One of the smaller cities in Kansai, Himeji is less well-known than places like Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto. The city is best known for Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited castle in Japan. However, there are numerous other places to see and things to do in Himeji.
The top reason to visit Himeji is the castle. Built in 1333 as a fort, it became Himeyama Castle in 1346 and then Himeji Castle in 1581. It has undergone significant reconstruction over the centuries (the last time in 2017), which has helped it to remain the best-preserved example of prototypical castle architecture.
Right next to Himeji Castle is the impressive Koko-en Garden. It is actually nine separate walled gardens, spanning 8.5 acres. With features like waterfalls, bamboo, and evergreen trees, the gardens are great examples of traditional gardens from the Edo Period (1603 to 1867).
Tatsuriki is a premium sake made in Himeji. Delicious warm or cold, it’s the perfect choice for accompanying any meal. Ideally, you’ll drink it with Himeji oden: the signature dish of the city, which is particularly popular in the winter. Oden uses ingredients like egg, octopus, and daikon boiled in a stock made of fish and kelp. In Himeji, it is customary to dip the oden in ginger and soy sauce.
Lovers of the outdoors should take the opportunity to hike 45 to 60 minutes up Mount Shosha. You’ll be rewarded with views of Himeji and the chance to visit Shoshazan Engyo-ji, a temple of the Tendai sect built in 966. Today, it is famous for its appearance in the movie The Last Samurai.
There is something for everyone at Tegarayama Park. You’ll find an odd mix of an amusement park, an aquarium, botanical gardens, and museums like Himeji Monorail Museum.
Arguably the most important site is the Peace Memorial, located up the hill from Himeji Peace Museum. The memorial is dedicated chiefly to the victims of the air raid made on the city by the United States Air Force on July 3, 1945. Although the 767 tons of bombs destroyed 60 percent of the city, Himeji Castle came through unscathed.
Surprisingly, a large focus of Himeji City Museum of Art is European art, particularly pieces from Belgium because the city is twinned with the Belgian city of Charleroi. You’ll also find plenty of work from local artists as well as special exhibits. In fact, the building itself is an interesting site as it was formerly an army headquarters.
Himeji is less than an hour away from the major cities in Kansai. It is a 20-minute train journey from Kobe, 55 minutes from Kyoto, and just 35 minutes from Osaka via the bullet train. Visiting any time of the year is enjoyable, although fall is most impressive due to the fantastic colors of the leaves and spring for the cherry blossoms. However, you could get lucky in the winter and see the castle grounds covered in snow.
by ja:User:Reggaeman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons