HIMEJI, Hyogo - After its latest major restoration work, the main donjon of Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, was opened to the public in late March after about five years.
About 10,200 visitors gazed upon the castle's beautiful white walls against the blue sky. Castle buffs and tourists who had waited for the day when the "White Egret Castle" was again on view cheered to see the castle's renewed elegance.
Free guide map
The charm of Himeji Castle varies from morning to night and depending on where you're standing. Local volunteers familiar with the castle made a guide map that introduces 10 points with superb views of the castle and started to distribute copies of the map to visitors and tourists on March 27.
The volunteers hope visitors will enjoy not only the interior of the castle, but also the exterior while walking around the castle grounds.
The map shows visitors where they can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the castle, a place where the castle appears to tower over them, a point where the three small castle towers can be seen at the same time and glass windows of a building on which the castle is reflected with the right and left sides reversed.
Tsuyoshi Fukunaga, who has guided tourists around the castle and the grounds for more than 20 years, is an adviser for the Himeji tourism volunteer guide group.
"Himeji Castle reveals different charms according to where you are when you look at it, as though it had been built to be appreciated right from the beginning," he said.
In selecting vantage points for the map, Fukunaga made up a working group together with those who have a good practical knowledge of the castle, including Takeshi Shibata of a nonprofit organisation, the Senbajosai no Kai.
They exchanged opinions and visited each suggested point. As access to the main donjon is limited to 15,000 people per day to ensure safety, an official of the Himeji Convention & Visitors Bureau, a public interest incorporated association, said, "We hope visitors who cannot enter the castle can still appreciate the structure while walking around the grounds."
Fukunaga, who also witnessed the renovation work between 1956 and 1964, said, "After the previous restoration, since the Shinkansen train was not yet in service, I think there were fewer visitors."
Regarding the stark white walls of the castle that were restored during the latest renovation work, he said with a smile: "I'm really happy to see the 'White Egret Castle' restored. I hope people appreciate the beauty at various points."
The maps are available for free at the castle, the Himeji Convention and Visitors Bureau's office in the Honmachi district in Himeji, and the tourist information centre at JR Himeji Station.