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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is a flatland-mountain Japanese castle complex located in Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture and comprising 83 wooden buildings. It is also known as Hakurojo or Shirasagijo or White Heron Castle because of its sparkling white exterior. It was registered as the first Japanese National Cultural Treasure by UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Japanese National Cultural Treasure in December, 1993. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, it is one of Japan's "Three Famous Castles", and is the most visited castle in Japan.

Himeji CastleHimeji is an example of the prototypical Japanese castle, containing many of the defensive and architectural features associated with Japanese castles. The tall stone foundations, whitewashed walls, and layout 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.

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 Castle was originally built in 1346. Himeji was one of the last holdouts of the tozama daimyo at the end of the Edo period. It was held by the descendants of Sakai Tadasumi until the Meiji Restoration. In 1868, the new Japanese government sent the Okayama army, under the command of a descendant of Ikeda Terumasa, to shell the castle with blank cartridges and drive its occupiers out.

Himeji CastleHimeji CastleWhen the han system was eliminated in 1871, Himeji Castle was sold at auction. Its final price was 23 Japanese Yen which is equal to approximately 100,000 yen at today's rates in those days and in public funds. Himeji was bombed twice in 1945, at the end of World War II. Although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived unharmed, with one firebomb dropped on the top floor of the castle miraculously unexploded. Castle restoration efforts began in 1956.

Himeji Castle frequently appears on Japanese television. Edo Castle the present Tokyo does not have a stay, so when an imaginary show such as Abarenbo Shogun wants a suitably impressive substitute, the producers turn to Himeji.

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