Himeji Castle: an UNESCO WHS Review
History of the Himeji castle
First, a fort was built on the site of the current castle in 1333. This fort was demolished in 1346 and a castle was built to replace it. In the 16th century this castle was remodelled into Himeji castle. Some more extensive remodelling followed in the early 17th century. Apart from some demolished corridors and outer defensive, the castle has remained unaltered since then.
Luckily the castle was spared demolition in the Meiji period, a time when many Japanese castles were demolished because they were considered to be obsolete. And although it was hit by a firebomb in World War II, that bomb didn’t explode, so the castle also escaped destruction then. As a result, Himeji is one of the few remaining original castles in Japan.
Review of Himeji castle
Read more about how we rated Himeji castle and other sites at our UNESCO World Heritage Site Review.
Himeji castle is the picture-perfect Japanese castle. Recently renovated and restored, it once again shines in the sun and honours its name of ‘White Egret Castle’. Although the outside is beautiful, the inside is more bland. This results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for beauty.
Considered as one of the 12 remaining original Japanese castles, Himeji castle is quite unique. Especially since much of the different defence systems are still intact. This gives the opportunity to gain full insight into the defensive workings of a Japanese castle. Many other castles, either original or rebuilt, are just a Donjon or main tower with a gate and some outer defences.
A possible alternative would be Matsumoto castle, where the Donjon is also still in its original form, but that castle has far less outer defence systems. Japanese castles are quite unique and different from other castles. A big difference is the fact that they are mainly built from wood. This makes original castles like Himeji rare because of the dangers of fire, lightning and attack. All of this results in an appreciation of 4 out of 5 for uniqueness.
At Himeji castle, there are different options available to enhance your experience:
– Free English language tours are provided by volunteers.
– An interactive augmented reality app which provides insights into the function and workings of different rooms and objects.
– Signs and explanations in Japanese and English
– Most of the grounds and buildings are accessible to the public.
The main keep is not accessible for people in a wheelchair. But other areas are open for visitation. Guide dogs are allowed in the main keep but they can have trouble with the very steep stairs, especially when descending. So please keep this in mind when you plan your visit.
Value for money:
The cost of an entry ticket is in line with what you pay for other castles and historic sites in Japan. An average visit will take around 1,5 hours, which can be easily extended if you go for a walk through the castle grounds and take in all the information provided. So, a visit to Himeji castle is definitely good value for money.
Himeji lies a 45-minute train-ride away from Kyoto and makes for an easy half-day trip. The Shinkansen train station lies 15 minutes from the castle by foot, but there are also very frequent buses between the station and the castle, halving this journey in time.
The castle also lies on the route to Okayama, Hiroshima and the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku, which makes Himeji castle an ideal stop on your journey to other places in Japan. At the same time Himeji offers a wide selection of accommodations, so you can also stay for the night. This all leads to a score of 5 out of 5 for location.
Overall rating: 4.5
If you’re in Japan, you should definitely visit Himeji castle. It’s beautiful and quite a unique site. This world heritage site provides its visitors with a great and insightful experience for a price that is average compared to other castles and monuments. The location is easily accessible and should be able to fit into most travellers’ itinerary of Japan.
Curious about other Japanese castles? Read our article about original and restored Japanese castles to get some other suggestions.