7 Extraordinary Things To Do In Himeji (Beyond The Castle)

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Rob Dyer The Real Japan

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Looking for some ideas for things to do in Himeji? If I say 'Himeji' what do you think of? 

If you've heard of Himeji then there's a pretty good chance you're thinking of Himeji Castle. But, stunning though the castle unquestionably is, there's more to Himeji than just the castle. 

If you've already visited Himeji and its castle and are considering a return, or want to know what else this coastal city has to offer beyond the (magnificent) castle then read on… 

Download a detailed illustrated Map of Himeji's spectacular Engyoji Temple:

Things To Do Himeji Beyond The Castle The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Things To Do In Himeji (Beyond The Castle)
by Rob Dyer

Walking in the footsteps of samurai

Beyond its magnificent castle, Himeji has a history steeped in the way of the samurai.

Whether it's exploring the remote mountain temple featured in the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai, strolling through and edo style Japanese garden (Kokoen), indulging in some of Japanese fine wagyu beef, or sampling from a range of local sake, witnessing a genuine samurai sword being forged the way it was hundreds of years ago, all of these things are possible in Himeji.

If you keep to a well-organised schedule you can do all of this in one day (I did).

If you'd like to take your time, I recommend staying overnight and including a visit to Himeji Castle alongside these ideas, which will also help add more context to some of them.

Highlights of Himeji (beyond the castle):

  • Explore Engyoji Temple as featured in The Last Samurai
  • Visit Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine for a photographer's vantage point of Himeji Castle
  • Stroll an Edo-style Japanese Garden next to Himeji Castle at KoKoen
  • Indulge in a wagyu beef lunch at Kassuiken restaurant
  • Taste local Hyogo sake at Nihonshu Bar Kokoromi
  • Get hands-on at Yamasa fishcake factory + Ippuku Cafe
  • HIDDEN CULTURE: Samurai sword making at Myouchin Sword Maker

Getting around

Most of these activities are readily accessible from the city centre, with the exception of Myouchin sword maker. The best way to get there is by car. Either you can rent from next to Himeji JR Station or take a taxi (also available outside the station). Engyoji Temple is on Mt. Shosha, accessed via a cable car.


1.) Explore Engyoji Temple as featured in The Last Samurai

Things to do in Himeji Engyoji Temple The Real Japan Rob Dyer

The Mitsudo is a cluster of three impressive wooden buildings at the heart of Engyoji Temple, completed in 966 AD

Completed in 966 AD, the extensive wooden complex of buildings that form the Buddhist Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha are an absolute must-see if you're visiting Himeji. Built in and surrounded by a forest, the atmosphere here (even if you're not religious) really is something special.

At Mount Shosha take the cable car up the mountain. This runs every 15 minutes during the daytime. The cable car takes around 10 minutes. Starting from the top station you then follow the signs for Engyoji Temple, around 20 minutes walk.

Things to do in Himeji Engyoji temple The Real Japan Rob Dyer

The Maniden is the imposing main building near the centre of the Engyoji Temple complex

Sometimes referred to as Shoshazan Engyoji Temple, it was made famous internationally after appearing in the film The Last Samurai starring Tom Cruise. It's an epic fictionalised drama set in the wake of the Meiji Restoration. The film's plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigō Takamori, and the Westernization of Japan by foreign powers. 

The more recent Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, makes extensive use of Engyoji Temple but presents it as the hidden headquarters of the bad guys. The film is no Oscar contender but is worth watching to spot all the real Japanese locations used during filming.

Things to do in Himeji Engyoji Temple The Real Japan Rob Dyer

A spot to pause and reflect on the statue of the Buddha sitting in the lotus position

You could easily spend several hours here but if you don't have a great deal of time, head straight for the Maniden, the main building at Engyoji, you'll want to stop to take photographs. It's also possible to write an ema wish tablet - a wooden board on which you write a wish and leave at the temple. 

Likewise at the Mitsudo, the three buildings at the heart of the complex, stop to take more photos before practicing some Japanese calligraphy.


Access to Engyoji Temple:

Address: Engyoji, 2968 Shosha, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture 671-2201

By Bus: Catch the local No. 8 Shinki Bus from the North Side of Himeji JR Station. Stay on the bus and get off at Yokozeki stop - the last stop - it takes around 18 minutes. From there it is a 2.4km walk taking around 30 minutes to Engyoji Temple.

By Cable Car: Catch the bus as above and get off at Shoshazan Ropeway. Cars run every 15 minutes and take 10 minutes to complete the journey to the top. Tickets are ¥500 one-way, ¥900 round-trip.

By Car/Taxi: 20 minutes from city centre. If travelling by taxi simply ask for Engyoji Temple (it's a good idea to have the name written in Japanese kanji to show the driver). If you're driving from Himeji Station head west along Route 2, just after the Fire Station on your left turn right onto Route 414 (signs for Yumesaki). Follow it due north as it turns into Route 67 for 5.5km. Park in the free carpark next to Yumesaki River and walk the final 500m to the Temple.

Essential Info - Engyoji Temple

  • Type of activity? Exploring 1,000 year old Buddhist Temple complex
  • Weather dependent? Yes - walking outside in the grounds of the complex
  • When is the best time to visit? Mornings, weekdays to avoid the crowds
  • Is there a charge? Entry is ¥500. Participation in activities such as calligraphy have a small additional charge.
  • Is there an official website? Yes, here: Shoshazan Engyoji Temple

Location Map


2.) Visit Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine for a photographer's vantage point of Himeji Castle

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

This view of Himeji Castle is popular with professional photographers

Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine is a Shinto shrine around 10-15 minutes walk from Himeji Castle, located in Minamiyashio Park.

The shrine itself is small, but at the highest point, up a steep flight of stone steps, a garden overlooking the city below offers excellent views of Himeji Castle in the middle distance. It’s a location often used by professional photographers as a point from which to shoot the castle, but is little-known by tourists.

If you want to avoid the steep steps, you can get to the top of the shrine by heading to the left-hand side of the shrine and you'll find another way up that has a more gentle slope.

Things to do in Himeji Hachimangu shrine The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine is a Shinto shrine a short walk from Himeji Castle

Address: 1-3 Yamanoicho, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0021, Japan

Telephone: +81 79-291-1550

Essential Info - Otokoyama Hachimangu Shrine

  • Type of activity? Small Shinto shrine with great views overlooking Himeji Castle
  • Weather dependent? Yes - outside and steep stone steps
  • When is the best time to visit? Weekday mornings
  • Is there a charge? Free but donations are welcome to maintain the shrine

Location Map


3.) Stroll an Edo-style Japanese Garden next to Himeji Castle at Kokoen

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Inside the garden is a Japanese tea house

Kokoen Zen Garden, next to Himeji Castle, is a strolling style 8.5 acre Japanese garden was constructed in 1992 in style of the Edo Period (1603 and 1868) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Himeji City. 

With the UNESCO World Heritage Himeji Castle as a rather impressive backdrop, the garden is composed of nine different sized walled Japanese traditional gardens, featuring koi filled ponds. Excavations revealed the location was the former site of a Himeji Lord's Residence and a number of samurai houses.

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Although constructed in 1992 Kokoen has been styled after Japan's Edo Period

The nine gardens include: Garden of Bamboo, Tea Ceremony Garden, Garden of Flowers, Garden of Pine Trees, and Garden with a Hill and Pond. The gardens are designed to reflect the best of Japan's four seasons. The gardens are designed to present the best of Japan's four seasons, each taking on a different appearance and mood across the year.

So whenever you decide to visit there’ll be something specific to that season for you to see. There’s also a Sojyu-an (Japanese tea house), designed by a tea master from the Ura school, where you can experience the traditional Japanese tea ceremony (reservations required).

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Kokoen is often used as a filming location for Japanese period dramas

The gardens are wheelchair accessible and rental wheelchairs are available. It's a direct 20 minute walk straight up Otemae-dori Street from JR Himeji Station (approximately 1 km. 5 minutes by bus (¥100 single) or taxi (around ¥750).

TIP: Check the official website for details on upcoming special exhibitions or seasonal events (including night viewing when the gardens are lit up).

Essential Info - Kokoen Edo-style Japanese garden

  • Type of activity? Strolling Japanese garden, with a Japanese tea house inside
  • Weather dependent? Yes - outside
  • When is the best time to visit? Mornings and weekdays for smaller crowds
  • Is there a charge? Yes ¥310 (adults), ¥150 (children) plus some FREE entry exemptions
  • Accessibility tips? The gardens are wheelchair accessible and these are available to rent on site
  • Is there an official website? Yes: Himeji Garden Koko-en.

Location Map


4.) Indulge in a wagyu beef lunch at Kassui-ken restaurant

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Kassuiken restaurant offers a number of set meal lunch options, including this waygu beef set

Working your way around Himeji, you're going to want to eat well. For a taste of Himeji's quality cuisine I recommend a stop at Kassui-ken restauarant. Which is conveniently located inside Kokoen garden and next to Himeji Castle. Although they specialise in udon noodles and eel dishes, they also offer wagyu beef (which I had), tempura, seasonal dishes, matcha tea, and cake sets.

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Some tables at the restaurant offer views over the surrounding Kokoen Edo-style Japanese garden 

The restaurant is modestly sized with several tables offering views outside over the tranquil Kokoen garden. Although not a signature dish, I fancied trying the wagyu beef set menu. It consisted of nine individual elements with eight chunky pieces of marbled beef the centrepiece, which one cooks oneself on the candle burner.

Example set meals available (bearing in mind some seasonal variations) include:

  • "Hime Gozen" meal including noodles, tempura, sashimi, tofu, chawanmushi, soup
  • Wagyu beef grilled on earthenware dishes, including coffee or tea
  • Grilled conger eel on rice in a bowl
  • Udon noodles (hot or cold) and a bowl of grilled conger eel on rice 
  • Locally-grown buckwheat noodles (cold) with conger eel tempura
  • "Irodori Kassuiken Kanbee Bentou" Meal - Limited quantity of sets available
Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

You can follow your meal with a freshly prepared matcha green tea and sweets

Kassui-ken is open between 10:00 - 16:30 daily with the lunch menu served between 11:00 - 15:00. The menu consists a small number of set meals using seasonal ingredients. Menus are available in English and have photographs of all dishes included in each set, making choosing between them easy.

TIP: Reservations cannot be made during March, April, May, October, November and during Special Events.

Essential Info - Lunch at Kassui-ken restaurant

  • Type of activity? Restaurant lunch next to Kokoen Garden
  • Weather dependent? No - indoors
  • When is the best time to visit? 11:00 to 15:00 for the set lunch menu
  • How much does it cost? Lunch sets range from ¥1,380 to ¥2,620. Cake set is ¥820. 
  • Reservations? Reservations are possible 3 days in advance for 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Is there an offical website? Yes: Restaurant 'Kassui-ken'

Location Map


5.) Taste local Hyogo sake at Nihonshu Bar Kokoromi

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

The range of Hyogo brewery sakes (over 280) on offer at Kokoromi is spectacularly displayed

Located, somewhat incongruously (but conveniently!), inside a shopping arcade beside the east exit to Himeji JR Station, you'll find Nihonshu Bar Kokoromi. It's a small standing bar (meaning there are no seats) dedicated to one thing, and one thing only, sake - Japan's famous alcoholic fermented rice beverage.

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Nihonshu (sake) bar Kokoromi can be found inside the shappoing mall next to JR Himeji Station

Hyogo Prefecture is known for providing some of the best conditions anywhere in Japan for producing some of the country's (and therefore the world's) finest sake. It’s all down to the quality of the water here. Kokoromi is run by a sake distributor, meaning he has ready access to sake from the region. 

90% of the sake for tasting is from Hyogo and the other 10% from other regions.

EXPERIENCE:

Sake Tasting Workshop at Kokoromi Standing Bar

Sample 8 different sakes with expert chef Sachiko Saeki at Kokoromi bar.

Things to do in Himeji Kokoromi sake bar The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Sake barrels on display outside the bar and sake sampling inside

The bar stocks 280 different varieties of sake, from a number of producers, representing around 95% of all sakes made in Hyogo Prefecture. Sake purists will be in heaven, and delight in selecting from the (frankly bewildering) array on offer.

But if you, like me, only occasionally partake of the fermented rice liquid, then you'll still be well looked after. Staff understand that not everyone visiting Kokoromi is a connoisseur. Some are looking for an education and some guidance, which they'll readily offer.

Things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

You can buy inidividual tipples or a sampling range of 3 or more sakes recommended by the staff

If you're just quickly passing through before catching a train, drinks can be purchased individually from as little as ¥140 per glass. If you have time to linger then you could do what I did: ask the manager to suggest a sampling of three different sakes with differing characteristics.

Each glass is served with a small card explaining its distinguishing qualities. It seems these are only provided in Japanese, however staff were on hand to explain the basics of what to look out for with each tipple.

EXPERIENCE:

Sake Tasting Workshop at Kokoromi Standing Bar

Sample 8 different sakes with expert chef Sachiko Saeki at Kokoromi bar.

If you want to indulge then it is possible to book an eight sake tasting experience with a local expert chef. Conducted in English and lasting one and a half hours, accompanying the tasting is an introduction to sake's history, an explanation of the different categories, how it is consumed and production methods.

Essential Info - Nihonshu Bar Kokoromi

  • Type of activity? Self-guided OR bookable tasting experiences
  • Weather dependent? No - inside
  • When is the best time to visit? Daytime / evenings
  • How much does it cost? Individual drinks start from around ¥140
  • Do you have any tasting tips? If you'd like some sake expert guidance and some context to each of the drinks consider booking a tasting experience (via Cookly)

Location Map


6.) Get hands-on at Yamasa fishcake factory + Ippuku Cafe

Things to do in Himeji Yamasa fishcake factory The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Kamaboko (top) in the form a a fishcake 'loaf' and chikuwa (bottom) in tub-shaped form

If you want to experience something unusual, then consider a visit to Yamasa kamaboko (fish cake) factory and Ippuku cafe. Either sample fishcakes at the factory or, if fishcakes are not for you, there is a regular cafe selling coffee and cakes.

It’s a working factory but they offer free factory tours and some fish cake making experiences. The latter requires booking in advance. Factory tours happen twice a day on weekdays and six times a day on Sundays and holidays. Tours give visitors the chance to watch the production line process of their imitation crab meat and their chikuwa (tube shaped kamaboko) line. 

They also have bookable experiences where you can try making chikuwa and kamaboko yourself with fresh fish paste (¥1,500, reservations required).

Yamasa kamaboko factory is in Okimoto, Yumesaki-cho, Himeji City. It’s around 20 minutes from Himeji city centre by car.

NOTE: At the time of publication (October 2022) due to Covid these tours and hands on experiences are currently suspended. The Ippuku cafe remains open.

Essential Info - Yamasa fishcake factory

  • Type of activity? Factory tour / food making experience
  • Weather dependent? No - inside
  • When is the best time to visit? Mornings
  • Is there a charge? Factory tours are free, however participation in the kamaboko making experience is charged at ¥1,500 per person
  • Accessibility tips? Customers using wheelchairs are only able to tour the main factory
  • Is there an official website? Yes, you can visit Yamasa Kamoboko (Google translated)

Location Map


7.) HIDDEN CULTURE: Samurai sword maker Myouchin

things to do in Himeji The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Munehiro Myouchin begins the painstaking work of making a traditional samurai sword

On a recent visit to Himeji, I was fortunate to visit Munehiro Myouchin, a multi-award winning specialised sword maker. 

The little-known, family-run forge is hidden on the northern outskirts of Himeji's city boundary. The Myouchin family is a lineage of armour and helmet makers unbroken since the Heian era (784–1184). The swords here are meticulously handmade, taking around one month to craft, selling for around $25,000 each.

Things to do in Himeji Myochin sword maker The Real Japan Rob Dyer

A finished Myouchin sword blade hilt awaiting its handle

The smelting process of extracting the component metals from the raw ore takes three days of working in intense heat, giving the swordsmiths 'sunburnt' skin from the heat exposure. Craftsmen take it in turns and have to miss sleep in order to complete the ore extraction. Five to seven kilos of ore are required to produce one sword. And the forge only makes smelt in the winter months as it is simply too hot during the rest of the year.

Access to this almost secret mountain sword forge is limited and strictly by appointment only. My visit was arranged through Gerard O'Sullivan, a resident of Himeji, who runs the Go To Japan Facebook Group.

Things to do in Himeji Myochin sword maker The Real Japan Rob Dyer

A Myouchin apprentice gets the charcol up to the right temperature

However, their main workshop specialising making fire tong windchimes, highly prized for their clear tones, is open to the public, without appointment and easily accessible by taxi or bus. From the Shinki Bus terminal, North Side of Himeji Station, take the bus bound for "National Medical Center" get off at "Nozato". It's a  1 minute walk from there.

If you wish to take a short break either on the way to, or on the way back from Myouchin consider stopping at the Yamasa kamaboko (fish cake) factory and Ippuku cafe.

Official Myouchin Honpo website (Google translated)

Address: 〒670-0871 112 Ideni Uenomachi, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture


Where to stay in Himeji

A couple of mid-range chain hotels that are conveniently located in the city centre are the Daiwa Roynet and the Richmond Hotel.

Daiwa Roynet

things to do in Himeji Daiwa Roynet hotel The Real Japan

Located on the north side of Himeji RJ train station, Daiwa Roynet offers private parking if you're driving, or is only a 5 minute walk from Himeji JR Station if you're travelling by train. It's less than a 15 minute walk from the hotel to Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden and Kassui-ken Restaurant.

The hotel has a fitness centre, a 24-hour front desk and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi in all rooms. Rooms are air-conditioned, with a desk, a kettle, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom with a bidet.

A continental breakfast is available daily.

One of Japan's biggest chain hotel groups, Daiwa have hotels throughout the country ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south.

Richmond Hotel

things to do in Himeji Richmond hotel The Real Japan

Located on the south side of Himeji JR Station, Richmond Hotel is perfect for a one-night stay and is often used by repeat visitors. (I've used Richmond Hotels and wouldn't hesitate to book one anywhere in Japan.)

All rooms are fitted with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, a fridge, a kettle, a bidet, slippers and a desk. The units have a private bathroom, a hairdryer and bed linen. A buffet breakfast is available each morning.

It's around 8 minutes by taxi to Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden and Kassui-ken Restaurant.

TRJ TIP: If you don't already have a Booking.com account it's worth setting one up to get extra discounts as part of their Genius discount service. I have one.


More Things To Do In Himeji

Rob Dyer The Real Japan


About the Author

A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s 6,800 islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.

Resources

Download a detailed illustrated Map of Himeji's spectacular Engyoji Temple:

Himeji Travel Planning Services

Have some questions about exploring Himeji? Want help planning a Himeji itinerary? The Real Japan offers some services that you might like to take a look at.

My Travel Planning Calls are ideal if you have a few unanswered questions about a trip you are planning, or would like feedback and suggestions on an itinerary you are building.  Learn More HERE.

If you'd rather hand over all the hard work for planning an entire trip then my Travel Planning Service is tailor-made for you. Learn More HERE.

Further Japan travel guides, books and checklists are available in The Real Japan Travel Store.

Himeji Convention & Visitors Bureau website

https://www.himeji-kanko.jp.e.adl.hp.transer.com/

Himeji Tourist Information Center (079-287-3658)

Kokoen Garden Official website

https://www.himeji-machishin.jp/ryokka/kokoen/en/


Kassuiken Restaurant website

https://www.himeji-machishin.jp/ryokka/kokoen/en/kassuiken/index.html

Kokoromi Sake Bar website

https://www.originsake.com/kokoromi-himeji

Daiwa Roynet Hotel

On Booking.com


Richmond Hotel

On Booking.com


Go To Japan Facebook Group

Go To Japan (Facebook)


More Destination Resources

Destinations Travel Hub

My List of Recommended Japan Travel Resources

Resources


The Real Japan Travel Store


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  • Luz Pulpeiro says:

    A very detailed guide to visit Himeji Castle and its surroundings. There are lots of activities that can take you back in time to get in touch with the history and culture of the samurai in ancient times. Well explained and very detailed, to guarantee that visitors fully enjoy the experience. A must read before and during your visit.

    • Thanks for the feedback Luz. Great to hear you found it so useful. Hopefully you can try some of the ideas when you visit Himeji next.

  • Good interesting guide. I have to spend a bit of time in Himeji, actually been there twice this year as it is a good starting point for travelling in Chugoku by train; of course been to the castle and Koko-En – next time will spend longer there!

    • Glad you found the guide interesting Stephen. Like you, castle aside, I think a lot of people often use it as a starting point for exploring the Chugoku region (which I’m a fan of actually). If you revisit Koko-En do give the restaurant a try. I thought the wagyu beef set lunch I had was good value. Engyoji Temple is spectacular!

      Anyone interested can find more on Chugoku in this post: https://www.therealjapan.com/2-week-tour-of-chugoku/

  • Great write up Rob. We sure packed it in to one day. It was an honor to be your humble host for a day. Look forward to next time you make it back over here. There’s still a few more things we just couldn’t fit into one day, like a visit to one of Himeji’s Saké breweries (whose saké we sampled at Kokoromi)

    • Thanks for showing me around Gerard. I couldn’t have done it without you.

      I need to return to Engyoji Temple – I didn’t realise how extensive the complex is until we actually got there. Loved that spot!

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