Himeji: Day Tour to the 400-Year Old Himeji Castle (姫路城)
The largest, the grandest, and the most visited castle in Japan. As a fan of Japanese castles, we wasted no opportunity in stepping on its grounds during our recent visit to Japan.
Himeji Castle (姫路城, Himejijō) is frequently known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jo) for elegant, white exterior of the main keep resembling a white heron taking flight. It is said to be the most grandiose and stunning castle in entire Japan, due to its size and attractiveness and for preserving its original form and beauty.
The castle was the first in Japan to be listed in the Unesco Cultural World Heritage. Also being a National Treasure of Japan, tireless efforts are being made for its preservation and protection.
The first forts were built in the 1400s and was further expanded by the ruling clans in the region. The castle complex was completed in 1609 and survived up to this day. The entire complex has more than 80 buildings, connected by a series of gates and paths. Unlike most other Japanese castles, it endured countless calamities – both by nature and man-made, not even by the Second World War – the original structure still stands up to now, one of the twelve “original construction castles” of Japan.
We departed from Hiroshima early, intending to stop over by the castle before reaching to our destination Osaka. From the Himeji Station, you can already glimpse into the imposing structure. Even from the distance, the splendor of the main keep can make you awe.
Though we arrived early on a weekday, still the lines at the ticket gate are long. You can obtain your ticket either from the old-style manual method or through the more-hi-tech automated machine. With the entrance fee of Y1,000, it is more expensive compared to the other castles we previously visited. Having a high visitor count, they provided brochures in a different language, and we’re so delighted that they have brochures written in Filipino.
From the Otemon gate, you walk along the pathway surrounded by cherry blossom. Arriving at the main keep, you have to remove your shoes, this is to preserve the centuries-old flooring. Aside from the detailed carvings, there aren’t any much things stored here. It once served as a military barracks, evidenced by the wall-mounted sword racks, armory, and hiding spots for the warriors (Mushakakushi). Most labels are written in both Japanese and English. And as an aid to the visitors, they can download an app for an A.R. (Augmented Reality) experience in selected spots of the Castle.
Its upper floors serve as a view deck, and it’s worth trying as it offers a 360-degree view of the city of Himeji.
Our trip around the castle takes more than an hour. It is said to be longer should there be more visitors, when the journey would be resembling falling in a long line.
After exploring the main keep, you can also explore at its gardens, or just have a quick stroll at the adjacent zoo.
If traveling to Hiroshima from Kyoto, the half-day tour in this magnificent fortress is highly recommended. Even who has little interest in history or in the castles will still be awed by paying a visit to this impressive castle unrivaled in entire Japan.
- Adult – Y1000
- Child – Y300
- 9 am to 5 pm; last entry at 4 pm
During the summer (April 27 – August 31): 9 am to 6 pm; last entry at 5 pm
HOW TO GET THERE
- Shinkansen: From Osaka, the trip takes about 40 minutes. This is the fastest route to Himeji. If you have a Japan Rail (JR) pass, it can be used here.
- JR Train: If lacking a JR Pass, this is your best option. Average trip time is one hour.
- Bus: If you’re on a budget, this is another option. A trip from Osaka takes one and a half hour.
Upon reaching the Himeji Station, you can walk to the Castle’s main gate.
- The castle grounds are open and have not enough shade, making it hot during summer. It is recommended to bring an umbrella.
- Drones are forbidden, and do not attempt to fly one (there are drone warning signs posted).
- To save money, buy souvenirs at the shops near the station.
- Download the Himeji Castle Great Discovery App to further enhance and enjoy your experience.