Cherry trees in a line surrounds Himeji Castle
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Ultimate 1 day guide to the best of Himeji, Japan

Ultimate 1 day guide to the best of Himeji (姫路), Japan

Himeji

34° 50′ 13.19″ N
134° 41′ 22.79″ E

Himeji is a City in the Kansai region of Japan, in the Hyogo Prefecture. It is easily accessible from Kyoto or Osaka (see below) and makes a brilliant day trip. My ultimate 1-day guide to the best of Himeji covers castles, gardens and temples – just three places which should be in any visit list to this region.

The are three places which you should not miss when visiting Himeji. These are:

  1. The popular Himeji Castle;
  2. The traditional Edo-style garden called Koko-en;
  3. The Engyoji Temple at Mount Shosha.

All within easy reach of each other.

1 | Himeji Castle (姫路城, Himejijō)

Himeji Castle is a hilltop landmark, a 17th century castle. Often called Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo which means “White Egret Castle” because of its white façade and its appearance as a bird taking flight.

Himeji Castle - a white castle on top of a hill. It is said to appear like a bird taking flight!
Himeji Castle – A white castle on top of a hill. It is said to appear like a bird taking flight!

Himeji Castle was one of my highlights in Japan and I hope you will find the following to be as fascinating as it was for me that made my visit very special.

1.1 | Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Himeji Castle was constructed on an existing fort in 1601 under the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Tokugawa Shogunate ruled Japan from 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu ruled Japan with a mission to unify  the country. He built one castle in each province and good defences to stave off attacks.

This white castle has not seen a battle since it was built and had stood strong throughout the years, despite the bombings during the World Wars and earthquakes in Japan. The Castle is a National Treasure of Japan and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. It is one the few original castles from Japan’s feudal period that has moats, passageways and cherry trees.

Himeji Castle has beautiful landscaped gardens and moats that surrounds the Castle. Great photo opportunity here!

The Castle is visible even as you begin your walk from Himeji Station. As you approach the Castle, there are various beautiful spots that make great photo opportunities. When you arrive, enter through the Otemon Gate, purchase your tickets and walk through the passageway to the Main Keep.

Entrance to Himeji Castle is over the bridge and through the Otemon Gate.

Entrance to Himeji Castle is over the bridge and through the Otemon Gate

Winding walled passageways takes you to the main entrance of Himeji Castle.
Winding walled passageways takes you to the main entrance of Himeji Castle.

1.2 | The Main Keep and Interior of Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle has six floors and the Main Keep of the top floor offers spectacular views of the castle grounds and across the city itself, surrounded by beautiful mountains in the distance.

Spectacular views from the top floor of the Keep of the Castle grounds, view of the City and the mountains beyond.
Spectacular view from the top floor of the Keep of the Castle grounds, view of the City and the mountains beyond.

The Main Keep is the largest structure of the Castle and there are six floors. The staircases are steep, and it gets steeper and narrower as you climb higher. The climb to the top floor is one long queue, so take your time and try and capture the views of the castle grounds.  Also, take note of the loopholes used by the archers to defend the Castle during attacks.

1.3 | Gardens surrounding Himeji Castle

When you have completed the Main Keep, make time to explore the gardens surrounding the Castle. This vast ground offers great photo opportunities. I visited Himeji Castle towards the end of the cherry blossom season and was fortunate to capture the beauty the season brings to Japan. The sight of cherry trees planted in a long line with pink and white petals against the blue sky is simply awesome! There is an area of cherry blossom trees which serves both as a picnic and resting area offering shade.

Cherry trees in a line surrounds Himeji Castle
Cherry trees in a line surrounds Himeji Castle
Peaceful and serene - gardens within Himeji Castle grounds.
Peaceful and serene – gardens within Himeji Castle grounds.

1.4 | Meeting with talented artist at Himeji Castle

During my visit, I was fortunate to meet an incredibly talented gentleman called, Pierre, who is an artist/sketcher. His passion is to sketch every temple, every castle in Japan and China. He had been doing this for five years already. His book of sketches was beautiful, he captured every detail of the architecture and its history seamlessly.

Pierre and his sketch book
Pierre’s Sketch Book – Isn’t this awesome!

Pierre did inform me that he lives in Paris . Unfortunately, Pierre does not have a website or a blogsite where he showcases his work and I want to mention him here, in this blog because his work and his passion should be merited (I do have his consent to mention him in my blog). I hope that one day, Pierre will find himself reading this blog! 😊

1.5 | Travel tips and Useful information on Himeji Castle, Himeji

Useful information:

  • Give yourself anything between 2 to 4 hours.
  • Entrance fee: 1000 Yen
  • Hours: Generally, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Summer (Apr 27 to Aug 31) 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

            Last entry is an hour before closing.

The Main Keep is not wheelchair accessible.

1.6 | Getting to Himeji Castle from Himeji Station

Take the North exit at Himeji Station. It is about 1km. It is not far at all when you walk along the Otemae-dori Street, the shops are a good distraction and the sight of the Castle is straight ahead of you.

After visiting Himeji Castle, you may wish to take a break or have a picnic under the cherry blossom tree before making your way to Koko-en Garden.

2 | Koko-en Garden

Koko-en Garden is 3.5 hectares, of traditional Edo-style garden just next to Himeji Castle. It is laid out in nine-themed sections, with water features, pagodas and step-stones projecting tranquillity. You can take as long as you like here and can take up to 2 hours  or more by the time you walk around all nine gardens. It took me almost 3 hours.

Koko-en at Himeji - There are nine gardens here with individual themes
Koko-en at Himeji – There are nine gardens here with individual themes and it is really worthwhile spending some time here.

3 | Engyoji Temple

To the Northwest of Himeji City Centre, lies Mount Shosha which is home to Engyoji Temple. This Buddhist Temple is a Temple of the Tendai Sect and was founded by Shoku Shomin in 966. The well-preserved wooden buildings of Engyoji Temple and its surrounds are over a 1000 years old and has been used as a location for films such as “The Last Samurai” starred by Tom Cruise.

3.1 | Travel tips and Useful information on Engyoji Temple, Himeji

Useful information:

  • Entrance is 500 Yen
  • Opens 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Getting to Engyoji Temple:

  • From Himeji Station, take the bus for Mt Shosha Ropeway and get off at the last stop – takes approximately 25 minutes
  • Take the cable car to the top of Mt Shosha – takes approximately 5 minutes
  • The Mountain Pass: No-mo (the gate of Engyoji Temple) and Mani-den (the main temple)

It’s a 15 to 20 minute, walk from the station at the top of Mt Shosha to Mani-den. Along the way, you can see 33 Kannon statues.

  • There is a bus service from the entrance to Mani-den. A round trip costs 500 Yen

Travel tips and Useful information on Himeji: How to Get to Himeji

Himeji is easily accessible from Kyoto and Osaka

From Kyoto:

  • Shinkansen: Kyoto and Himeji are connected via the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen.
  • Hikari Shinkansen – 55 minutes journey (Japan Rail Pass is valid)
  • Nozomi trains – 45 minutes journey (Japan Rail Pass cannot be used)
  • JR Special Rapid Train: Shin-kaisoku takes 90 minutes

From Osaka:

  • Shinkansen: Hikari, Sakura or Kodama trains – 40 minutes journey (Japan Rail Pass is valid)
  • JR Special Rapid Train: One hour journey

Getting around Japan

Enjoy unlimited travel around Japan with the JR Full Rail System Pass on all JR lines and bullet trains except Mizuho and Nozomi. You can purchase the Rail Pass to suit the duration of your travel – 7, 14 or 21 days and have it delivered to your home address well before you board your flight to Japan. Take a look here.

Planning your trip

If you are planning a trip to Japan, how about checking out the following services to enhance your travel experiences? I use them when planning my own travels and I am sure you will find them useful too.

Find the Best Flight Deals on offer with Skyscanner – the best price comparison site for flights. You can access it here – Skyscanner

Find the perfect hotel room in booking.com with flexible dates and last-minute cancellations – you can access booking.com here

Find great day tours on Get Your Guide for a seamless and hassle free, skip the line experiences – do a search and have a look at Get Your Guide here if you are travelling from Kyoto or Get Your Guide here, if you are travelling from Osaka.

You may also be interested in reading about my experiences in Kyoto – the Top 5 Must See in Kyoto and the Ultimate 2 Kyoto Markets which you should not miss.

You may also want to look-up my itinerary on Hiroshima and how best to see Tokyo in 3 Days.

**November 2019 Update

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2 Responses

  1. Georgina
    |

    It’s my pleasure to share. I am glad my blog post brought back happy memories for you, Roz and hopefully you will return to Himeji to enjoy it again. Thank you so much for your lovely comments. Appreciate it much.

  2. Roz Zito
    |

    I loved reading about Himeji Castle which I visited about 20 years ago. It brought back memories of a fabulous site. The gardens were also a real highlight. I hope we can go back one day and will take note of your very helpful tips. Many thanks for sharing!

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