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A Focus on the Himeji Castle

Updated on December 26, 2017
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Introduction

The Himeji Castle also popularly known as the "White Heron Castle” is a unique hilltop castle found in Himeji, Hyogo city, Japan. It is considered to be among the finest existing castle architectures in Japanese culture. The castle compromises of 83 buildings with complex defensive systems with gleaming white exterior. Five of these structures are regarded by the government of Japan as National Treasures. At the moment, Himeji Castle happens to be not only the largest castle in Japan but also the most visited historical site in the region. In 1993, the UNESCO department of World Heritage sites designated this castle as a Special Historic and Heritage site. This is the only Japanese and to a larger extent the world castle to have stood the test of war, fire, storm, and earthquakes. The Himeji Castle entails a collaboration of various art skills to create a unique artwork. Artistic partnerships can lead to the establishment of a unique creation. The Himeji castle has proved to be the best-preserved example of the uniqueness of architecture during the feudal period, while further testifying the craftsmanship of that era.

Location

The Castle is located in Harima Plains, at the western side of Kyoto, the former capital city of Japan. Majority of visitors can enter the castle from the Otemon Gate into the free third bailey admission. The (Sannomaru) consists of a large lined law with cherry trees. The spot is popularly used for viewing the blossoms of the cherry and for taking photos of the castle. There is a ticket booth near the end of the bailey. This is where the main entrance to the paid area, Hishi Gate is located. From the Hishi Gate to the main compound is a labyrinth-like advance with multiple baileys and gates that are purposed to expose and slow down unfriendly forces. Right at the center of the complex, there is a six-story wooden construct which is considered as the main keep (Mitchelhill 56). Furthermore, the wing buildings add complexity to the appearance of this structure.

Visitors can reach the main keep through a special entrance location found on the lower side of the building. They are then required to climb upwards using a series of narrow and steep staircases. Each of these steps becomes relatively smaller as one ascends. In general terms, there are no many furnishings done on the floors safe for the display of multilingual signs that help in describing architectural features such as concealed spaces, portholes, alongside renovation efforts that have been for many years for the aim of preserving the structure. At the topmost side of the building, there is a shrine and platform where visitors are able to view all directions of the castle, as well as have an aerial view of Himeji city. From this rooftop, a visitor can also admire a closer view of roof ornaments that are fish-shaped and which are believed to protect one from fire. After exiting from the main keep, visitors have the option of making their way through the Hiishi Gate. However, prior to leaving the paid ground, there is an option for a visitor to explore, the west bailey which an additional barley in the castle. This barley once served as an abode for the princes and provides a view of the main keep from another perspective. Furthermore, at the bailey’s walls, there is a long building consisting of multiple rooms which are hitherto unfurnished and a

History of the Castle

The current Himeji structure has its roots in early the 1600s. Rulers have used the site since 1333 when it was established as a fort. From that time, the fort has undergone intense renovations, reconstructions, and enlargements. The interesting aspect of this structure is that it was able to survive repeated bombings of Himeji city during world war 11. In 1993, the castle was named by UNESCO World Heritage recognized it as an important world heritage sites. After many years of renovation, it was again reopened in 2015 with a gleaming, polished and clean outlook. When Emperor Nobunaga Oda took over as the leader of the Harima region in 1577, he gave Hideyoshi the jurisdiction to manage the castle. Hideyoshi utilized this opportunity by fortifying the converting the building into a castle consisting of more than 30 turrets (unesco.org 1). In order to improve its local and global appeal, the castle was subjected to many years of extensive renovation until 2015.

In 1601, Terumasa Ikeda (1564-1613) took over as the manager of the Himeji Castle after being gifted it for supporting Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Sekigahara battle against Daimyo Toyotomi. He immediately embarked on modeling the castle after that of the emperor located at Azuchi. In this goal, he initiated a construction program that was spread over a nine-year period. At the end of this time, the Himeji Castle went on to take the current form. He used materials from his Hideyoshi's old fortress to build the castle that had been used by him to prevent his son from communicating with his seniors in the West. According to some historians, more than 25,000,000 working days were spent to construct the castle. This includes the construction of the outer and middle moat and the five-storied tenshu. After Terumasa, the castle was controlled by several other communities including the Sakakibara, the Honda, Okudara, Sakai, and Matsudaira (columbia.edu). After many years of failed restoration attempts, the work on renovation commenced in 1956 and reached its completion in 1964.

Design

Himeji design presents an aesthetic expression of Japanese values and features of Himeji city. The Himeji Castle incorporates one of the most strategic designs in the world while also exhibiting a conscious awareness of space. The key features of this castle are two towers consisting of the main tower which is five stories tall but with six floors inside and a basement. The second tower is only three stories though it has four floors inside. The main complex constitutes one basic donjon and three secondary ones found on two hills. On one side of the hill is the main tower which is approximately 150 feet tall. The entire complex is approximately 140 meters on the west-east axis and another 125 meters on its south-north axis. The central tower is linked by passages and corridors to other towards, subsequently creating an inner court. The central donjon constitutes of seven floors, five of which can be seen. Two wood columns strengthen then flour running all the way from the fifteen meter stone to the roof’s basis. The western and eastern towers constitute four floors which are quite visible. The tower at the northwest end consists of five floors, three of which are also visible from outside (columbia.edu 1).

Alongside the main complex are also other buildings making the Himeji Castle. Some of these buildings serve as storehouses and residences. They are enclosed by the outer and middle moat and stone walls. Furthermore, there is a connection of these buildings to one another by passages and corridors. Its design is a spiral with the main complex found in the center. The other buildings protect and surround the main one (columbia.edu 1).

The Building and Rationale behind the Design

Himeji Castle is a work that took many centuries in building it. Apparently, a combination of skills from masons, designers, architects, engineers, plumbers, electricians, project managers, painters, and other labors were involved in the project. In addition, it required great coordination, workmanship, resources, determination, and perseverance to create this unique work. The efforts paid off as this one of the strongest structures existing in the world, having survived various tests including bombings, fire, earthquake, unstable weather, storm among others.

Majority of the buildings of the Himeji Castle including the donjon complex were built between 1601-1609. The repair of the castle took over 30 years, and was carried out between 1934 and 1964. For more than 400 years, the Himeji castle was able to survive regular disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, and even wars that greatly affected Himeji city. Although there was peeling off of the plaster from the corridor wall, the donjon was not scathed. Most of the structured remained in place (Mitchelhill 59). This is what made this building to be unique.

There were a large number of architects and skilled designers who were involved in the building of the Himeji Castle. These architects utilized modern castle technology in making Himeji strong. This was why the castle could not be penetrated even by bombs or weapons. The masons had to be extremely qualified and experienced in making the more than fifteen-meter sloping stone walls of the structure. The wandering and complex passages are meant to confuse an approaching enemy who is not conversant with the layout of the structure. Furthermore, the over 84 gates are strongly fortified by stone and wood and made very small. This is to make it hard to many men to move through it at one time. There are sizable openings in the fortifications of the main building. These were created for the purpose of scalding water and throwing stones. Through these openings, arrows and rifles could also be shot from there. Passages connecting other towers allowed easy mobility and access. The lord of the castle has also his residence in the castle complete with a storehouse, kitchen and sleeping rooms. The design of the castle integrates both technology and nature, typically creating a physical and psychological barrier with a purpose of making an approaching enemy exhausted and confused (columbia.edu 1). This massive work entailed the use of the excessively skillful, experienced, capable and determined group of individuals.

The uniqueness of this work stems from the fact that it is a masterpiece of traditional Japanese design. The major part of its frame mostly consists of wood, using the most complex support systems, and joints of the Japanese architectural designs. The walls are covered in earthenware and white plaster. The white walls are stunningly white with numerous graceful eaves and rooms. There are automatic fire alarms that are meant to protect the building from earthquakes and fire. Other security features include but not limited to fire hydrants, security cameras, and lightening trackers. Furthermore, there is also a disaster control center which monitors all information within the facility (Mitchelhill 56). This has worked to ensure that the facility is risk-free as much as possible.

Authenticity and Reinforcement

Since 1934, a sequence of conservation programs has been undertaken with the use of techniques established in Japan. These programs are purposed to conserve the wooden structures and ensure that the structure conforms to the established principles of authenticity regarding substance/materials, design/form, setting/location, and techniques/traditions. Furthermore, there is a strict control in the use of new materials as all proposals have to be thoroughly checked and approved by the management (unesco.org 1). This may work to explain why some of the buildings and structures that added to the castle in the 20th century have been removed.

Conclusion

Indeed, the Himeji castle is astounding in its structure and design. The castle has been able to survive many events and historical periods owing chiefly to the manner it was designed and built. Having built in a period of more than 25,000,000 working days, there is no doubt that many people were involved and that great efforts were used. Among the reasons why the castle has survived until today is because of its enormous size, the complexity of its design and strength of the building. Himeji is un-doubly the best preserved medieval castle both in Japan and in the global arena.

For anyone who would like to visit a castle, then Himeji is worth the hassle and cost. Its beauty may be attributed to the harmony between nature and man considering that it resembles a bird prior to taking a flight. The lesson we learn from this work is that strong and unique work will entail a collaboration of many people with different skills, determination of the leaders and those involved, persistent and patient as to work in a period of 25,000,000 days without losing hope. In other words, craftsmanship was also on a high level at this time. The castle indeed reserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved castle in the world.

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    • profile image

      dominic 

      7 months ago

      ha ha very funny, but actualy aprrove the

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    • K S Lane profile image

      K S Lane 

      10 months ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I'd never even heard of this castle before, which I'm surprised by considering how beautiful it is. If I'm ever in Hyogo city Japan I'll have to see it!

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