Himeji Castle, with cherry blossom looking pretty against white walls
Himeji Castle has even been selected among the “100 Famous Cherry Tree Sites”. Within the castle grounds are approximately 1,000 of Japan’s famous Yoshino cherry trees, and when in full bloom set against the backdrop of white walls, everyone is impressed by the beautiful scene they produce.
Other highlights include the cherry trees that line Sannomaru Square on the way from the large front gate up to Himeji Castle and the Weeping cherry trees of Nishinomaru Garden. Weeping cherry trees, with their gently hanging branches, really complement the Nishinomaru location, which was home to Princess Sen , the wife of Honda Tadatoki (Himeji Castle’s proprietor) and granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who established the Edo shogunate in 1603. The year 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Princess Sen’s marriage, and 2017 is the 400th anniversary of her arrival at Himeji Castle.
Cherry blossom viewing parties are held annually at Sannomaru Square as events where one can enjoy cherry trees and Japanese culture. Performances with a hundred koto instruments and lively Japanese drums are well worth listening to. Tea ceremony experiences can also be enjoyed at tea ceremony seating established in the venue.
Himeji Castle normally cannot be entered at night, but Nishinomaru Garden in the cherry blossom season is an exception. During the period of cherry blossom viewing parties, you can enjoy the magical spectacle of Himeji Castle decorated with illuminations and cherry blossom trees.
Citizens of Himeji look forward to the Castle Festival (held May 20th to 22nd every year) at which there are various events, including parades and stage performances with citizen participation and takagi noh (noh performances put on outdoors at night together the burning of kindling). Particularly popular are the historical processions replicating the wedding procession of Princess Sen (procession in which the bride heads toward the home of the bridegroom) and a samurai parade with armor and helmets.
In Himeji City, tourists can personally experience armor and helmets. The armor and helmet experiences held every Sunday provide an opportunity to walk around the castle ground while wearing real armor and helmets.
Himeji Castle, the World Cultural Heritage Site whose appearance from 400 years ago has been revived
Completed in 1609, Himeji Castle was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites to be registered in Japan. The castle tower from the time of its construction still exists today and is designated as a national treasure. The unique style and elegant appearance connecting the large castle tower and three small castle towers is also highly renowned internationally. In March 2015, preservation and repair work on the large castle tower, which took around 5 and a half years, was completed, reviving a beautiful appearance that is appropriate for its nickname “White Heron Castle”.
At Himeji Castle, you can enjoy the Himeji Castle Great DiscoveryAR app*, which makes it possible to see through CG the buildings that no longer exist and old ways of life within the castle grounds. Take a trip back through time to the days of the samurai when you visit Himeji Castle!
* Freely downloadable from App Store (iPhone) or Google Play
Summer at Himeji is festival season
The “Shoshazan Festival of New Green Leaves” at Shoshazan Engyoji Temple (held from May 3rd to 5th every year) signifies the start of summer. In addition to public opening of private important cultural properties, there is an art event (in 2016, this is a ceramic art class).
Shoshazan (at an elevation of 371m, or about 1,271ft) is approximately 35 minutes from Himeji-jo Ootemon-mae by bus and ropeway. Engyoji, which is surrounded by lush greenery, is a highly important temple for the Tendai sect of buddhism. The grounds are filled with calm, and Shakyo (sutra copying) and Zen meditation can also be experienced here.
Himeji Yukata Festival (typically held around from June 22nd to 24th each year) is said to have originated around 260 years ago as a way of encouraging common people to visit Osakabe Shrine in a friendly manner in their yukata when the shrine (Himeji Castle’s guardian deity) was moved to the center of town by Sakakibara Masamine, who was then lord of the castle.
During the period of the Yukata Festival, there are various benefits given to people who are wearing yukata, such as half-price bus fares, free access to Himeji Castle and art museums, and souvenirs handed out in shopping districts. There are also services for yukata rental and fitting, so you should definitely try taking part in a yukata.
Ieshima Shrine on Ieshima island, an island on the Harimanada sea, has a history spanning more than 1,000 years as the site for the faith of men of the sea. Ieshima Shrine’s annual “Ieshima Tenjin Festival” (held from July 24th to 25th every year) features a heroic lion dance (a traditional performance in which dancers wear headdresses of the fictional shishi lion) where the participants wish for safety on the seas and an abundant harvest together with flutes and drums on-board magnificent boats with streamers.
Autumn colors and heroic festivals are signs of autumn
With its rich natural environment, Himeji City also has beautiful autumn colors. A particular must-see is the autumn colors at the Japanese-style Kokoen Garden, which is adjacent to Himeji Castle. There are 9 gardens here, each of which has its own unique autumn scenery.
The autumn festival of Matsubarahachiman Shrine is known as the “Nada Fighting Festival” (held from October 14th to 15th every year), and there are tourists from overseas who come just to see this. The event features a ritual in which three portable shrines are run into each other, as well as a stirring performance in which gorgeously decorated floats move to and fro with great intensity. In October, torii shrine arches are erected, paper lanterns for the festival are hung up, and the festival mood is created in front of warehouses, etc. where floats from each area are brought together.
Culturally rooted winter events
The large zodiac event at Anjikamo Shrine sees the presentation of two enormous zodiac animals made using ears of rice from a paddy field measuring one-tenth of a hectare (990m2/approx. 0.2 acres). With the help of a crane, children pull the large zodiac animal for the next year in a typical winter event called “zodiac pulling” (held on December 1st) on the road approaching the shrine.
The day before the first day of spring on the calendar is called “setsubun”, and on this date an event is held in which good health for the year and aversion of catastrophe are wished by throwing lucky beans (roasted soybeans). Himeji Shrine’s setsubun festival features a humorous scene in which a red ogre and blue ogre follow child ogres in a lap around the grounds, with calamity averted by shining torches held in their right hands. Thereafter, approximately 20,000 bean-bags stuffed with lucky beans are sprinkled onto the watching audience.
Cuisine produced by natural features – something to try when you visit Himeji
Being blessed with water and being close to the producing area of Yamada Nishiki rice (the highest quality of sake rice), Himeji has 8 sake brewers. Some of these breweries provide tours and tastings, so make sure you try some delicious sake when you visit Himeji.
Himeji, which faces the Harimanada sea, has an abundance of delicious fresh seafood. The famous densuke conger eel (a large conger eel weighing at least 300g/approx. 0.66lb) with a lot of fat tastes best in wintertime.
Oden, in which ingredients such as processed seafood and daikon radish are cooked together for a long time in flavored dashi broth, is one of Japan’s staple foods. Ingredients and broth flavors change depending on the region, but Himeji’s oden is noted for being eaten with ginger and soy sauce. This is an unusual style not found anywhere else in Japan.
Almond toast, which is said to have originated at cafes within Himeji City, is still established as one of Himeji’s famous products. Its slightly sweet flavor is perfect for breakfast or a light meal, so why not try it when you visit Himeji?
With a wealth of information and services, make sure you drop by once you’ve arrived in Himeji!
The Himeji Tourism Navi Port tourist information center, located on the west side of the central concourse in JR Himeji Station, is full of services designed for tourists who are visiting Japan. As well as being able to use free Wi-Fi and cell phone charges, rent-a-cycles are available free of charge. There’s also a wide selection of pamphlets containing information and maps detailing sightseeing spots and restaurants, etc. in multiple languages. Make sure you drop by!
Himeji is full of highlights regardless of the season or when you choose to visit. Select your preferred festival or event, and take a trip to the World Cultural Heritage Site of Himeji Castle and the surrounding castle town!