Himeji Castle was an unexpected surprise on this holiday adventure. My friend, Sato-san, knowing how much I enjoyed seeing Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle during my last visit to Japan, took me to see Himeji Castle. Though similiar to the Osaka Castle, the big difference was that both the exterior and the interior have been restored/preserved in their original styles and forms. The interior of Osaka Castle has been gutted and replaced with a museum, including elevator. Part of the wonder and magic of Himeji is being to walk though, up and down tiny, narrow stairways, much as they did centuries ago.
Himeji Castle is located in the city center and considered the best surviving feudal castle in Japan. It is also known as Shirasagi-jo (White Egret Castle) because of the resemblance of its white-plastered walls to the bird's silhouette. Second only to Osaka Castle in size, it is situated on a 150ft-high hill. It is made up of a 5-story donjon (main keep), a another three 3-story donjon and a series of interconnecting passage ways. The main compound is surrounded by three rings of outer compounds. The grounds have been designated as a Historic Site and the castle itself as a National Treasure. This castle is a classic example of Japanese castle design, with an almost impenetrable defense system. Ironically, this castle never came under attack during its long history.
In 1333 Norimura Akamatsu, the ruler of the Harima District, built a simple fort, and in 1346 his son, Sadanori built more premises around this structure. Later, the Kotera and Kuroda clans ruled this area, but no substantial changes were made. Then in the middle of the 16th century, when Shigetaka Kuroda ruled the district, the Hideyoshi Hashiba came to the castle in order to build his own three storied castle. Later Hidenaga Hashiba and Iesada Kinoshita both succeeded to ruling the castle. After the Sekigahara Civil War, the lord of the castle was named Terumasa Ikeda, the son-in-law of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa Ieyasu moved into the castle as his first base of rule. His annual salary was 520,000 koku of rice (1 koku is 5 bushels or enough to feed a 1 man for 1 year).
In 1601, Terumasa started digging three moats around the castle building. He completed the whole castle complex, as it is today, in 1609. The outer moat is just north of the J.R. Himeji station today. After the Ikedas, Tadamasa Honda added some buildings. The final touches to the castle were completed in 1618. After the Honda family, there were many other lords such as the Matsudairas, the Sakakibaras, and even the Sakai's. Did you know that my lifelong friend, since the age of 5, is of the Sakai lineage (and the Mizuno).
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