The Realm of the White Heron - Mark Iandolo

A quintessential Japanese scene unfolds as Himeji Castle, towering over the surrounding landscape, basks in the first light of the day.

How do you capture the wonder of arguably the most impressive castle complex in the world?

Himeji Castle, known as the “White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle” for its stark white exterior and its supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight, is the largest castle complex in Japan. The 41,468-square meter hilltop castle, one of Japan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, dominates the surrounding area.

So how do you best represent this Japanese icon? This is the question I had when I arrived at Himeji Castle in April. Most photos you see of the building come from fairly close to it, and usually include cherry blossoms. But very few of the photos I came across on Google did justice to how immense the complex is and how dominant it is to the landscape.

After walking the massive castle grounds, a vision began to form in my head. I pictured the castle floating above the city of Himeji. I envisioned it as the cover of a fantasy novel, sitting dramatically on a forested hilltop with mountains in the background and a soft sunrise behind it – Japan is the known as “the Land of the Rising Sun” after all. I wanted an angular view of the castle, as the angles seem to bring out the best drama in all Japanese castle structures. But how to get this view?

Luck, it turns out. I toured the main donjon of the castle and from the top, I was scanning the horizon when I noticed a hill off in the distance that seemed to have an open area on the top. It literally sat at the exact height and angle from the castle that I had pictured in my mind.

I spent the night and the next morning on that hilltop alone, reveling in the castle’s majesty as seen from that viewpoint. Everything I had envisioned had come together. But what struck me about this vantage point, besides its closeness to the picture in my mind, is how simple the composition ended up being.

How do you capture the wonder of one of the most impressive castles in the world? Create a simple composition that lets the castle itself do the talking.

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