Himeji castle has been a long standing favourite of Chris and I since our first Japanese visit in 2003. At that time Jerome was not even born yet and we had always wanted to go and visit the castle with him. Every child, especially boys seem to be fascinated with castles and once I had been to Himeji I could understand why. There is something majestic about the castle. It was first mentioned in the 14th century and the main keep as it stands now is over 400 years old surviving all the ancient and modern conflicts. Unlike many other castles in Japan, earthquakes or fire never destroyed Himeji. The castle is also known as White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance and many call it the most spectacular castle of Japan. We tend to agree having visited many other Japanese castles over the years. It is perhaps the most amazing castle in the world.
We had left Hiroshima behind and taken our car back to Onomichi where we took the shinkansen for a short ride to Himeji. It was a little effort to pack up the bikes in Rinko bags, essential on all public transport in Japan, and to juggle our luggage but worthwhile to see such an amazing castle.
We stored our luggage in one of the paid lockers available at the station,, this is a useful tip when traveling with luggage as every Japanese large station has a set of coin lockers for leaving baggage for a few hundred yen. We unpacked our Rinko’d bikes and cycled the few blocks to the castle grounds. To walk to the castle from the station takes around 15 mins, for us it was the easiest place to leave the bikes.
We had checked online before how busy it would be and considering it was still Golden Week and school holidays we got tickets for the main keep without any long queues. You should buy an all in ticket and reserve a time slot for the main keep entry. Walking up to the main gate, the Otemon Gate, we found ourselves in the line to get into the labyrinth like approach leading us to the main keep.
The ornamental fish-shaped tiles we saw are believed to protect the castle from fire. The floors were mainly bare, except for a few signs, which explained features of the castle. Jerome was most interested in all the defences like the holes to drop things on invaders, or the spy holes in the walls. The most amazing part is perhaps that the whole main structure is supported by two single huge tree trunks that run from base to top.
The air got hotter and stickier the closer we got to the top. The top floor was so busy and crowded that we decided to immediately go back downstairs again. This was definitely very different to our last visit, when we could lazily stroll through the keep and did not have to wait to peek out of the windows.
Back outside we went to the Nishinomaru, the west bailey, which used to be the princess’ residence. Princess Sehime lived here in the 16th century along with her maids.
Again we took off our shoes and walked along the long wooden enclosed corridor, past some unfurnished rooms. We got a different view of the main keep from here and also the castles moat surrounding the castle’s ground. A famous feature of the Nishinomaru was the squeaking floorboards, which Jerome and Chris tried to locate when they walked along the long hallway. These floorboards were especially made to squeak when someone walked over them to warn the inhabitants of attackers or unwanted visitors at nighttime. Finding these floorboards is a lot of fun for children of all ages.
In general the castle makes a great visit for families, there also is a little zoo on the castles ground, which is great as a special treat after visiting the castle, and a garden, which is very scenic in spring.
We had finished our tour of Himeji castle and went for a soft ice cream before cycling back to the station. On the way to the station we got a packed lunch of sushi and bakery at a supermarket, which we planned to eat on the train.
Chris went to buy the tickets for the shinkansen at the ticket machine. The trains seemed to be very busy and we weren’t able to get reserved seats for any of the next fast trains.
Anyway we decided to try our luck on one of the non-reserved cars of the train to Shinagawa, each train has a few unreserved cars.
Luck wasn’t on our side this time and we stood the whole way, over three hours from Himeji to Shinagawa station. We weren’t the only ones though; the train was packed until Kyoto and then emptied a bit. Most people sat on their luggage or on the floor where possible. We now know for next time that we should always get reserved seats especially around the Japanese holiday periods.
We also left the beautiful sunny weather behind, as when we got to Tokyo it had started to rain, a typhoon was approaching. We got into a big taxi and off we went to our next Airbnb in Hiroo. An old but beautifully restored house just off Hiroo high street. Our host Yuki was already waiting in the rain with umbrellas to guide us to the house and give us the keys. We immediately felt at home here and happy to be back in Tokyo for the last days of our Japan trip.
Yuki suggested a sushi restaurant to us not far from the house. It was a great suggestion, the sushi we had there must have been some of the best ever and we can highly recommend.
It was a long tiring day but a visit to a very special castle that Jerome will always remember.