Himeji Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Himeji Castle

Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan

Tristan Parker

20 Sep 2021
Image Credit: Svetlana Gumerova on Unsplash

About Himeji Castle

A striking 17th century castle in Japan, Himeji is known for being one of the most well-preserved and beautiful castles of its kind in the country.

Himeji Castle history

Himeji’s current main structure dates back to 1609, although a fortification of some form was first built on the site in the 14th century. Himeji is also known as Shirasagi-jō (‘White Heron Castle’), due to its striking white exterior, and was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, as well as being designated one of Japan’s National Treasures. The castle was passed into the ownership of the state in 1869.

The main part of Himeji is built from wood and has remained remarkably resilient over the centuries, although the castle was never attacked or destroyed, despite the city of Himeji being bombed in World War Two. However, there have been various repairs and renovations of Himeji over the centuries.

In more recent times, Himeji Castle became known as a particularly eye-catching location in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, starring Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s famous spy (the screenplay was written by British author Roald Dahl, best-known for his children’s books, and unlike the previous four Bond films, it was only loosely based on Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name).

In the film, Himeji is portrayed as a ninja training school led by Tiger Tanaka (played by actor Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese Secret Service. James Bond visits Himeji to receive training, in order to infiltrate the island where his nemesis, Ernst Blofeld, is hiding out and putting together his latest scheme for world domination.

There are unsubstantiated stories which claim that the film crew encountered problems after photos appeared in Japanese newspapers appearing to show a weapon (either a knife or shuriken throwing star) embedded in one of the castle’s ancient wooden walls during the filming of a scene. Allegedly, the weapon was, in fact, thrown into a fake wall, built to protect the real castle structure.

Himeji Castle today

Today, Himeji is of the most popular castles in Japan for tourists and can be visited year-round. Visitors can access the top level of the castle for magnificent views across the city of Himeji from the summit. Himeji is also popular during Japan’s cherry blossom season in spring (mid-April is recognised as the season’s peak), when the many cherry blossom trees around the castle grounds are in full bloom, providing a brilliantly photogenic backdrop.

Getting to Himeji Castle

The castle is around one mile from Himeji rail station. The city of Himeji is in Japan’s Kansai region, and can be reached easily from nearby large cities, including Kobe and Osaka to the east, and Okayama and Fukuyama to the east.

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