Himeji is a city on the sea in Hyogo Prefecture, in the Kansai region of Japan. Himeji City is best known for its spectacular castle, unscathed through the centuries by wars and earthquakes, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Architecturally, Himeji City also showcases cutting edge modernity, with numerous buildings by master Japanese architects Kenzo Tange and Tadao Ando.
Himeji also has the forested, Tendai sect Engyo-ji Temple that featured in the movie, The Last Samurai, on the summit of Mount Shosha. Nature-oriented attractions include the 900m-high Mount Seppiko, Himeji Central Park, the Himeji City Tegarayama Botanical Garden in Tegarayama Central Park, and the Koko-en Garden, which is part of Himeji Castle.
Himeji is almost as famous for its local traditional fast foods, such as gujayaki savory pancake and takoyaki octopus dumplings, as it is for its castle.
Things to see and do in Himeji
Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is Japan's most spectacular medieval castle, and dominates the city skyline. Himeji Castle is one of just twelve original Japanese castles that still survive, without having been rebuilt or renovated. Its fascinating history is matched by its grandeur and beauty.
There are guided tours of Himeji Castle available in English.
The castle is a 15-20 minute walk from Himeji Station north along Otemachi dori.
Himeji Castle - Admission Fee 600 yen.
Hours: 9am-4pm (later in summer); Closed December 29-31
Tel: 0792 85 1146. Read more about Himeji Castle.
Most of Himeji's other attractions are quite close to the castle.
On the western side of the castle moat is Koko-en - a 1990s reconstruction of the original samurai quarters of the town, that were known as Nishi Oyashiki. There are nine connected Edo Period gardens, small carp-filled lakes and a pleasant restaurant. The gardens are enclosed with mud walls topped with tiles. There is a small entrance fee, or you can buy a combined castle and gardens ticket.
Tel: 0792 89 4120
Museums in HimejiHimeji City Museum of Art, north-east of the castle, has exhibits of mainly Western art and further north is the striking Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History designed by Kenzo Tange, which contains scale models of Himeji Castle and the other 11 castles in Japan which survive in more or less their original form. To the west is Tadao Ando's striking Museum of Literature, near to Senhime Tenman-gu, a shrine dedicated to the maiden Senhime, whose story is intimately entwined with that of Himeji Castle.
Engyoji Temple about 8km northeast of Himeji Station, has shot to fame as the impressive temple buildings, set in a cedar forest, that were used as a backdrop for the film The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. Engyoji is a Tendai sect temple associated with Enryakuji on Mount Hiei in Kyoto. The temple can be reached by buses #6 or #8 (about 25 minutes) from the station to Shosha, a short cable car ride and then a 20 minute walk.
Itatehyozu Shrine hosts the Mitsuyama Taisai Festival, a festival held once every 20 years, which wards off evil for the whole country. Three huge floats or "mountains" are placed outside the shrine decorated with cloth and kimono. The last Mitsuyama Taisai Festival was in 2013 and the festival dates from 1593.
Tegarayama Central Park
Tegarayama Central Park is a large public park about 2km south-west of Himeji Station and is most notable for the Tegarayama Botanical Garden that forms a part of it, featuring mainly varieties of cactus, tropical orchid, begonia and carnivorous plants.
Himeji also has a zoo, Himeji City Zoo (Tel: 079 284 3636) which is not one of Japan's best. The nearest bus stop for the zoo is Himeji-jo Otemon mae.
Himeji has a distinctive food culture, especially when it comes to cheap, traditional fast foods, typically accompanied by beer.
Himeji oden is a twist on the normal oden in Japan in that the soy sauce used is flavored with ginger.Ebi soba (shrimp in soba noodles) is a Himeji specialty that began just after the end of WWII as a snack sold on station platforms. What at the time was considered an odd juxtaposition of Japanese (soba) and Chinese (shrimp) became a nationwide favorite. Akashi-yaki-fu takoyaki (octopus dumplings done Akashi-style) is a Himeji interpretation of a popular snack, whereby the dumplings are baked very soft (i.e., Akashi-style) and not only have the usual takoyaki sauce spread over them, but are then doused in boiling hot dashi broth.
Gujayaki is Himeji's take on a savory pancake. Gujayaki is similar to okonomiyaki (associated with Osaka> and monjayaki, but is crustier on the outside while still soft in the middle.
The main restaurant area in Himeji is situated both above and underground near Himeji Station.
Festivals in Himeji
Himeji's main festival is the Nada-no-kenka matsuri held on 14-15 October and involves a fight (kenka) between 3 portable shrines (mikoshi) until one breaks. The festival takes place a short walk from Shirahamanomiya Station on the Sanyo Dentetsu Line from Himeji Station (10 minutes).
Himeji Central Park
Himeji Central Park is about 10km north-east of Himeji Castle, and is a big, elaborate amusement facility with a drive-through African-style safari park; an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, go-karts, jet coaster, and more; an ice rink, a variety of swimming and recreational pools, and restaurants.
Mount Seppiko 雪彦山
Mount Seppiko is a 915 meter mountain about 45 km north of central Himeji City, and is part of the Seppiko-Mineyama Prefectural Natural Park. Mount Seppiko is historically a place for ascetic training, but is much more popular today for rock climbing. Take a bus from platform 17 of the Bus Terminal at the North Exit of Himeji Station, and get off at the last stop, Yama-no-Uchi (山之内) bus stop. Takes about an hour.
Himeji has a lot of hotels, especially near the station. Here is a selection of three with good reputations, from lower to higher budget.
Himeji Castle Grandvrio Hotel is about 500 meters south of Himeji Station (on the opposite side from the castle!), and offers a shuttle bus service. It has a clean, new interior, an onsen spa facility for guests, and comfortable rooms on the spacious side. Japanese-style pub and cafe on the premises. Excellent Wi-Fi, free parking. Very reasonably priced.
Dormy Inn Himeji Natural Hot Spring is a budget hotel very near Himeji Station that delivers more than its business-hotel looks might suggest. The drawcard here is the delightful onsen hot spa pool on the top level. Dormy Inn Himeji Natural Hot Spring is also unique in serving guests free late-night ramen noodles. Free launderette, good breakfast buffet.
Setre Highland Villa Himeji is a chic, modern hotel about 10km north of central Himeji on a high land with a spectacular view over the city on the plain below. One highlight here is the hot pool for guests with huge windows out onto this panorama. Setre Highland Villa Himeji combines the most elegant aspects of Japanese and Western decoration in a natural, uncluttered, spacious interior that is relaxation itself. Delectable Japanese cuisine. Free parking.
Himeji Tourist Office
Himeji Information Center (Navi-Port) is located at Himeji Station.
Himeji Information Center
210-2 Ekimaecho, Himeji
Hyogo Prefecture 670-0927
Tel: 079 287 0003
Himeji Castle Loop Bus
The retro Himeji Castle Loop Bus operated by Shinki Bus runs in a circuit from Himeji Station (Shinki Bus Center) stopping at Himeji Castle Otemon, Himeji Post Office, Himeji City Museum of Art, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History (Museum-mae stop), Shimizu-bashi (Museum of Literature), Kokoen Garden, Otemae and back to Himeji Station (Himeji OS Building).
The bus runs daily except from December to February when it operates only on weekends and national holidays. The fare is 100 yen or a day pass costs 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children. From March to November buses depart on the hour and half hour from Himeji Station from 9am-4.30pm. Buses are more frequent on weekends and national holidays.
There is a 20% discount for the admission to Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden and the City Museum of Art with the day pass.
There are also "Himeji Wide" bus passes which include the Loop Bus for 1,200 yen for 1 day and 1,800 yen for 2 days.
The nearest airports to Himeji are Osaka's Kansai International Airport and Kobe Airport. For access details for Japan's airports click here.
Himeji is a stop on the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen Line and is 3 hours 20 minutes by bullet-train from Tokyo.
Visitors can also take a shinkaisoku JR express from Kyoto (90 mins), Osaka (1 hour) or Kobe (40 mins).
There are bus services to Himeji from Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, Okayama, Hiroshima and other cities.