Himeji Castle replica took builder 19 years

by Ryusuke Morihara


Hiroyasu Imura spent 19 years pursuing his boyhood dream of faithfully producing a replica of Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.

The 69-year-old former insurance examiner completed his model of Himeji Castle at a scale of 1:23 in the garden of his home in Ise, Mie Prefecture, in April.

Since completing the model, Imura has been deluged with visitors. The replica has even impressed a curator of the municipal castle research office in the city of Himeji, where the real fortress stands.

The castle was listed in 1993 as a UNESCO World Heritage site along with Horyuji Temple in the ancient capital of Nara.

The official said that if someone were shown a photograph of the replica, they might think it was a picture of the actual castle. The Himeji government has named Imura as a tourist ambassador.

Himeji Castle has escaped damage for nearly 400 years since it was refurbished by feudal lord Ikeda Terumasa between 1601 and 1609. Its main donjon consists of five layers and six floors.

The replica is about 160 sq. meters, with the main keep about 2.2 meters high. It cost Imura about 18 million yen to build. He made sure every detail corresponds to the original, including the curved lines of the castle’s graceful roofs, its white walls, intricately combined connecting turret, stone walls and moat.

Imura’s first encounter with the original castle came at age 14, when he saw a photograph of it in a boy’s magazine. He was a fan of samurai movies and was inspired by castles. He wondered how people had lived in such palaces and kept thinking about reproducing Himeji Castle.

His wife, Ikuko, 66, gave him a book containing photographs of the castle on his 47th birthday. He saw a drawing of the castle in the book and made up his mind to build a replica.

Imura bought a plot of land in the town of Enza in Ise, which has a beautiful view of mountains unhindered by the sight of power lines — a setting he thought would be perfect for the replica.

He moved to the town and began building the model in 1989, using experience he gained as a joiner during his youth.

After retiring at age 60, Imura devoted his life to building the replica.

He used reinforced plastic material for the structure and carved patterns on wooden molds to show the unevenness of roof tiles.

Imura also studied reference materials to reproduce structures that no longer exist. He made repeated trips to Himeji Castle to confirm details in drawings and to count the number of stones in stairways. He once dropped a rope surreptitiously to measure the height of a stone wall while trying to avoid being noticed by a security guard.

His most difficult challenge was reproducing the stone walls. He bought stone plates, broke them into pieces several centimeters in size and then assembled the pieces in molds to reproduce the slanting walls of the castle.

Concrete was poured into the molds to solidify them — a process that took 12 years to complete.

His wife Ikuko had hoped that once the model was finished she would be able to visit hot-spring resorts, but now the couple have no time as visitors fill their parking lot.

Some visitors call Imura “lord of the castle” and ask if they can take photographs with him. “I am just a master builder,” he responds and describes his wife as “the lord of the castle.”