Evocative, and both imposing and graceful at the same time, Himeji castle is the largest castle in Japan and was subject to a 5 years restoration which was completed in 2015. The castle dates from an original fortification built in 1333, and perhaps miraculously survived 1945 air raids which completely destroyed the city but left the castle intact. The walls are protected by a white plaster finish which is over 1 inch thick and made from lime, shell ash, hemp fiber, and seaweed.
The structure is interesting because from the outside it appears to have five stories but in the interior there are seven stories.
The castle is famously associated with Princess Sen.
The daughter of Shogun Tokugawa Hiteada, Princess Sen was married by her grandfather when she was only 7 years old to Toyotomi Hideyori. They lived in Osaka castle and several years later, after being defeated there in a major family dispute, Toyotomi Hideori and his mother committed suicide (or were forced to), whereas Princess Sen was rescued.
The legend surrounding Princess Sen is intertwined with the siege of Osaka Castle, her escape and the second marriage. It is a tale with all the romantic ingredients that made her one of the most popular Japanese characters. According to the legend a man named Sakazaki Naomori planned to take her as his wife and he is said to be the one who saved the Princess from Osaka Castle
However, Princess Sen refused to marry Naomori, whose face had been wrecked by fire when he rescued her, choosing in his place a more handsome alternative.
In 1616, Sen was married to Honda Tadatoki and a few years later they moved to Himeji Castle, where they lived till Tadatoki ‘s death, in 1626. After that, she left Himeji Castle to enter a Buddhist convent until her death, in 1666.
The charm of Himeji Castle has survived, as has the fascination for Princess Sen and her tragic fate.
The city is dwarfed by the castle, on a hill at the end of the main street.
There is also a nearby garden (nishi-oyashiki-ato garden) which was built rather more recently, in 1992, but in the old Edo style, and is very lovely.
Plenty of fish to choose for lunch, but the heron didn’t feed – must have had a big breakfast.