Visiting Himeji in Spring 2017 – What to See and Do

2 years ago, I visited Himeji (and Kobe) as I bought a 7-day JR Pass because of my Osaka-Tokyo return trip. Not wanting to waste the ‘unlimited’ train rides, I visited Himeji and Kobe in an attempt to cover more areas. In my previous trip, I made use of the free bicycle rental from the Himeji Tourism Center office located right at the train station. I did not manage to enter the Himeji castle back then as it was not ready but on the hindsight, I explored the surrounding areas of the castle ground which was pretty enjoyable too!

Read about my visit two years ago: http://www.flyhoneystars.com/2015/05/01/himeji-free-bicycle-rental-and-kobe-day-trip/

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In my recent visit, we had a bit more time for this city and we even stayed one night at Hotel Nikko Himeji which was right beside the JR Train station! It was a decent hotel with the usual small rooms (I had a single room) and buffet breakfast! Well, if you’re lucky enough, you might be able to see Himeji-castle from your room window! I’m not sure if you can make such a request upon checking in but no harm trying.

To start off your adventure, do visit the Tourism Center as there are many english/chinese guides and maps available with seating area and a TV if you prefer to watch something. The counter staff can speak english and they will be ready to help you with whatever you need. The best part? You can collect a really pretty “stamp/chop” of Himeji. (Yes I’ve been collecting them since my first visit to Japan; shall share my collection one day)

If you don’t plan to cycle or walk to the castle, you can take the “Himeji Castle Loop” Retro Bus (reminds me of the one at Kawaguchiko) which is very affordable at 100Y (Frequency is twice per hour on weekdays and four times on weekends). The bus stops at most attractions, including the Himeji City Museum of Literature, Himeji Castle and Kokoen which I visited in my trip. However, if the weather is good, I would encourage walking (about 15 to 20 minutes) as you get to see more sights of the city.

 

Himeji City Museum of Literature

Address: 84 Yamanoicho, Himeji 670-0021, Hyogo Prefecture

This building is designed by the famous Japanese architect, Tadao Ando (See more of his great works here or this link). If you are into architecture and design, this place is definitely a must go! The area consists of 2 concrete buildings (North and South Wing), together with a traditional Japanese home.

Entrance to the museum is free but if you wish to enter the exhibits, the price is 300Y.

Apart from the architecture, there’s a gallery feature on the history of Himeji Castle. There’s a bit of english explanation though I found it to be pretty incomplete somehow. Nevertheless, it was a good read.

Once you are done with the exhibit, do proceed up the curve slope and exit the building. You will be greeted with beautiful sights.

I like how he added a lot of water elements in his design to add more soul and story to the building.

Look for the stairs and head all the way up to the rooftop and you will be able to see the majestic Himeji Castle.

There was a traditional Japanese house within the premises of the museum which was donated by the owner. A visit inside the house will give you a peek of what it was like to be a rich arisocrat back in the olden days.

These are actual venue spaces that can be rented for meetings, tea ceremonies or gatherings. I’m pretty sure the price would be steep.

Very beautiful vantage point to view the magnificent castle with yellow and blues to brighten up the photo. How I wish I knew photo editing to further enhance the photo but.. I’m showing you guys the real view I guess..

For more photographs and description of the place in Chinese, do check out her post.

Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle is regarded as the finest surviving castle of Japan in all time. The original structure you see today is not a rebuild or a replica. The castle stood strong against the world war 2 bombing and earthquakes and some might regard it as a ‘Castle of Miracle’.

Standing at 46.4m, the castle is the icon of Himeji city. Even the city mascot, Princess Shiromaru, wears the castle as a hat. In order to shine the spotlight on the castle at all times, the buildings/structures surrounding the castle are all kept short.

Newly re-opened just 2 years ago (end March 2015), Himeji is extremely popular with tourists, both domestic and foreign crowd. Even during off peak timings (our visit was on a weekday early March), there was a short queue waiting outside even before its opening hours at 9am.

The open space as seen in the picture below may look empty now but when the hanami season kicks off, it will be filled with people and picnic mats among a sea of pink sakuras!

As you walk around the castle, you will be able to see different angles of the majestic white castle. This castle is also popularly known as “White Egret Castle” as it resembles a bird taking flight.

     

Unlike my previous visit where I was on my own, this time we were greeted by a Himeji City Tourist Representative who gave us a thorough explanation of the castle history in English! He identified several sites that were once filming locations for James Bond “You Only Live Twice” (1967) movie.

It is highly recommended that you get a guide for your visit as there were many special features of the castles that usual people will overlook. There were certain areas created for booby traps to attack against the enemy while other features were done to mislead and confuse the enemies.

For example, from the exterior of the castle, it appears that the castle has 5 stories but in reality, there are 6 floors and a basement. This may cause the enemy to be confused while inside the castle.

Inside the castle, there was a model of the Himeji City and Castle in the past.

Inside the castle, there were signages with QR code and you can scan them on your mobile phone and watch a short video about the special features of the castle at that area.

The view from the castle is pretty mesmerising. As seen from the photo below, the castle gives the viewer a full view of a great distance and the distant overlapping mountains adds depth to the photo.

So this is what the inside of the Castle look like – wooden flooring, wooden pillars and looking pretty Japanese. Do note that shoes are not allowed in the building and you will carry your shoes with you in a plastic bag that they will provide. It is advised to wear socks when visiting the castle. Just so you know, Japanese is very particular about cleanliness and removing shoes to enter attraction places is not uncommon. The castle grounds can be pretty cold at times (the allow nature wind/outside temperature to flow through the building) so it would be good to wear thicker socks especially on a cold day.

View from the castle. Do look at the sculpture at the edge of the roof. It is kind of like a symbol of the era.

On the last floor of the castle, there is a shrine. I can’t remember who it was honouring but I believe it is a warrior or feudal lord.

For a more thorough history of the castle, you can refer to its page on Wikepedia which is quite detailed.

If you prefer reading it in Chinese, please visit this blog for more photographs and explanation.

We were thankful to visit the castle when it was not so crowded. We could even get a solo shot of ourselves with the castle with no one else in frame!
If we were to visit 3 to 4 weeks later, the flowers may be blooming but we might also end up seeing more human heads instead.

You can try booking a free english guide from this website. I haven’t tried it yet but it looks legit.

Koko-en Garden

After visiting the castle, don’t forget to visit the nearby garden. If you buy the entrance tickets together, you can get a good discount of about 400Y. As it was early March, the garden was still in preparation mode and we were surprised to greeted by some beautiful blooms. The garden is really beautiful and I recommend spending 90 – 120 minutes in here.

If you have 30 minutes to spare, do go for a “Tea Ceremony” experience. At only 500Y, it includes a bowl of super delicious Japanese Tea (I really wonder how premium the matcha powder was as it tasted really good) and a Japanese sweet (wagashi).

After payment, you will be brought to a tatami room to witness the ceremony.

You can choose to sit or kneel (the Japanese way) but if you do not kneel down often, the position may be very uncomfortable after a few minutes. I attempted to do the kneeling but my legs kind of gave way after 5 minutes and I ended up sitting cross-legged. The staff that tended to us that morning was able to speak basic english and it was pretty refreshing.

Video of the ceremony

Tea ceremony is a highly regarded sacred event for Japanese.

After the ceremony, the equipment used will be displayed in front of you and you can inspect and admire them.

Before drinking the tea, we were given a snack. This is a traditional handmade japanese snack (wakashi) which we learned how to make the day before. It was a little too sweet for me (red bean paste in the middle) but I guess Japanese likes their food sweet.

The green tea was really delicious! How I wish they sold the matcha powder used.

If you do get a chance to witness and experience a tea ceremony, do not miss out on this opportunity!

Wagashi (Japanese Sweet) Making

Address: Kineya Honten(株)杵屋 本店 95 Nikaimachi, Himeji-shi, Hyōgo-ken 670-0922, Japan

Website:  kineya.net

This was the first time I’ve ever heard of a Wagashi making course catering to foreigners. The “experimental” market has been increasing significantly in recent years. Back then, people traveling to South Korea will go for Kimchi Making classes and in thailand there will be cooking classes. In my media trip, we had 4 hands-on experience – strawberry picking, kimono wearing, tea ceremony and wagashi making. I guess the tourist market is shifting from a touch and go, photo-taking agenda to an itinerary where tourists can participate and bring home some souvenirs. Sorry for the digression..

We were brought to this ‘shopping street’ which looked very localised and we had a 30 minutes experimental learning in the second floor of this shop.

Just to share with you, wagashi is not cheap as each and every piece is handmade. The price can range from 300 to 700Y depending on the complexity of the design. The course was 2,000Y and it includes a 500Y voucher which can be used for purchases in their retail shop.

These were the samples that we were re-creating.

Pink/White – Flower see Moon
Green – Wild Spring
Tri-colour (something)

We did not have to make the skin or paste from scratch. It was already prepared for us when we reached. This wagashi-making was more of like wagashi designing.

I’m not going to share the techniques involved in making the wagashi otherwise it won’t be of any fun when it is your turn. Apart from my tri-colour wagashi which looks nothing like the sample, I would say my other 2 looks pretty decent!

Souvenir Shopping in Himeji – Bansankan

Address: 播産館123 Minamiekimaechō, Himeji-shi, Hyōgo-ken 670-0962, Japan

Website: jibasan.or.jp

The most convenient and extensive souvenir shop for Himeji is located behind the JR station. It is on the same side of Hotel Nikko.

Himeji is famous for leather craft and the items look really nice! Apart from leather, they are many food items as well, together with alcohol too! If you’ve forgotten to buy souvenirs, this shop will be your saviour!

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Read the other articles for my Trip:

Visiting Kumamoto | What to eat in KumamotoWhat to eat in Himeji

Disclaimer: Writer was hosted on a Media FAM trip to Kumamoto and Himeji by Kumamoto City and Himeji City during early March 2017.

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