Himeji Castle was originally intended as a defensive fortification. From its initial construction by Akamatsu Sadanori in 1346 to Ikeda Terumasa's additional building in 1613, military function dictated the design of the castle.

The location of the castle is the most influential element in determining its strategic importance. Himeji is a hill castle that employs the surrounding geography as a bulwark against an enemy attack. The three moats -- inner, middle, and outer -- serve as three lines of defense. The moats were always full of water and prevented the enemy from completing an attack or siege in a short period of time. The rational behind the moats was that the enemy would be force to unload materials and supplies and then to transport them across the water in a slow and inefficient manner. By the time the enemy had gotten past the third moat, their strength and reserves were considerably lessened.

Besides the use of its natural surroundings, the architects of Himeji also employed contemporary castle technology so as to make Himeji near impenetrable. The fifteen-meter sloping stone walls make it impossible for the approaching enemy to view the castle directly from the base of the walls. The wandering passages of the castle are intended to confuse an enemy unfamiliar with the layout. The 84 gates are very heavily fortified by wood and stone as well as very small so as to make it difficult to move a great many men through at one time. There are openings (ishiotoshi) in the walls of the main complex for throwing stones and scalding water. There are also holes (sama) from which rifles and arrows can be shot. Passages connecting the four towers allow easy access and mobility. There is a residence for the lord of the castle, as well as a kitchen and a storehouse for supplies. The integration of nature and technology in Himeji Castle creates a physical and psychological barrier designed to confuse and exhaust the enemy.

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