Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Going up and down six floors of the massive Himeji Castle of Japan

Main Keep (right) of Himeji or White Egret Castle.

The cold spring weather was just fit for the climbing. It was not tiresome though because going up and down six stories of the Main Keep of Himeji Castle was rather slow: there were waiting queues at every up or down staircase.

We were awed by the many visitors, predominantly young and old Japanese, to the centuries-old massive wooden structure that towers 91.4 meters above sea level. We saw similar huge crowds in historical Buddhist temples and shrines.

School boys trooping to the Castle.

According to the information guide, the Main Keep is covered with white plaster made from slaked lime, shell ash, hemp fiber and seaweed using Japanese traditional method. The structure is described as resembling a white egret in flight; thus, Himeji Castle is also known as White Egret Castle.

In 1931, Japan designated the Main Keep as National Treasure. The other keeps were designated National Treasures twenty years later. In 1952, the premises within the inner moat were declared Special Historic Sites.

In 1993, Himeji Castle made it to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites, the first for Japan.

Another view of the Main Keep.

The east and west large wooden pillars of the Main Keep makes the climb awesome. They are 24.6 meters long, extending from the basement up to the 5th floor beam. In the castle's history, in 1950, the upper part of the west large pillar was replaced with a 650-year-old cypress and the lower part with a 765-year-old cypress. The east large pillar of fir is largely intact although the base was changed to cypress.

The windows and shooting holes were intriguing. The latticed windows prevented enemy intrusions and entry of arrows and bullets. The warriors inside the castle shot their arrows and guns through the shooting holes of various shapes: oblong for bows, and round, triangular and square for guns.

Wooden beams of the castle.

The present Himeji Castle dates back to 1601 when the 5-story, 7-floor Main Keep was completed. It was one of 56 castles that Japan decided to retain and preserve in 1873.

Since then, the Castle has undergone three restorations: Meiji Era Restoration (1910-1911), Showa Era  Restoration (1934-1950) and the recent Heisei Era Restoration (2009-2015).  The Main Keep was dismantled and repaired during the period 1956-1964. 

Rear view of Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is located in the Hyogo Prefecture in the western part of Japan.  Foreign visitors can easily access it from Osaka City. 

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