When travelling in Japan, Himeji is a popular day trip choice in the Kansai region. It’s easily accessible from both Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe and visitors are drawn by its one big attraction, Himeji Castle. Japan’s most iconic castle is an architectural treasure, a World Heritage Site and the building that inspired this emoji:
Unsurprisingly, the castle draws thousands of visitors every year. However, there are plenty of additional things to do in the area to make the most out of your trip to Himeji. Here are some ideas to help you arrange your travels including where to stay, what to see and how to get there.
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How to get to Himeji from Osaka and Kyoto?
When travelling from Osaka, you can choose to take the Shinkansen or the JR local train depending on your budget and time restrictions. If you are happy to pay more, you can get there faster. Travel along the Sanyo Shinkansen line from Shin-Osaka to Himeji on the regular service costing around ¥3500. You will arrive there in around 40 minutes. A cheaper option is the JR trains (Shin-kaisoku) which take one hour and cost ¥1520 leaving from Osaka station.
If your starting point is Kyoto, then you can again get the Shinkansen. This time start on the Tokaido/Sanyo lines. The journey should take roughly 45 minutes and cost around ¥5000. The local train is a cheaper alternative costing ¥2300 although it does take longer at around 90 minutes.
JR Kansai Area Pass
It is worth mentioning the JR Kansai Area Pass as an option for foreign travellers. This pass can offer good value for money if you are planning to explore other places in the Kansai area before or afterwards. It offers you unlimited travel in the region and can be ordered and delivered to you prior to your visit to Japan. This is a great service to use if you already know your itinerary.
Himeji 588 Guest House is praised for being excellent value for money considering the prime location. This Japanese style accommodation is cosy and friendly and scores highly with solo travellers. This is an excellent budget option that is close to the castle and the train station.
Address: 21 Kooderamachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0852
Price: From ¥3,196 for a single bed in a dormitory room.
Shironoshita Guesthouse has wonderful owners who are happy to chat in English or in Japanese. Guests say it feels like a little bit of home after a long journey. The location is convenient and the property is very clean.
The only hotel on our list of recommendations, this property has everything a traveller needs. It’s in a good location, it’s clean and it’s comfortable. The rooms are spacious and modern. This property would work for you if you want a no-fuss option with good wifi, some privacy and a highly rated breakfast.
Things to do in Himeji
Price: ¥1000 (castle only)
¥1050 (castle and Kokoen Garden)
Opening Hours: 9:00 to 17:00 (until 18:00 from late April through August)
It will come as no surprise that Himeji Castle tops the list of things to do in Himeji. This strikingly white, 83 room, hilltop masterpiece is known as the White Heron Castle. It stands proudly as an iconic representation of stunning Japanese architecture. However, it’s serene appearance can be misleading as the castle has withstood multiple threats to its existence over the years.
For example, during the Meiji Period, numerous Japanese castles were being destroyed. Others were suffering due to their costly preservation fees. The Government had Himeji Castle lined up for demolition. Fortunately, Nakamura Shigeto, an army colonel of the time, campaigned desperately to keep the castle. His efforts were successful and the castle was saved. A monument was erected in his honour inside the castle and can still be viewed today.
Then, in 1945, the city was badly bombed during the end period of WWII. Miraculously, Himeji Castle managed to remain standing, despite the widespread destruction caused in the surrounding area. It was an unbelievable stroke of luck.
In 1995, disaster struck again as ‘The Great Hanshin Earthquake’ left a devastating effect on the local community. Once again, the castle managed to defy the odds and remain standing.
A visit to Himeji Castle will bring many delights for visitors. There are plenty of good ghost stories and legends surrounding the castle’s history. One of the most well known is ‘Okiku and the plates.’ In the tale, Okiku is falsely accused of stealing the treasured family plates. She is consequently murdered and thrown into the well. These days, it is said that you can hear Okiku crying from the well when it is the darkest hours of the night.
Photography fans will have plenty of opportunities to capture the perfect picture. If you enter the castle through the Otemon Gate, which is admission free, you will find an area lined with cherry trees. This is a very popular spot to take photographs. If you don’t want to go inside the castle, here is a list of alternative spots to view the castle from:
Shirotopia Memorial Park and Furusato-no-Mori
Nagoyama Cemetery Takadai Park
Tegarayama Horticultural Information Office
Himeji Castle San-no-Maru Square
Himeji City Museum of Art, Front Yard
Mt. Masui Pocket Park on City Road Shirakuni-Masui
In terms of other options around Himeji, Koko-en garden is a wonderful place to stroll. Here, you can take in nature with Himeji Castle standing magnificently in the background. The gardens are built on the archaeologically excavated site of samurai houses and roads.
Even though it was only recently built, the garden was designed and constructed with gardening techniques from the Edo period in mind. Additionally, the gardens were designed to reflect the four seasons in Japan. There are nine different gardens within Koko-en, including a Japanese water garden and a tea garden.
Shoshazan Engyo-ji is a Buddhist temple and training dojo located on the west side of Himeji. It is the 27th stop along the path of 33 Sacred Temples of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage. You may also recognise it as a filming location from the Tom Cruise hit ‘The Last Samurai’. Many scenes were filmed in and around its three sacred temples.
Located on a mountain top, you can access the temple by bus, foot or ropeway. Visitors can enjoy various activities here such as zazen meditation or sampling traditional Buddhist cuisine. Reservations are required in advance for these activities.
Offering guided tours in both Japanese and English, the Nagagiku Sake Brewery is a highly rated place to sample sake. The brewery features a variety of award-winning sakes and you can also buy and sample local food inside to compliment the drinking. Established in 1910, a visit here is a great option for those that enjoy sake.
With an impressive view of the castle, the Himeji City Museum of Art hosts exhibitions in three galleries promoting art and local culture. The beautiful red brickwork stands as a contrast to the brilliant white of Himeji Castle. Both are illuminated in the evening offering a different atmosphere to the daytime experience. The Museum of Art is a good choice if you enjoy looking at sculptures, of which there are many in the grounds.
Mount Shosha is a mountain situated around 30 minutes from Himeji. The site is named Engyoji and has a history dating back over 1000 years. The temples are hidden within the lush forests of the mountain and offer excellent views over Himeji. Due to the stunning surrounding natural beauty, the mountain was used as a filming location in ‘The Last Samurai’.
Visitors should take the number 8 bus from Himeji Station to Mount Shosha Ropeway. Alternatively, you can hike up the mountain which should take under an hour depending on your fitness level.
With historic Japanese jewels to beautiful scenery and hiking, Himeji has plenty to offer visitors. Whether you decide to take a day trip or stay for several nights, you will certainly experience a truly authentic slice of Japan in Himeji.
Originally from England, Lizzy has finally made her dreams of moving to Japan a reality. For as long as she can remember, Lizzy has been dazzled by the bright lights of Tokyo and enchanted by the historic streets of Kyoto. She loves dining out, hates people who talk too much in meetings and enjoys a good ten hour sleeping marathon at the weekend.
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