Himeji-jo is widely considered to be the best of Japan’s remaining original castles. UNESCO praises its masterful wooden construction and gleaming white walls. Locals lovingly call it the “White Egret Castle,” since the 400-year-old main keep perched atop a hill is said to resemble a bird in flight. Himeji is 100 kilometers from Osaka and takes an hour to reach by train. So is a Himeji Castle day trip worth it? The fortress’s imposing size and graceful appearance are certainly impressive. And when you add in the peaceful gardens of the reconstructed samurai quarters, I think the answer is a resounding yes!
Japanese castles are vastly different from their European counterparts. The latter often feature exquisite furnishings and showcase the great wealth of the former occupants. Japanese castles, on the other hand, are notable for their sparseness. Most were built during a chaotic era when warlords fought for dominance and were subsequently burned down in battle. If you visit Himeji Castle expecting European finery, you will surely be disappointed. The interior is completely bare. You will walk past room after empty room with only the original wooden architecture to admire. To protect all this precious wood, you must remove your shoes to enter the castle. This proved uncomfortable on a cold and rainy day.
I followed a single file line through the roped-off rooms up to the third floor, then jumped out of the queue and made my way back down and out. The view from the castle is nice but not extraordinary. However, I’d likely be singing a different tune if the sky had been blue and the cherry blossoms at their peak. (I missed it by one week!) But based on my experience, I prefer the view of Himeji from the ground. For current ticket prices and visitor information, visit the Himeji Castle website.
Do not leave Himeji without visiting Kokoen Garden.
This tranquil oasis is located just across the moat in the castle’s former samurai quarters. It is a modern recreation of the 17th century sanctuary where samurai warriors would have sought inner peace between battles. Kokoen is made up of nine separate gardens, so give yourself plenty of time to explore. Walking paths lead through an immaculately manicured landscape punctuated with koi ponds, bonsai trees, and bamboo groves, all tucked behind thick stone walls. Take advantage of the cost-effective combination ticket if you plan to visit both Kokoen Garden and Himeji Castle.
It is easy to get around the castle and gardens thanks to a convenient tourist bus. The Himeji Castle Loop Bus leaves from Himeji Station every 30 minutes and makes a full circle around the castle grounds. The last bus departs from Kokoen Garden at 4:42 pm on weekdays and 5:12 pm on weekends and holidays. If you miss the last bus, you can walk 20 minutes back to Himeji Station. Click here for more information about the bus, as well as for information about taking the train from Osaka.
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