Himeji (姫路; ) is a city at the western edge of the Kansai region of Japan. With a population of 534,881, it is the second biggest city in the prefecture of Hyōgo, second only to Kobe.
The finest castle in Japan is in Himeji. At one point in the late 1500's, it was the biggest castle in all of Asia. After being closed to the public for some years due to renovations, the castle reopened its doors and now once again welcomes tourists from all corners of the world.
The city has been featured in a series of Japanese and foreign films due to its picturesque old-Japan look. The information office at the JR station has props from some of these films including props from the film The Last Samurai.
Himeji is a quiet city despite its population and spans a rather large territory following a series of mergers with neighboring towns in the north. As with many Japanese cities, each major area of Himeji has its own share of temples, shrines, commercial arcades/streets, pachinko parlors, gyoza/ramen restaurants, and the inevitable shopping mall (more often than not belonging to retail giant AEON - no relation to the chain of English schools).
While the downtown area is not all that different from any relatively modern Japanese city, the further north one goes, the more rural it becomes. And although older residents may tell you tales of ruffians and unsavory types living in the southern part of the city, Shikama, which stretches out to the port area, is rapidly attracting middle class families due to cheaper land prices with numerous new houses being built in the eastern portion. The neighborhoods east of the castle remain a little rough by Himeji standards and numerous residents, especially older ones, will issue grave warning about these places and the "ethnic" (e.g. non-Japanese) residents. But most westerners will find those neighborhoods to be quite tame and anything but dangerous.
Kansai International Airport (IATA: KIX is 126km southeast of Himeji and is the closest major international airport. Buses operate hourly between the airport and Himeji station (2 1/2 hours, ¥3300 one-way/¥5,150 round-trip).
Kobe Airport (IATA: UKB is 65km southeast of Himeji but has fewer flight options than Kansai. Buses and trains are available from Sannomiya Station (1 1/4 hours, ¥1,300)
Osaka Itami International Airport (IATA: ITM is 85km east of Himeji. Buses operate hourly between the airport and Himeji Station (1 1/2 hours, ¥2,160)
A 700-series shinkansen train entering Himeji
Himeji is along the Sanyo shinkansen line (山陽新幹線) from Osaka and Kobe to Okayama and Hiroshima. The Hikari Rail Star offers frequent service to Himeji within the Sanyo region, as do the all-stopping Kodama trains. Since the station is elevated, it is possible to see Himeji Castle from a passing train.
From Tokyo, one Nozomi train per hour runs through to Himeji (3 hours, ¥15,710), otherwise you have to change at Shin-Osaka. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, there is also one Hikari train departing each hour, running through to Himeji, which you can take at no charge (3 hours and 40 minutes).
The overnight Sunrise Izumo/Sunrise Seto from Tokyo stops at Himeji. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can book a carpeted floor space at no charge; otherwise you can travel in a compartment or room by paying the applicable room fee and surcharges.
An inexpensive method of reaching Himeji from within the Kansai region is to take one of the frequent Shinkaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) commuter trains on the JR Kobe line (JR 神戸線) that begins in Osaka, which charges only the price of a local train. The ride takes 38 minutes from Kobe's Sannomiya station (¥950) or 57 minutes from Osaka (¥1,450).
It is possible to travel from Osaka to Himeji using direct trains over the private Hanshin and Sanyo Railways but as this takes longer than JR (1.5 hours, ¥1,250) it is only really worthwhile for holders of the 3 day or 5 day pass for Kansai's private railway system.
From Kyoto, the Hikari shinkansen whisks travellers to Himeji in just under an hour. This trip can be taken without charge by Japan Rail Pass holders.
Willer Express operates overnight buses between Tokyo Station and Himeji, with a stop in Kobe. Buses depart Tokyo Station at 10:00PM or Shinjuku Station at 10:30PM and arrive in Himeji at 8:20AM the next morning. Prices depend on advance purchase and seat configuration and are usually in the range of ¥5,400-8,000.
Shinki Bus operates overnight buses from Tokyo (Shinjuku and Shibuya) to Himeji at a cost of ¥8,700-9,900 one way and ¥17,400 round trip. The bus leaves the Shinjuku Highway Bus Terminal (Basta Shinjuku) at 22:30 and arrives at the Himeji Bus Terminal at 8:00, with the return leaving Himeji at 21:30 and getting to Shinjuku at 7:00.
The Himeji Castle complex is a 15 minute walk straight down Otemae-dōri from Himeji Station. There are shopping centers and souvenir shops along the way.
By Sightseeing Loop Bus
Sightseeing Loop Bus (¥100) makes a loop around the cultural area, starting at Himeji Station, with stops near the castle, garden, and museums.
By city bus
City buses operate to sights far from the castle, such as Engyō-ji Temple.
- Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō), (An easy 15-minute walk north from the station; also accessible by bus), . 9AM-5PM daily (admission is only until 4 PM) or until 6PM (admission is until 5PM) May-August. Closed December 29–31. The Main keep is limited to the first 15,000 visitors each day. Dating to 1609 and also graced with the name "White Egret Castle" (白鷺城 Shirasagi-jō), this striking white edifice is generally considered the most beautiful of Japan's castles and is one of the few that has escaped the ravages of civil war, World War II, earthquakes, and firebombings. The castle was designated as a national treasure in 1931 and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. It is virtually the last castle in Japan that still manages to tower over the surrounding skyscrapers and office buildings. Although renovated, much of the castle looks as it did when it was first built, and in contrast to European castles, is very empty, consistent with the Japanese minimalist style of the time. On extremely busy days, you may have to wait to enter since the number of visitors at any one time is limited. Check the website for a "congestion forecast" and status. Admission: ¥1,000 adults and ¥300 children. A ¥1,040/¥360 combination ticket gets you into both the castle and the nearby Kōkoen Garden. A free guided tour in English is included ''if'' a guide happens to be available (no reservations are possible). edit
- Kōkoen Garden (好古園 kokoen), (Next to the western edge of Himeji Castle's outer moat), . Open from 9 AM daily and closes at either 5 PM or 6PM (last admission at 4:30 PM or 5:30 PM) depending on the time of year. This magnificent collection of 9 Edo-period-style walled gardens was laid out in 1992 on a site where samurai houses once stood. The street plan and gated partitions preserve the appearance of the old residential quarter, except that within the various enclosures visitors find beautifully landscaped gardens and water features instead of noble residences. There is a tea arbour and a restaurant within the grounds, but eating and drinking outside of these places is prohibited. Admission: ¥300 adults and ¥150 children. A ¥1,040 combination ticket gets you into both Kōkoen and Himeji Castle. edit
- Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History, (Across the street from Himeji City Museum of Art), . 10AM-5PM. Closed Mondays. Unlike most prefectural museums, this one actually has very little information about Hyogo prefecture's history, and historical artefacts also tend to be lacking, so if you really want to learn more about Hyogo, you may be disappointed. However, if you are interested in Japanese history as a whole, this museum is well worth visiting. It contains replicas of all twelve original castles remaining in Japan, has a room dedicated to festivals (while they feature Hyogo festivals, most are done nationwide), and toys throughout history. A few times a day, someone is selected by lot to be assisted in dressing in either full samurai armour or Heian-era, 12-layer kimono without restrictions on photography. There is an art gallery, as well, which often features some of Japan's most interesting artwork. The artwork is not limited to Hyogo artists. Check the website to see what will be displayed when you arrive. Entrance fee ¥200 yen (adult), ¥150 college and high school students. During special exhibitions admission changes, typically to around ¥700.. edit
- Himeji City Museum of Art, ☎ 079-222-2288, . Open 10AM to 5PM. Features artwork from local artists and European art, along with special exhibitions. ¥200 (prices are raised during special exhibitions). edit
- Senhime Shrine, (On the flank of Otokoyama, towards the castle). This is the only shrine in Japan associated with a castle. While the shrine itself is rather small and not very interesting, travelling up the stairs to the next lookout reveals a spectacular view of Himeji Castle. edit
- Himeji City Zoo, 68 Honmachi, Himeji, 670-0012 (In the park in front of the castle.), ☎ 079-284-3636, . 9am-5pm. This zoo has a pretty comprehensive array of animals, but usually only one of each and all in very small cages or enclosures. Entry Y200. edit
- Engyo-ji Temple, (A 30 minute bus ride from Himeji castle on the orange bus #8), . The beautiful temple complex is best known among the locals as the setting for part of Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai. Mount Shosha, where the temple complex is located, is particularly beautiful in the fall, when the Japanese maples change colors. ¥300 entrance + ¥900 cable car return trip. edit
- Tegarayama, (A short train ride away southwest of Himeji castle on the Sanyo line to Tegarayama Station), . A district with a large park with a small WWII museum, an aquarium, a amusement park, a botanic garden, and a monorail museum. edit
- Historical Peace Center, (In Tegarayama Central Park), . A small museum in remembrance of air raid victims during the Pacific War, WWII. It sits right next to a monument in the shape of a sword struck into the earth with a listing of the casualties and fatalities by prefecture in Japanese. Sobering and confronting. edit
- Nagoyama, within walking distance West of the castle - vast cemetery with features at the top to those foreign service personnel killed in war.
- Japan Toy Museum, 671-3 Nakanino Kodera-cho (10km north of Himeji; take JR Bantan line to Koro Station and walk east for 15 minutes), ☎ +81 79 232 4388, . 10AM-5PM. A small museum based in the home of the toy collector and founder Mr Shigeyoshi Inoue. The toys may have aged over the decades but they are still fun for anyone with an inner child. Inoue-san has collected toys and dolls from several prefectures and several countries since the 1970s. Adults: ¥500; Students: ¥400; Children: ¥200. edit
- Asago Art Village, (60 minutes by car or train; take the JR Bantan Line to Nii Station, then take a taxi for 10 minutes), . 10AM-5PM, closed Wednesdays. A large sculpture park and museum. Adults: ¥500. edit
- Himeji Central Park, (20 min by car or bus, east of Himeji castle. Buses depart from Himeji North bus terminal (Sanyo Bld., 1F) hourly.), . A drive-in safari park, amusement park and car racing tracks. It is possible to rent a campsite in summer months. edit
- For families in particular, the park behind Himeji castle offers a decent play structure and ample space to sit down and have a picnic in the shadow of Japan's most famous castle.
Festivals and events
- Cherry Blossom Viewing Party, usually around the second Sunday in April. Lots of koto and taiko drumming.
- Yukata Matsuri - mid June, runs 2-3 days. Locals criticize this festival for having no roots or real reason to exist other than an opportunity for girls to dress up in summer yukata, eat delicious food from booths, and play fair games. Which is a good enough reason to go. This festival is always packed and makes for great people-watching, as many kinds of Japanese subcultures are on display.
- Oshiro Matsuri - early august. A large parade down the main street ending at Himeji castle. There is also a big stage to see lots of dancing, which can range from either very traditional to very hip. Often it's a combination of the two.
- Moon viewing - in September near the time of the Harvest moon. Features traditional plays and drums.
- Nada Matsuri
- Aboshi Matsuri
Himeji isn't particularly famous for crafts or goods. Wind chimes made of iron tongs and white leather accessories are popular higher-end Himeji souvenirs, and they can be bought in many of the department stores or along the Miyuki dori shopping arcade. There are also numerous shops along the route to the castle selling a variety of Himeji Castle and other assorted souvenirs. Additionally, the streets in the area surrounding Himeji Station are filled with shopping arcades (particularly Miyuki dori) and the usual department stores (there are several lining the way to the Castle, including Sanyo, Forus, and Yamatoyashiki.)
- Himeji Ceramics market - in autumn
- Piole, (Inside and around Himeji Station), . There are two separate buildings of this department store. The section inside Himeji JR station, across from the ticket gates (called "Young Piole") consists of women's clothing stores, zakka (home goods) stores, and a large Junkudo book shop. The other section (outside and just in front of Himeji station) has a wider variety of shops, including women's and men's fashion, home goods, food shops, restaurants (including a Starbucks and a Nana's Green Tea), a small Tokyu Hands and a Uniqlo. edit
- Sanyo department store, 1 Minamimachi (Inside Sanyo station, north of Himeji JR station, on the West side of the main street), ☎ +81 79-223-1231, . A standard department store with a variety of goods on multiple floors, including a small LOFT, a popular chain of stores that sells hip accessories, stickers, home goods and pop culture items edit
- Festa, (Northeast corner outside of Himeji station and under the station), ☎ +81 79-221-3500, . A small selection of stores. edit
- Animate, running perpendicular to the shopping arcade next to Miyukidori (turn at the 7-11 and taiyaki corner shops), Animate has two floors for those into anime and manga. The ground floor has a large selection of manga and doujinshi for all tastes and ages. The second floor has anime goods, CD soundtracks, and DVDs.
- Bon Marche, there are two in the station area, one on Miyukidori close to the castle, and one tucked behind and between Sanyo department store and Mitsubishi UFJ Bank (left hand side of Otemae dori). These gourmet grocery stores stock an impressive (though sometimes pricey) selection of foods, including some import foods.
- Daiso, located above the Bon Marche behind Sanyo department store, is arguably the largest 100-yen store in Himeji. This store is made up of two floors, and sell goods that run the gamut from housewares to clothes, electronics to food - most (but not all) available for ¥100 apiece. A great place to pick up cheap souvenirs for your friends back home. Remember there is now (from April 2014) an 8% tax on the prices although some better items cost more but are clearly marked so.
As you exit the station facing the castle (North), the main shopping street (Miyuki dori) will be on your right and the main entertainment area on your left. Both areas have some fine restaurants. Himeji has a full selection of foods, from fast food (Western and Japanese) to gourmet dining. For breakfast there are countless coffee shops, including a Starbucks that has small waffles.
- McDonald's, (On the east side of Himeji JR station), ☎ +81 79-226-2884, . 24 hours/day. edit
- Baobab: Oriental Food And Tea Room, 78 Konyamachi (Just east of SMBC bank on Miyuki-dori), ☎ +81 79-289-3922. 11:30AM–11PM. English menu. Good vegetarian selection. edit
- Koba and More, a small ramen shop with a jazz theme that is famous among the local expat crowd for its unusual Milk Ramen. Koba is the owner and ramen chef. Open 11:30-2:30 for lunch and 7:00-11:00 for dinner (6:00-11:00 on Saturdays). Closed on Thursdays. Walking towards the castle on the main road (Otemae-Dori), Take a right when you get to Yamato Yashiki department store. Take the second left. Kobe and More is on the left, look for the hanging beaded curtain.
- Lamp Cafe, is a small locally owned shop that has wonderful burgers and a cool casual atmosphere. They are open from 11- 8pm and closed on Mondays. If you are craving some western food or just looking for a relaxing cafe this is a great place to try. Follow the main street, Otamae Dori, on the left side walking north and walk toward the castle. When you are almost to the castle look for the sign and walk down the alley to your left. This place is a little hard to find but worth looking for.
- Sakura-saku, Honmachi 68, Himeji 670-0917. Vegetarian-friendly restaurant (also a kind of greengrocer's) with nice open-air frontage and view of Himeji castle. You can get a fantastic veggie meal of (for example) rice with peas, tofu steak and pumpkin, pickles, soup, dessert with coffee, and all the green tea you can drink, all for ¥1000. From the intersection in front of the castle, facing towards JR Himeji station, walk down the main street towards the station, go right at the first set of traffic lights you reach, and it's a few buildings down on your left.
Bars tend to be frequented mostly by foreigners living in the city.
- Hosanna Public House, ☎ +81 79-240-7088, . An Irish-English type pub, except that the city's small Irish population tend to avoid it at all costs. Serving good food in a warm and relaxing setting. Expensive and a bit lifeless but some members of staff may speak English. edit
- Standing Bar Nobu, 71 Tatemachi. A tiny, cramped little bar with English-speaking Japanese and foreign staff. It may be small; but Nobu is a friendly place. Frequented mainly by a younger crowd, mostly English teachers and foreign engineers working for one of the big factories in Southern Himeji. edit
- Teeda, 440-1 Chonotsubo, ☎ +81 79-299-5860. 11AM-6PM, Closed T-W. Teeda is wonderful creative cafe/pub, with great asian fusion foods, amazing staff and great vibe. edit
- Starbucks, Located on the first floor of the Forus shopping building.
There are many hotels near the train station. Another possibility is to sleep in Kakogawa, and prolong your trip into the country side of Hyogo.
- Himeji 588 Guesthouse Hostel, Honmachi 68 (Near the Egret Center on the Miyuki-Dori shopping arcade), ☎ +81 79-227-6994, . Traditional tatami rooms with futon and a shared bathroom and common space. The first floor has a small cafe that serves free coffee and tea. WiFi, bike rental and laundry services are available. Dormitory: ¥2,700; Double: ¥3,000-3,500. edit
- Engakudou Guesthouse Hostel (ゲストハウス 縁楽堂), (Just west of the train station), ☎ +81 90 9717 6763 ([email protected]), . Old tiny but cosy house with tatami rooms and friendly owner. Dormitory: ¥2,500; Double: ¥3,000-3,500. (34.84017,134.68959) edit
- Hotel Nikko Himeji, 100 Minamiekimaecho (South side of the JR train station), ☎ +81 79-222-2231, . A pleasant hotel for the business traveler. ¥10,000-15,000. edit
- Toyoko Inn, 97 Minami-Ekimae-cho (Next to the train station), . Simple business hotel. Rooms are small, but the price includes internet in the room and Japanese-style breakfast. Double: ¥8,000. edit
- Okayama is 50km west and includes, the brooding black Crow Castle, and the lovely Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's Top 3 gardens.
- Kurashiki, near Okayama, is famous for its large Bikan Historic District with many well-preserved buildings from the Edo Period, as well as the famous Ohara Museum of Art which contains a large amount of works by the most famous European artists.
- Tsuyama, a quiet town with rich history, is famous for Kakuzan Park, a great place for cherry blossom viewing, Joto Street, and the beautiful Shurakuen Garden.
- Bizen features museums that display the history of Japanese sword making and pottery and Bizen pottery and swords are renowned throughout Japan as being of the best quality since ancient times.
- Kobe is a port city, with the scenic Harborland and Meriken Park around the port and also has theHanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum to learn more about the 1995 earthquake and how the city dealt with it.
- Takarazuka is home to Japan's all-female theater troupe, the Takarazuka Revue but the plays are well-done and the actresses are so convincing, you may forget that the male characters are not really men. The city also home to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, which features works from all of his most famous manga.
- Fukusaki is a small town 30 minutes north of Himeji, on the Bantan line train. The birthplace of famous author Kunio Yanagita, which can be visited for free; Fukusaki boasts many great restaurants, small shrines and shops, in a relaxed rural setting.
- Kakogawa, 10 minutes by train to the west, is a relaxed city to have a break.
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