A World Heritage Site right in front of the station
The town of Himeji is home to Himeji Castle, a World Heritage site. The town is located about 1.5 hours away from Kyoto by Special Rapid train on the JR Kyoto Line/ Kobe Line (no transfer necessary), about 1 hour from Osaka on the JR Kobe Line, and about 35 minutes from Kobe. If you take the Shinkansen, you can get there in about 45 minutes from Kyoto, about 30 minutes from Shin-Osaka and about 15 minutes from Shin-Kobe. This is an attractive town filled with many interesting sights, and one that is easily accessible from Osaka and Kobe.
When you get to Himeji Station, get the guidebook available at the Himeji Kanko Navi Port, a tourist information center right by the central exit of the station. This convenient, easy-to-carry booklet gives you information on sightseeing spots, restaurants and souvenir shops, as well as a map of the central part of the city.
Ready? Let’s go! Otemae-dori Street leads to the square in front of the main Otemon Gate of Himeji Castle. It is the main street of Himeji town and as you walk down it, you can see Himeji Castle right at the end of the street. The wide sidewalk is lined with rows of camphor and ginkgo trees and there are bronze statues created by the leading sculptors of Japan. As you approach Otemon Gate, Himeji Castle looms larger and larger -an impressive sight.
For thos interested in local shopping streets, Miyuki-dori Street runs parallel to Otemae-dori. This shopping arcade has a Japanese feel, using wood for its ceilings and pillars, and is a lively shopping street where souvenir shops and restaurants are all lined up in a row.
Stroll around the castle town in a Kimono
In Himeji, you can stroll around town in a Kimono for an unforgettable memory. You can rent a set that includes a Kimono, a Juban (an undershirt for a Kimono) and slippers, so there is no need for you to bring anything with you.
The castle, a national treasure, was brought back to life and restored to its appearance of 400 years ago.
It is about a 15-minute walk from Himeji Station to the Otemon Gate of Himeji Castle. Up close, the grace of the castle gives you a feeling of dignity and power.
Himeji Castle is also called “Hakuro-jo” (white egret castle) because it looks like a white egret spreading its wings. This national treasure was the first site in Japan to be designated as a World Heritage Site. In March 2015, after the conservation and repair work of its large keep that took about 5 years and 6 months, it was brought back to life and restored to its appearance of 400 years ago.
Himeji Castle was built using the best castle-building techniques of the early 17th century. It is filled with interesting attractions such as Nishinomaru, famous for its 12 big and small gates and a corridor around 240m (about 787 feet) long, and Kesho Yagura which was a resting place for Princess Sen, a grand-daughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu who established the Edo Shogunate and the wife of Honda Tadatoki who was the lord of Himeji Castle. A booklet with the estimated viewing time require for each area is available at the entrance, so select your favorite course and walk around.
Do not miss the keep (main tower), which is considered a symbol of Himeji Castle. Its style, with a large keep and 3 small keeps connected by a turret, is unique to Himeji Castle and it has remained in perfect condition. The large keep looks as if it has 5 layers, but in actual fact it has a basement and 6 floors above ground. The stairs are slightly steep, but after you finish climbing the stairs a bright scenery suddenly opens up in front of you.
Take photos with samurai and “Shiromaru-hime” (Princess Shiromaru)
At the square in front of Himeji Castle and the castle gates you can sometimes find welcoming volunteers dressed as gatekeepers and mascots. Gatekeepers wear samurai armor and the mascot character of Himeji city is “Shiromaru-hime” (Princess Shiromaru). These charcters are happy to take photos with you and, although they are there on an irregular basis, you are more likely to meet them on weekends.
9 gardens, each with a different atmosphere, represent the four seasons
After visiting the keep and Nishinomaru, you can make your way to Koko-en, a Japanese garden next to the castle.
Koko-en is the ruins of the residence of a highly-ranked samurai who served the lord of Himeji Castle. You can stroll through its 9 Japanese gardens, each with a different atmosphere, including Oyashiki-no-niwa (“residence garden”), which faces a big pond of colourful carp, and Hana-no-niwa (“flower garden”), where wild grasses thrive.
Experience Sado (tea ceremony) in Souju-an
At Souju-an in Koko-en, you can taste Matcha green tea in an authentic tea room which faces the keep. An English leaflet shows you the proper way to drink tea.
The temple on top of the hill is a whole new world
After you have had your fill of Himeji Castle and Koko-en, visit the world of Buddhism worshipped by samurai.
On this trip, we recommend taking the bus. To get to Enkyo-ji Temple, take the Shinki Bus for “Shosha Ropeway-iki” from “Himeji-jo Otemon-mae”, which is the bus stop nearest to Koko-en. In about 30 minutes you will arrive at the foot of Mt. Shosha, which is home to Enkyo-ji Temple, a temple with over 1000 years of history. A reasonably priced package which includes a set of round-trip bus tickets and a ropeway ticket (1300 yen) is also available.
Mt. Shosha is 371m (about 1271 feet) above sea level. After you enjoy a 4-minute ride through the clouds and get off at the ropeway station on top of the mountain, a whole new world surrounded by rich nature and a tranquil atmosphere awaits you.
Enkyo-ji Temple is a renowned temple that is said to be one of the 3 largest practice dojos (training places) of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. The top of the mountain is separated into 3 areas: Higashidani, where the ropeway station is located, Nakadani, which is the central part, and Nishidani, that follows to the far back side of the mountain and is a sacred place where the Daikodo (“main hall”), a place for monks to practice, is located. Its solemn atmosphere influenced the director of The Last Samurai, one of the first films in Hollywood history with a samurai spirit theme, and Nishidani was chosen to make the film.
You can try Shakyo (sutra copying) and Zazen (Zen meditation)
You can try Shakyo and Zazen at Enkyo-ji Temple. You have two options for Shakyo: the first is copying a Buddhist sutra called the “Hannya Shingyo” (1000 yen) and the second is to write one line of the sutra on a petal-shaped paper (300 yen). It may sound difficult because the writing is in Chinese characters, but you only have to trace the existing drafts so even beginners can do it.
The Zazen experience lasts for about an hour, including explanations. Cross your legs and straighten your spine as you discover peace of mind in a hall with a history. This is a precious moment when you dismiss all other thoughts and feel mindless.
Many people are repeat visitors to Himeji because they enjoy strolling through the town, taking in its history and culture, and visiting Himeji Castle, a national treasure with a 400-year history. Check out the beauty of Himeji with your own eyes!