One of our most popular day trips from Kobe is to Himeji (of particular interest to James Bond fans!). Himeji Castle is a criminally under-visited attraction, easily accessible in about 45 minutes by train from Kobe. It’s not often you can live out your ninja fantasies and explore your 007 fetish on the same day…
Himeji Castle, located in the city of Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, is one of Japan’s most iconic and well-preserved castles. Designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993, the castle is often referred to as the “White Heron Castle” due to its stunning appearance, which resembles a white heron with spread wings. Himeji doesn’t attract a huge number of tourists (and virtually none compared to Kyoto or Nara), but is a great day trip from Kobe and really is worth a weekend on its own.
The castle dates back to 1333 and was originally built as a fortification to protect against enemy invasions. Over the centuries, it has undergone several renovations and expansions, and today stands as one of the most magnificent examples of feudal-era architecture in Japan.
One of the castle’s most notable features is its complex network of interlocking towers, passages, and gates, which were designed to confuse and deter intruders. The castle’s walls are also steep, making it difficult to climb, and there are hidden rooms and passages that were used as secret escape routes. These defensive features make Himeji Castle a true masterpiece of Japanese engineering and military design…and are seriously good fun to explore!
In addition to its historical significance, Himeji Castle is also a popular filming location, appearing in several Japanese films and TV shows. But perhaps its most famous appearance was in the 1967 James Bond film “You Only Live Twice.” In the film, Sean Connery, as Bond, chases a villain through the castle’s grounds and across its roof. Make sure you watch the film before heading out to Himeji!
Visitors to Himeji Castle can explore the castle grounds, including the main keep, which is five stories tall, and the smaller towers, which house exhibits on the castle’s history and architecture. They can also climb the stairs to the roof, where they will have a breathtaking view of the surrounding city and the distant mountains.
In 2015, the castle underwent a massive renovation and restoration project, which lasted nearly five years and cost over $100 million. The renovation was aimed at preserving the castle’s original features and restoring it to its original appearance. Today, visitors to Himeji Castle can see the results of this effort, with the castle’s white walls, black roof tiles, and intricate wooden details shining as brightly as they did centuries ago. It’s a great photo backdrop (007 thought so, too), so it definitely a must visit for the Instagram fans!
There’s plenty of other things to do in Himeji and you’ll definitely need the full day. Here’s a quick checklist of the ‘other’ attractions:
Kokoen Garden – Located just next to Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden is a traditional Japanese garden consisting of nine separate gardens, each with its own unique design and features.
Engyo-ji Temple Situated atop a mountain, Engyo-ji Temple is a complex of Buddhist temples and shrines that offer stunning views of Himeji city and its surroundings. While we have the movie theme going, ‘Last Samurai’ fans will recognise the temple roof best if it’s swarming with ninja assassins, all lining up to be slaughtered by Tom Cruise!
Mount Shosha Located on the outskirts of Himeji, Mount Shosha is a picturesque mountain that can be reached by cable car. The summit is home to Engyo-ji Temple and offers panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Himeji City Museum of Art This museum houses an impressive collection of Japanese art, including paintings, ceramics, and sculptures.
Tegarayama Park Located near Himeji Station, Tegarayama Park is a beautiful park with walking trails, gardens, and a small zoo.
Shosha-no-Yu Onsen This hot spring is located at the foot of Mount Shosha and offers a relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Himeji Central Park A popular amusement park that offers rides, attractions, and a petting zoo. Probably not a huge drawcard to international students, but fun if you have a couple of young children in tow!
Himeji gets a bit lost in comparison to other areas near Kobe (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara or Arima Onsen), but it’s seriously not to be missed. Ask at front desk for details on how to get there!