Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo, or 姫路城). 2008.
Himeji Castle, the “White Heron Castle,” dominates the City of Himeji’s skyline and aura. It’s Japan’s largest and most shockingly beautiful castle from antiquity. Himeji, the city, lies on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea/Osaka Bay, just down a ways from Kobe. Kobe’s the capital of Hyogo Prefecture, the only one that spans the full breadth of Honshu Island, the largest in the Japanese archipelago. I know something of Himeji as it was only a 1-hour and 15-minute train ride, aboard the “Bantan Line,” from the small town I lived in during 1990 and 1991. I was very fortunate in that my town was situated almost smack in the middle of Hyogo Prefecture; thus I could go either north to the Sea of Japan, to the hot spring town of Kinosaki, which boasts shockingly beautiful views of the sea and the craggy cliffs that overlook it, or go south, about the same distance, to Himeji, and enjoy “city life” in a town with a population topping 500,000 and home to a glorious castle from ages past.
A good 3-minute, introductory video from NHK:
I’ve visited Himeji Castle more times than I can recall. It never gets “old” to me. I went there, and around Himeji (the city) countless times in 1990 and ’91, with friends, with my mom (see photo below), a former fiance, and over the years with others, including friends from Tokyo, a former wife, a group of University of Alabama-Birmingham history students and others. Himeji Castle is a dear place to me. Note for your “Bucket List”: coming into or passing through Himeji at night by train and seeing Himeji Castle all lit up. An amazing, shockingly beautiful site.
Himeji Castle has also been the backdrop for countless films, in and out of Japan. Here are a couple you may know about . . .
“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” (1967)
Summary: James Bond is “killed,” then goes under cover to Japan, where he saves the world from SPECTRE.
Film Notes: * In a blooper, British agent Henderson asserts, and Bond agrees, that 007 likes his vodka martinis “stirred, not shaken.” * Ian Fleming took the title from Japanese poet celebrated 17th Century poet Bashō‘s assertion that one only really lives twice: right when one is born and right before one dies. * This is the third Bond film in which his arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavo Blofeld, appears (played here by Donald Pleasence). * Sean Connery’s Japanese pronunciation is atrocious. I’m talking utterly cringe-making.
While walking around the grounds of Himeji Castle . . .
Bond: “Do you have any commandos here?”
Tiger Tanaka: “I have much, much better. Ninjas. Top-secret, Bond-san. This is my ninja training school”
About 12 seconds into the trailer above, you’ll see a swordsman rushing the camera, at the foot of Himeji Castle.
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SHOGUN (Miniseries, 1980)
Summary: James Clavell’s epic novelization of historical figure Will Adams, late 16th & early 17th Century English trader who befriended Japanese daimyo-cum-Shogun, Tokogawa Ieyasu (founder of the Tokogawa Shogunite that would last 250 years).
Notes: * Himeji Castle is used extensively in scenes . . . as Osaka Castle. * Full Circle Part I: in 1600, after the decisive battle of Sekigahara, Shogun Tokugawa (“Toranaga” in the novel and miniseries) gave his Himeji Castle to his son-in-law, Teramasa Ikeda, who embarked on an extensive tear-down and re-construction of the structure, eventually giving it the iconic form it has today, and which it had during the filming of Shogun. * Connections: Legendary Japanese actor, Toshiro Mifune, played “Lord Toranaga” (the Tokugawa character) in Shogun. Mifune was famed Director Akira Kurosawa’s go-to leading man and/or scene stealer in no less than 16 Kurosawa films, but not in Kagemusha or Ran (see below), which both used Himeji Castle as a set piece. Besides Shogun, Mifune also starred in English language or Western-produced films Grand Prix, (the incredible, though almost devoid of dialog) Hell in the Pacific, and Midway. (and the forgettable, 1941).
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Himeji-jo also featured prominently in Akira Kurosawa’s modern masterpieces, Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). Here’s a trailer for Ran where, at the 24-26 second mark, you can glimpse the underside of Himeji-jo.
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A few photos from a visit or two past. I made a wonderful video of an all-by-myself visit to Himeji Castle during cherry blossom season, 1991, but, alas, it’s lost or destroyed one of my recent moves.
Left-to-Right: my mom, someone I used to know, me. Himeji-jo. 1991.
Next (when I get around to it): Lost in Translation and Memoirs of a Geisha. Also, I have to give a shout-out to the wonderful Francophile Blog, Le Stuff, whose wonderful, multi-part To Catch a Thief series inspired this one.
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2012 Update: I was recently contacted by the owner of an Asia Travel Blog who asked me if I would link his Himeji Castle page to this one. After taking a look at it, I certainly will. A great and in-depth history of Himeji Castle here, at —
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