Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo in Japanese) in Himeji, Hyogo, Japan is a castle in the middle of the city of Himeji. Built on a mountain, the castle can be seen all around Himeji. It has the nickname 'White Heron Castle' due to its pale white colouration. It is one of Japan's 'Three Big Castles', has over 83 rooms, and is one of the most visited sites in Japan.
The castle was built somewhere between 1333 and 1346 (originally named Himeyama Castle) as a home for the lord of Himeji. The castle's most unique feature is the maze that surrounds the castle in the dense wooding. This was put in place as a defense measure. Though the castle was originally planned to be built in said wooding.
Himeji Castle is said to be incredibly lucky. It is spotless, surviving a takeover and riots during the Onin War. After numerous fights over the castle, it landed in the hands of the Tadasumi family. During the Meiji Restoration the Japanese government decided the castle should be owned by the government. They sent the army to throw shells at the castle. Although the shelling lasted almost a whole day, none of the shells went off. Despite this the Tadasumis handed the castle over.
When the Han system was abolished, the castle was bought back by the city of Himeji. During the Second World War, the city of Himeji was firebombed by the United States, but the castle remained undamaged. Even when a large firebomb landed in the castle, it did not go off. If it had it would have completely destroyed the castle.
Himeji Castle is now a protected cultural site and people can visit this place of history whenever they please. It is believed that the Castle is the location of one of Japans most famous ghost stories.
According to the story connected to this legendary ghost, during the early times of the castle, Okiku was a servant. She worked in one of the dungeons (the bottom of one of the four guard towers). Okiku's dungeon is believed to have been the one furthest down the mountain.
Okiku's master was a successful samurai named Tessan Aoyama, whose wife had gathered ten expensive, dutch golden plates. A lot of Okiku's duties involved looking after these plates in the area called 'The Plate Mansion'. Tessan however was not loyal to his wife and had taken a liking to Okiku, Eventually, in secret, he asked Okiku to become his mistress. saying that he would leave his wife. Okiku however showed no interest in Tessan Aoyama, and so she honourably said no.
Tessan Aoyama was, however, unaccustomed to not having his own way (at this time he was also plotting to kill the head of Himeji Castle). Genuinely believing that it was his moral right to get what he wanted, he decided to hide one of the ten golden plates that Okiku had to look after. Okiku realised that the plate was missing and began looking for it. During this time, Tessan approached her, saying that if she did not decide to become his mistress then he would blame her for the missing plate, and have her tortured, then executed. Okiku, however, certainly did not want to spend any time with this man. Since neither choice seemed worth living for, Okiku dove into the well in the castle courtyard, drowning herself. To cover up the real reason behind her suicide, Tessan kept the plate hidden, and blamed Okiku for it.
After that night, however, every night Okiku's ghost would appear (or Yuurimi, as the Japanese describe this type of ghost - a Yuurimi is the spirit of someone who died in sudden or rash circumstances, charactarised by pitch black hair, a white dress, and dismembered, or missing, hands and feet). Okiku's Yuurimi would climb out of the well, walk into the Mansion of Plates, and check on the plates. The ghost would count the plates, and upon reaching nine and not findng ten, the ghost would wail unnaturally.
This phenomenon continued, and Tessan Aoyama knew that he should probably put the plate back in order to appease the ghost. But still convinced that he'd have the last laugh, he refused. And so every night, the Yuurimi would continue this ritual, and this eventualy drove Tessan to insanity. He was thrown out of the castle, which ironically saved the castle's master from Tessan's assassination attempt.
This story has became one of the best known Japanese plays ever, it has many variations. although this version is widely accepted as the most accurate. The haunting of Okiku's ghost continues to this day, though not as frequent and not as persistant as it originally was. The well where Okiku drowned is known as 'Okiku's Well'