Himeji is the second largest city in Hyogo prefecture, after Kobe. The city has about half a million inhabitants, and is located between Kobe on the east and Okayama a bit further to the west. It is connected to both these cities, and many more, by the Sanyo Shinkansen line (that’s the one that runs between Osaka and Fukuoka).
The strategic location of Himeji, next to the inland sea, helped establish the city as a significant trade and transportation hub back in the Nara-period. It was in fact the capital of Himeji Prefecture, until it was merged into Hyogo prefecture back in 1876.
Rumor has it that after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, when Tokyo was in ruins after one of the deadliest earthquakes in modern history, the Japanese government considered moving the capital of the nation from Tokyo to Himeji.
Today, Himeji’s most significant tourism icon is the magnificent castle, located about 10 minutes by foot from the main train station. It’s one of the most well preserved castles in Japan and both a national treasure as well as a UNESCO world heritage site. Despite the turbulent history of Japan, the castle in Himeji is one of few that hasn’t been completely destroyed by either war or natural disasters.
It’s a spectacular site well worth visiting all year round, but draws a particularly high number of visitors during the cherry blossom season, thanks to the expansive castle grounds that has been turned into a park and a garden filled with cherry blossom trees. In fact, Himeji Castle is one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in the entire country.
Another spot that has helped put Himeji on the map is Engyoji, a quiet yet very impressive mountain temple located just outside the city. The serene surroundings, as well as somewhat undeveloped infrastructure (besides the cable car that connects the temple entrance with the city down below), contributed to the temple being picked as the set for the filming of several scenes in the Hollywood movie “The Last Samurai”. Several observation points around the temple also give you a good view of Himeji city down below, as well as the Seto Inland Sea in the distance.
Food-wise, Himeji is most widely known for its local take on oden –egg, konjac, fishcake and daikon, stewed in a mild soy flavored dashi broth. The Himeji version adds a healthy chunk of ginger into the mix, giving it its own distinct flavor. Oden is generally a winter dish but many restaurants in Himeji serve it year round.
Himeji can be reached in less than one hour by Shinkansen from Osaka, and from Tokyo the trip will take approximately three hours.
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR