Known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagi), Himeji is a National Treasure and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is the most visited of the three ‘Famous Castles’ and it is considered to be the most beautiful castle in Japan.

144 castles remain of the 5000 feudal castles which once existed, and
Himeji is the most complete of the twelve that are still in original condition.

This is the most extensive of the Castle pages, with 63 images.


Interiors and displays
Leaving Himeji alive


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Himeji Castle is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Photoshelter: Himeji Castle


The first castle on this site was a fortress built by Akamatsu Sadanori in 1333-46. Between 1555 and 1561, the Kurodas built another castle, then in 1580 Toyotomi Hideyoshi took control of the badly damaged castle and built a 3-story tower on the site during the wars that brought an end to the Sengoku period (the period of the Warring States, which started with the Onin War of 1467-77 and continued until Toyotomi brought an end to the fighting by unifying Japan under his rule, along with his allies Tokugawa and others).

After Tokugawa Ieyasu took the reins of power and solidified his rule at the Battle of Sekigahara, he gave the castle and district to his ally Ikeda Terumasa (to whom he also gave his 2nd daughter (Toku Hime) in marriage), who rebuilt Toyotomi’s castle into its present form in 1601-1609. As it was built at the end of the Sengoku period, the castle was never tested under attack. In 1871 (during the Meiji Restoration, when the feudal system was abolished and feudal trappings like castles were demolished) it was sold at auction for the astounding price of 23 yen. It survived WW II and is one of the twelve Japanese castles that are in original condition.

Exterior Approach Views


Himeji Castle 0401
1500 x 1092 (495 KB)

The prototypical Japanese Castle, Himeji-jo contains many of the defensive features and architecture associated
with Japanese castles (originally developed by Oda Nobunaga for Azuchi Castle in the late 16th c.). Approaches are
a spiraling maze of paths, protected by reinforced corridors with gun and arrow slits leading to 84 iron-reinforced gates.


Himeji Castle 0402
960 x 1290 (454 KB)

Erupting from a sea of cherry blossoms,
the multi-layered tenshu (main tower) with
its gabled roofs overlooks the entire area.

It has both dormer-style (Chidori Hafu) and Chinese gables. The Chinese gables (Kara Hafu) are the arched style. These images were taken from the San-no-Maru to the south.


Himeji Castle 0404
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The Chinese gable (Kara Hafu) on this side is
the largest existing gable of its type in Japan.


Himeji 0406
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A close shot from the Southeast showing the tenshu (left, main tower) and the yagura (turret)
reinforcing the approach, with stone drops and firing slits. This is the approach to the To-no-Yon Mon,
the outer Southeast gate (which is sort of a back door... there were less people entering the castle this way).


Himeji Castle 0407
800 x 1290 (388 KB)


Himeji Castle Gate Detail 0408
960 x 1290 (453 KB)

At left, a view of the tenshu (main tower) past a fan-shaped wall outside the To-no-Yon Gate . Above is a small subsidiary door on the left side of the gate, showing some of the methods of reinforcement which were used.


Himeji Castle Gate Hinge Detail 0409
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One of the studded hinges on the To-no-Yon Mon (outer Southeast gate).


Himeji Castle Gate Detail 0410
795 x 1290 (378 KB)


Himeji Castle East Approach 0414
960 x 1290 (337 KB)

Hikaebashira (roofed pillars stabilizing the gate
pillars from rams) are shown in the image at left.

Above, an imposing eastern view of the tenshu.


Himeji Castle To-no-Ichimon Southeast Gate 0413 M
1500 x 1200 (395 KB)

To-no-Ichimon is the main Southeast gate. It was brought to Himeji from the nearby
Okishio Castle when Himeji Castle was first built, making it the oldest gate in the castle.
Unlike the other gates, the wood on To-no-Ichimon’ Yagura is not covered with plaster.


Himeji East Approach 0416
1500 x 1092 (313 KB)

The tenshu (main tower), with its stone drops, firing slits, and stacked, gabled roofs.
This dramatic view of the castle tower is from the courtyard inside the To-no-Ichimon.


Himeji Castle 0422
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The view from the Honmaru (inner bailey, aka the Bizen Maru) inside the Bizen gate.

The Castle is covered in white plaster for protection from fire and reinforcement, and
is mounted on a fan-shaped foundation, which made it more difficult for attackers to climb.

Above the corner is an Ishi-otoshi stone drop intended to keep attackers from climbing the
corners, where walls are the most vulnerable (and also useful for dropping boiling oil or water).


Himeji Castle 0424
1600 x 990 (443 KB)

A rather dramatic view of the central castle complex from the Honmaru (Bizen) bailey.

Shot from the left side of the Honmaru, this view shows the Inui Shotenshu (Northwest small tower) on
the left with bell-shaped windows, the Nishi Shotenshu (West small tower) and the Tenshu (main tower).


Himeji Castle 0426
1500 x 1092 (387 KB)

Detail of the Nishi Shotenshu (also called a Kotenshu) showing the Ishi-otoshi stone drop
below the eaves at the corner of the walls, used to drop stones and hot liquid on attackers.


Himeji Castle Detail 0576
795 x 1290 (376 KB)

Roof Detail

Detail of the Tenshu (main tower) shot later in the afternoon from the west. On the lower left is the Nishi Shotenshu. The Tenshu has six floors (although it looks like there are only five). This was intended to confuse attackers.

This image shows much of the detail associated with the architecture of the Japanese castle roof and some of the defenses. At the bottom left is the Ishi-otoshi stone drop, and on the floor above are firing slits. On the right side of the upper floor of the Nishi Shotenshu are bell-shaped windows which were originally introduced in Zen temples.

The arched gables on both the Nishi Shotenshu and the Tenshu are Kara Hafu (Chinese gables), and the peaked gables are Chidori Hafu. The carved wood structures at the apex of each gable are called Gegyo, as in early days they were fish-shaped (gegyo means hanging fish). The decorative extensions on either side of the gegyo are called Hire (fins).

Roof tiles (kawara) are laid in rows, ending in round tiles which display kamon (crests) of the family responsible for the tiles. At the corners are upward curved edge tiles (noki hiragawara) with ornamental end tiles. On each ridge end are special tiles called Shachihoko. These are mythical creatures with a tiger head on the body of a carp, which were intended to protect the structure from fire (a major problem with wooden castles). A detail shot of one of the Shachihoko is shown below.

Also below are a number of images taken earlier, from inside the small towers, showing closeups of the highly refined roof design of Himeji Castle.


Himeji Castle Roof Detail 0515
795 x 1290 (376 KB)

In this image you can see the upward-curving tiles at the corners. The electrical cables are attached to the upper roof and provide a path for lighting to pass to the ground.


Himeji Castle Roof Detail 0519
795 x 1290 (377 KB)

Detail of the Chidori Hafu (dormer gable) and the Kara Hafu (Chinese gable) above it, with Gegyo and Hire ornamentation at the apex of the gables.


Himeji Castle Roof Detail 0520
1500 x 1125 (527 KB)

This view across the roofline shows both gable types associated with Japanese castles. Peaked gables
are Chidori Hafu (dormer gable), arched types are Kara Hafu (Chinese gable). You can see the gegyo
gable ornamentation at the apex of the gables, and the Shachihoko fish-shaped tiles on the ridge ends.


Himeji Castle Shachihoko Tile 0489
(Fish-shaped Tile, 795 x 1290, 258 KB)

Abstract fish tiles were used in corners of the roofs, and many gates were named water gates.
Fire was a major problem with wooden castles. Himeji only had one (accidental) fire in the Bizen
Bailey during the Meiji period. The symbolic protection provided by the fish tiles must have worked.


Himeji Castle Roof Detail 0525
1500 x 1092 (466 KB)

The roof images were taken from the Inui Shotenshu (Northwest small tower). The tower
at the left of this image is the Higashi Shotenshu (East small tower). Note the different roof
tiles (much newer) which were used on the corridor at left and on the Higashi Shotenshu. In 1871
the Meiji government dismantled the feudal system and destroyed or sold off all of the castles. Himeji
was sold for 23 yen (about 50 cents) to a man who intended to salvage roof tiles. In 1877, the castle
was saved from further demolition by Colonel Shigeto Nakamura, who convinced the government
that the castle would make a good army base. A monument to his service for saving Himeji and
for his work in preserving and restoring the castle was erected near the Mugi-no-Mon (below).


Himeji Stele Memorial Shigeto Nakamura 0405
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The Memorial Stele to Colonel Shigeto Nakamura,
the man who saved Himeji Castle from destruction.


Himeji View 0523
1500 x 1092 (626 KB)

The view across the San-no-Maru (third bailey) to Himeji City and the mountains beyond.

Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Himeji Castle is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Photoshelter: Himeji Castle


Himeji Castle Interior 0450
1500 x 1092 (290 KB)

Windows and wall detail on the first floor of Himeji Castle.

Most of the wooden features in the castle are original, and there are many
specialized openings for dropping stones or boiling water on attackers,
firing guns or arrows, and even secret spaces for warriors to hide in
to attack people who had successfully gotten inside the castle.

The interior was very dark. I like the chiaroscuro presentation for this shot,
but after this one, I pushed all exposures a stop or more. This made for some
difficult handheld work, as exposures were 1/10-1/40 second even at f/1.4.


Himeji Castle Weapon Racks 0455
1500 x 1092 (472 KB)

Tanegashima (snapping matchlock) muskets and Yari (straight-headed) spears.
Display on the first floor of the Castle. The first and second floors have various displays.


Himeji Castle Gunracks 0459
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Detail of some of the Tanegashima (snapping matchlocks) displayed in the gunracks.


Himeji Castle Gunracks 0461 M
1469 x 1290 (406 KB)

More matchlock muskets. Matchlocks were brought to Japan by the Portuguese in 1543 (this musket is the shoulder-fired Arquebus). The Japanese used them from 1543 to 1880. They were introduced on Tanegashima Island, the first contact point for Europeans and Japanese in 1542. A ship bound for Okinawa was blown off course during a storm, and was forced to land on Tanegashima Island. The Lord of Tanegashima bought two matchlocks from the Portuguese on board and had his swordsmiths copy the barrel and firing mechanism.

The Tanegashima (Japanese Matchlock) was based on a snapping matchlock with a burning slow-match in a clamp (called a serpentine). The Japanese version was modified to remove the difficulty caused by self-extinguishing matches. They did not have the technology to produce steel springs until later (early guns used inferior brass springs).

The matchlocks on display at Himeji Castle are from the Edo period (after the unification of Japan in 1600).


Himeji Castle Interior Door 0434
796 x 1290 (300 KB)

Heavy doors like this restricted movement between the
corridors and the various towers. If attackers did succeed in
entering the castle they would be slowed down by the doors,
allowing the defenders time to reinforce these positions.


Himeji Castle Armor 0462, 0465 M
1500 x 1277 (405 KB)
(Composite will open in a second window or tab)

Kozane dou maru samurai armor (Sengoku period)
(a wrap with separate plates that opens on the right side)

These displays show the various parts common to samurai armor:

Kabuto (helmet) with Shikoro (neck protector) and Fukigaeshi (ear-like extensions to protect
the Shikoro from being severed at the attachments). The helmet on the right has a Maedate crest.
The Menpo are face protectors that often had grotesque appearance to intimidate opponents
(although very few samurai used them in the field, preferring to use open face armor).

Do (chest protector), Kusazuri (upper skirt), Haidate (lower skirt), Suneate (leggings),
Kote (arm protectors), Tekko (gloves), Sode (shoulder protectors), Wakibiki (armpit protection).

Click this text link to compare with early Edo period armor on display at Okayama Castle.


Himeji Castle Michiomi Kawai 0470 M
1500 x 1290 (251 KB)

Sunno (Michiomi) Kawai was the first retainer of the Ikedas at Himeji Castle.
Vice-Lord of the castle, he joined Ikeda clan during a period of financial difficulty.
The local government owed the equivalent of 50 billion yen by current standards, and
he instituted programs that erased this debt in only seven and a half years. At the time,
Osaka was the major commercial and distribution center in Japan and held a monopoly
on distribution of goods. Kawai established a direct path to Tokyo, bypassing Osaka, and
brought in more profit to Himeji. He set up investment firms, created a confectionery industry
based on European-style sweets which still operates today, and most important, he established
a very successful cotton industry (again, bypassing Osaka). The Himeji cotton was quite popular
in Tokyo (especially with the samurai) due to the fine quality, and it is still remembered today.


Himeji Castle Interior 0475
1500 x 1092 (244 KB)

Detail of the third floor interior. A difficult hand-held shot.

From this photo, you’d think that there was a lot more light than really existed.
This place is dark. For those readers who know something about photography,
this image was taken at ISO 400, 1/20 second at f/1.4. Hand-held. Since you can’t
use a tripod or a flash in this sort of place, you had better have very steady hands.


Himeji Castle Interior 0494
1500 x 1092 (495 KB)

Detail of the third floor interior. Another tricky hand-held shot (1/30 at f/1.4).
This one was a balancing act... getting the exposure to show the shadow detail
without radically overexposing the windows was not at all a simple task.

For the rest of these, I will dispense with the discussion of the shooting details.
Suffice it to say that shooting inside the castle is much like shooting inside a dark closet.


Himeji Castle Interior 0500
795 x 1290 (226 KB)

Fourth floor interior detail.


Himeji Castle Interior 0511
795 x 1290 (168 KB)

Fourth floor interior detail.


Himeji Castle Interior 0505
1500 x 1092 (245 KB)

This image was also taken on the fourth floor.
There are more windows, and it is brighter than the other floors.

Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Himeji Castle is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Photoshelter: Himeji Castle


Leaving Himeji Alive
(Gates and Departing Exteriors)

It looks as if we have survived our “attack” on Himeji Castle. Now, let’s see if we can get out.


Himeji Castle Gate 0532
795 x 1290 (349 KB)


Himeji Castle Gate 0535
1500 x 1092 (480 KB)

Mizu-no-San Mon

The third water gate. Water was not associated
with these gates. Attacks were “fire” which would
be “put out” by troops and defenses at the gates.

There are a series of water gates (not all survive), which constitute part of the exceedingly complex maze which is the path to (and from) the castle. This maze was an essential part of the castle defenses, both creating a confusing path for attackers in the heat of battle, and placing attackers under a constant barrage from above (you will see that there are many defensive corridors and towers that overlook the approach). Himeji Castle was never taken in battle, and it is likely that a major reason for this was the design of the castle approach.


Himeji Castle Defenses 0538
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Nishi shotenshu (West small tower) and corridor which
guard the path below the lower side of the third water gate.


Himeji Castle Defenses 0539
1500 x 1092 (391 KB)

Note the ishi-otoshi stone drops below the corner and
below the Kara Hafu, plus the windows and firing slits.


Himeji Castle Inui and Nishi Shotenshu 0543
1500 x 1092 (470 KB)

View of the Inui shotenshu (Northwest small tower) and Nishi shotenshu (West small tower).
The previous two shots were taken from the other side of the wall at the left side of this image.
The trapezoidal structure at the lower left is the Aburakabe (oil wall), a compacted earthen wall
which is not normally required in this position in a castle. One of the mysteries of Himeji Castle.


Himeji Castle Ni Gate 0544
1500 x 1092 (398 KB)

The fourth of the Iroha gates (I Ro Ha Ni Ho He To, etc.), from the ancient Japanese kana syllabary (ABCDEFG).

This blind corner just inside the Ni Gate is typical of the approaches to the castle. The very narrow opening forced the attackers to bunch together. Above the low roof are openings through which the defenders could pour boiling liquid on the heads of attackers. The narrow opening leading past the gate would become blocked with corpses. Gruesome.

The height of the step risers are different as are the angles of the surfaces of each step. This was to reduce the stability of the approaching attackers running to escape the trap. Archers could fire into this area from protected corridors on all four sides. It would be a bloodbath.


Himeji Castle Ni Gate Tamon Nagaya 0546
1500 x 1092 (466 KB)

Around the turn, going out of the castle via the Ni Gate approach. On the right is one of the
tamon-nagaya galleries, where defenders could rake attacking forces with fire from the ports in
both the castle walls and the corridor itself, creating a gauntlet of crossing fire. Tamon-nagaya are
also on the walls above the approach, covering areas that are blind to defenders in the corridors.
The path narrows as it comes to turns, forcing attackers to bunch together to be fired on.
Tamon-nagaya are long, narrow continuously-roofed timber-framed galleries.


Himeji Castle Ni Gate Tamon Nagaya 0547
1500 x 1092 (389 KB)

Here you can see the tamon-nagaya on the walls overlooking the approach. Note how the corridor narrows at the other end, and the blind turn to the right at the end of this corridor. This would prevent the attackers from seeing what was ahead, increasing the confusion caused by the maze.


Himeji Castle Ni Gate Defenses 0549
795 x 1290 (399 KB)

Attacking Himeji would have been a formidable task. It was never penetrated by attackers, although at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, the defenders were forced to abandon the castle after being shelled (with blanks) by a descendant of Ikeda (who expanded the castle in 1601).


Himeji Castle Ni Gate Tamon Nagaya 0552
1500 x 1092 (553 KB)

Note the ishi-otoshi over the corner before the gate.


Himeji Castle Ni Gate Tamon Nagaya 0550
1500 x 1092 (528 KB)

A closer view of the overhead Tamon Nagaya.


Himeji Castle 0555
960 x 1290 (507 KB)

The Tenshu shot from the corridor above the I-no-Mon (Gate shown below).
Note the people in the windows on the top floor above the Kara Hafu gable.


Himeji Castle 0555
795 x 1290 (383 KB)

I-no-mon, the first Iroha gate above the West Bailey.
Iroha refers to the old Japanese alliterative alphabet.


Himeji Castle Gate Detail 0556
795 x 1290 (459 KB)

Hikaebashira (roofed gate pillar) and tiles with Ikeda
kamon (crests), I-no-mon gate above the West Bailey.

Iroha is an ancient Japanese poem which was very cleverly written to contain each of the characters
in the Japanese syllabary only one time (it is a perfect panagram). It is only missing the Ne kana. For many
centuries, it was used to determine the order of the kana characters in the alphabet (such as our ABCs), and
it was also used to create an order for objects when numbers were not used. Thus, the I gate is the first
in the Iroha gate group, followed by the Ro gate, then the Ha gate, then the Ni gate, the Ho gate, etc.


(detail crop — no linked image)

Above is a detail crop of the roof of the Hikaebashira providing support to the I-no-Mon gate pillar.
It shows detail of the marugawara (round edge tiles) with kamon (crests) of the Ikeda clan (who were
lords of Himeji Castle) and the Hidari Mitsudomoe (three commas left) of the Kobayakawa clan, who
were responsible for the building of the gate. These marugawara tiles are on every Himeji roof.


Himeji Castle West Bailey 0561
1500 x 1092 (810 KB)

Framed with sakura in the West Bailey. Note the file size (this is a highly detailed image).


Himeji Castle West Bailey 0563
1600 x 990 (693 KB)

The light was absolutely exquisite, and I caught the scene just before they closed the bell-shaped
windows on the Inui Shotenshu and the shutters on the castle (to block the lowering sun). I have
others which were taken 15 minutes later with the windows closed (a blindingly different look).


Himeji Castle Tsukimi Yagura 0565
960 x 1290 (435 KB)

A Tsukimi Yagura (moon-viewing tower) in the West Bailey. The construction
of this yagura is unusual. Note that the upper floor is wider than the lower floor.
Also notice the Hinoki Cypress in the Chidori Hafu gable (expensive wood).


Himeji Castle West Bailey 0567
1500 x 1092 (622 KB)

The view across the I Watariyagura (itself an Important Cultural Property) and
the blooming Sakura of Himeji Castle in the lowering late afternoon sunlight.


Himeji Castle Ka Yagura West Bailey 0568
1500 x 1092 (794 KB)

The Ka Yagura (Southeast corner yagura, connecting two outer walls of the West Bailey).


Himeji Castle 0570
1500 x 1092 (492 KB)

The requisite postcard oblique.

This view from the West Bailey shows the Inui Shotenshu (far left, Northwest small tower),
Nishi Shotenshu (center, West small tower), and the Tenshu (main tower) south face
with the largest Kara-Hafu (Chinese Gable, the arched gable at the lower right).


Himeji West Bailey Lantern 0574
795 x 1290 (552 KB)

An Ishidoro (stone lantern) in the Nishi-no-Maru (West Bailey).


Himeji Stupa 0573
1500 x 1092 (815 KB)

A Jusanju Sekito (13-level stupa, a Buddhist reliquary monument)
surrounded by a sea of sakura in the Nishi-no-Maru (West Bailey).


Himeji Tamon Nagaya Sumi Yagura 0572
1500 x 1092 (633 KB)

Atop the tamon nagaya (roofed protective corridor) in the West Bailey,
at the corner is a sumi yagura (corner turret). Below is a close detail shot.


Himeji Tamon Nagaya Sumi Yagura 0575
1500 x 1092 (497 KB)

Detail of the Sumi Yagura shown above. Sometimes, these were used as small houses
instead of guard towers except in times of war, others were used as barracks or guard towers.


Himeji Castle 0579
1500 x 1092 (669 KB)

Another shot taken from the West Bailey, this time framed with evergreens.
Entering from the East and leaving towards the West offered late afternoon
light when the desire for scenic shots was highest. I recommend this route.


Himeji Castle 0582
1500 x 1092 (685 KB)

Framed in Sakura from the Nishi-no-Maru (a gift for your personal use only... no watermark)


Himeji Castle 0588
1500 x 1092 (465 KB)

This shot from the Southwest shows the complex multistory tamon nagaya gallery with its
firing slits and ishi-otoshi stone drops supporting the outer wall over the western approach.


Himeji Castle 0590
1500 x 1092 (510 KB)

The final image, shot from the San-no-Maru (third bailey) and framed with Sakura in full bloom.


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Return to the Index at the top of this page


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Japan Collections page where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 21 Galleries in the Photoshelter Japan Collection
— Himeji Castle is in the following Gallery (Direct Link) —

Photoshelter: Himeji Castle


Return to the Castles of Japan Index page


Return to the Master Index on the Japan Select page.