Himeji-jo Castle is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in the Hyôgo Prefecture. 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. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jo ("White Egret Castle") or Shirasagi-jo ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.
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. For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.
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 was heavily bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II, and although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived intact. One firebomb was dropped on the top floor of the castle but fortunately failed to explode. In order to preserve the castle complex, substantial repair work was undertaken starting in 1956, with a labor expenditure of 250,000 man-days and a cost of 550 million yen. In January 1995, the city of Himeji was substantially damaged by the Great Hanshin earthquake, but Himeji Castle again survived virtually undamaged, demonstrating remarkable earthquake resistance. Even the bottle of sake placed on the altar at the top floor of the keep remained in place.
Photo: Himeji castle in May 2015 after the five year renovation of the roof and walls