A visit to Himeji (姫路) in the Hyōgo Prefecture is a must for any lover of Japanese history and in particular of Japanese castles. The recently renovated Himeji Castle, the finest in all of Japan, towers over this quiet city. Nearby, Kōkō-en is a rambling collection of nine meticulously reconstructed samurai houses and their gardens.
You can visit Himeji, on the shinkansen route, as a day trip from Kyoto, Nara, Osaka or Kōbe, or as a stopover en route to Okayama or Hiroshima. The city is flat and easily walkable, or free rental cycles are available from the tourist information office at the train station.