Himeji Castle, which is Japan's foremost historic castle, was built in the 17th century, and became the first site in Japan to be registered in the World Cultural Heritage listings in 1993. The stunning appearance, and high level of detail of this wooden architectural masterpiece have made Himeji Castle known the world over, and it is also a designated national treasure of Japan. In March 2015, as the 5 year renovation of the main keep was completed, and the white plaster walls, which are one of Himeji Castle's main features, were repainted, its brilliant white walls make this rejuvenated Himeji Castle one of the must-see sights in Japan.
Furthermore, the castle is surrounded by Japan's famous cherry blossom trees. Each spring, the trees flower simultaneously, enveloping Himeji Castle in a sea of beautiful pink blossoms. Early April is the one chance each year to see Himeji Castle with its cherry blossoms in full bloom, one of Japan's truly beautiful and iconic sights. The sight of this amazing scenery will live long in the memory as a memento of your visit to Japan.
Hanami at Himeji Castle
"Hanami" is a picnic-style party held each year under the beautiful cherry blossoms to celebrate the coming of spring, and is a quintessential Japanese custom which stretches back to ancient times. After coming through the harsh winter, the warmth of spring awakens the cherry trees from their slumber as, in unison, they race towards their glorious full bloom. One of four distinct seasons in Japan, the sight of these beautiful blossoms really evokes that feeling of spring. After flowering, these pretty and fragile pink blossoms linger for less than 2 weeks before they start to gently fall. This shower of pink petals is a sight not easily forgotten. Surrounded by about 1000 cherry trees, Himeji Castle is popular with visitors from both within Japan and abroad as a location for hanami parties while the trees are in bloom. The contrast between the pink cherry blossoms and Himeji Castle's main keep with its spotless white walls is spectacular, making it one of the most famous cherry blossom locations in Japan. Indeed, Himeji Castle has been chosen as one of Japan's top 100 cherry blossom viewing spots. The cherry blossom flowering period at Himeji Castle varies from year to year, however the blossoms generally begin to emerge from late March to early April, reaching full bloom at around early to mid-April. It is only during this period that you can enjoy the unforgettable sight of Himeji Castle and its cherry blossoms.
Kokoen Garden is a Japanese garden built around the remains of the former samurai residence, which lies on the west side of Himeji Castle. The garden is named in honor of the samurai training school which was opened on the site during the 17th century. It consists of 9 separate garden areas, set against the backdrop of the World Cultural Heritage, Himeji Castle. Using the breathtaking scenery of Himeji Castle coupled with the lush surrounding trees, visitors can experience the harmony between nature and history in this most unique of Japanese landscapes. From the vivid green flowers and trees in spring, and the cooling, refreshing sound of running water in summer, to the beautiful autumn colors, and the crisp clean air of winter, there is something to enjoy at Kokoen Garden whatever the season. The garden contains the rebuilt samurai residence, constructed using earth and white mortar walls, as well as defensive walls topped with roof tiles, a design typical of the period. Due to the strong sense of presence and atmosphere, the garden has also been used as a location for historical movies and dramas. Visitors can also experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and enjoy delicious Japanese cuisine while taking in the magnificent scenery of the garden.
Mountain-top Buddhist Temple "Shoshazan"
The 371 meter high Shoshazan Mountain is located in the northwestern part of Himeji. Situated at the top of the mountain is an old Buddhist temple called Engyo-ji Temple, which was built in the 10th century. Around half-way up the rocky mountain, and surrounded by trees and a diverse array of nature, the grounds of this vast temple contain a building called "Maniden", which sits atop a foundation of wooden pillars and includes an elevated terrace. There are also several temples that are designated as important cultural properties, and which house many precious statues of Buddha, etc.
In addition, there are three magnificent, stately temple halls known collectively as "Mitsunodo", comprised of the Daikodo (Lecture hall), Jikido (Dormitory), and Jogyodo (Training hall). This was also used as a location for "The Last Samurai", the Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise. Furthermore, it is possible to spend the night and sample some of the vegetarian cuisine that used to be eaten by Buddhist monks. Visitors to this temple can also experience "Zazen", which is a form of seated Zen meditation, or try their hand at transcribing the Buddhist Sutras - a central part of any Buddhist monk's training.