All Japanese cities are excellent hubs full of exciting restaurants, attractions and shopping opportunities, but some cities happen to have wonders and landmark like no others, and this is the case with Himeji. Himeji is a city in the Kansai region of Japan, known for its 17th century Himeji Castle. Himeji Castle is the most visited castle in the country, designated a national treasure and a UNESCO world heritage site.
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A brief history of Himeji, Japan
Himeji is the second largest city in Hyogo Prefecture after Kobe. It has an estimated population of just over half a million inhabitants. Himeji and its white castle, has an interesting history, like most Japanese cities. Himeji was initially the capital of what was called the Himeji prefecture but merged with Hyogo prefecture in 1876. During World War II, Himeji was targeted and bombed by the US. Despite having over 60% of its built-up area destroyed, somehow, Himeji Castle remained unscathed, even though one bomb was dropped directly on it. Because of this, many believe that Himeji is somehow divinely protected.
A brief history of Himeji Castle, Japan
The Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle, dates back to 1333. Himeji Castle was initially a fort, but transformed into the gorgeous castle you can see today over the course of centuries. For over 400 years, Himeji withstood the test of time, remaining intact even though was directly bombed during World War II and went through a series of natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. In 2015, the Himeji Castle undertook some restoration works, which helped removed decades of dirt. Its formerly grey rooftop is not brilliant white, yet again.
Getting to Himeji
Getting to Himeji is actually easier than you might think and it should be added to any Japan itinerary. I will assume that you have the Japan Rail Pass for ease and saving. If not, read everything you need to know about the Japan Rail Pass and make sure you order yours before you travel to Japan. We visited Himeji from Kobe, but the good news is that you can visit from Osaka, Kyoto and even Tokyo (yes, really!). So how to get to Himeji?
If you have the JR Pass, simply board the Shinkansen from the Kyoto station. Kyoto and Himeji are connected via the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen. The journey will take approximately 55 minutes.
To visit Himeji from Osaka, make sure you go to the Shin Osaka station and take the Hikari Shinkansen. The journey will take around 35 minutes.
To get to Himeji from Kobe, you will need the JR Special Rapid Service. The journey will take about 40 minutes.
If you are up for a long adventure, then you can visit Himeji from Tokyo. The easiest way is to get the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Himeji. The journey will be around 4 hours. Best to spend one night in Himeji, then return to Tokyo.
Getting from Himeji Station to the Castle
Getting to the Himeji Castle from the station couldn’t be easier. Just walk about 1 km on Otemae-dori Street straight to the castle. We arrived on a rainy day, but we still very much enjoyed the walk. On the way back, take the parallel street, which is essentially a long market dotted with all sorts of shops and restaurants.
Visiting Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is the most beautiful during the cherry blossom season. We visited in April and got there on a rainy day but still the caste and the gardens looked stunning and we managed to take some really beautiful photos.
Enter through the Otemon Gate and make your way towards the Main Keen. At the Main Keep, you can purchase your ticket and head up to the staircase. Find information about ticket prices and opening times for the Himeji Castle on this website.
As you ascend, you can take amazing pictures of the caste as well as the city. After visiting the interior, don't forget to check out the gardens. It doesn't just look wonderful, especially during the cherry blossom season, but it's also a great spot to take additional pictures of the castle.
When to go
The Himeji Castle is open all year round, except on December 28 and 29. There is a limit of 15000 visitors a day, so it's good to arrive early if you are planning on visiting during the busy seasons.
Visiting Himeji during Spring
It's a great time to visit as mentioned above. The cherry blossoms should be in full bloom - check the Cherry Blossom Festival Forecast. If you missed that, don't worry, the gardens will still look amazing and it's likely that it won't be as crowded.
Visiting Himeji during Summer
If you love sunshine and warm weather, summer is a superb time to visit. As a strong contract, however, there is a lot of rain as well, June to mid-July being the rainiest. Japan has fewer tourists during the summer as the heat can become a bit much combined with the high levels of humidity. It's a unique experience to see Japan sweltering during the summer months.
As a bonus, there are delicious Japanese icecreams and myriad of other sweets created specifically to reduce the heat. Pro tip: If it's raining, find a covered market or street (Miyuki Street) and browse the merchandise until the rain stops. Pressed for time? Simply pick up a cheap (1000yen), extra large umbrella and just ignore the rain.
Visiting Himeji during Autumn
For us, there is no better time to visit than during autumn. The castle grounds are painted over with an explosion of colours as Japan prepares to slowly shed its foliage. The white Himeji Castel sits majestically on top of the sea of colourful trees. The views are outstanding from the grounds and also from the castle itself. This is an exceptional time to take pictures and videos.
During autumn, the weather can become chilly, especially during the evening, so why not enjoy some hot ramen or gyoza at any of the hundreds of tiny eateries. You can't go wrong with any of them.
Visiting Himeji during Winter
If you are one of the lucky people to visit during winter and also have snow while you are at the Himeji Castle, well, you hit the jackpot. As the castle is perfectly white, you will be treated with some painfully beautiful views. Some of the trees in the garden are evergreen so when covered in snow, they look like clouds and the castle looks as if floating on those clouds.
Prepare with warm clothes as it can get pretty cold during winter. Pro tip: if you want to be extra warm, buy a packet of heat-patches from one of the 1000yen stores on the shopping street. It's easy to spot the packaging, look for a square orange packet. Be careful tho, once you start using these magical heat-patches, you will never want to take them off again.
Things to do in Himeji
There is more to Himeji then just the Himeji Castle. As all Japanese cities, Himeji offers entertainment for everyone.
The Koko-en Garden is one of the most looked after Japanese traditional gardens. It has 9 different themed sections built on the site where originally the samurai houses were standing.
Located right next to the Himeji Castle, it is an absolute must to check out during your trip to Himeji.
Himeji Central Park & more
Himeji Central Park is more than just a park. It's a Safari Resort and theme park, great for families and couples alike. Check out their many rides, drive-thru safari, walking safari. You can also find restaurants and other entertainment here. You can easily spend the whole day here. Find information about location, tickets on their official website.
Built in 966 on top of the Shosha mountain, Engyō-ji is a Tendai Buddhist temple complex. It takes about 25 mins by bus from Himeji Station to get to the bottom of the mountain. From there, you can hike for about 1.6km (1mile) or take the cable car to the summit.
Interesting fact: Some scenes from the movie "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise was filmed here.
Himeji City Museum
For history lovers, there are a few museums in Himeji, including the Himeji City Museum with international art and interesting history collections as well as special exhibitions. Find information about location, tickets on their official website.
Himeji City Aquarium
Located on a mountaintop the Himeji City Aquarium is ideal for families with kids. It features indoor & outdoor exhibitions and a touch pool for children. It’s not too big, but well kept and great for a quick visit during your trip to Himeji.
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History
This is a great place for those travelling with families as the Museum has a great children’s play area. There is a virtual reality theatre as well which is really fun and totally worth your visit. The museum is focusing on local history and education. Please check the opening times before you visit as it's closed on certain days and special holidays.
Where to eat in Himeji?
Who doesn't like popular Japanese food? In Himeji, we found this unusual and inexpensive ramen place full of cool posters and memorabilia. The owner is a really nice Japanese man who speaks English and is up for a bit of conversation. Order the special milk ramen, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. It might not sound good in theory, but in practice, this milk ramen is a delicious twist on the traditional Japanese ramen.
The restaurant has only about 6-8 seats. If you arrive, when all seats are taken, please wait patiently. If you can, take a seat on the bench near the wall or wait outside until someone finishes their food. Normally, people eat quickly so there should be a free seat for you soon.
Address: Japan, Hyōgo Prefecture, Himeji, Gofukumachi, 59, 第2POSHビル1F
Shopping in Himeji
You can find an interesting selection of local products in the Miyuki Street market or the Omizosuji Shopping Street, which are covered streets full of small shops and boutiques.
If you are after the more traditional western-style shopping experience, check out the Piole Himeji Shopping Mall. It is fairly close to the train station and has a wide range of brands and restaurants.
Where to Stay in Himeji
The easiest is to find a hotel close to the main train station as you can reach most of the attractions quickly from here. Depending on your preference, you can pick from the usual western style business hotels or go for the more traditional Japanese Ryokans. See our recommendations below.