Widely considered the most spectacular castle in Japan and one of the nation's top tourist spots, Himeji-jo is about to completely disappear. Fortunately, the castle will not be gone forever, although it will not emerge from scaffolding and protective sheeting until March 2015.
The castle, work on which started as far back as 1333, is a United Nations-registered World Heritage Site and is to undergo extensive renovation work. Before the end of the month, it will be completely under wraps and there has been an influx of visitors wanting one last glance at the historic landmark.
In February alone, more than 86,000 people visited the castle, double the number in the same period last year, while in fiscal 2009, which ended on April 1, there were a total of 1.5 million visitors, the second-highest annual figure to date.
The best year for visitors was 1964, when 1.73 million people came to admire the structure. That year also marked the completion of the last major bout of renovation work.
The castle towers over the city of Himeji, about 50 km west of Kobe and 650 km from Tokyo. Also known as "White Heron Castle," because of its brilliant white plaster walls, it is made up of 83 wooden buildings and was constructed at the center of a maze of paths designed to confuse attackers and give the defenders opportunities to attack them from relative safety.
The castle survived civil war, sieges and even an incendiary bomb that landed on the roof of the main tower during World War II - but failed to explode.
The UNESCO World Heritage Listing describes it as "a masterpiece of construction in wood, combining function with aesthetic appeal, both in its elegant appearance unified by the white plastered earthen walls and in the subtlety of the relationships between the building masses and the multiple roof layers."
The interior of the castle will remain open during the restoration, although parts of the structure will be closed at different periods for repair work.
Further information: http://www.himeji-castle.gr.jp/index/English/index.html