One of the most popular day trips for our students, Himeji is a charming castle town about 40 minutes from Kobe…with just a touch of Hollywood
Himeji Castle is a miracle of endurance. Although the town itself was bombed flat in WWII and suffered serious damage in the Hanshin Earthquake, the castle seems oddly resilient, still standing in largely its original form after more than 400 years.
Whereas most castles in Japan are now ferro-concrete reproductions, Himeji is the real thing, and is well worth the short train ride from Kobe. The castle itself is about 700m from the main JR station, and you really can’t miss it – just walk straight down the main road (you can see the castle from the station). There are very enthusiastic (and free!) volunteer guides happy to give an English language tour, and you will probably be approached at the gate by the volunteer guide organiser to fix you up with someone. Take the offer – the (mostly retiree) guides are full of anecdotes and local information that really bring the experience to life.
Cinema buffs will recognise Himeji Castle from any number of Japanese movies, and from the James Bond movie ‘You only live twice’. You will understand why it’s such a popular movie backdrop when you are there; with very little imagination it’s easy to picture yourself back in Samurai times.
Entrance to the castle is ¥600, and you can purchase a combined ticket with the nearby Ko-Koen [好古園] Gardens for ¥720. Ko-Koen is very much worth a visit too, particularly during Autumn or Spring, to view the coloured leaves and cherry blossoms.
Once you’ve seen the castle and the gardens, take the #8 bus from in front of the station to Engyo-Ji [圓教寺] temple (the trip takes just under half an hour). Not only a lovely temple, you’ll have last seen Engyo-Ji swarming with attacking ninjas in ‘The Last Samurai’. It’s kind of cool to see it in real life! Founded in 996, the temple complex is reached by travelling to the peak of Mnt Shosha via the Shosha Ropeway.
The easiest way to travel to Himeji is to take one of the frequent Shinkaisoku [新快速] commuter trains on the JR Kobe line [JR 神戸線] from Sannomiya Station. The ride takes 38 minutes and cost ¥970. Make sure you don’t get onto an ‘all stations’ train by mistake…it would be a long trip!
With Kyoto and Nara both so accessible from Kobe, Himeji is often forgotten as a day trip option, which is a real shame. Make sure you don’t miss out!