Himeji castle through Sakura


Top choice in Himeji

Himeji-jō is Japan's most magnificent castle, built in 1580 by general Toyotomi Hideyoshi and one of only a few original castles from that era (most are modern concrete reconstructions). Its white-plaster facade (and its elegant presence) earned it the nickname Shirasagi-jō (White Egret Castle). There's a five-storey main keep and three smaller keeps, all surrounded by moats and defensive walls. It takes about 1½ hours to follow the arrow-marked route around the castle. Last entry is an hour before closing.

The castle is often crowded – it's a popular destination for tour groups – in which case you might have to wait a little before entering some areas; if you're coming on a weekend especially, allow extra time.

While following the route through the keeps you'll get a good lesson in medieval defensive strategies, like the ishiotoshi – narrow openings that allowed defenders to pour boiling water or oil onto anyone trying to scale the walls after making it past the other defences. There are lovely city views from the top floor of the main keep. (You can also get close enough to the castle to appreciate the building, and get a good photo, before you reach the ticket gates.)

If Himeji-jō looks too good to be that old, it's because it underwent an extensive five-year renovation prior to reopening in 2014. And if it looks familiar, it's because it often appears in films, such as Kurosawa Akira's Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985).

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Himeji attractions

1. Himeji City Museum of Art

0.19 MILES

The permanent collection here includes painting, sculpture and crafts by Japanese and international artists, particularly Belgians such as René Magritte…

2. Kōkō-en

0.21 MILES

This is a modern recreation of an Edo-era samurai residence, with a lovely strolling garden complete with a central pond (filled with koi) and a teahouse …

3. Maikō Marine Promenade

24.05 MILES

Completed in 1998, Akashi Kaikyō, west of central Kōbe, can still claim the title of world's longest suspension bridge (based on its main span, which…

4. Shizutani Gakko

27.08 MILES

The first public school in Japan, Edo-era Shizutani Gakko has wood interiors with glossy lacquered floors and beautifully preserved Bizen-yaki roof tiles…

5. Nunobiki Herb Gardens & Ropeway

29.51 MILES

Escape the city on a 400m-high mountain ridge, offering sweeping views across town to the bay. During the day (to 5pm) you can descend on foot through the…

6. Kitano Tenman-jinja

29.79 MILES

Up a steep hill past the homes of Kitano-chō, this shrine has good views over the city.

7. Nunobiki Falls

29.8 MILES

You'd never guess that such a beautiful natural sanctuary could sit so close to the city. This revered waterfall in four sections (the longest is 43m tall…

8. Kitano-chō

29.84 MILES

For generations of Japanese tourists, this pleasant, hilly neighbourhood is Kōbe, thanks to the dozen or so well-preserved homes of (mostly) Western…