Himeji is a small city located between Hiroshima and the Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka area. It is famous for one thing: Shirasagi-jou or “White Heron Castle” (also known as Hakuro-jou or “White Egret Castle”). Japan‘s largest and most impressive castle, it was once the largest in all of Asia. It takes its name from its brilliant white color and its shape, which is said to resemble a bird taking flight. It is the quintessential Japanese castle and one of the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites. Most people visit Himeji on a day trip from the Kansai area.
Best Time to Go
Cherry blossom season in April is the best time to visit, as the castle grounds turn into a sea of white and light pink. In terms of weather, spring and autumn are the most pleasant, with winter quite nice, too. It gets cool, but not really cold. Early summer is the rainy season and after that, it gets really hot and humid. Late summer to early autumn is typhoon season; while the typhoons won’t pose any real danger in the city, they can shut down transportation.
Getting to Himeji
Visitors to Himeji arrive by train or highway bus. The city is located on the Sanyo Shinkansen Line (the bullet trains) and can easily be reached by high-speed rail from Tokyo in the east or Fukuoka in the west, as well as closer locations like Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Hiroshima.
Most visitors will come on a day trip from the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe). In this case, the best option is probably the Special Rapid (Shinkaisoku) commuter train on the JR Kobe Line. From Osaka, this train costs ¥1450 and takes just under an hour; from Sannomiya Station in Kobe it costs ¥950 and takes just under 40 minutes.
Holders of the Japan Rail Pass can take the Hikari shinkansen from Kyoto for free. It takes just under an hour. Hikari trains travel all the way from Tokyo, too, taking 3 hours and 40 minutes. That is about half an hour longer than the Nozomi, but you don’t have to pay, so it’s probably worth it.
Himeji is small and you can pretty much walk everywhere you need to go. The castle is about ten minutes on foot from the station. Just follow the main street, Otemae-dōri, past all the souvenir shops. You really can’t miss it.
Alternatively, you can take the Sightseeing Loop Bus from the station to the castle and gardens. It costs 100 yen and takes about 5 minutes.
Most people don’t bother spending a night in Himeji and I recommend you stay elsewhere, too, like the nearby cities of Hiroshima, Osaka, Kobe or Kyoto. If you do want to spend a night in town, start your search in the area around the station. Like anywhere in Japan, this is where you’ll find the inexpensive business hotels.
The Himeji 588 Guesthouse is your best bet if you’re looking for something cheap. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, go for the APA Hotel Himeji Ekikita.
Eating & Drinking
You’ll find basically any kind of food you might want in the city, with the largest concentration of restaurants in the area around the station, on the north side (the side with the castle).
Things to Do
- Himeji Castle: known as Shirasagi-jou (“White Heron Castle”) or Hakuro-jou (“White Egret Castle”), it is generally considered Japan’s most impressive and most beautiful castle; it is also one of the few to survive civil war, earthquakes and World War Two intact; a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993 and a national treasure since 1931; open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, with last admission at 4 pm; closed December 29-31; located ten minutes on foot from Himeji Station; admission is ¥600 for adults and ¥200 for children or ¥720 for a combination ticket that includes the nearby Koukoen Garden[NOTE: Himeji Castle is undergoing renovation until spring 2015. It is still open, but is covered by a large tent and some areas might be off limits. If you want to know what it looks like currently, you can find a live image here: http://www.winknet.ne.jp/ Remember the time difference—if you see a black square, it is currently nighttime in Japan]
- Koukoen Garden: beautiful Japanese style garden located right next to the western edge of Himeji Castle’s outer moat; open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM (winter) or 6PM (summer), with last admission 30 minutes earlier; admission is ¥300 for adults and ¥150 for children or ¥720 for the combination ticket with Himeji Castle
- Senhime Shrine: this small shrine isn’t really all that interesting, but head up the stairs to the lookout for an amazing view of Himeji Castle; located on Otokoyama
- Engyo-ji Temple: temple complex that is probably best known as a setting in “The Last Samurai”; located on Mount Shosha, which is especially beautiful in the fall, when the Japanese maples change colors; 30 minutes by bus from Himeji castle on the orange bus #8; ¥500 entrance plus ¥900 cable car return trip
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