Himeji Castle: The Complete Guide

Guide to Himeji Castle in Hyogo

Located in the heart of Himeji city, Hyogo Prefecture, the majestic Himeji Castle stands as a timeless emblem of Japan’s rich history and architectural prowess.

Known as “White Heron Castle” for its elegant, white façade, this UNESCO World Heritage Site captivates visitors with its feudal-era defensive structures and panoramic views. Beyond the castle’s imposing walls lies a treasure trove of cultural and natural attractions, from the serene Kokoen Garden to the lively Himeji City Zoo.

In this article, we explore the enchanting world of Himeji Castle and its surrounding area, a must-visit destination steeped in history and beauty.

What is Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle exterior viewHimeji Castle (姫路城), situated in Himeji city, Hyogo Prefecture, is an iconic example of Japanese castle architecture, often referred to as Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo (“White Egret Castle” or “White Heron Castle”) due to its striking white exterior and resemblance to a bird in flight.

The castle’s origins trace back to the 14th century, initially established as a fort by warrior Akamatsu Norimura in 1333 and later expanded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 1580s.

Renowned for its complex network of 83 buildings with advanced feudal defensive systems, Himeji Castle is celebrated for its survival through wars and natural disasters, notably remaining unscathed during World War II. Its architectural splendor includes a main keep with five stories and six floors, flanked by three smaller keeps, all interconnected in a ‘connected-tower’ style.

The castle underwent major restorations in 1873, 1935, and 2009, maintaining its historical and architectural integrity. Its unique white appearance is attributed to a specialized plastering technique. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, Himeji Castle is recognized for its cultural and historical significance.

What to See at Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle exterior view

At Himeji Castle, visitors can explore the main keep, which appears to be a five-story structure but consists of seven floors, including a basement and six above-ground levels. Standing at approximately 31.5 meters, it is the tallest of Japan’s 12 surviving original castle keeps from the Edo period.

It stands as one of Japan’s most prestigious castles, known for its beauty in both daylight and nighttime illumination and is a testament to Japan’s rich heritage.

Here are some of the highlights of what you can do at Himeji Castle.

Visit inside the main castle: You can explore its renowned connected tower structure, including the main keep, three smaller keeps, and four connecting corridors, all designated as national treasures. Additionally, visitors can use the Himeji Castle Discovery app, which employs augmented reality to recreate the historical ambiance of the castle, including the Ninomaru Palace and the lives of the female attendants.

The exterior of the castle: Visitors can admire its freshly refurbished, stunning white facade, reopened to the public in 2015. A short five-minute walk away, the nearby Shiomidai Park is famous for its replica of the castle’s Shachihoko (mythical fish) ornaments, offering a view that is counted among the “Top Ten Scenic Views of Himeji Castle.”

Events at Himeji Castle: Yearly events at Himeji Castle are highlighted by its cherry blossom season, featuring over 1,000 cherry trees, including Somei Yoshino, Weeping Cherry, and Yamazakura varieties. The castle’s backdrop against the blossoms is so iconic that it’s listed among Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom viewing spots.

Himeji Park: A lush urban space that harmoniously blends with the historical and cultural significance of Himeji Castle. Chosen as one of Japan’s Top 100 Historical Parks in 2006, the park features educational and cultural facilities like a zoo, Kokoen Garden, an art museum, a historical museum, and the Japan Castle Research Center.

Kokoen Garden (好古園): A scenic spot with nine unique Japanese-style gardens. Created on the site of the castle’s historic western residence, it offers diverse landscapes, including a pond with a waterfall and hidden castle views. The garden also features a traditional teahouse and a restaurant, popular for its serene ambiance and historical setting. (*Additional fee required)

How to Get to Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle exterior view

The nearest train station to Himeji Castle is Himeji Station and Sanyo-Himeji Station. From Osaka, you can get to Himeji Station in about an hour with the JR Kobe Line (Special Rapid Service). From Kobe, you can get to Himeji Station in 40 minutes also via JR Kobe Line (Special Rapid Service).

To get to Himeji Castle, you just walk straight up Otemae Street. You will arrive at Himeji Park in about 20 minutes.

Tourist attractions near Himeji Castle

Himeji city museum of art-1st. Hiromine Shrine (廣峯神社): This shrine is perched atop Mount Hiromine and has views from Himeji Castle to the Seto Inland Sea. It venerates ancient deities including Susanoo-no-Mikoto, with its main hall and worship hall designated as national cultural properties.

-2nd. Himeji City Zoo (姫路市立動物園): Home to over 100 species, including large and small mammals, birds, and reptiles. It features interactive zones like a petting area and a mini farm, and its unique setting offers views of Himeji Castle, making it a family favorite.

-3rd. Himeji City Museum of Art (姫路市立美術館): Housed in a striking red-brick building formerly used by the military and then as a city hall, opened as a museum in 1983. It features three exhibition spaces showcasing a diverse collection ranging from paintings to swords and boasts a garden with 13 outdoor sculptures.

-4th. Engyoji Temple (書寫山園教寺): A Tendai Buddhist temple on Mount Shosha which is known as the “Hieizan of the West” due to its numerous halls and pagodas amidst lush greenery. Famous as a film and TV drama location, many of its buildings and statues are designated national and prefectural cultural properties.

-5th. Taiyo Park (太陽公園): A thematic park with a symbolic white castle resembling Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle. The park is divided into two areas: the Castle Area, with its Western-style architecture, and the Stone Area, featuring replicas of global landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe and the Great Wall, offering a world tour experience.

I hope you enjoyed this article about Himeji Castle. To fully tour Himeji Castle, it typically takes about 1.5 to 2 hours. However, due to the popularity of the main keep’s public opening, there can be significant waiting times, sometimes extending to 2-3 hours. Therefore, it’s advisable to visit with ample time on hand.

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"The world is my oyster" A globetrotter 🌎 and hammock lover 🌞 who loves taking adventures to fuel wanderlust. Born and raised in Japan, I have lived and explored countries around the world. As a resident of Japan and based on my travel experience, I'd love to share my knowledge and tips for travelling Japan with my readers. I hope my story will help you plan your trip and have a great time in Japan 🌈