Himeji Castle Day Trip and How to Fully Maximise Your Day
1. How to Go to Himeji Castle?
2. Himeji Castle Entrance Fee
» Himeji Castle + Kokoen Garden Ticket Combo
» Kokoen Garden Admission Ticket
3. Himeji Castle Tips
4. Inside Himeji Castle
|1| Main Keep
|2| West Bailey and Cosmetic Tower
|3| Okiku’s Well
|4| Old Widow’s Stone (Ubagaishi)
5. How to Fully Maximise Your Day Around Himeji Castle
Of course. Himeji Castle (aka Himeji-jō) is one of the five castles to become a Japan National Treasure in 1931. Moreover, among the hundred Japanese castles, it is the first and only one to get a UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade in 1993 to represent Japanese wooden castle architecture. Its rich history dated back as far as 1333. Don’t you want the medieval castle to be part of your travel itinerary in Japan?
Himeji Castle original preservation survived the miraculous ordeal of the destruction despite two air raids which reduced Himeji to ashes during World War II in 1945. It is one of the most sought-after factors to witness its natural wooden beauty. While most visitors appreciated its originality, some remarked that there was nothing much to see inside Himeji Castle except for wood and stairs.
After all, one should feel thankful that a medieval castle was left behind intact, leaving behind a history so we can continue to visualise its past today. Moreover, in the olden days, things were kept relatively simple while serving its military function as a sophisticated defence system in the fortified Himeji Castle. It had also miraculously withstood the disastrous bombing of World War II and the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.
The nearest train station to reach Himeji Castle is Himeji Station. Whether you are coming from the Himeji train station by foot, from Kansai Airport or other cities in Kansai Region – Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, there are two comprehensive guides on the transport options, estimated fares and time to make sure you get to Himeji Castle as per your travel plan.
You can buy the Himeji Castle tickets at the ticket machines outside the entrance or at the ticket office. The entry fee for adults is ¥1,000 and ¥300 for students under 18 years old, whereas pre-school children can enter for free. The admission ticket is only valid on the same day of purchase. You can also book your entrance ticket in advance here with an English speaking tour guide.
After finishing the tour, I wanted to visit the Koko-en Garden later after doing some research for Himeji attractions near to the castle. I was not discovered that I could get a combined ticket for Himeji Castle + Kokoen Garden for ¥1,040 (children ¥360) earlier at the ticket office. I was not aware of in the first place.
I returned to the ticket window and asked if I could top-up ¥40 just to try my luck. The counter staff said told me that it was not possible after completing the Himeji Castle tour. On a separate note, the combo ticket can only be purchased from the ticket counter and not from the ticket machines.
I had to pay the full Koko-en Garden ticket price at ¥300 (children ¥150) and was quite reluctant to pay for the entry fee even though it was my folly. I hope my disappointing experience can make you plan better in advance if you want to go to Kokoen Garden on the same day.
The garden is a 12-min walk, 850 m from Himeji Castle. Especially in autumn, it must be stunning to visit looking at the gorgeous photos. The Koko-en Garden was built in 1992 to commemorate the 100th year history of Himeji City establishment in 1889 at Hyogo Prefecture.
Himeji Castle opening hours are daily from 9 am to 5 pm and till 6 pm during summer. The ticket counter and last entry will stop at 4 pm and 5 pm during the summer. It is closed on 29 and 30 December every year. It is advisable to go as early as possible to avoid the crowd build-up during the late morning and afternoon. In the morning, there are fewer people so that you can have a more relaxed atmosphere, especially in the castle enclosed area.
If the crowd gets too large and unmanageable, the number of visitors will be restricted to 15,000 visitors daily inside the Main Keep (main building). Then, a numbered ticket will be issued to them on a first-come, first-served basis. I had heard the announcement in Main Keep a few times in the afternoon. Surely, you do not want to be the one getting the number, waiting to get inside the Main Keep.
During peak hours, the queue at the ticket counter can be as long as one hour. I went before 10 am, and there was no queue at the ticket counter. Therefore, you want to avoid it to maximise your visit time inside the castle. When I left the place 4 hours later, there were already tour groups outside the Himeji Castle entrance. Do note that once you exit, re-entry to Himeji Castle is not allowed.
Here are 9 tips to know before travelling to Himeji Castle.
Eating and drinking are prohibited inside Himeji Castle, but you can bring your water bottle with a lid. Other beverages like alcohol, canned drinks or even own food like lunch, candy, gum and ice cream are not permitted to bring inside the place.
TRIVIA: There is an ice cream vending machine outside the entrance which an ice cream costs only ¥150. Talking about this, I regretted not trying out one as I could not see it anywhere in Osaka and other cities. Please try on my behalf and tell me whether it is nice or not ?
Smoking is prohibited everywhere in Himeji Castle compound. There is a designated smoking area about 100 m away from the castle entrance. Even the shopping streets in Himeji has “No Smoking” signs.
There are no rubbish bins inside the castle. So, you may like to bring a plastic bag to keep your waste, if any. Not only in Himeji Castle, in other cities such as Osaka, we hardly find any rubbish bins around and always bring our own when we travel.
Selfie stick, monopod and tripod are prohibited inside the complex. On a side note, you cannot take photos inside the Himeji Castle building (not outside the compound). What most visitors do is they take scenery from the high floor of Himeji Castle.
Strollers, bags with wheels and pushcarts for the elderly may not be used inside the castle. You have to store the bags with wheels inside a coin locker.More Detail
The coin lockers are limited in numbers so the odds of you getting one may be low, especially if you go to Himeji Castle at a later time. One advantage is that they are cheaper in the castle than the coin lockers at Himeji Station, comparing with the same size.
The Himeji Castle coin locker price is ¥100, ¥200 and ¥300 (small to large size). Here is a useful link regarding the locker location, size and quantity at Himeji Castle. The website is in Japanese, but there is a translation tool.
There are a lot of stairs and steep paths to climb inside Himeji Castle. Once inside any building, all visitors will have to remove their shoes. The staff will give one plastic bag to keep your shoes. After which, you have to carry around the plastic bag for the whole tour.
There is free Wi-Fi around Himeji Castle. Select “Himeji Wi-Fi” network on the mobile and then fill in your email address to use. It can also be used in Himeji shopping district and around the Himeji Station.
The audio guide “Himeji Castle Great Discovery” is available on download on your mobile with Augmented Reality for a self-guided tour. You have to listen to it with earphones or purchase a set for ¥100. The app may not be compatible with some phones.
Himeji Castle provides English speaking tour guide for two timings: ① 10 am – 11.45 and ② 1 pm to 2.45 pm for ¥1,000, ¥500 for 13 to 17 years old and free for children 12 years and below. Register 15 minutes in advance. A maximum of 10 participants per tour. For ease of convenience, you can also reserve your Himeji Castle tour with an English-speaking guide. The booking includes the entry ticket for the castle too.
Outside the big gate of Himeji Castle is Ote-Mon. There are some men dressed up as the Japanese guards. You can take photographs with them before entering to buy Himeji Castle admission ticket. Many tourists are keen to take pictures with them so there may be a wait. How Long to Spend at Himeji Castle? I spent 4 hours at Himeji Castle. The average time is 2 hours for others. So, what to see in Himeji Castle?
Also known as the “White Heron Castle” that resembled a heron taking flight, the 5-storey Main Keep tower has in fact, 6 levels inside for visiting and one basement used as sink. The interior is made entirely of wood and recognised as the most significant wooden building in Japan. Since the visitors cannot wear shoes inside the Main Keep, the wooden floor is well-maintained and looked clean.
With every floor you go, people are busy taking photographs of the magnificent scenery through the window grill. Visitors were generally obeying the instruction not to take photos inside the building. Through the window, one can see one of the eight family crests beautifying the tip of the ridged tiles. The crest identity is one unique reason that makes Himeji Castle remarkable especially when seen from the high floor window at close range.
After visiting the Main Keep, I moved around to explore more of the surrounding. The entire castle was so big that I did not know if there were other buildings which I had missed. Shortly, I went to West Bailey (Nishi-no-Maru) and Cosmetic Tower (Kesho-yagura Tower).
I was especially intrigued and touched by the Himeji Castle History of Princess Sen at the tower that I had to pen it down briefly after reading the stories displayed in the rooms. Princess Sen married Toyotomi Hideyori at the age of 7, and they lived in Osaka Castle. Unfortunately, he committed suicide during the Osaka Summer Battle.
Later, she remarried to the handsome Honda Tadatoki, son of the Himeji Castle’s lord at 20 years old. She immersed in a blissful 10-year marriage with a son and a daughter. The son died of a disease at the age of three. Misfortune struck once again, and Honda Tadatoki also passed away at the age of 31.
Princess Sen returned to Edo and became a nun under the name of Tenjuin. She spent the rest of her life mourning for the death of her husband and son until she passed away at 70. It was described that she had a romantic relationship, but her happiness was so short-lived. It was a tragic ending and heart-wrenching pain of losing her loved ones.
West Bailey (Nishi-no-Maru) was the place she lived, and the Cosmetic Tower (Kesho-yagura Tower) was her grooming room. There was also a doll figure of Princess alone in the room. I pondered for a while and decided not to take photographs of her after some emotional thoughts. I just took a view of the scenery from outside the building.
Here is another fascinating, but a slightly spooky story (for me) of the Himeji Castle Okiku’s Well, which is quite a well-known story among the Japanese. Some people do not like to eerie story at all, so I have hidden this section intentionally.
Around the year 1500, a regent to the lord of Himeji Aoyama plotted with Danshirō to kill the lord of Himeji, Norimoto to gain control of the castle. Aoyama was a regent to the lord. Norimoto’s loyal servant, Motonobu sent a girl, Okiku to act as a spy to uncover the plot in Aoyama’s house serving as a maid.
After ascertaining the assassins, Okiku told Motonobu. Norimoto escaped to leshima (Himeji City) while Tetsuzuan seized the power of the castle. Danshirō forced Okiku to marry him after knowing what she did. Okiku rejected him as her heart was with Motonobu.
Danshirō then hid one of the ten plates from Aoyama’s family treasure and framed Okiku for the theft. However, Okiku adamantly stuck to her initial decision not to marry him. Enraged, Danshirō threw her body down a well. It was said that ever since the voice of Okiku was heard counting the nine remaining plates repeatedly from the well.
That was how the term ‘Okiku’s ghost’ came about in the Japanese Ghost Story, Banchō Sarayashiki as a depiction of Okiku wrongful death. Eventually, Motonobu and his accomplices overthrown Tetsuzan and his conspirators. Okiku was also enshrined in Jūnisho Shrine as Okiku Daimyōjin.
Ubaigashi (Old Widow’s Stone) are filling stones loaded on the upper part of the stone wall as chipped hand mill stones. One folktale was that when Hideyoshi erected Himeji Castle, he had problems obtaining sufficient stones. A poor old woman who heard the news about it decided to donate her hand mill stones.
The old woman’s magnanimous act spread to every corner of the province. Others also came forward to contribute the stones, which resulted in rapid construction. The story was not true as the stone wall with Ubaigashi was built by Ikeda Terumasa instead. Another belief was that the placement of the stone acted as a charm to prevent it from collapsing.
Besides Himeji Castle, you can visit the places of interest around it such as Kokoen Garden. You can also pop into one of the restaurants to get some food along Otemae St. I tried out a bento set in one of the restaurants. Other suggestions to fully maximise your day after Himeji Castle visit would be shopping at Nikaimachi and Nishi-Nikaimachi. The two Japanese style shopping streets are separated by the road. For more information, check out things to do in Himeji.
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