I know a lot of you readers would have at some point wanted to visit a haunted house. But the danger of repurcussions kept you at bay. Well, the good news is there is an entire castle filled with secrets of ghost sightings and a painful backstory to that. It is completely safe to visit all around the year with at least a hundred tourists seen exploring every corner of it. Also it turns out, the world famous horror movie The Ring’s story line originated from this castle. To put cherry on top, lets also bring to light that a castle this mysterious is a World Heritage Center recognized by the United Nations. Strange right? Read on!
A trip to this castle takes about 3 hours from Tokyo through the JR Tokaido rail line and 1 hour from Osaka on the JR Sankyo rail line. Being the face of all ancient castles in Japan, Himeji also tops the list for being the most visited all through the year owing to its infamous history and the artistry it projects. This stately piece of art that we are exploring is located in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. It is considered one of the most resplendent castles within the country for obvious reasons – It is beautiful to behold and is the oldest surviving castle in the land. Being a cultural ambassador of Hyogo, the structure carved entirely out of wood has managed to hold its poised stance since the 17th century. It is reminiscent of the famous Shogun era in its architectural style as it encloses within its folds a staling 83 interlinking buildings.
These are in fact, an ingenious network of defense systems and chambers built to serve the purpose of strengthening the army. The many arched roofs of the castle are layered one above the other which is probably what gives the castle the appearance of a bird soaring in the sky. Both the interior and exterior walls have been covered from the walls to the rafters with white earthen plaster giving it a irremovable sheen. Rightly so, it is called the “White Heron” of Japan standing proud in its soil while its tail extends skyward.
Initially built in the mid 14th century, the castle was torn down by the power of a new kingdom and rebuilt back to its present form in the 1600s. Now the castle, opens gates to many commercial activities like Cherry blossom viewing fair, drum performance, Moon viewing fair, and the most popular one of all – the All Japan Ceramics market which falls right around the peak of the Autumn season. The castle also boasts a prime location with other cultural sites crowding around it making it sit literally the heart of all tourist activities in Hyogo. Don’t miss a visit to the nearby Japanese garden Koko-en which tapers one corner of the castle and the Ootokoyam Sen-hime Shrine which tapers the other. The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History is also found a stone’s throw away to quench all the doubts about the historic city.
The most prominent thing about Himeji castle that will catch your eye is the towering structure called Tenshukaku at the center of the complex, which climbs up to a steep 302 feet in the sky. Three smaller subsidiary towers called Kotenshu crowd around it forming a cluster of towers. From a distance, Himeji Castle looks like five layers of stacked white colored lego blocks all neatly stacked like simple geomtry. However it spreads out into six floors and a basement area into a complex system of interior rooms and connecting passages. These passages of the edifice homes facilities like defense hide-outs and kitchen corridors which were built away at a discreet corner to prevent the enemy forces from pilfering goods and launching into a sudden attack. Although alight with movement of many footsteps, the castle has a quiet, dim aura that radiates mystery to the many standing awestruck by its brilliant plan and maze-like passages.
The castle originally had three moats within its area to store water in case of a fire, but in the years following its completion, one was buried leaving only two for public viewing now. There are 13 wells around the same area measuring as much as 98 feet in depth. Walking through the inner buildings, one can locate the many warehouses which used to store rice, salt and supplies during the feudal era. A whole build called the ‘Salt Turrel’ or the Shiyogura which now lies as a corridor of silent echoes used to store more than 3000 bags of salt when the castle was inhabited by kings.
There are plenty of old rumors and lore wafting past the corridors of this castle. A predominant one is that of the Bancho Sarayashiki. According to this legend, Okiku - one of the servants who worked in the castle was wrongly accused of pilfering family treasures and losing dishes. She was said to have been executed and thrown in the well and her ghost remains to haunt the well at night climbing out to count dishes in a chilling, impassive tone. The well still remains as a historic site, a proof of the crime and history that has seeped into the nation’s past.
This story is what gave rise to the millions-grossing film, The Ring. The story however, did not dwindle the popularity of the castle as a sight seeing spot even a smidgen. It in fact, made it all the more popular as thousands of people wanted to take a look around this imposing castle, which had a twist of a horror legend ingrained within its walls. In the evening, with its mild lighting that casts a hue of blue all over its white walls, the legends seem to crawl out in the open air. But its too late to turn away and run. Because the sheer beauty of Himeji has already has you in its grasp.