Thoughts of a Canadian Exchange Student

Japan: Himeji Castle (姬路城)

Posted in Culture, Japan, Observations, Outdoors, Sightseeing, Thoughts, Transportation, Weather by J on December 31, 2008

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle, The White Heron Castle, Himeji-jō (姬路城) was explored: June 29, 2008

The WHITE HERON CASTLE!!

Oddly enough, I’ve learned more about Japan than China through school, and there was always this picture of a white, gorgeous castle. And on a gorgeous sunny, blue sky day, I finally got to visit it in reality!!

The Himeji Castle, or the White Heron Castle, is located in the city of Himeji, a few hours from Kyoto. After getting off the train from Kyoto to Himeji, we walked towards the castle. It seems that the whole city leads towards the castle. After all, it was built around it.

In use from 1333-1868, Himeji Castle is an old place. 1868 was the beginning of the Meiji Era and signalled a new way of living for the Japanese. Large social and political changes were happening throughout Japan during this time. I’m so glad that starting in 1956, the castle was restored piece by piece so that future generations could appreciate the castle.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Upon approaching the castle, like walking towards the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, it’s actually much larger than it looks. It also takes longer to walk there than you’d think, too. It’s virtually a maze and a great defence tactic. When you finally arrive at the gates and continue walking uphill closer and closer towards the actual castle, it’s just splendid. I was thinking of all the battles and skirmishes that occurred. The little holes / windows are perfect for firing arrows or guns at intruders with little repercussion to the defender.

Although I’ve never been to Europe, Himeji Castle reminded me of all the things that I’ve read about European castles. Everything in the castle, from its structure and design to its layout had a specific defensive or offensive purpose, in addition to providing shelter for its inhabitants. For example, the walls are flushed flat so that attackers can’t scale them. Even though artillery didn’t take in Japan, I still don’t know why they really didn’t use it more. Artillery forced European castles to change from the difficult to scale ones to ones set deep into the ground and built according to geometric properties so that artillery couldn’t easily take down a castle.

Another residence in the castle grounds

Inside another residence on the castle grounds. It’s actually much darker inside the Himeji Castle.

Inside the castle, the stairs are very, very steep so that attackers would have a hard time getting up to the top of the 7th floor. As the castle was mostly made out of wood, it had a very nice traditional feel, and a much cosier one than I would imagine an European stone castle to have. Also, as we had to take our shoes off to enter the castle, that probably gave it more of a cosy feel, too. But, why make a whole castle out of wood? I’m completely baffled by this because a single fire arrow could bring down the castle. I guess the angle an archer would have to shoot at at the castle would make it difficult. Also, I guess it’d be more difficult to bring down the castle by a fire arrow because the Japanese bows were weaker as they didn’t have composite bows.

The castle would have been a delight for children to run around in because of all the little hiding spots just in case the castle was attacked. Speaking of children, what struck me was that everything in the castle was really short. Is there some truth to why the Chinese rudely referred to the Japanese as the dwarf people (倭) since way back when in history? (Yes.)

View from the top

The view of Himeji city from the top of the White Heron Castle.

When you make it to the very top, besides a terrific breeze, you get a fantastic view of the whole city. You feel as if you “own” the city. When I was at the top, I felt as if it couldn’t be true that I was really in the White Heron Castle. I could go on and on about the castle, but all what I want to convey can be basically summed up in a sentence: Visiting the Himeji Castle was an unbelievable experience.

Hope you get to go one day!

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2 Responses

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  1. Jessica Matheson said, on October 20, 2009 at 8:25 am

    wah, you were an exchange student?! I’m also Canadian and currently on exchange here in Brazil! And man, it feels so amazing to experiance what you’ve only seen on TV or read in books, isnt it? It was really nice to read your thoughts^^ what province/ territory are you from and what exchange program did you go through?

    • leafgirl04 said, on October 25, 2009 at 12:15 pm

      Yeah, going on an exchange is a lot of fun. Although I didn’t know much about Taiwan before I went, I agree that it was really nice to visit and live in a place that I had only remotely heard about from the news.


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