Interesting Facts about Samurai and Himeji Castle Jigsaw Puzzle Review


Disclosure: I was sent this puzzle in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Today I am going to share another 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It is a beautiful photograph from Japan. It is the Samurai Castle and Cherry Blossoms 1,000-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle

I decided to work on this puzzle this week. I love the cherry blossom pictures. I actually finished it in only a few days. Of course I managed to lose a piece so we are on the look out for the missing piece. 

The pieces are small. The finished puzzle is 24 x 18 inches. I was amazed at how quickly it went together. It is such a beautiful photograph. I wanted to learn more about the location, so I did and am sharing about it with you as well as some fun facts about the class of people who built and inhabited the castle. 

Himeji Castle

The photograph is of the Himeji Castle. Himeji Castle is in the city of Himeji, Hyogo, Japan. It is one of the surviving examples of early 17th century Japanese castle architecture. It comprises of 83 buildings. It is on the top of Himeyama hill that once the place of a sacred shrine. The hill is 150 feet above sea level. There were other forts and castles on this site before the final Himeji Castle was built. In 1333, a fort was built on Himeyama Hill by samurai, Akamatsu Norimura. It was torn down and redesigned into a Himeyama Castle by his son in 1346. In 1581 Totoyomi Hidoyoshi, a feudal lord, added a three-story castle keep. In the early 1600s. samurai Ikeda Terumasa redeveloped the keep into the large castle complex. Ikeda rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609. Several buildings were added from 1617 to 1618 by Honda Tadamasa.

It is the largest castle in Japan. The final castle has never experienced severe damage. It survived the heavy bombing during World War II. The surrounding area was burned to the ground, but the castle remained intact. It also survived the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. It is sometimes called the White Egret Castle or the Shirasagijo Castle. It was designated a national treasure in 1931. The castle covers 576 acres and the complex has a circumference of 2.6 miles. It is built mainly of stone and wood. The highest wall is 85 feet high. The main keep is 152 feet high and thus standing 302 feet above sea level. It has six floors plus a basement but appears to only be five floors. Originally there were 84 gates in the castle but only 21 of them remain. There is a confusing maze of paths leading to the castle’s keep. This was one of the most important defensive elements. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of Japan’s three famous castles and is the most visited castle in Japan. It has even been the site for filming a James Bond movie. It can be visited year-round. It is closed on December 29th and 30th each year. It had a large-scale restoration completed in 2015.
Himeji castle painting, early Meiji period. This artwork is from a hanging scroll painting of Himeji Castle. It shows the moats, the central Keep on top of a hill called Himeyama is 45.6 m (150 ft) above sea level, and a maze of buildings and passageways with plants in front of them. The intricate layout of the castle, and the complex arrangement of walls and paths would present a considerable obstacle to an invading army.

On the first floor of the main keep is the “thousand-mat room.” It has over 330 tatami mats. The walls are filled with weapon racks with old guns, matchlocks and spears. The third and fourth floors have “stone-throwing platforms” which the samurai used to defend the castle. Feudal family crests are installed throughout the architecture showing the many families and lords that inhabited it. There is a moat surrounding the castle. You can pay to ride in the traditional Edo-period boat. Originally there were three moats. The outer moat is now buried. Next to the castle is a traditional Japanese garden called Koko-en. The garden was added to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Himeji city in 1992. Visitors can enjoy a tea ceremony in the garden.

When the feudal system was abolished in 1871 the castle was put up for auction. It was purchased for 23 Japanese yen (about $2,258 today) by a Himeji resident. The new owner wanted to demolish the castle and develop the land, but the cost to destroy the castle was too great, so the castle remained intact.

Since it is a samurai castle I thought it would be fun to learn more about the samurai. Here are some fun facts about them. 

Samurai in Armour, hand-coloured albumen silver print by Kusakabe Kimbei. Empire of Japan. The person on the left has a yumi (Japanese bow), the one in the center has a katana and the one on the right carries a yari (straight-headed spear). Photo by: Kusakabe Kimbei, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Fun Facts About Samurai

  1. In the 10th century provincial lords, daimyo, had private armies to protect their lands while they were away in the capital.
  2. There were three levels of samurai. The lowest ones were the gokenin. A gokenin had to fight for the lord to have land. The middle level were goshiGoshi owned their own land and lived there. The highest level were the hatomoto. The hatomoto were closest to the daimyo. They also were the only samurai to carry two swords. One sword, the katana was longer and measured two feet. The shorter one was one foot long and was called the wakizashi. Both curved up.
  3. Samurais lived by a strict honor code. Their code was called bushidō. They were supposed to be honorable, brave, self- disciplined, respectful and loyal to their leader. They could not stand to be insulted and would decapitate anyone who insulted them.
  4. The samurai were actually on the small side. The average 16th century samurai was between 5’3” to 5’5” in height.
  5. The samurai were noticeably hairier and lighter-skinned and had more of a European shaped nose, which suggests the may have descended from the Ainu, an ethnic group that was considered inferior by the Japanese and often the subject of discrimination. The Ainu originated from the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
  6. The samurai fought with many weapons. Originally their sword was a chokuto. It was a slimmer, smaller version of straight swords. As sword-making advanced their swords evolved to the curved ones. Samurai could carry a small knife called a tanto or a bow and arrow.
  7. The samurai would name their swords. Their honor code dictated that the samurai’s soul was in his sword.
  8. Samurais learned martial arts but since they fought on horses their sword and bow skills were more important.
  9. When gunpowder was introduced 1543, they used firearms and cannons.
  10. In late medieval times 5 or 6 percent of the population of Japan were samurais.
  11. The samurais and their lords had a highly ritualized ceremony where the samurai would present his (or her) lord with the severed head of their enemy from the battle. The women cleaned the head and combed the hair. Then they blackened the teeth. Blackened teeth were a sign of a distinguished man in Japan. Then they tagged the head with its proper name and put the head on a spike. The samurai burned incense in their helmets so if their heads were cut off the heads would not be smelly.
  12. The samurai’s swords were among the best in the land and had a very sharp edge. During the Sengoku period (1467-1567) some samurai checked their swords’ sharpness by beheading a passerby on the road. This method was called “cutting down at crossroads” and was abolished in 1597.
  13. The samurai armor was created for function and mobility. It was made of plates of metal or leather and bound together by laces of leather or silk. The helmet was called a kabuto. It often featured ornaments and attachable pieces that would use for face protection and to intimidate the enemy. The neck guard on Darth Vader’s helmet is said to be inspired by the samurai’s helmet.
  14. The samurai’s armor showed his rank, the region he came from and his family’s emblems and symbols. The dragonfly was a common symbol among the samurai since the dragonfly cannot fly backwards. It represented the mentality of no retreat.
  15. A distinct aspect of the samurai fashion was the chonmage hairstyle. We call it a topknot today. It served the purpose of helping keep the helmet on while engaged in combat. They often would also partially shave their head to make the helmet more comfortable.
  16. Samurais considered dueling the most honorable way to fight so they often looked for a single enemy in the battle to fight.
  17. Samurai code encouraged the practice of wakashudo. This is when the experienced samurai forms a sexual relationship with a youth-in-training. Although the samurai married women they had homosexual affairs. Marriages were arranged by a third party. Most samurais married from other samurai families. Divorce was permitted but rare. The samurai would have to return the dowry plus it was embarrassing to all.
  18. Since the samurai were away from their own homes often their wives and daughters had to know how to fight to protect their own houses. They learned naginatajutsu which is a martial art that used a long spear called a ko-naginata. The ko-naginata allowed the women to fight without getting too close the enemy and thus avoided being overpowered. All women of samurai families were literate and well-educated.
  19. Samurai refer to only males, but there were onna-bugeisha, female warriors, who fought alongside the male samurai. Empress Jingu was said to be one of the first onna-bugeisha. After her husband died in battle she lead the armies to attack Korea in 200 AD. Legend says she and her armies defeated the Koreans without spilling a single drop of blood.
  20. EmpressJinguInKorea
    Empress Jingu setting foot in Korea by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  21. One of the most famous female warrior’s head rests under a pine tree at Hokai Temple in Aizubange, Japan. Nakano Takeko was mortally wounded in battle and asked her sister, Yuko, to decapitate her and bury her head so the enemy could not take it. Nakano was the leader of the independent women’s army or the Joshitai. She was leading the Japanese Imperial Army when she was wounded.
  22. Nakano-Takeko-Portrait-Hokaiji-Temple-Kyoto
    Nakano Takeko by Unknown, from Hokaiji Temple (法界寺蔵) in Kyoto.
    Circa before 1868., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

  23. In the 15th century a Zen monk called Zeami shared the tea ritual with shogun Yoshimasa. Yoshimasa loved the ritual and polished it up to create the tea ceremony. He also was into ikebana, the art of flower arranging, tatami floors, and monochrome ink paintings. His samurai court also did ikebana, used tatamis and drank tea. Others copied the samurai and now all are very popular in Japan.
  24. The samurai were expected to commit suicide if they lost a battler or their honor. There was a ritual suicide for the samurai that survived losing a battle called hara-kiri.
  25. If the lord died sometimes all of his samurai would kill themselves. Some of the women would also commit suicide after their samurai husbands died.
  26. There are four European men recorded has having gained samurai status: the English sailor, William Adams, a Dutch sailor Jan Joosten van Lodensteijn, the French Navy officer Eugene Collache and arms dealer Edward Schnell. It was rare and a special honor for a foreigner to become a samurai. It was bestowed by the shogun or daimyos.
  27. Some samurai lived without a lord. They either were dismissed or their lord died. They did not live by the code and commit suicide. They were called ronin which means “wandering man.” They often worked as mercenaries.


When Hazel was younger we made an origami samurai helmet from newspaper to fit her head.

I also made a smaller version of the helmet using origami paper.

What an interesting part of Japanese history. The samurai were a class of people and not just a few elite warriors. The castle is beautiful and so intricate. I hope you will check out the puzzle!