A restoration project for the main keep of Himeji Castle was undertaken in October 2009. The so-called “Heisei (Japanese traditional era name) Restoration”–which took place 45 years after the Showa Restoration in 1964–and for approximately four years the main keep was entirely covered in scaffolding. Then, in June of this year, the scaffolding was finally disassembled and the castle was revealed. Coated in dazzling white plaster, the beauty of the walls calls to mind that of white herons, true to the castle’s nickname, “White Heron Castle.”
Positioning of the construction
The restoration work was concentrated on  white plaster reapplication,  roof replacement and  anti-seismic reinforcement. Compared to the Showa Restoration, in which buildings were dismantled for repairs, the Heisei Restoration is considered small in scale. Nevertheless, the restoration work for the largest tourism resource in Himeji City was strategically planned to maintain tourism revenue and preserve cultural assets.
“Tenku no Shirasagi,” an observation facility for the restoration work
“Tenku no Shirasagi” (“egret’s-eye view” at Himeji Castle) was established to deepen the public’s understanding of the protection and preservation of cultural assets. It was open to public for two years and ten months–from March 2011 to January 2014–during the restoration period. What is notable with this facility is that it played the primary role in resolving the number-one concern in regard to the restoration project: the decrease of tourism revenue. Thus the facility has helped to maintain revenue by attracting visitors with its observation deck built 100 meters above sea level inside the roofed scaffolding structure, offering the thrill of observing the castle architecture at close hand.
The number of visitors to the facility reached 1.84 million in total, offsetting the decline in the number of visitors to Himeji Castle (approximately 710,000 in 2012 and 880,000 in 2013). The admission to Tenku no Shirasagi was 200 yen, securing approximately 100 million yen in revenue per year. Combined with the admission to Himeji Castle, which was discounted to 400 yen during the renovation, the revenue totaled roughly 300 million yen, sufficiently maintaining the existing labor force and steady castle operation.
Four thousand tons of foundation stone/concrete
Stakes could not be used to secure the foundation when the scaffolding for Tenku no Shirasagi was erected. The areas in and around Himeji Castle are designated as special historic spots, so no ground could be excavated without revealing remains or artifacts. Therefore, to carry out piling work in the areas, excavation research was conducted and measures were taken to protect these archaeological resources. Consequently, the construction period was extended. For that reason, the foundation for Tenku no Shirasagi was built above-ground (instead of burying the foundation). After conducting a boring investigation to confirm the soil strength, foundation stone/concrete amounting to 4,000 tons was laid out, and the scaffolding structure was built on top of it.
Total cost of construction nearing 2.4 billion yen
The total cost for the construction of Tenku no Shirasagi, and other renovation work, was initially projected to be 2.8 billion yen, which, after the bidding, resulted in somewhere close to 2.4 billion yen. For this restoration project, approximately 65% of the total cost (about 1.8 billion yen) was planned to be paid at national expense and approximately 35% (about 1 billion yen) at city expense. Of the share borne by the city, approximately 50% was expected to be funded by public donations. In the end, the public donations exceeded 400 million yen and 50% of the city’s share of the cost was secured. The Showa Restoration (1956 to 1964), by comparison, cost approximately 1 billion yen (equivalent to about 4 billion yen today) and required a labor force of 250,000 persons, which explains why the Heisei Restoration is considered small in scale.
Grand reopening set for March 27, 2015
Approximately 8 months remain until the castle reopens, and Himeji City estimates that the number of castle visitors in 2015 will reach 1.9 million. In 2009, the number of castle visitors exceeded 1.56 million, due to last-minute demand before the restoration. While the maximum capacity of visitors to the castle’s main keep and other attractions is said to be approximately 7,000 persons, 20,000 persons visited the castle per day immediately before the initiation of construction in 2009. In the light of this experience, security and other practical simulations are currently being carried out. The exhibits within the castle have also been renewed and, through the use of AR technology and QR codes located in places, visitors will be able to enjoy audio guidance and virtual images on their smartphones and tablets.
The central part of Himeji City is undergoing various renovation projects, including the redevelopment of the area around the train station. However, its core project still is the restoration of Himeji Castle, the city’s largest tourism resource. Approximately 80% of all tourists to Himeji City visit the area in and around Himeji Castle, and over 50% of them leave the city on the same day. Consequently, several issues must be resolved in order to expand the city’s revenue generation in tourism. For now, we’ll wait and see how the reopening of Hijemi Castle affects the area.