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 or so.
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, 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.
Himeji Castle is very beautiful during the cherry blossom festival. We visited in April but got there on a rainy day. It wasn’t ideal but it was still very busy 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. As you ascend, you can take amazing pictures of the city. It’s a little more difficult to do it when it rains, but if you arrive on a sunny day, I’m sure it will make a huge difference. After visiting the interior, you can (and should) meander around the gardens so you can photograph the castle all around.
When to go
If you can, visit during the cherry blossom festival but note that it will be quite busy. Note that the castle is open daily except on December 28 and 29. It’s also good to note that there is a limit on the number of visitors per day (15,000) so if you are visiting during peak season, best to arrive there as early as possible. You can check the official website in advance to ensure you plan accordingly. We tried buying tickets in advance and sadly came to the conclusion that this is not possible. Entrance and tickets are on a first come, first served basis. In a way, as unlucky as we were to visit during a rainy day, we were also lucky as we were there during the cherry blossom season and the rain definitely kept some crowds at bay.
Our advice would be to visit during summer (as the weather is lovely) or in the Autumn so you can photograph some beautiful landscapes of the Himeji city from above.
More things to do in Himeji
Who doesn’t like an amazing, traditional Japanese garden with 9 different themed sections? Located close to the Himeji Castle, this is an absolute must during your trip to Himeji.
Himeji Central Park
Not quite a central park in the American sense, the Himeji Central Park is a drive and walk through safari park with all sort of amusement rides.
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.
Himeji City Aquarium
The Himeji City Aquarium is again, ideal for families with kids, as it features as a touch pool. It’s not huge, but well kept and great for a quick visit during your trip to Himeji. It’s located on the mountaintop.
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.
Where to eat in Himeji?
There is always time to eat popular Japanese food, so naturally, I’m going to send you to a ramen place. This is no ordinary restaurant, but one which looks totally unusual, is 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’s a little unusual and it might not sound good in theory, but in practice, this milk ramen will be one of the best dishes you’ll have in Japan.
Address: Japan, Hyōgo Prefecture, Himeji, Gofukumachi, 59, 第2POSHビル1F