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Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage building built in the 17th century and is believed to have a potential obsession with the sinister legend of the Yokai (Japanese word, literally meaning “creature”. Sometimes also called Yurei, literally “ghost”) : Okiku.
Is Himeji Castle Haunted?Photo by siamkop is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Himeji Castle History:

Located in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, this castle is considered one of the oldest buildings in Japan.

Built in the middle of the feudal period, Himeji Castle (also known as “White Heron Castle”) will be extended for the first time with the construction of two enclosures just after the end of a civil war that lasted 10 years following a dispute between two powerful clans during the Muromachi period (1336-1573): the Katsumoto and the Sozen.

During its history, the fortress will undergo many changes of ownership, particularly due to its strategic location, since it is located on Mount Himeji, which rises to a height of approximately 371 metres.

Thus, from the 16th century onwards, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, considered one of the three unifying fathers of the Japanese country during the Sengoku period (1477-1573), took control of Himeji Castle and asked his daimyo (or strategic leader) Kuroda Yoshitaka to build a three-story tower. This would correspond to the current dungeon as we know it.

Further expansion of the castle will take place in 1609 with the addition of a new floor to the tower and an extension of the buildings in the western enclosure around 1618.

From 1868 onwards, the Japanese government ordered its army to seize Himeji Castle, which was still occupied during the Edo period (between 1600 and 1868) by daymios outside the Shogun circle of Ieyasu Tokugawa in order to dislodge them and install the base of the 10th Infantry Regiment which would occupy it until 1874, before ceding it to the War Ministry from 1879.

Since 1910, the main tower has been renovated and had 6 floors at that time. The cost of the work was estimated at about 90,000 yen (the equivalent of 715.69 euros today). In 1945, Himeji Castle and a school near it were bombed by the American Air Force. Only the military building survived, although even today, during the visits, some traces of the bombs’ passage can still be seen.

In 1993, Himeji Castle was officially classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Between April 2010 and March 2015, major renovation work was undertaken to restore the fortress’ original appearance as faithfully as possible. The cost of the work was estimated at a colossal 2.4 billion yen, or 19 million euros. For 5 years, only the paths surrounding the large park of the castle were allowed to visitors. It was from March 27, 2015 that the work was completed and access to the main building was granted to the public.

The legend of the Yokai Okiku :

Is Himeji Castle Haunted?
Illustration of Okiku, the supposed haunted spirit of Himeji Castle.

If there is indeed a legend in the mystical realm related to Himeji Castle, it is that of Yokai: Okiku.

Okiku would have been a servant in the service of a samurai named Tessan. This one had the role of serving Himeji’s castle no matter what. The samurai fell madly in love with her.

Unfortunately, Okiku was not under the man’s spell at all and repeatedly refused Tessan’s advances. In this castle, there was a set of 10 golden plates that the servant had to keep like the apple of her eye. Then, out of pure revenge for a non-reciprocal love, the samurai stole one of these 10 golden plates.

Okiku quickly learned of the theft of this precious plate by Tessan. The latter then threw him the dilemma of either becoming his mistress or being tortured and executed for failing in his duty. However, the young servant preferred to kill herself by diving into one of the wells of Himeji Castle.

Since that night of Okiku’s suicide, several testimonies have revealed the appearance of his spirit on several occasions in the corridors of the fortress. Some suppose that she would still be looking for the missing gold plate, which has never been found.

Finally, and to conclude this article, know that the Okiku legend served as a source of inspiration for the directors of the saga The Ring successful horror films.

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John Sinclair

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