Top choice castle in Himeji

Image by Steven Duncan 500px Images

Himeji-jō is Japan's most magnificent castle, built in 1580 by general Toyotomi Hideyoshi and one of only a few original castles from that era (most are modern concrete reconstructions). Its white-plaster facade (and its elegant presence) earned it the nickname Shirasagi-jō (White Egret Castle). There's a five-storey main keep and three smaller keeps, all surrounded by moats and defensive walls. It takes about 1½ hours to follow the arrow-marked route around the castle. Last entry is an hour before closing.

The castle is often crowded – it's a popular destination for tour groups – in which case you might have to wait a little before entering some areas; if you're coming on a weekend especially, allow extra time.

While following the route through the keeps you'll get a good lesson in medieval defensive strategies, like the ishiotoshi – narrow openings that allowed defenders to pour boiling water or oil onto anyone trying to scale the walls after making it past the other defences. There are lovely city views from the top floor of the main keep. (You can also get close enough to the castle to appreciate the building, and get a good photo, before you reach the ticket gates.)

If Himeji-jō looks too good to be that old, it's because it underwent an extensive five-year renovation prior to reopening in 2014. And if it looks familiar, it's because it often appears in films, such as Kurosawa Akira's Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985).