When I was in Japan in April I managed to visit three castles – Himejijō in Himeji, Ōsakajō in Ōsaka and Nijōjō in Kyōto.
Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himejijō)
Himeji Castle has been around since the 13th century. It is also known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) because of it’s white exterior and its position atop a hill. It survived natural disasters and being bombed during WWII. It was almost demolished but now is a cultural site. It was recently reopened after a lengthy cleaning and restoration.
You can go all the way to the top but you have to take off your shoes to protect the wooden interior. At the top of the tower is a shine where many locals go to pray. Because Himeji Castle survived the bombing while the town was destroyed, it has extra significance to Japanese people. Himeji Castle is possibly the most popular castle in Japan, with locals and tourist alike. Going up inside the tower is strictly cordoned and controlled as well as packed with people. The stairs are also incredibly steep so the going is slow. It was interesting inside but I think I would have preferred to mosey round the castle grounds with the limited time I had.
The splendor of Himeji Castle from afar was a bit dulled by the drizzly weather. But I imagine it’s spectacular when the day is bright. That’s not to say the castle sticking out between the modern buildings isn’t amazing, it is. I’m referring to the impact of the white exterior from afar which give it the name White Heron Castle.
A scale model of Himeji before it was bombed in WWII.
Ōsaka Castle (大阪城 Ōsakajō)
Even though Ōsaka Castle is mostly reconstructed, it’s still amazing. It is much smaller than Himeji Castle as only the main tower remains. Ōsaka Castle was built in the late 1500s and played a major role in the unification of Japan. Ōsaka Castle was intended to be the centre of the new unified Japan. The castle was destroyed and rebuilt many times due to war and natural disasters.
As I was staying in Ōsaka, I had no time constraints so I could have spent more time there, however, the day I was there it rained the entire time so there’s a bit of gloom over all the photographs, and I got really wet and had to buy a raincoat from the convenient store. The Plum Garden wasn’t in bloom and the paths were mud so I ended up doing a quick walk around before going back to my accommodation.
Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijōjō)
Nijō Castle was built in the early 1600s. It was the Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns as Tokugawa used Edo (Tokyo) as the capital. Kyoto Imperial Palace is a short distance from Nijō Castle.
It’s not as tall as Himeji and Ōsaka Castles but is no less spectacular to walk around. Nijō Castle was possibly my favourite for a couple of reason. One, it was the only sunny day of my entire trip so the white exterior was bright and the cherry blossoms were pink and floaty. Two, it was easy to walk around the gardens and see everything. Three, I went on a Friday so there were fewer people – I went to Himeji Castle on a Saturday. Because I could comfortably walk around the castle grounds, I was better able to see and feel the castle.