Himeji () is a small city at the western edge of the Kansai region of Japan.
Himeji's highlight is its gorgeous castle, built in the late 1500s, which is one of the largest in Asia.
The city has been featured in a series of Japanese and foreign films due to its picturesque old-Japan look. The information office at the JR station has props from some of these films, including The Last Samurai.
- Kansai International Airport (KIX is 126 km southeast of Himeji and is the closest major international airport. Airport Limousine Buses operate every 1-2 hours between the airport and Himeji station (2 hr 20 min, ¥3300 one-way/¥5150 round-trip). More expensive, but free for users of the Japan Rail Pass, is to take the JR Haruka limited express to Shin-Osaka and transfer to the shinkansen (1 hr 45 min, ¥5020). It's also possible to buy a one-day JR Kansai Area Pass (¥2300) to reach Himeji in around 2 hours using a combination of the Haruka and the Special Rapid Service.
- Osaka Itami International Airport (ITM is 85km east of Himeji. Buses operate eight times per day between the airport and Himeji station (1 hr 20 min, ¥2160). If you can't catch a direct bus, take a bus to Shin-Osaka instead (25 min, ¥500) and change to the JR line (1 hr, ¥1490 by Special Rapid Service, or 30 min, ¥3220 by shinkansen).
- Kobe Airport (UKB is 65km southeast of Himeji, but has fewer flight options than the airports in Osaka. To reach Himeji, take the Port Liner to Sannomiya and change to the JR Special Rapid Service (75 min, ¥1300).
From Tokyo, one Nozomi train per hour runs through to Himeji (3 hr, ¥16160), otherwise you have to change at Shin-Osaka. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, there is also one Hikari train departing each hour, running through to Himeji, which you can take at no charge (3 hr 40 min).
The overnight Sunrise Izumo/Sunrise Seto from Tokyo stops at Himeji. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can book a carpeted floor space at no charge; otherwise you can travel in a compartment or room by paying the applicable room fee and surcharges.
An inexpensive method of reaching Himeji from within the Kansai region is to take one of the frequent Shinkaisoku (新快速 - Special Rapid) commuter trains on the JR Kobe line (JR 神戸線) that begins in Osaka, which charges only the price of a local train. The ride takes 38 min from Kobe's Sannomiya station (¥950) or 57 min from Osaka (¥1450).
From Kyoto, the Hikari bullet train whisks travelers to Himeji in about an hour (¥5270). This trip can be taken without charge by Japan Rail Pass holders. Otherwise the local train (Special Rapid Service) reaches Himeji in around 1 hr 30 min (¥2270).
Northwest of the JR station is Sanyo Himeji, which is operated by the private Sanyo Railway. Kansai's Hanshin Railway offers direct express services to Sanyo Himeji every 10-20 minutes, with journey times of 1 hr 40 min from Osaka Umeda (¥1280) and 70 min from Kobe Sannomiya (¥960). These private lines are much slower than the JR, but are an option for those holding passes such as the 2 or 3-day Kansai Thru Pass. Discounted one-day passes include the Hanshin & Sanyo Seaside Ticket from Osaka (¥2000) and the Sannomiya-Himeji One Day Ticket from Kobe (¥1400).
Himeji is served by a few overnight buses from Tokyo. The fastest is the Keio Bus/Shinki Bus overnight service which is timetabled at 8 hr 30 min from the Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal and 8 hr from Shibuya. Fares start at ¥8700 each way (¥7400 with advance purchase). Willer Express also offers an overnight run departing Tokyo Station (10 hr 20 min, starting from ¥5800) and Tokyo Disneyland.
By footThe Himeji Castle complex is a 15 minute walk straight down Otemae-dōri from Himeji Station. There are shopping centers and souvenir shops along the way.
By Sightseeing Loop BusSightseeing Loop Bus (¥100) makes a loop around the cultural area, starting at Himeji Station, with stops near the castle, garden, and museums.
By city busCity buses operate to sights far from the castle, such as Engyō-ji Temple.
Himeji CastleDating to 1609 and also graced with the name "White Egret Castle" (白鷺城 Shirasagi-jō), this striking white edifice is generally considered the most beautiful of Japan's castles and is one of the few that has escaped the ravages of civil war, World War II, earthquakes, and firebombings. The castle was designated as a national treasure in 1931 and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. It is virtually the last castle in Japan that still manages to tower over the surrounding skyscrapers and office buildings. Although renovated, much of the castle looks as it did when it was first built, and in contrast to European castles, is very empty, consistent with the Japanese minimalist style of the time. On extremely busy days, you may have to wait to enter since the number of visitors at any one time is limited. Check the website for a "congestion forecast" and status.
Kōkoen GardenThis magnificent collection of 9 Edo-period-style walled gardens was laid out in 1992 on a site where samurai houses once stood. The street plan and gated partitions preserve the appearance of the old residential quarter, except that within the various enclosures visitors find beautifully landscaped gardens and water features instead of noble residences. There is a tea arbour and a restaurant within the grounds, but eating and drinking outside of these places is prohibited.
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of HistoryUnlike most prefectural museums, this one actually has very little information about Hyogo prefecture's history, and historical artifacts also tend to be lacking, so if you really want to learn more about Hyogo, you may be disappointed however, if you are interested in Japanese history as a whole, this museum is well worth visiting. It contains replicas of all twelve original castles remaining in Japan, has a room dedicated to festivals (while they feature Hyogo festivals, most are done nationwide), and toys throughout history. There is an art gallery, as well, which often features some of Japan's most interesting artwork. The artwork is not limited to Hyogo artists. Check the website to see what will be displayed when you arrive.
phone: +81 79-222-2288Features artwork from local artists and European art, along with special exhibitions.
Senhime ShrineThis is the only shrine in Japan associated with a castle. While the shrine itself is rather small and not very interesting, travelling up the stairs to the next lookout reveals a spectacular view of Himeji Castle.
phone: +81 79-284-3636address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji, 670-0012This zoo has a pretty comprehensive array of animals, but usually only one of each and all in very small cages or enclosures.
Engyō-ji TempleThe beautiful temple complex is best known among the locals as the setting for part of Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai. Mount Shosha, where the temple complex is located, is particularly beautiful in the fall, when the Japanese maples change colors.
TegarayamaA district with a large park with a small WWII museum, an aquarium, a amusement park, a botanic garden, and a monorail museum.
Historical Peace CenterA small museum in remembrance of air raid victims during the Pacific War, WWII. It sits right next to a monument in the shape of a sword struck into the earth with a listing of the casualties and fatalities by prefecture in Japanese. Sobering and confronting.
Asago Sculpture ParkA large sculpture park and museum.
Himeji Central ParkA drive-in safari park, amusement park and car racing tracks. It is possible to rent a campsite in summer months.
- For families in particular, the park behind Himeji castle offers a decent play structure and ample space to sit down and have a picnic in the shadow of Japan's most famous castle.
Festivals and events
- Cherry Blossom Viewing Party, usually around the second Sunday in April. Lots of koto and taiko drumming.
- Yukata Matsuri - mid June, runs 2-3 days. Locals criticize this festival for having no roots or real reason to exist other than an opportunity for girls to dress up in summer yukata, eat delicious food from booths, and play fair games. Which is a good enough reason to go. This festival is always packed and makes for great people-watching, as many kinds of Japanese subcultures are on display.
- Oshiro Matsuri - early august. A large parade down the main street ending at Himeji castle. There is also a big stage to see lots of dancing, which can range from either very traditional to very hip. Often it's a combination of the two.
- Moon viewing - in September near the time of the Harvest moon. Features traditional plays and drums.
- Nada Matsuri
- Aboshi Matsuri
Himeji isn't particularly famous for crafts or goods. Wind chimes made of iron tongs and white leather accessories are popular higher-end Himeji souvenirs, and they can be bought in many of the department stores or along the Miyuki dori shopping arcade. There are also numerous shops along the route to the castle selling a variety of Himeji Castle and other assorted souvenirs. Additionally, the streets in the area surrounding Himeji Station are filled with shopping arcades (particularly Miyuki dori) and the usual department stores (there are several lining the way to the Castle, including Sanyo, Forus, and Yamatoyashiki.)
- Himeji Ceramics market - in autumn
AnimateTwo floors of anime and manga. The ground floor has a large selection of manga and doujinshi for all tastes and ages. The second floor has anime goods, CD soundtracks, and DVDs.
Bon MarcheGourmet grocery stores with an impressive (though sometimes pricey) selection of foods, including some import foods.
DaisoThree floors of everything from housewares to clothes, electronics to food mostly (but not always) priced at ¥100
phone: +81 79-221-3500A small selection of stores.
PioleThe section next to the North exit consists of women's clothing stores, zakka (home goods) stores, and a large Junkudo book shop. The other section consists of some omiyage (food gift) shops and a few restaurants like McDonald's and KFC.
phone: +81 79-223-1231address: 1 MinamimachiA standard department store with a variety of goods on multiple floors, including a small LOFT, a popular chain of stores that sells hip accessories, stickers, home goods and pop culture items.
phone: +81 79-226-2884address: 78 Konyamachi
Koba and MoreA small ramen shop with a jazz theme that is famous among the local expat crowd for its unusual Milk Ramen. Koba is the owner and ramen chef.
Sakura-sakuaddress: Honmachi 68Vegetarian-friendly restaurant (also a kind of greengrocer's) with nice open-air frontage and view of Himeji castle. You can get a fantastic veggie meal of (for example) rice with peas, tofu steak and pumpkin, pickles, soup, dessert with coffee, and all the green tea you can drink, all for ¥1000.
BarsBars tend to be frequented mostly by foreigners living in the city.
phone: +81 79-240-7088An Irish-English type pub, except that the city's small Irish population tend to avoid it at all costs. Serving good food in a warm and relaxing setting. Expensive and a bit lifeless but some members of staff may speak English.
Standing Bar Nobuaddress: 71 TatemachiA tiny, cramped little bar with English-speaking Japanese and foreign staff. It may be small; but Nobu is a friendly place. Frequented mainly by a younger crowd, mostly English teachers and foreign engineers working for one of the big factories in Southern Himeji.
Teedaphone: +81 79-299-5860address: 440-1 ChonotsuboTeeda is wonderful creative cafe/pub, with great Asian fusion foods, amazing staff and great vibe.
- Starbucks, on level 4 of the Piole shopping centre next to the station, has views down the street to the castle.
phone: +81 90 9717 6763Old tiny but cosy house with tatami rooms and friendly owner.
phone: +81 79-283-2588address: Honmachi 68Traditional tatami rooms with futon and a shared bathroom and common space. The first floor has a small cafe that serves free coffee and tea. WiFi, bike rental and laundry services are available.
phone: +81 79-222-2231address: 100 MinamiekimaechoA pleasant hotel for the business traveler.
address: 97 Minami-Ekimae-choSimple business hotel. Rooms are small, but the price includes internet in the room and Japanese-style breakfast.
- Okayama is 50 km west and includes, the brooding black Crow Castle, and the lovely Korakuen Garden, one of Japan's Top 3 gardens.
- Kurashiki, near Okayama, is famous for its large Bikan Historic District with many well-preserved buildings from the Edo Period, as well as the famous Ohara Museum of Art which contains a large number of works by the most famous European artists.
- Tsuyama, a quiet town with rich history, is famous for Kakuzan Park, a great place for cherry blossom viewing, Joto Street, and the beautiful Shurakuen Garden.
- Bizen features museums that display the history of Japanese sword making and pottery and Bizen pottery and swords are renowned throughout Japan as being of the best quality since ancient times.
- Kobe is a port city, with the scenic Harborland and Meriken Park around the port and also has theHanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Museum to learn more about the 1995 earthquake and how the city dealt with it.
- Takarazuka is home to Japan's all-female theater troupe, the Takarazuka Revue but the plays are well-done and the actresses are so convincing, you may forget that the male characters are not really men. The city also home to the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, which features works from all of his most famous manga.
- Fukusaki is a small town 30 minutes north of Himeji, on the Bantan line train. The birthplace of famous author Kunio Yanagita, which can be visited for free; Fukusaki boasts many great restaurants, small shrines and shops, in a relaxed rural setting.
- Kakogawa, 10 minutes by train to the west, is a relaxed city to have a break.