Half an hour by train west of Osaka you can find Himeji. This city has 500,000 inhabitants and owes its fame mainly to the most beautiful castle in Japan, Himeji Castle. It is therefore an excellent stopover between Osaka and Hiroshima for a few hours, or a day to explore this city. But for the people who do not only come for this castle, there is plenty to do and experience here.
What would you like to know about Himeji in Japan?
History Himeji – A journey through the past
The history of Himeji is dominated by the most famous castle in Japan.
Fort on a hill
On the hill of the current castle, Akamatsu Norima is building a small fortress to defend the area against intruders. His son destroyed the fort and built the first castle in 1346.
The original from 400 years ago
At the insistence of the ruler Hideoyoshi, a castle is being built on the same hill. First of all, it is a 3-storey castle. From 1601, the castle was extended by the warlord Ikeda Terumasa. Except for a few small things, this is how the castle looks today. The castle was mainly used to defend the main city of Heiankyo (Kyoto) against attacks from the west. For more than 250 years there is peace and quiet in Himeji.
A national treasury
The Japanese government has officially designated the castle National Treasure.
Everything was destroyed, except…
Himeji was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War. Miraculously, Himeji Castle managed to get out of the battle unharmed.
Unesco Heritage List
Himeji Castle is on the Unesco World Heritage List
The well of Okiku: A Japanese ghost story
There are a number of variations of this ghost story circling around, but all contain the element of a young woman from the lower class. It takes place around 1500. Okiku works as a servant of Aoyama Tetsuzan, a regent of the lord Lord Norimoto. One day Okiku hears of a plan by Testuzan to kill Lord Norimoto, so he can take over the castle. Okiku decides to take action, tells it to her lover and via via Lord Norimoto finds out the plan and decides to flee temporarily. Tetsuzan takes over the castle and offers a reward for the person with the golden tip who leaked the plan. One of the soldiers, named Danshiro, decides to go to Okiku and ask her to marry him, otherwise he would betray her. She refused. He tried again and stole one of the 10 gold plates from the castle. When asked who stole the gold record, Danshiro said it was one of the servants named Okiku. Danshiro gave her one last chance in exchange to return the record, but again refuses Okiku. The soldier was angry and grabbed his black. In one stroke he killed Okiku. But where can I hide the body? In the well!
Not long after, Lord Norimoto was able to take over the castle again. Then the body of the young Okiku was discovered in the well. Not much later they heard voices from the point… 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9… Since then she is still looking for the 10th record…
Sights – 4 historical sites in Himeji
Of course this place is dominated by that one beautiful castle. But if you have more time to explore the city then there are still a number of options worthwhile.
1. Himeji Castle
The castle of Himeji can truly be called the most beautiful castle in Japan. When you walk out of the station you will see this beautiful building at the end of the street. Already in 1346 there was a small castle here to defend the area against intruders. But at the beginning of the 17th century Himeji Castle got its present form. During the Second World War the building remained virtually unharmed. This is also the reason why this building has been on the Unesco World Heritage List since 1993. The Japanese government has also designated this castle as one of the three most important castles in Japan.
Right next to Himeji Castle is a park, completely in the style of how the Samurai created their parks. With a bit of fantasy and experience, you’ll feel like you’re living 200 years back in time. For a small fee it is possible to visit this park.
3. Engyo-ji Temple
In the northwest of the city there is a special temple on Mount Shosha. This temple, the Engyo-ji Temple dates from 966 and was founded by the monk Shoku Shonin. Furthermore, this temple, like Himeji Castle, was used for a number of scenes for the film The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise.
To get to the temple you have to use Mount Shosha Ropeway (1000 yen, back and forth). To get to Mount Shosha use bus 8 (270 yen).
4. Himeji City Museum of Art
East of Himeji Castle is the Himeji City Museum of Art. Impressionist art lovers will find what they are looking for here, as the museum owns a number of paintings by Picasso, Corubet, Monet, and Matisse. Also interesting is the building where the museum is located. In 1905 this was a barracks used by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Tip: At the Himeji City Museum of Literature, 300 meters west of the famous castle is a small hill where you can take beautiful pictures of Himeji Castle.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Himeji?
If you don’t have much time then a morning or an afternoon in Himeji is an excellent solution. But if you want to see more, such as a few museums or temples, an overnight stay is highly recommended. The best solution is a hostel/hotel near the station, so you can leave the next day. The hotels/hostels below are within walking distance of the Himeji train station.
Transportation – How to get to Himeji?
Train: Himeji is best reached by train. When you walk out of the station via the northern exit, you will see the castle at the end of the street as if it were on the hill. A beautiful sight! From Osaka it takes the Shinkansen about 30 minutes. From Hiroshima it is 1 hour with the high speed line.
The municipality of Himeji has published a Transportation Guide on its website. Every day there is a Himeji Castle Loop bus which you can use all day for 300 yen. Everything has been thought about: a detailed explanation of how the bus works, which questions you can ask the bus driver in Japanese and where the bus is going! Useful, isn’t it?
And what did you think of Himeji and the beautiful castle? Or do you have more tips? Feel free to leave a message below!