During our recent trip to Japan, we visited Himeji, a town most famous for its magnificent castle, Himeji Castle, which is considered Japan’s most beautiful surviving feudal castle. The castle is designated both a national treasure and a UNESCO world heritage site.
When we visited Japan in 2015, we skipped this destination, as the main keep of the castle was undergoing major renovations. This time, we decided to stop, even if only briefly, to enjoy the visit. The renovations are mainly over and the castle is just breathtaking.
Himeji Castle is also known as White Heron Castle for its elegant, white appearance. It is considered Japan’s most spectacular castle for its imposing size and beauty and its well preserved, complex castle grounds.
Unlike many other Japanese castles, it was never destroyed by war, earthquake or fire and it survives to this day as one of the country’s twelve original castles and it is over 400 years old.
The complex comprises over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys, which are connected by a series of gates and winding paths.
Most visitors enter the castle via the Otemon Gate into the third bailey (Sannomaru).
The Sannomaru contains of a large, cherry tree lined lawn, and is a popular spot for taking photos of the castle and for viewing cherry blossoms.
The labyrinth-like approach to the main keep leads along walled paths and through multiple gates and baileys with the purpose to slow down and expose the enemy.
The narrow passages and alleyways are beautiful.
We are very lucky. We got there very early – at about 9AM – and there are still very few visitors.
At the heart of the complex stands the main keep, a six story wooden structure. It is one of the few castle keeps in Japan that feature wing buildings, adding complexity to its appearance.
The weather was just perfect and the sky was so blue! The white keep looked spectacular!
You can climb up the main keep via a series of steep, narrow staircases. Each level gets progressively smaller. The floors are generally unfurnished.
You can also admire the fish-shaped roof ornaments that are believed to protect from fire.
Just outside the main keep, you can stop to admire a beautiful view of the city.
You can also visit the west bailey (Nishinomaru) which served as the residence of a princess and provides views of the main keep from a different perspective.
Himeji Castle is also a highly popular cherry blossom spot during the blooming season which usually falls into early April.
HOW TO GET TO HIMEJI CASTLE
Himeji Castle stands about 1 km down Otemae-dori from Himeji Station. The castle can be reached from the station’s north exit in a 15-20 minute walk or a 5 minute ride by bus (#45).
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HOW TO GET TO HIMEJI
Tokyo and Himeji are connected with each other by the JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen. Direct Hikari trains require roughly 3.5 hours.
Himeji can also be reached by Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka in 40 minutes, from Kyoto in 1 hour and from Hiroshima in less than 1.5 hours.