With its gleaming white walls and elegantly terraced roofs, it is easy to forget that Himeji Castle was built as a fortress . Standing on two hilltops in the city of Himeji, the old fortress, also known as Himeji-jo, is the greatest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture from the early years of the Shogunate, which governed the island nation from the late 1500s to the 19th Century. Although never tested in battle, the castle’s elaborate defensive measures represent the best strategic design the period produced. While these measures have since been rendered obsolete, the same cannot be said for the castle’s soaring, pristine aesthetic, which earned it the nickname Shirasagi-jo – “Castle of the White Heron.” Much of Japanese history vacillated between periods of factional and unified Imperial rule. During the 16th Century, the daimyo Oda Nobunaga began to conquer and consolidate the disparate shogunates of the archipelago into a single state, a process continued by his successor, Toyotomo Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi was as shrewd as Nobunaga was tactical, and by 1590, all of Japan was united under his nominal authority; however, without a sufficient political structure to truly hold sway over the islands, many regions were entrusted to the direct control of the local daimyo.
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