The iconic castle at the heart of Himeji is arguably the most impressive and best-preserved in all of Japan. While many castles have been destroyed by war and fire or reconstructed, Himeji remains fully intact. This unique artifact of historical Kansai offers an unprecedented view into Japan’s past.
Admission onto the exterior grounds is free and has great views of the elevated castle, especially during cherry blossom season in April. For 1,000-yen admission, however, visitors can also tour the 80 buildings on the over 400-year-old castle grounds.
The beautiful, dark-wood castle interiors are unfurnished, but diagrams and markers designate the former function of each room. You can even climb to the top of the main castle building for a glimpse of the city below, once an important strategic military viewpoint.
While a visit to Himeji Castle is a must, many tourists prioritize the castle without considering Himeji City’s other offerings. One of the best attractions off-the-beaten-path is Mt. Shosha.
At the edge of Himeji City—30 minutes from the city center by bus—is a 1,000-year-old religious complex on a forested mountaintop. While it’s possible to hike Mt. Shosha in under an hour, most visitors take the scenic Shoshazan Ropeway, which departs every 20 minutes from Mount Shosha Ropeway bus stop.
At the top, you’ll find over a dozen temples, as well as small religious sites including a pathway lined with Buddhist statues and a ledge with over 100 jizo (red-capped statues that protect travelers and pilgrims). All these sites are parts of Engyoji Temple, the Buddhist site constructed on Mt. Shosha in 966 AD.
One of Engyoji Temple’s most beautiful sites is perhaps Maniden, the temple’s main building, which features a wide wooden deck that looks out on the surrounding forest. The neighboring Daikodo and Jyogyodo buildings are similarly stunning and were once home to priests in training.
But most of all, Engyoji Temple offers an experience of nature secluded from the crowded downtown Himeji. During a walk through the temple grounds, you’ll likely find a Mt. Shosha lookout point. If you arrive in the morning, you may even see the surrounding rolling mountains covered in a gorgeous layer of fog.
Many tourists miss out on the beauty of this quiet, scenic spot by heading straight to the train station from Himeji Castle. Extend you half-day trip a little longer to experience the beauties of Engyoji Temple and Mt. Shosha.
Himeji Station is only 30 minutes from Shin-Osaka via Shinkansen and one hour from Osaka via special rapid service train. Alternatively, the JR Kobe Line will take you straight to Himeji from Sannomiya Station. This train travel is covered by the Kansai WIDE Area Pass. From Himeji Station, the Shoshazan Ropeway and Himeji Castle are both easily accessible by city bus. Also, Ekirin-kun offers you a rent-a-cycle service next to the station to get around the city!
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.