Final Project Architectural description of Himeji Castle Reconstruction in Second Life By: Lourdes Pernia
The real Himeji Castle is located in the center of Himeji City, about 50 kilometers west of Kobe and about 650 kilometers west of Tokyo. Himeji Castle is also called the "White Heron" Castle because of its white walls, which are covered with white plaster. The reason for using white plaster is that it is fireproof. Like other Japanese castles, Himeji Castle is made mostly of wood, so the plaster is necessary for fire protection as well as reinforcement. It is the best preserved example of 17th century Japanese architecture, and is considered a “classical” Japanese castle.
The entire castle complex covers 233 hectares, which is 50 times larger than the Tokio Dome. The castle keep, or Tenshukaku , is the innermost structure of the castle. It is also the most prominent and best defended, being two stories higher than the towers. The Tenshukaku of Himeji Castle, which in real life is closed to visitors for reconstruction and preservation, is the portion of the castle complex that was reproduced. The best feature of this reproduction is that not only it is faithful to the original but it is also made in real scale, allowing to fully appreciate the spatial proportions of the building.
To understand its characteristics, it is important to understand that the Tenshukaku was made to be the last line of defense in case of an enemy attack, and it was not built as a habitable space. Instead, the landlord or Daimyo, would reside in the more comfortable middle section of the castle complex.
The Himeji Castle is famous for its white color, which comes from the plaster of the walls. However, the white walls also had a second purpose. Since the castle was built to defend from attackers, the intricate paths and the white color of the walls served to confuse invaders into going in circles around the main building, making it more difficult to invade. The light inside the building is mostly natural, and the corridors have wide openings to let the light in.
For defensive purposes, the circulation inside the Tenshukaku is purposely complicated, so only the people who knew the most efficient path would have the advantage.
The entrance to the front yard is made through a long hallway between two doors, a space easily visible from any of the towers. Once inside, there are numerous small buildings and towers that serve as decoy entrances and as storage rooms in case of a siege.
The real entrance to the Tenshukaku is small and hidden from the front yard by another hallway that goes around a corner. The inside of the main building is separated into different floors, each one serving different purposes.
The base floor is full of corridors and dead-end rooms, with only few sets of stairs that lead to the upper floors.
The second and third floors have various stairs that connect them in different points, and also connecting to mid-levels between both floors, to create a maze-like space that separates the top floors from the ground. This also facilitates easy defense, as samurai and other castle guards can hide and ambush the invaders in any of the multiple rooms and corridors.
The third and fourth floors also connect to two towers, which can only be accessed from inside the main building. A large corridor connects these two, acting as both a turret for archers and a supply storage room. Finally, the fourth floor acts as a small maze and choke point, with only one narrow stair leading up.
One of the most interesting things, is that the outside of the building does not correspond to the inside layout, so as to confuse invaders. It appears from the outside that the Tenshukaku has five floors, when it actually has six and an unseen basement.
These two extra-floors are the highest floors and the best defended, where the daymio, and other important figures are supposed to take refuge in the event of an attack.
The lower one is the place built for the last stand, having the stair from the floor below and the one to the floor above in right angles and opposite from one another. The last floor is also the last room, having no inner walls and serving as a center of command. From here, the daymio could have a clear view of the entire castle complex, and have enough room for his family.
Overall, the circulation inside the Himeji Castle is made to be confusing and complicated. The only two structures that have a straightforward circulation layout are the two towers connected to the main building, because they are meant to be the base of operations of the castle guards. The rest of the building is constructed to make circulation difficult, with a lot of sharp angles, many rooms and corridors that lead nowhere, and no clear indication of route or defined progression.
But not everything about the Himeji Castle is solely for defense. The architectural design of the rooftops and building mass have a great artistic value. The shape of the roofs and their color, in contrast to the white walls, is what earned the Himeji Castle its alternate name, “White Heron Castle”. The stone foundation and the general shape of the Tenshukaku were made to look impressive, and also to express the highest values of the samurai class: Beauty, discipline and determination.
Because of this, the aesthetic value of the castle has always been an important aspect. The building has a very good balance of textures between the rooftops, grayish blue, and the smooth white walls. The windows and skylights also offer a rigid, yet interesting, pattern.
The support structure also functions as an architectural element, and far from hiding the structural beams, these are laid down in sets and intervals to produce rhythm and enrich the appeal of the inner spaces.
Size is also important in this building, because it plays a key role in the expression of power and dominance. The building has to be able to intimidate invaders and reassure its residents, and it accomplishes this with large doors, big imposing walls and massive hallways.
Once inside, however, the situation is reversed. Too much space could allow for easier access for an enemy, so the insides of the building have merely acceptable proportions for circulation, only to increase again in the higher areas, where large groups of people are meant to be.
Although big, the building is entirely made of wood and plaster, with only the foundations being of stone. This allows for a more flexible design and faster construction. Because of the materials limitations, it also limits the proportions of the building to a certain size.
The building also has a more peaceful side in regards to its size. It is the center of a very big complex, whose entire purpose is protecting the people who live in and around it.
The front and back yards have beautiful gardens. Since the castle is located on a hilltop, it has a great view of the entire surrounding area from its highest room.