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Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

We had a day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan as part of our two-week trip in January. It’s considered Japan’s most beautiful castle, towering over the city with its pure white facade and silvery grey tiles. Its exterior has a real castle-based wow factor. Like lots of this sort of thing in Japan, it’s an UNESCO World Heritage Site and official National Treasure.

Our day trip was from where we were staying in Kobe. It took about 20 minutes or so on a shinkansen.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

The castle is easy to find from the train station: it looms at the end of a straight main road. You enter from this massive gate.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Once in the grounds, you’ll naturally make a beeline for the main castle itself.

The main keep

When we visited in January, there was hardly any queue to get in, but from the amount of signs and fencing, it was apparent this isn’t always the case. It’s probably heaving in summer. We were able to explore a bit around it, having it almost all to ourselves, before venturing in.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

If you’re anything like us, no holiday will be complete without climbing up some sort of tower or viewing area, usually on a hot day and laden with bags. Our Himeji day trip was no exception, only with the added Japanese bonus of having to take our shoes off on the wooden floor and scale six flights of stairs made for tiny feet.

It’s all about the view though. From the top, you get a windswept panorama of the city and mountains, framed by the intricate detail of the castle’s rooftops.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

The interior

If you like wood and minimalism, you’ll like Japanese castles.

We’ve only been in this one and Matsumoto Castle, but we have it on good authority (and Google) that most Japanese castles have no furniture or anything in them.

Unlike in Europe, where castles are usually set up as they would have been back in the day (four-poster beds, millions of paintings, etc), Japan likes to keep things simple. And much easier to dust.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Around the grounds and gardens

Irrespective of furniture and stuff, we always prefer the outside of castles and historical buildings. After you’ve climbed all the way back down the stairs inside, you can get out and mooch round the grounds of Himeji Castle.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

It would be a bit more colourful in spring or summer, but we still found some good photo opportunities.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

As you leave the castle grounds, there are some samurai-related things. This is because of Himeji’s history of training samurai warriors – it was also the filming location for the film ‘The Last Samurai’, which we’ve never seen so was completely wasted on us.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Kōkoen Garden

Speaking of all things samurai, there used to be samurai houses next to the main gate of Himeji Castle. An Edo-style set of walled gardens was built on their former site in the 90s and is quite a nice thing to visit to round off your trip.

However, when we were there, the main part of it was resoundingly closed.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Luckily, we were still allowed into some of the smaller side gardens, which had some nice water features and a fair amount of colour for January.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Cats

More importantly, Kōkoen Garden also had cats lounging about in the late January sunshine. Fun fact: cats in Japan say ‘nya’, not ‘meow’. You’ll need this information if you wish to converse with them.

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Shinkansen-spotting

After a quick look round some of Himeji’s myriad of shops, it was time to get the bullet train (shinkansen) ‘home’ to our base in Kobe.

Himeji station is one of the few where shinkansens pass through without stopping, so you have the opportunity to photograph one going past at speed. Wouldn’t that make for a great blurry arty photo? We were poised with the camera for ages waiting for one to zoom past. But we had to give up and board our shinkansen before we missed it. Of course, as soon as we took our seats, one passed us. We missed it by about 30 seconds.

Life.

Still, even a stationary shinkansen is quite exciting. They really are ridiculously long and have great ‘faces’.

More on Japanese trains coming in a special blog soon…

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan: useful information

How to get there (and away)

From Kobe, we got the shinkansen direct to Himeji. It took about 20 minutes.

Where to stay

It’s probably not worth staying over because it’s more of a day trip. We’d definitely recommend Kobe as a base for this and other day trips.

How to get around

You can see it when you leave the station and just walk in a straight line to it.

When to go

Choose between queuing with the hordes seeing it with cherry blossom in spring, or get it to yourself in winter. As the grounds and gardens are a big deal, it might be nicer to go when the weather is a bit better, but we still enjoyed it in January.

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Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan | PACK THE SUITCASES

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20 thoughts on “Day trip to Himeji Castle, Japan”

  1. Wow that castle is beautiful! And oh I would love to have caught that bullet train! I will look forward to your post about Japanese trains!

  2. What a stunning castle, I agree it’s like something from a fairytale and so different from European castles. I have never been to Japan but would love to visit one day. Thanks for sharing this beautiful place.

  3. I’m imagining the bursts of colors during autumn – surely they make a beautiful contrast with this castle! Have yet to visit Himeiiji Castle nor Kobe, but you gave a great intro to the castle. I must say that the interior looks really minimal and empty though, lol. Wonder how life was like inside the castle!

  4. “cats in Japan say ‘nya’, not ‘meow’. You’ll need this information if you wish to converse with them.” I think we could definitely be friends 😀

    I absolutely adore castles and I’m gutted I didn’t get to explore any while I was in Japan. Himeji reminds me of the castle in “Spirited Away”, have you seen it?

    1. Haha. Learning the local feline lingo is high priority. I don’t know why it’s not in Lonely Planet books.

      I’ve not seen it but I know what you mean! It’s probably based on a real Japanese castle – there are so many of them.

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