There are 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across Japan including places of unique form and natural beauty such as Mt Fuji, islands with rare or unique plant and animal life, temples, shrines and entire mountain villages with unique houses found nowhere else. 

However, the first place in Japan to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was Himeji Castle, an old hilltop castle dating back to 1333. Between that date and the early 1600s it was expanded several times, including the last expansion in 1609 when the five-story donjon, or main tower, was added which transformed a modest military fortress into Japan’s foremost castle and a symbol of the power of Japan’s first shogun. 

The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture consisting of 83 rooms and a defensive system though to be superior to any other in Japan at the time. Himeji jo (jo meaning castle in Japanese) is very often referred to as Shirasagi-jo or White Heron Castle because of its white walls on either side of the donjon somewhat resembling a white heron about to take flight. Himeji Castle is the largest and most often visited of the old castles in Japan. 

The primary materials used in the construction of the castle are wood and stone. Feudal family crests are installed through the castle identifying the various daimyo or feudal lords who lived in the castle throughout its long and storied history. In addition to the castle itself there are many other structures including turrets, storehouses, gates and corridors. 

The castle complex covers about 290 acres and has a circumference of about 3.2 miles. The combination of earthen and stone walls around the complex have a maximum height of 85 feet. 

The entire complex is very impressive, however the main castle, situated on a hill overlooking the city and the Inland Sea below is beyond impressive, it’s a spectacular sight.

Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.

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