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Himeji is a town in Hyogo prefecture, about 80 km far east of Osaka, and unlike what one might think, it isn't a small town, actually it has over 500.000 inhabitants.

This city is famous and included in many itineraries almost exclusively for its castle (in japanese: Himejijō, 姫路城).

Himeji Castle

Admission: 600 yen (reduced to 400 yen until the end of the restoration work)
Opening hours: 9-17, 9-18 from may to august

This is a typical Japanese-architecture castle, it is considered the most beautiful of Japan, and built for the first time in 1333, although what we see today was rebuilt between 1603 and 1609. Since then it has had the good fortune of not to be destroyed by the war or earthquakes or other natural events (unlike many other historical sites in Japan), and also due to this it is famous and has an important historical value, enough to be part of the UNESCO World Heritage list.

NOTE: The castle is currently undergoing renovations that will continue until 2014/2015, much of the structure is currently covered by scaffolding and some internal parts of the castle can not be visited.
himeji castle sakura hanami
himeji castle night
The castle is surrounded by a large park freely accessible and around which there are several other interesting sites:

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History

(admission 200 yen, opening hours 10-17)

Himeji City Museum of Art

(admission 200 yen, opening hours 10-17)

Himeji City Zoo

(admission 200 yen, opening hours 10-17)

Kokoen Garden

(admission 300 yen, opening hours 9-18, 9-17 from september to mid april, closed on december 29, 30)
A large garden near the castle (see map) that has within nine different gardens (all in Japanese style).
In particular, I point out the Cha-no-niwa (tea garden) within which there is a tea house in which you can also participate to a tea ceremony.
A complete guide to the park can be found in this pdf (english).

Mount Shosha

A mount (371 m) near the town of Himeji that can be reached by a ropeway (500 yen, 900 yen round trip).
The starting point of the ropeway can be reached from Himeji Station by buses of Shinki company (they're orange).
In particular, you have to take a No. 8 bus (departures every 15 minutes) and get off at "Mount Shosha Ropeway" stop (書写山ロープウェイ), the cost of the journey is 260 yen and it takes about half an hour. Mount Shosha is covered by a dense forest, and there is a very ancient temple complex, founded in 966, the Engyōji Temple (admission 500 yen, opening hours 8:30-18).
engyoji temple maniden mount shosha himeji the main building of the temple (Maniden)
The main entrance of the temple (Niomon) is located about 10 minutes' walk from the terminus of the ropeway, while the main building of the temple (Maniden) is located a further 10 minutes walk.
Several other buildings of the temple, including the gym (Jogyodo), the auditorium (Daikodo), the tomb of the Honda family and other smaller buildings, are scattered along the various trails through the forest, the atmosphere of this place is very special.
map engyoji temple mount shosha san himeji
This place has become very popular in recent years after being used as a location for some filming of the famous movie The Last Samurai (2003) but also for a drama made by NHK, Musashi.
engyoji temple mount shosha san himeji one of the parts of the temple used for the filming of the movie

Where to stay in Himeji

Himeji can be easily visited with a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, but an overnight stay is never a bad idea to do everything quietly and enjoy better the places you visit.

Himeji 588 Guest House
Maybe the cheapest option of all for spending a night in Himeji. It is a guest house with private rooms or dormitory beds, divided by sex, starting from ¥ 2500 per night. Free wifi. Lovely owners, inside there is that typical atmosphere of small family-run hostels. Both the Himeji castle and the train station are within a few hundred meters away, it is perfect location to visit the town.

Hotel Wing International Himeji
Business hotel chain with hundreds of hotels across Japan, cheap but with good quality standards. The hotel of Himeji is located halfway between Himeji station and the famous castle's park, about 500 meters from both places. It is a perfect location to visit the town. Rooms from ¥ 4000 per night.

Pratical guide, how to get to Himeji and map

If you have a Japan Rail Pass you can take the Tokaido/Sanyo shinkansen, reaching Himeji Station in 30 minutes from Osaka and 55 minutes from Kyoto. I recall that only "Hikari" shinkansen can be taken for free with a japan rail pass, the "Nozomi" must be paid.

If you don't have the Japan Rail Pass, buying a regular ticket for the shinkansen has a too high price, taking one of the options I explain below is a much better solution.

From Osaka

From Osaka station you can take the JR Kobe line, in particular the "Special Rapid Service" trains that reach JR Himeji station in about an hour (fare 1450 yen one-way). Be careful to not to take the limited express trains (Hamakaze and Super Hakuto) which take more or less the same time but cost twice (all seats are reserved).

From Umeda station (Hanshin railways area) you can take a limited express train (reserved seat) gjointly managed by the private companies Hanshin Electric Railway and Sanyo Electric Railway which arrives at Sanyo Himeji Station, located right next to the JR Himeji main station.
These trains have good frequency (on average every 15/20 minutes) and are the cheapest option by far to get to Himeji from Osaka (1250 yen), but slower than JR service, in fact they take about 95/100 minutes.

From Kyoto

From Kyoto station you can take some special JR trains called "Special Rapid Service" that run along the JR Kyoto line up to Osaka station and from there continue along the JR Kobe line to Osaka (so there is no need to change trains).
The frequency of these trains is about one every 15/20 minutes. Total journey time 90 minutes, fare 2210 yen.

View Himeji in a larger map

Guided tours, activities and other things to do

If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to do something more than just visiting famous places and monuments, we suggest you to use Govoyagin.

How to use Govoyagin

Govoyagin is a very useful website to enrich your travel experience, especially if you are going solo or it's your first time in Japan.
Because of the language barrier (and more), in Japan it is very difficult to interact with the locals and to get off the tourist track.
Thanks to Govoyagin you can find a lot of interesting and sometimes unique guided tours and activities all over Japan (and not only in Japan), that you would otherwise never be able to enjoy.
But there's more: on Govoyagin you can also buy tickets for several famous attractions, events, transportation and other useful services for tourists. Last but not least, you can reserve a table in hundreds of restaurants.

Some examples

Take a look at Govoyagin

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