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First off, I’m very sorry about the unannounced 3 month hiatus. I just got married and it completely took over my world! I will get back to regularly scheduled posts here shortly. But first off, a post about Himeji castle!
Fortunately for my readers, my latest trip (my honeymoon!) was to Japan, and I’m here to share all the tidbits I picked up on my way to this completely different country (at least different from the East Coast of the U.S.).
One of my favorite activities we ended up doing was a day trip to Himeji Castle, which has been on my bucket list ever since I started watching Kurosawa films (and when it was featured in Naruto… decidedly less cool…).
I absolutely recommend taking a day trip to Himeji and seeing the castle for yourself. The most recent restoration was in 2015, so it’s sparkling new!
History of Hime no Michi
Himeji castle, or Hime no Michi, was a samurai fortress in active use from 1346 to the 1860s. Japan considers it a national treasure (as does UNESCO), and most people agree Himeji Castle is one of the most important wooden buildings in Japan (and in the world, for that matter).
Himeji Castle is also known as the “White Heron” castle for its resemblance to a white heron in flight. The plaster outside is composed of a mix of lime, shell ash, hemp fiber, and seaweed which combine to make a fireproof exterior.
Himeji features eight different family crests on the end-tiles of the roof, signifying lords and families that have repaired the castle in the past. Another significant design component of Himeji are the 21 wooden-and-plaster gates throughout the grounds.
One of the most fascinating things about Himeji is much of it is still original, and it is one of the few historical buildings to escape WWII unscathed in the fire bombings from the United States. The castle was painted black to stay hidden during air raids, and was restored to its original color in 1950 during the “Showa Era Restoration”.
How to get there
I definitely recommend taking the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Himeji. It’s only 30 minutes from Shin-Osaka station in Osaka, and 50 minutes from Kyoto Station.
From Himeji station it’s about a 20–30 minute walk to the castle, and it’s straight down the main boulevard in Himeji. You will see the castle in the distance so it’s impossible to get lost.
You can use your JR Pass to get to the Himeji Station stop. I highly recommend the JR Pass if you are traveling around Japan, it pays for itself very quickly! I will post a guide soon on how it works, but for now you can read about it here. If you don’t have a full JR Pass, you can also consider a Kansai area pass if you are staying in the Osaka-Kyoto-Himeji-Kobe area.
Good to know
You will have to take off your shoes to enter the castle. I went around barefoot and it was quite comfortable with no splinters or dirt. However, if you are uncomfortable with bare feet, definitely bring socks.
It’s a bit of a hike and I don’t think the castle itself is wheelchair accessible or has any elevators. There are quite a few steep stairs so bring water. It can get very bright and hot in the courtyards so bring sunscreen.
The best time of day to visit is a few hours before closing or right after opening to beat the crowds. I would recommend at least 2 hours to see the castle itself, more if you expect crowds or take a little longer with stairs.
There are luggage lockers available in Himeji station and the castle grounds themselves for dropping off baggage before climbing the steps
Places to go after
In the castle grounds themselves are the Koko-en gardens, which can be included with your ticket purchase for 40 yen more.
Also right across the street in a neighboring park is the Itatehyozu Shrine complex, a beautiful set of Shinto shrines with a mini red torii gate complex.
On the way back to Kyoto or Osaka you could visit Kobe and make a short trip for the rest of your day.
If you want a quick bite after storming the castle, I highly recommend Menme Udon. It’s quite affordable, and extremely tasty!
Another option if you don’t want noodles is Wabisuke, which has lunch sets for around 1500 yen.
Hours & fares
Himeji is open every day from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM. I would definitely recommend at least 2 hours to see the whole thing, and more if it’s a festival day or weekend to account for crowds. There is even a congestion forecast on the official Himeji site.
Admission is ¥1,040 for adults and ¥360 for elementary and junior high school students, and free for children preschool age or younger. The toll bus from Himeji Station is ¥100 for adults.
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