If you’re planning a holiday to Osaka this Nov-Dec, how about making a trip to visit Japan’s number 1 castle at Himeji? Here’s what you can do.
1.Reserve the JR Kansai Area Pass OUTSIDE Japan
I booked the 2,200 yen 1-Day Pass while I was still in Singapore for my travel from Osaka to Himeji and back. The cost savings was 780 yen per person as the normal ticket price for the 2-way travel was 2,980 yen. So it’s worth getting the pass. And best to reserve it in advance before you go Japan. Not only is it cheaper, it also saves time. All you need to do is go straight to the JR Rail Pass counter at the JR Osaka Station ticket office, show your confirmation email and passport, pay and collect your pass. You’ll skip the long queues of people buying the pass on the spot.
2.Take the train from Osaka Station to Himeji Station
The ride takes about 75 mins. Use HyperDia to check the schedule and platform number to board the train. Leave in the late morning. We did that, arriving at the castle slightly past 12 noon. Hordes of tourists were leaving, for lunch I presume, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves.
3.Drop by the Himeji Tourist Information Center at Himeji Station
You can pick up maps, postcards and get a stamp print of the super cute shiromaruhime.
It’s my favourite Japanese mascot. Just look at the autumn version with the maple leaves. Kawaii!!!
Ok back to the tourist center. Besides information, you can also rent bicycles for free to cycle around Himeji. We wanted to but they were all rented out. Then there is the loop bus that takes you all around the sightseeing spots but it only operates on weekends. So we are left with walking.
4.Walk to Himeji Castle (Arrow 1)
It’s a straight road from JR Himeji Station to Himeji Castle. We chose to walk on the right side of Otemachidori (Otemae Street), returning by the left later on. It was a peaceful walk with very few people.
Along the way, you’ll pass by departmental store Yamatoyashiki. Right after that, you’ll see a shop selling all kinds of fishcake – Yamasakamaboko (ヤマサ蒲鉾 大手前店). They had a counter selling freshly fried fishcake which we tried. They were really good.
5.Buy the combination ticket for Himeji Castle and Kokoen Garden
You save almost 300 yen per person if you buy the combined ticket at the castle entrance. Trust me, the garden is definitely worth visiting. And personally, I prefer Kokoen to Himeji.
6.Explore Himeji Castle
That’s the end of our 1 hr self-guided tour of Himeji Castle. We were hungry and needed a place to sit so off to the next stop. Do note that no food is allowed throughout the castle grounds.
7.Take a break at the eateries opposite the castle (Arrow 2)
8.Walk across to Kokoen Garden (Arrow 3)
Simply show your combination ticket at the booth and enter the garden. At 3 pm, we had the whole place to ourselves.
You can see from the map that there’re many areas to explore. From the entrance, follow the arrow towards the handicap toilet and you’ll be greeted with this,
Then you’ll see 活水軒 , a restaurant that overlooks the garden. I would love to have a meal there. Next is a covered wooden walkway where we stood to admire the breathtaking view of,
We skipped some parts of the garden and finished our stroll with,
Really loved the peace and beauty of Kokoen. Prior to this, we visited Minoo Park, Arashiyama and Kiyomizudera Temple, all famous for their autumn colours. They were indeed pretty but the sheer number of people somehow diminished the loveliness.
9.Walk back to JR Himeji Station (Arrow 4)
We chose to walk on the other side of Otemae Street for our journey back to the train station. There wasn’t anything interesting except for Manneken Waffles! The purple sweet potato and maple flavours were incredible. And so are their rare cheese cakes. Check out the map below so you won’t miss it.
So there we have it. 9 steps to help you enjoy 2 key attractions in Himeji. If you have the time, there are many other sight seeing places like museums, zoo, aquarium and the Mt Shoshazan ropeway. And I recently discovered that there is an azuki bean museum near Himeji Station. Would love to visit as one of my favourite Japanese snacks is red bean pancake. Until next time…
JR West Rail – https://www.westjr.co.jp/global/en/ticket/pass/kansai/
Himeji Tourist Information – http://www.himeji-kanko.jp/en/
Himeji Castle – http://www.city.himeji.lg.jp/guide/castle/
Kokoen Garden – http://himeji-machishin.jp/ryokka/kokoen/