Himeji Castle, also known as the "White Heron" for its striking white facade on a hilltop in the middle of the city of Hyōgo, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. But the castle's checkered past has also attracted fans of the supernatural. Its legend even inspired the terrifying Japanese horror flick Ringu, which was later adapted as The Ring in the United States.
The haunted castle was constructed in 1333 as part of a defensive fort commanded by Akamatsu Sadanori, whose father was a samurai and governor of the territory. As with most ancient castles in Japan, Himeji had many owners.
After it was bestowed upon Ikeda Terumasa, a famous politician in the early Edo period, the castle went through several improvements. Among its upgrades was the construction of winding pathways, which was meant as a defensive strategy to confuse invaders. But the horror of Himeji Castle lies in the legend of one of its previous owners. The castle is said to have once belonged to a samurai named Tessan Aoyama, who fell in love with his servant Okiku.
But Okiku rejected him and so the nobleman concocted a sinister plan to force her hand in marriage. He accused her of stealing a valuable gold plate in the castle, an allegation that could result in her torture and execution if she did not accept him. To his surprise, Okiku still refused him and so the samurai killed her by throwing her down the well of the castle.
Her gruesome death led her spirit to allegedly haunt the castle grounds every night, ultimately driving Aoyama into madness. The insidious tale later spawned the 1998 Japanese film Ringu, in which an evil spirit crawls out of a well to haunt unlucky trespassers.
The palace was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. Visitors to Himeji can still gaze upon the legendary well, though a barrier was erected around it — lest anyone else plunge to their death.