Himeji is notable for its famous white-egret Castle, the 400 years old Himeji Castle. It lies in the heart of the Harima Plain and only 40 mins from Kobe or 70 mins from Osaka. Most people use Kobe or Osaka as a base to visit Himeji, and it is a good idea as it can be covered in a one-day trip. However, if you have the time, spending more days in Himeji would also be a nice option.
Getting to Himeji from Osaka:
Take the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line from Osaka Station to Himeji Station. Journey time is 1 hour and 35 mins.
Travel tip: The best value deal is to buy the Kansai Area Pass as the one day pass is cheaper than a round trip train fare itself! Just remember to bring your passport along to the train station to purchase your pass.
Himeji is a quiet little town with the white castle standing tall in the middle of it. Once you arrive at the place, you will feel a sense of serenity and would be compelled to explore the place slowly. Ironically, that is not really the pace for a one day trip but still doable if you choose 2 out of the 3 activities suggested below.
Himeji Castle (Himeji-jo)
The Himeji Castle is built in the 17th century where the technology of the original castle construction is said to be at the zenith of Japan technology. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, the very first in Japan. Its elegant finished with white lime plasters had always been compared to the flying white egret (Hakuro). To the locals, it is sometimes also known as the Hakuro Castle. Recently the castle is reopened in 2015 after a 5 and a half years renovation, now it is the time to visit this amazing castle. The architecture itself is one to marvel with and to be studied closely when one had the chance. Though the entrance fee is quite steep at 1000 yen in 2015. Visiting this castle extensively would easily take half a day.
If you add another 360 yen to the Himeji Castle ticket, you will be granted access to its garden, the Koko-en garden. It is a Japanese garden featuring paths around bonds. This beautiful garden, as true to all good gardens in Japan, is built on the former site of the second residence of the Himeji clan lord and boasts 9 various sized traditional gardens. The tea ceremony room Soju-an and Kassui-ken restaurant are also in the garden. If you are looing for a relaxing place after a long exploration of the Himeji Castle, you may find a respite here drinking tea in the serene surroundings of the zen garden.
Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple
If you have the time to spare still, or if you have decided not to spend too much time at the Himeji castle and its garden, then this temple up in the serene mountains is highly recommended. Here lie the Tendai Sect temples with a history of more than 1000 years. It consists of three magnificent buildings and several Buddhist statues around the twist and turns of the top of the mountain. The main hall reminded me of the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, with its terrace expanding outwards into the sky, but minus the crowd and added the grandeur. The temple is still used actively for prayers and if you are lucky you will get to witness one. The place is also popular for being part of the sites where “The Last Samurai” has been filmed.
From Himeji Castle to Engyo-ji temple – take the bus from Himeji-jyo Otemon Mae, bus No.8 to Sanjo-eki station and then 4 minutes with the Shosazan ropeway (900 roundtrips). Plus the entrance fee is 500 yen (as of 2015). Travel tip: if you are up for it, then hike up through the beautiful mountain path which will take around 1 hour. This would also save you the money for the ropeway but if you are looking to save even more, a secret tip is to hike up the other route, which is steeper and less beautiful with car access (only for monks/officials) but you will bypass the entrance fee booth!
Here you have it, a one-day itinerary for a quick day trip to Himeji from Osaka (or even Kobe if you are there). If you have more than one day to explore Himeji, take it slow and also check out our Top 10 Things to do in Himeji for more itinerary ideas.