth coming to the place before 9 o’clock because the queue is already starting to set. The ticket costs 1040 yen, along with the entrance to the nearby Kokoen gardens. Himeji is the national treasure of Japan, an unconquerable fortress and one of the finest wooden structures in the world. It can delight everyone. If you are admirer of architecture, nature or history. I was amazed by everything.
All photos belong to @kocinka
[//]:# (!steemitworldmap 34.840063 lat 134.693996 long Himeji – the most beautiful castle in Japan d3scr)