Come with me to Himeji (姫路) city, to admire Himeji castle (姫路城). Visit this famous castle on a hill to witness a most magnificent masterpiece of an original 17th century Japanese castle. Bag Japan’s national treasure on Instagram and tick off your checklist of having visited yet another UNESCO World Heritage Centre (awarded in 1993). Thus far, Himeji Castle is the proud survivor of WWII and the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. Himeji castle also bears the nickname of Shirasagi-jo which carries the meaning of the Egret Castle. For movie buffs, Himeji Castle had starred in the James Bond’s movie, “007: You Only Live Twice” and countless other movies and TV shows. In 2015, after 5 and a half years of restoration work to blast its walls off the dirt and grime of yesteryears and painstaking replacement of roof tiles, Japan is proud to reveal the gleaming white plastered Himeji Castle with its six-storey central tower (Japanese: donjon).
If this is your first visit to Japan, do visit my related article on Taking In Tokyo as a Japan first-timer for practical tips.
From JR Kanazawa station, we took a Ltd. Exp. Thunderbird train bound for JR Shin-Osaka station where we changed to the Sakura shinkansen bound for JR Okayama station. For today’s journey, we will be staying at Mitsui Garden Hotel Okayama within a stone’s throw away from JR Okayama station. It is easily walkable to Himeji Castle as you exit JR Himeji station. It felt so surreal to see a historic castle in a modern city.
As I enter Himeji Castle through the Hishi-no-mon Gate, I was completely blown away by its charms and its imposing grandeur. Not even the red warning cones draped with the yellow and black warning tapes can spoil the beauty of the Hishi-no-mon gate.
Next, we enter the Ha-no-mon Gate. The main tower looks deceivingly close but if you follow its path, it will lead you away from the main tower.
Hello tree… viewed through a gun shooting square shaped hole at Himeji castle. Oblong holes are designed for shooting arrows. To keep intruders at bay, 997 shooting holes are strategically positioned in the walls of the keep and the towers and acts as a ring of defence for its castle occupants. Even the castle walls are not straight to keep climbing ninjas at bay.
If you are quite tall, watch out for your head as you enter archways! Do not hit your head on this low Mizu-no-sanmon archway. The path between Mizu-no-nimon and Mizu-no-sanmon is purposely designed as a downhill route to trick intruders. This is the right path for the shortest route to the main tower. If you follow the level pathway, you will be misguided to return to the beginning, the first Hishi-no-mon Gate. Also, only one person can go through at a time! What a great defense idea!
See http://www.hyogo-tourism.jp/english/special/himejicatsle.html for an illustrated map of Himeji Castle’s Gates.
Basically, you can take all these great photos of Himeji castle without paying a single penny yet. Don’t be stingy! You have come all these way, don’t you turn back now! Do pay for your ticket and follow me into the enchanted Himeji castle’s main keep.
Reward yourself with stunning views of Himeji city, mountain ranges and the castle’s inner courtyards as you peer outside the windows of the Himeji Castle on your climb to the castle-top. Be extra attentive and look out for ornate stoned fish decorations and the many family crests e.g. butterfly crest of the Ikeda family and cross-shaped crest of a Christian lord who once ruled the castle carved on the roofing tiles.
Inside the castle, spot the weapon racks used in the ancient days to place Tanegashima (種子島) Japanese matchlocks and straight-headed spears.
Here’s the wooden model of Himeji castle in case you are curious about the construction of this marvellous architecture feat.
Absolutely, nothing had prepared me for climbing many flights of steep stairs.The calories from consumption of the bento had been all but burned off! You have to bow down as you climb otherwise you will hit your head! This is another great castle defence feature as the castle defenders will be able to chop off your head or stab you without you even knowing from the top of the stairs.
Spot the JR Himeji station and the street that we were pounding on hours earlier. Also, check out the Castle moat.
The castle decors looked more ornate and the views became more gorgeous as you make your way to the castle-top.
I also grew more artistic with my black and white castle shots. I enjoyed the fruits of my labour.
It was an easier climb downwards. Fortunately, you can hold onto the wooden stair’s railings. Once in the castle grounds, you can continue to snap away happily at the majestic Himeji Castle. Admire the many colours of Himeji Castle. Which one is your favourite?
Here’s an artistic shot of pine trees and Himeji castle.
By the time we set foot in the Kokoen garden of Himeji castle, I was so tired. I told myself that I had paid the extra 40 Yen so Kokoen Garden I must visit. Unfortunately, if you look at the Kokoen garden map, the only way out of the garden is to walk its entire length and breadth. Paid 40Yen and I need not another gym visit for many many days.
Here’s the Kokoen garden map:
Here’s the results of giving my best shot at Japanese garden photography of Japanese acers, flowers, ponds with koi carps and bonsai pine trees.
Thank you dear Dreampliflyers! You’ve reached the end of my Himeji castle adventure, hopefully you are not too tired by our climb up to the top of Himeji castle. Hope you’ve also enjoyed the ‘no calories method’ of munching through the yummylicious Kansai cuisine. Greetings from Himeji with love! Sayonara.
- The best time to visit Himeji Castle is during the sakura or cherry blossoms season in spring. But fear not, out of season, Himeji Castle is just as enchanting.
- Visit Himeji Castle in the afternoon. The throngs of morning tourists would have left for the day, giving you ample chances to indulge your penchant for photography.
- Do leave your drones behind as drones are prohibited at Himeji Castle.
- For admission fee, opening hours etc, see http://www.himejicastle.jp/en/ for further details. Buy a combined ticket for Himeji Castle and the neighbouring Kokoen Garden for an extra 40 Yen.
- Visit the Live congestion forecast report on http://www.himejicastle.jp/en/ to measure your odds of visiting Himeji Castle’s Main Keep. During peak season, only the luckiest 15,000 people will be able to gain entry into the Main Keep.
- Fill your belly before you attempt to climb the Himeji Castle. It is a long way up and you will thank me for it!
- Before your Himeji Castle trip, do exercise and keep yourself fit otherwise climbing Himeji Castle will make you fitter on your return journey! There are steep cobbledstone paths and many many stone and wooden steps before you are granted the stunning views at the top of the Castle.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY)
- Best Time to Visit: An afternoon in the month of May to avoid the mad tourist crush or if you enjoyed being packed like sardines in a can, then visit during the cherry blossoms or sakura season in spring.
- Getting around: Walk
- Getting here: See http://www.himejicastle.jp/en/#guidance for further details.