Himeji Castle (姫路城) is a Japanese castle located in Himeji in Hyōgo Prefecture.  It is one of the oldest surviving structures from medieval Japan, and 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.  It is occasionally known as Hakurojō or Shirasagijō ("White Heron Castle") because of its brilliant white exterior.

Himeji serves as an excellent example of the prototypical Japanese castle, containing many of the defensive and architectural features most associated with Japanese castles.  The tall stone foundations, whitewash walls, and organization 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.  The current keep dates from 1601.

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.

The castle was conceived and constructed during the Nanboku-cho era of the Muromachi period.  At this time, it was called Himeyama Castle.  In 1346, Akamatsu Sadanori planned a castle at the base of Mount Himeji, where Akamatsu Norimura had constructed the temple of Shomyoji.  After Akamatsu fell during the Kakitsu War, Yamana clan briefly took over planning of the castle; the Akamatsu family took over again following the Ōnin War.

In 1580, Toyotomi Hideyoshi took control of the castle, and Kuroda Yoshitaka built a three-story tower.

Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1601, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted Himeji Castle to Ikeda Terumasa. Ikeda embarked on a nine-year expansion project that brought the castle roughly to its current form.  The last major addition, the Western Circle, was completed in 1618.

Himeji was one of the last holdouts of the tozama daimyō 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.

When the han system was abolished in 1871, Himeji Castle was sold at auction. Its final price was 23 yen and in public funds.

Himeji was bombed in 1945, at the end of World War II.  Although most of the surrounding area was burned to the ground, the castle survived almost entirely unscathed.

A map of Himeji Castle and the restoration of the Otemon (Main Gate) and Sakuramon Bridge. The bridge was constructed this year.

Sakuramon Bridgewas just finished within the last 3 months.

The castle from outside the wall and mote.

The mote.

The other side of the bridge.

Himeji Castle

UNESCO World Heritage site plaque.

Us in front of the castle and front lawn.

Leesa, Buster, and Himeji.

This cherry tree was probably in the fullest bloom of all the trees on the grounds. There are over 1000 cherry trees at Himeji Castle!

She matches the flowers! We were basically 1 weekend too early to experience the full cherry blossom blooms.

Looking out one of the little windows in the castle walls.

Come on!

These will all be in bloom soon.

Himeji Castle is positioned very high up, it is very impressive.

The city outside the castle walls.

Me being bad. They used these when enemies were trying to climb the walls to get in. They would throw stones or boiling water down on them.

West Bailey Building was connected to Princess 'Sen,' the eldest daughter of the second 'Shogun' in the Tokugawa Government.

Roofline with pretty blooms.

Silly boy!

They smell so nice!

Watch your head!

All the family crests used at the time the castle was built.

Come on!

Me and Buster waiting on Jonathan.

Resting in one of the huge gates.

Take your shoes off again Buster.

A neat painting.

Arms racks. These were all over the castle walls on almost every floor.

Old decorative Samurai armor.

A view inside the castle as we were going up the stairs to the next level ... there were 6 levels!

Himeji city.

A wooden model of the castle, they used this to check the construction when they were restoring the castle.

Model of the whole city.

Himeji Castles original boundaries.

Resting again.

These were so pretty!

The Old West Main Pillar stood from the basement to the 5th floor ceiling along with the East piller, each supported 189 lesser pillars 100 tons!

The originals stood for some 350 years!