Visit Japan's Most Photogenic Castle in Himeji (Shinkansen Diary Series)

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If you are traveling by Shinkansen between Hiroshima and more northern cities on Honshu like Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, or Tokyo, then you should plan on stopping by Himeji.  You may not be into castles or history, but there is something inescapably iconic about Himeji castle that makes it worth the trip for any traveler in Japan.  Take into account that the castle is only a 20-minute walk (10 minute cab ride) from Himeji Station, then visiting the castle and its surrounding sites is simply too good an opportunity to pass up.

Himeji Castle

As seen in this article's cover photo, Himeji Castle is one of the most beautiful in all of Japan.  It is the most extensively maintained of any castle I have visited in Japan, with over 80 buildings and passageways kept in pristine condition, and the vast majority of them accessible to the public.  No castle in Japan will give you a better sense of what life in and around castles would have been like hundreds of years ago.
Although the castle itself dates back to the 1300s, it has undergone redesigns over the years with subsequent owners.  The two major renovations occurred in the 1500s and 1600s, respectively, before settling on the design you can see today.  Unlike many other Japanese castles, Himeji has survived war, earthquakes, and fires, so what you see now is perfectly representative of what someone would have seen over 400 years ago (and what you see is both amazing and beautiful).
Himeji castle is open year round.  In the summer months, the operating hours are from 9:00 - 18:00.  Tickets cost 1000 yen for adults and 300 yen for children/students (children under school age may enter for free).

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Koko-en

Immediately adjacent to Himeji Castle is the Koko-en, a traditional garden constructed over twenty years ago to commemorate the founding of Himeji city.  With plenty of covered walkways, this is one of the few Japanese gardens you can peacefully savor even in the heat of the summer.   The grounds are expansive and include a Tea House, a restaurant, seasonal exhibitions, and special flower gardens.  Entry into the park is only 300 yen for adults and 150 yen for children/students.  If you are visiting the castle, you should take a little extra time to see this garden, which is one of the most beautiful in all of Japan.
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Engyo-ji

If you have more time to spare in Himeji, you absolutely need to travel to Mt. Shosha (Shoshazan) and see the Engyo-ji.  If you're a movie buff like me, you'll want to walk the same temple halls as Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe from The Last Samurai (see picture below). 
I won't say anymore about Engyo-ji because my buddy Sam Lesmana has already posted an awesome article here.  Check it out!
Photo Courtesy of YouTube

So there you have it: as you embark on your Shinkansen journey in Japan, don't forget to make a stop at Himeji, step back in time, and enjoy the beauty of Japan's rich culture and heritage.
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Mike B