Exploring Himeji in A Day (Himeji Castle)
Himeji (姫路市 Himeji-shi) is a city in Hyogo Prefecture, which is well-known for its magnificent and enchanted Himeji Castle, both a UNESCO world heritage site and a national treasure. Located less than an hour away from other major cities such as Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe, Himeji makes a great destination for an accessible day-trip within the Kansai region or stopover along the Sanyo Shinkansen line.
Let’s spend time together and explore Himeji today!
1. Stay near JR Himeji Station
The main commercial and economic activities in this city are concentrated at downtown Himeji near the JR station, with major hotels clustering within a 5-minute walk from the station. I strongly recommend staying near the station. My personal favorite is Dormy Inn Himeji Natural Hot Spring – ranked no. 1 hotel in Himeji on TripAdvisor. What sets this economy hotel apart from others is their fabulous public hot spring baths and free daily ramen supper! After a full day of sightseeing and shopping, nothing is more revitalizing than relaxing in their complimentary public hot spring bath – the perfect ending for a day.
2. 8 am: Start the day with breakfast near the station or your hotel
Highly recommended to fuel up your body for plenty of walking ahead! There are plenty of breakfast venues nearby within the vicinity of the station, shopping mall (Piole Himeiji) and shopping streets (Himeji Station Omizosuji Shopping Street, Himeiji Station Ichibangai Shopping Street).
You can also enjoy breakfast at popular Japanese cafe chains like CAFÉ de CRIE, Pronto, Doutor Coffee or even Japanese style breakfast at Yoshinoya at the station. One of my favourite breakfast venue is PABLO Himeji cafe, which is located just opposite Piole Himeji. I love their freshly baked delicious cheese tarts! The cafe is comfortable, cozy and is usually not crowded; a stark contrast to the typical long queue and wait back home!
3. 9 am: Visit the tourist office / rent a bike or collect brochures or maps
If you are visiting Himeji for the first time, you may want to collect brochures or maps from the tourist information center located on the west side of central concourse in Himeji Station. There are English speaking staff stationed to render assistance and advises on your itinerary. They also provide complimentary bicycle and wheelchair rental to tourists!
4. 9.20 am: Visit Himeji Castle (15-minute walk to Himeji Castle, or cycle there in less than 10-minute)
Estimated time spent: 1.5 hours
Admission fee: 1,000 yen (adults); 300 yen (elementary school to high school students); and free admission for children younger than elementary school age
Packaged admission fee: 1,040 yen (for visiting Himeji Castle and nearby Kokoen Garden)
The first recommended destination is the magnificent national treasure and UNESCO world heritage site – Himeji Castle (姫路城Himeji-jo). With a rich history of more than 400 years, Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s three premier castles, which is frequently visited in the country. Himeji Castle is also commonly known as the “White Heron Castle”, gracing a spectacular and enchanted white exterior with well-preserved original grounds that have never been destroyed by war or natural calamities.
Image source: https://anisyawardani2.blogspot.sg
Himeji Castle is located just within a 15-minute walk straight from JR Himeji Station. In fact, you can even spot a distant view of the castle from the station. Alternative access to the castle includes bicycle (complimentary bike rental from Himeji Tourist Information Center) and taking the retro-styled Sightseeing Loop Bus, priced at 100 yen (Adults) and 50 yen (Children).
Being the largest castle in Japan with extensive architectural features, there are 6 focal visiting areas for a thorough visit and understanding of Himeji Castle: (1) Hishi Gate (Diamond Gate); (2) Sangoku Moat; (3) Nishi-no-Maru (West Bailey); (4) Kotenshu; (5) Daitenshu (Main Keep); (6) Bizen Gate.
Expect a challenging and unexpected winding and confusing route through numerous doorways to reach Daitenshu (the Main Keep). You are also encouraged to download the “Himeji Castle Great Discovery” application on your smartphone. By focusing your phone camera on “marked” destinations on the castle grounds, you will be able to explore and learn about the historical information and watch animated videos of Himeji Castle via this app. At Daitenshu, you have to change into the provided slippers and climb several flights of steep stairs to the peak to get a view of Himeji city.
Image source: https://backpackerindisguise.files.wordpress.com
For a fuss-free tour of the castle, you may consider engaging the complimentary service of the Himeji Castle English Speaking Guide Group via online request on their website: http://www.i-guide.jpn.org/ at least a week prior to visitation.
If you want to catch a glimpse of dressed-up gate keepers, armors and ninjas, come visit Himeji Castle during weekend. Depending on your luck, you might be able to spot them! Take note that Himeji Castle is also a popular spot for cherry blossom viewing! During peak visiting seasons, Golden Week and Summer Holidays, do expect a queue into the castle. The Himeji Castle’s congestion forecast at http://www.himejicastle.jp/en/#guidance will be helpful for your planning.
5. 11.45 am: Visit Kokoen Garden
Estimated time spent: 45 minutes to one hour
Opening Hours: 9 am – 6 pm
Admission fee: 300 yen (adults), 150 yen (elementary school & high school students)
Packaged admission fee: 1,040 yen (for visiting Kokoen Garden and Himeji Castle)
Image source: http://himeji-machishin.jp/kokoen/
Kokoen Garden is a Japanese style garden located next to Himeji Castle. The garden is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Himeji City. This beautiful site with the background Himeji Castle view features a centralized pond with waterfall, Souju-an Tea Ceremony House and nine different gardens, namely: the garden of seedlings, tea ceremony garden, flatly landscaped garden, garden of summer trees, garden of pine trees, garden of flowers, garden with a hill and pond, garden of bamboo and garden of the lord’s residence. The tea ceremony service served in Souju-an Tea Ceremony House is especially popular among visitors.
After a relaxing and beautiful stroll at Kokoen Garden, it’s time to proceed for lunch.
6. 12.30pm: Lunch Time!
Again, there’s plenty of lunch venues on the way back to Himeji Station. Some popular options are:
Jidai Cafe (Also known as Ninja Cafe)
Address: Japan, 〒670-0012 Hyogo Prefecture, Himeji
Opening Hours: 10 am to 6 pm, closed on Mondays
This Japanese café serves ninja-inspired food and if you are lucky, you might be served by waiters dressed as ninja! Their no. 1 popular set meal is the Anago-don set (salt-water eel rice set), which consists of a bowl of rice topped with fillets of conger eel, grilled in kabayaki style, served with appetizer and soup, priced at 1,380 yen. In addition to that, their specialty dessert, Ninja Parfait – a sesame ice cream and mocha served with a cornflake base and star-shaped ninja cookies, priced at 880 yen for a sweet ending to your lunch.
Café de Miki with Hello Kitty
Address: 〒309 Ekimaecho, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 9 am to 8 pm
To Hello Kitty fans: Fall in! The 2-storey Hello Kitty Cafe located at Miyukidori Shopping Street is a partnership between Hello Kitty and Paris Miki Holdings, a popular eyewear company in Japan, which explains a bespectacled Kitty-chan logo. Everything in this café screams pink and kawaii. The Hello Kitty logo can be seen everywhere from their interiors, food, beverage to merchandises. Their main meals include toast, sandwiches and pancakes. It’s a good option for a relaxing, cuteness overload and highly-instagrammable lunch!
Shusentei Nadagiku Kappatei
Address: 〒58 Higashiekimae-cho, Himeji City, Hyogo prefecture
Opening Hours: 11:30 am to 9 pm (Last order at 8.30pm) Weekdays & Saturdays
11:30 am to 8 pm (Last order at 7.30pm) Sundays & National Holidays
7. 2pm: Visit Shoshazan Engyoji Temple (書写山円教寺)
Estimated time spent: 3 to 4 hours
Address: 〒2968 Shosha, Himeji 671-2201, Hyogo Prefecture
Opening Hours: 8.30 am to 6 pm
Admission fee to temple: 500 yen
After a hearty lunch, it’s time to explore another popular place of interest in Himeji – Shoshazan Engyoji Temple.
This is a famous Buddhist temple founded in year 966 by Shoku Shonin, a monk from the Tendai sect. It is a highly-regarded training center for monks; a popular location to experience Zen meditation, sutra-writing and spend two days living as a monk. With eight buildings and seven Buddhist statues in the temple, which are appointed as “Important Cultural Properties of Japan”, Shoshazan Engyoji Temple is also listed as the 27th Buddhist temple on the 33-sacred temple Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage route in the Kansai region. The tranquil surroundings of Mount Shosha and the peaceful and sacred cultural history of Shoshazan Engyoji Temple makes it a popular location for filming. In 2003, the temple was featured in Tom Cruise’s movie – The Last Samurai. This Academy-nominated movie was well-received worldwide and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple became more well-known to foreign tourists.
Image source: http://youinjapan.net
To enter Shoshazan Engyoji Temple, you need to buy the Shoshazan Combination Ticket which allows a round trip access to Mount Shosha ropeway and board the bus at 1,300 yen. It’s a 30-minute bus ride from the Himeji Station to Mount Shosha Ropeway, followed by a 5-minute ropeway ride (look out for the spectacular Himeji city view) and finally a 20-minute walk to the temple. You can see 33 Kannon (kuanyin) statues along the way. Alternatively, there is shuttle bus service available from the cable car uphill station to the temple for 500 yen.
8. Back to Himeji Station
You are likely to arrive back at Himeji Station by evening. Do enjoy the rest of the evening hanging around the main Himeji downtown, at their several shopping streets such as Himeji Station Omizosuji Shopping Street, Himeji Station Ichibangai Shopping Street, Miyuki-dori Street and malls such as Piole Himeji, Sanyo Department Store and Festa Bld and Grand Festa! I personally can spend a few hours in Piole Himeji alone, browsing through the latest Japanese fashion.
Sanyo Department Store: Closes at 7.30 pm
Piole Himeji: Closes at 8 pm
Festa Bld and Grand Festa: Closes at 8 pm
I hope this simple one day itinerary will help you in planning an enjoyable first visit to Himeji!