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Secrets of Himeji Castle|Local people tell you the unknown history and legends of Himeji Castle!

Himeji Castle is often called the most famous castle in Japan. It is so famous that even foreign guidebooks introduce it as one of the best sightseeing spots in Himeji, but there are many secrets about Himeji Castle that even the locals don’t know. If you know them, your sightseeing will be 100 times more enjoyable! You will definitely enjoy sightseeing 100 times more if you know them! How many do you know? Here are some of the secrets of the World Heritage Site Himeji Castle that you won’t find in any guidebooks, and how to enjoy them!

・How many floors is Himeji Castle?The Wonder of Not Reaching the Main Keep

Now, you are going to attack Himeji Castle. Your goal is the Main Keep! How many floors do you have to go up to get there?

Take a good look at the picture.
If you think it is a five-story building, you will not be able to reach the main keep.

In castle architecture, the number of exterior roofs is called “layers” and the number of interior floors is called “stories. The exterior of Himeji Castle’s main keep has five layers, but it is actually seven stories high, with one underground level and six above ground!

The correct answer is 5 stories and 7 floors.

This is one of the tricks to confuse enemies who try to attack the castle and prevent them from easily reaching the top floor of the main keep. Please try to reach the castle tower while counting the number of floors as if you were attacking Himeji Castle.

・The large square stones used at the corners of the stonewalls are…?

The stonewalls of Himeji Castle are also worth seeing. If you look closely, you will see that some of the corners are made of large stones that are arranged in beautiful squares. Were these stones quarried in squares?

The answer is no!

Actually, this is a sarcophagus*!
*a coffin made of stone to hold the remains of a deceased person .

The stone walls of Himeji Castle incorporate sarcophagi and tombstones. Before Himeji Castle was built, there were many burial mounds of influential people in the area, which were dug up during the construction of the castle, and the sarcophagi were used in the stone walls.

・All the killer whales in Himeji Castle are female!

The orca, which adorns the top of the castle tower, is an imaginary animal that looks like a fish, has a tiger head, a tail fin that always points to the sky, and multiple sharp thorns on its back.

The ornamentation has been associated with water since ancient times, apparently as a spell to prevent the castle from being destroyed by fire, which is the greatest fear of castle buildings.

The two bodies are usually paired, with the open mouth being the male and the closed mouth being the female. Usually, a male and a female are paired, but the shachihoko at Himeji Castle are both female!  They are very rare in Japan.

However, they were not always female.

Himeji Castle has retained its appearance since the Edo period, and during the Showa period (1926-1989) when the castle was undergoing major repairs, one of the females was used as a model to create the same shape. Therefore, the 11 killer whales currently displayed on the main keep are all female.

・The Mystery of the Upside Down Swallowtail Butterfly

The “family crest tour” is recommended for history buffs in particular to enjoy Himeji Castle.

Himeji Castle has had many changes of lords, and successive lords of the castle designed their own family crests on the roof tiles, leaving various types of patterns on the castle.

The crest of a swallowtail butterfly is depicted on the roof tiles of the castle tower. This is the family crest of the Ikeda family that built the castle. Normally, the butterfly’s head is drawn down, but in fact, there is only one tile in the castle that is upside down, that is, the head is drawn on top!

It is said that this is a kind of wishful thinking to avoid disasters by intentionally leaving the tiles in an unfinished state, taking advantage of the legend of the time that “as soon as something is completed, it begins to disintegrate. Look for the upside-down swallowtail butterflies.

・Himeji Castle was once tilted!

Courtesy of Himeji Castle Management Office

Himeji Castle had been leaning for a long time until the “Showa Era Repairs” in 1956. A sad legend exists there.

A master carpenter named Genbei Sakurai was ordered by Terumasa Ikeda to build Himeji Castle. Genbei spent a great deal of time and sleep to build the castle in a short period of only nine years.

Genbei took his wife to see Himeji Castle and looked up at its pure white and shining form. Genbei was astonished when his wife said, “It is a magnificent castle, but it looks a little tilted…” Genbei knew that he had made a mistake in his design. Genbei, believing that he must have made a mistake in his design, is said to have thrown himself off the top floor of the castle tower with a chisel in his hand.

In fact, the keep tilted 42.42 cm toward the southeast, not because of Genbei’s faulty design, but because the stone walls had subsided due to insufficiently hardened soil.

During the Showa period (1926-1989), the fill that caused the leaning was removed and a concrete foundation was built to eliminate the leaning.

・Musashi Miyamoto to exterminate monsters!

Courtesy of Himeji Castle Management Office

Himeji Castle is an unusual castle with a small shrine called Osakabe Shrine on the top floor of the castle tower. The shrine was associated with the famous Musashi Miyamoto and a legend of a certain ghost.

At that time, Musashi Miyamoto stopped by Himeji and served as a guard. At that time, there was a rumor that a specter appeared in the castle tower, and Musashi was ordered by the lord of the castle to exterminate the specter personally.

One night, as Musashi climbed up the keep with only one light to get to the keep, he was attacked by tremendous flames, shaking and roaring sounds like an earthquake. However, when Musashi put his hand on the sword at his waist and said, “O-ore yokai, I will exterminate you,” the situation quieted down.

When Musashi finally reached the top floor, he sat down and dozed off to wait until the yokai appeared, when “Princess Gyobu,” the guardian god of the castle, appeared and gave him a treasured sword as a reward for defeating the yokai.

・A phantom window on the top floor of the main keep!

A “phantom window” was discovered during the Heisei restoration! In the four corner walls on the top floor of the main keep, a total of eight sets of sliding doors and other sliding doors were found to be in place.

It seems that the original plan was to eliminate blind spots and provide a 360-degree view of the castle, but there was no evidence of their use, and they had been sealed with board walls as load-bearing walls.

The reason for blocking the windows is unknown, and there is no written record of it. Speculation is that it was to increase the earthquake resistance of the main keep, as the castle suffered a magnitude 8-class earthquake during its construction in 1605.

Many people are curious about what Himeji Castle would have looked like if it had actually been built as a window..!

Download the “Himeji Castle AR” app and hold your smartphone over the AR marker sign for the “Phantom Window” on the top floor of the main keep, and the phantom window will appear!

We recommend comparing it with the current Himeji Castle through the camera and enjoying the differences in design and structure!



Himeji Castle

  • official
  • Yes
  • No
  • Wi-Fi
  • Toilet
  • locker
  • Restaurant On-site
  • Parking
  • foreign language brochure
    foreign language
68, Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo
Business hours
Open 24 hours a day except during events
The toll gates in Himeji Castle are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Last admission at 4:00 p.m. )
*Varies according to the season
Regular holiday
Dec 29th and 30th
Adult: 1,000 yen
Elementary and junior high school student and high school student: 300 yen
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This article is current as of Aug 7, 2019. It may differ from the latest information.