Himeji, Japan

Day Trip to Himeji (姫路) – Castles, Gardens & Temples

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 top picks for a day-trip to Himeji are just three places which should be in any visit list to this region.

Himeji is home to the popular Himeji Castle, the traditional Edo-style garden called Koko-en and 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 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 - it is said to appear like a bird taking flight!Himeji Castle – it is said to appear like a bird taking flight!

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

Great photo opportunity here!
Great photo opportunity here!

Himeji 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.

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 view 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.

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.

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's Sketch Book - Isn't this awesome!
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! 😊

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.

NB: The Main Keep is not wheelchair accessible.

2. Koko-en Garden

This 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 by the time you walk around all nine gardens.

Koko-en_1
Koko-en_1

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.

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

GETTING 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

 

FROM HIMEJI STATION TO HIMEJI CASTLE

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.

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