I consider Himeji Castle to be Japan’s most beautiful fortress. Completed in 1618 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, it’s the main tourist draw in Hyogo Prefecture, and deservedly so. Thus it was with some trepidation that authorities decided to embark on a five-year restoration project of the castle’s roof and plaster walls, necessitating the erection of a protective shroud over the castle and a partial shutdown of the castle’s interior.
To be sure, it’s a major disappointment for tourists to find Himeji Castle hidden from view until 2014. Yet the story of its restoration is remarkable, and no effort was spared to make a trip here no less of an experience. First of all, temporary scaffolding was constructed over the main keep, complete with an adjacent elevator and viewing platforms of the exterior’s 7th and 8th floors, giving visitors a bird’s-eye-view of the painstaking restoration work being done on the rooftop and plaster walls. As many as 80,000 roof tiles are being removed and either cleaned or replaced. Plastering of the castle’s walls is being carried out using traditional methods, with plaster made of salt-baked slaked lime, shell ash (produced by baking the shells of oysters, bloody clams, freshwater clams, and other clams), hemp fibers, and seaweed harvested in Hokkaido. It’s so rare to be able to see work like this in progress, let alone such an up-close view of the castle’s roof, that even people who have already been here are coming just for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It took one year alone just to construct the scaffolding, and when restoration is complete, it will take another year to remove it. Himeji Castle will then shine again in all its glory, renewed, restored, and ready for future generations of admirers.