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Japan’s Famous White Castle – Himeji Castle Travel Guide

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Japan’s most spectacular castle – Himeji Castle, or Himeji-jo, is a stunning hilltop Japanese castle in Himeji city in Japan’s Kansai region. It is the biggest and best-preserved original castle in Japan. Due to its white-plaster facade, Himeji Castle has earned the nicknames “White Egret Castle,” “White Heron Castle,” or Shirasagi-Jo in Japanese.

Most castles in Japan are modern concrete reconstructions, as many of the original ones were destroyed by wars and fire but Himeji Castle has escaped relatively unharmed and is just as stunning today as when it was first constructed.

Himeji is the largest castle in Japan, five-stories tall, containing seven floors, surrounded by several keeps, moats, and defensive stone-brick walls.

Himeji Castle
It is easy to see why Himeji Castle’s nicknames are “White Egret Castle” and “White Heron Castle”

Along with Osaka Castle, Matsumoto Castle, and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan’s three finest castles. It is by far the most famous and visited castle in Japan, with almost three million visitors each year.

Most Japanese castles, including Himeji Castle, have a “classic” tower-like structure and are usually located on a hilltop. Nijo Castle in Kyoto is, however, an example of another Japanese castle architecture design as it is a flatland castle consisting of low-rise palaces and several gardens.

Himeji Castle
The castle is featured in several movies like James Bond You Only Live Twice from 1967

Himeji Castle Travel Guide

How And When To Visit Himeji Castle

Himeji is a popular and easy day-trip from near-by cities such as Osaka (45 min train ride), Kyoto (43 min), Hiroshima (1 hour), or Kobe (36 min).

If you happen to be in Osaka, you can book a guided day-tour from Osaka to Himeji Castle here. The tour is customized to your interests and can include a trip to the famous Arima Onsen (hot springs) or Kobe, or a visit to a sake brewery.

We visited Himeji Castle at the end of November as a day-trip from Kyoto. The castle was surrounded by fantastic autumn colors of red, orange, and yellow. We even saw a cherry tree in bloom! Sakura in November, who would have thought?! So lucky!

Himeji Castle is at its most beautiful in spring (March/ April) when it is surrounded by over a thousand pinkish cherry blossom trees. While the castle is most beautiful during cherry blossoms, it is also the most crowded time of the year to visit.

Himeji castle is beautiful at autumn with autumn colors
We visited Himeji Castle in November when beautiful autumn colors surrounded the castle

A Brief History Of Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle dates back to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura, also known as Akamatsu Enshin, constructed a fort on Himeyama Hill. The fort was later rebuilt into a larger castle and named Himeyama Castle in 1346 by Akamatsu’s son Sadanori.

Himeji Castle in autumn
The Himeji Castle that you see here today was built in 1581 by general Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Himeji Castle was significantly rebuilt again in 1581 by general Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He added a three-story castle keep or tenshu, an architectural typology typical for Japanese castles. It is the highest tower within the castle.

After the battle known as the “Battle of Sekigahara” in 1600, Ikeda Terumasa becomes the lord of Himeji Castle as a reward for his effort in the battle. Ikeda completely rebuilds the castle over the years 1601-1609. The result is the magnificent Himeji Castle that you see here today, a 5-storied keep with seven floors in the Renritsu style surrounded by three moats of which two moats still stand.

A big moat surrounds Himeji Castle
A huge moat surrounds Himeji Castle.

It is believed that it took an incredible 2,5 million person-days to complete this reconstruction!

In 1617 one of Japan’s legends Princess Sen (1597 – 1666), also called Senhime or Lady Sen, moved to Himeji Castle with her family where they lived for ten years. Her story is depicted in numerous films, tv shows, theater performances, and even video games. More about Princess Sen and Himeji castle’s role in Japanese culture later.

One Of 12 Original Castles Left In Japan

During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), many beautiful castles in Japan were destroyed due to battles and fire. But thankfully, Himeji Castle was one of few who survived since it never actually saw battle.

In 1871 it was abandoned, and the castle buildings were used as military barracks for housing soldiers and personnel.

The government’s plan was to demolish the castle to make room for new buildings and houses. Still, due to the effort of army colonel Nakamura Shigeto, it was spared. You can see Nakamura’s stone statue in the castle complex (within the first gate, the Hishi Gate).

The Japanese feudal system came to an end in 1871, and the Emperor was given political power over the country. Himeji Castle was put up for auction and was bought by a Himeiji resident for 23 JPY, which is about 200 000 JPY = US$ 2258 today. Seems awfully cheap to me 🙂

He planned to demolish the castle and build new houses and buildings on the land. But it turned out to be too expensive,  and the castle was thankfully once more spared.

The final decision to preserve Himeji Castle came in 1873 when it was selected as one of fifty-six Japanese castles to be retained for prosperity. A few years later in 1889, the surrounding Himeji City was established.

Modern Times

For almost 700 years, Himeji Castle has stayed miraculously intact and untouched even through the heavy bombing of Himeji city in World War II. A firebomb was actually dropped on the castle’s top floor, but luckily it did not explode. The surrounding area of the castle and Himeji City burned down to the ground during World War II.

The castle also remarkably survived the Great Hanshin earthquake in January 1995, which destroyed most of Himeji city. Even a bottle of sake that stood on the altar on the castle’s top floor was untouched by the earthquake. This shows that Himeji Castle is earthquake-resistant and impressively strongly built.

Today, Himeji Castle is one of only twelve original castles left in Japan.

fan curved stone walls at Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is one of only twelve original castles left in Japan.

A National Treasure Site, Special Historic Site & Unesco World Heritage Site

The eight keeps of Himeji Castle was designated as a Japanese National Treasure Site in 1951, and the whole castle ground was designated as a Japanese Special Historic Site in 1952. The castle underwent restoration from 1956 to 1964.

In 1993 Himeji Castle became Japan’s first Unesco World Heritage site, for its excellent representative of Japanese wooden castle architecture. The castle is also considered a National Treasure of Japan.

Today, Himeji Castle is once again fully restored and shines like ever before due to six-years comprehensive maintenance and repairs called “The Heisei Era Restoration” from 2009 until 2015. They have done an excellent job, and Himeji castle almost seems brand new.

Walking Tour & Attractions Of Himeji Castle

Below follows our recommended DIY walking tour of Himeji Castle with all its highlights and attractions.


The map above (Google Maps): DIY Walking Tour of Himeji Castle with all its attractions (A – J)

To simply walk through this walking route takes only about 30 min. But, of course, you will want to go into the castle, climb the castle’s seven floors, and have a look and take photos along the route. So you should estimate at least 1-2 hours on this walking route of Himeji Castle and the castle grounds.

If you want to see Himeji Castle with a professional and licensed local guide, as we did, you can book a guided tour of Himeji Castle here.  You choose the length of the guided tour (4-6 hours) and decide what you want to see and if you want to see other sights in the neighborhood of Himeji Castle as well.

A. Himeji Station

As soon as you step out of the north entrance of Himeji Station, you will immediately see the grand Himeji Castle on top of the hilltop straight ahead. It is a magnificent sight!

Himeji Castle entrance
You see the magnificent Himeji Castle as soon as you step out of Himeji Station.

Himeji Castle is an easy 15-20 min walk from JR Himeji Station. Just follow Otemae Street straight ahead from the north exit of Himeji Station.

B. Sakuramon-Bashi Bridge

When you reach the Himeji Castle ground, the beautiful grey wooden bridge Sakuramon Bashi Bridge will take you across to the castle’s inner moat.

Sakuramon Bashi Bridge Himeji Castle
Sakuramon-Bashi Bridge leads over the moat to the castle.

The castle used to have three moats, but one of them, the outer moat, is buried. Now, there are only two moats left, this inner moat and a square moat inside the castle (E on this walking tour).

This is a great place for taking photos of Himeji Castle with the bridge and moat in the foreground. After snapping some photos, walk across the bridge, and voila – you have entered the Himeji Castle grounds.

C. Main Gate/ Otemon Gate

The grand dark wooden main gate, or Otemon gate, is up next. The gate has some tall solid doors. Step through the gate, and a wonderful open landscape appears.

Main Gate Otemon Himeji Castle
After you have walked over the bridge, you arrive at the brown wooden Main Gate of Himeji Castle.

If you turn right after the gate, you will reach the toilets and restroom, as well as the small Himeji City Zoo. To go straight to Himeji Castle, take the left path, walk past the small cafe until you get to the ticket office and castle entrance.

D. Main Entrance – Ticket Office

After you have bought your ticket, walk up the wide stone stairs leading you up the castle’s entrance. You are given a map of the castle ground, and you can follow an arrow-marked route around the castle. It takes about 1-2 hours to follow the marked route.

We were met by a lovely volunteer guide at the ticket office who wanted to show us around the castle for free. Of course, we said yes, and we had a wonderful walk around the castle buildings. He was a retired engineer who lived in Kobe and did free walking tours of Himeji Castle to practice his English. He was a fantastic man, and we totally bonded as I am an engineer too! 🙂

E. Hishi-No-Mon Gate – “Diamond Gate”

The elegant stone staircase ends in the grand and elegant Hishi-No-Mon Gate, meaning “Diamond Gate.” It is the biggest of the gates at Himeji Castle.

This gate dates back to the Momoyama period (1568 – 1600). It is a massive gate, painted bright white. It is unique in the way that it is built on a gigantic stone wall.

Hishi-no-mon Gate Diamond Gate Himeji Castle
The elegant Hishi-No-Mon Gate, or “Diamond Gate,” just called Hishi for short, is the biggest gate at Himeji Castle.

F. Sangoku-Bori Moat/ Mikuni Pond

After you have walked through the majestic Hishi-No-Mon Gate, you see the rectangular moat Sangoku-Bori, meaning the Three Country Moat. It is also called Mikuni Pond.

Sangoku-bori Moat/ Mikuni Pond Himeji Castle
The Sangoku-Bori moat looks more like a pond and is also called Mikuni Pond.

In addition to defense, the purpose of this moat was to store water for fire extinguishing.

Continue straight ahead on the walking path, on the west side of the pond.

G. The 5 Gates Of Himeji Castle

Once you have walked through the Hishi-no-mon Gate and past the pond, you will meet a series of five gates connected with narrow walking paths, turrets/ small towers, and corridors with stone walls on each side. It feels like walking through a maze!

In total the are an incredible twenty-one gates at Himeji Castle! You will walk through several of them on your up to and out of the castle.

A maze of stone walls on the walking route up to Himeji Castle
The walk up to Himeji Castle feels like walking through a maze of stone walls and gates.

The purpose of all these gates and narrow corridors was that it should be confusing and difficult for enemies to enter the castle. The enemies would walk into dead ends and be easy to attack with stones, bows, and arrows through holes in the corridor walls and towers. Quite clever if you ask me! 🙂

Family Crest Rooftop Tiles

The rooftop tiles on Himeji castle’s towers and gates are beautifully decorated with old Japanese family crests of families that were important in the building and service of the castle and the lords who lived there. In all, there are eight different family crests adorning the ridge-end tiles and the eave-end tiles.

Family crest on rooftop tiles at Himeji Castle
Family crests beautifully decorate the rooftops of the gates and towers of Himeji Castle.

Before you reach Himeji Castle, the upcoming five gates are named in the order of the old Japanese alphabet that was common in the Iroha poems from the Heian period (794 – 1179). This old Iroha sequence is still used today in Japan for ordering for the syllabary, like in Japanese laws and regulations and music notes. The old Iroha sequence goes as follows: iroha, ni, ho, he, to. It can be translated to the English a, b, c, d, e, f, g (or 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7nd).

When you take the train in Japan, you will notice that the Japanese National Railways (JR) use this to number the classes of their train cars. So I is the 1st class (no longer used), Ro is the 2nd class (now Green Car), and Ha is the 3rd class (standard carriages).

1st Gate – I-No-Mon Gate

The beautiful I-no-mon Gate, where “i” means 1st or A, is up next. You can actually see this gate immediately after you have stepped through the Hishi-no-mon gate.

The dark wooden gate has a beautiful roof where you can see some amazing carvings of the Ikeda clan’s family crest – it looks like a butterfly.

Inomon Gate Himeji Castle
The beautiful I-no-mon Gate with the family crest of the Ikeda family on the roof tiles
Family crest Butterfly Ikeda Clan Inomon gate Himeji Castle
The family crest of the Ikeda family looks like butterflies.

The Ikeda family clans were daimyo or powerful feudal lords who ruled most of Japan during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). They were subordinate to the shogun and nominally to the emperor. The daimyo hired samurai to guard their land and to be their lifeguards. One of the Ikeda houses’ leaders married the fourth daughter of Emperor Showa, which made him even more powerful.

2nd Gate – Ro-No-Mon Gate

Shortly after having walked through the Inomon Gate, you will reach the Ro-No-Mon Gate, where “ro” means 2nd or B.

Ogi-no-Kobai – Fan-curved Stone Walls

There are a total number of 32 walls surrounding Himeji Castle that are designated as Important Cultural Properties.

Notice how the stone walls have a special curve-shape, looking like a fan. These walls are called Ogi no Kobai, meaning fan curved, as it resembles a folding fan. They are designed like this to be extremely difficult, almost impossible, to climb as they get steeper and steeper towards the top of the wall—the perfect shape to prevent intruders from climbing up.

Fan curve stone wall Himeji Castle
The walls protecting the castle are shaped in a fan curve to be impossible to climb.

Walk through the Ro-no-mon Gate and turn right at the intersection. On your way up the staircase to the next gate, Hanomon Gate, make sure to stop for a photo or two as this is a great photo spot of Himeji Castle.

3rd Gate – Ha-No-Mon Gate

On your way to Ha-no-mon Gate, where “ha” means 3rd or C, notice the gunshot holes along the massive stone wall on your left-hand side. Look up, and you will see the small Inui castle tower, the small Nishi castle tower, and the main castle tower together. Great for a photo with leading lines to the bright white castle (see the photo below).

This part of the pathway to Himeji Castle is quite narrow. The stone staircase follows along a white wall with triangle and square holes (on your right-hand side, see the photo below). These holes were used for attacking enemies and intruders with bow and arrows, guns, and stones.

There is an impressive number of 997 loopholes, or Sama, in the walls of the corridors and towers protecting Himeji Castle. The holes come in four different shapes: the oblong-shaped holes were used for bows, while the round, triangular and square ones were used for guns. Depending on where the holes were located in the walls, they were used for standing, kneeling, and prone position.

Hanomon Gate Himeji Castle with lookout holes as squares and triangles
The staircase up to the Hanomon gate has a sidewall with rectangular and triangle-shaped holes for attacking intruders. The wall to the left is full of gunshot holes.

From Ha-no-mon Gate, you clearly see the Himeji Castle upfront for the first time, and it feels like you are about to step into the castle building. But nope, you have two more gates and a few more stone corridors to walk through…..so keep it up, nearly there. 🙂

4th Gate – Ni-No-Mon Gate – Rooftop Tile With A Cross
Corridor to Ni-no-mon gate at Himeji Castle
The corridor up to the Ni-no-mon gate.

Next up after the Hanomon Gate is the Ni-no-mon Gate, where “ni” means 4th or D. This gate stands out and is pretty unique as it has a tower on top. It doesn’t look like a typical Japanese gate because it goes under a tower.

On your way to Ni-no-mon Gate, you walk in a corridor with a stone brick wall on your right-hand side and a white concrete wall on your left-hand side (see photo to the left).

 

 


Roof Tile With A Cross

Roof tile with cross at Himeji Castle
The roof tile at Ni-no-mon Gate

Notice the unique tile with a cross on the gable of the rooftop of the Ni-no-mon Gate. This tile is called Juji-Mon-Gawara Tile/ a tile marked with a cross.

It is said that this cross is associated with Kuroda Yoshitaka or Kuroda Kanbei (1546 – 1604). Kuroda was a Japanese daimyo, a feudal lord in the early Edo period.


Kuroda was born in Himeji and was the chief strategist and adviser to Princess Sen’s first husband, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, at Osaka Castle before she re-married and moved to Himeji Castle. Kuroda later became a Christian at age 38. In recognition of Kuroda Yoshitaka’s loyalty and service, his family crest with a cross decorates Ni-no-mon Gate’s roof tiles.

5th Gate – Ho-no-mon Gate

The fifth and last of the gates leading up to Himeji Castle is Ho-no-mon Gate, “ho” meaning E or the 5th. This is a small and narrow wooden gate covered with steel plates.

Abura-Kabe – Oil Wall

On your way to the 5th Gate Ho-no-mon, you will see the Abura-kabe, meaning “Oil Wall.” Hashiba Hideyoshi built this at the same time as he built Himeji Castle in 1581. The oil wall is made out of a mixture of sand from the mountain, pea gravel, rice-washing water, and rice porridge. It is as hard as modern concrete.

Puh, finally, once you have stepped through the fifth Ho-no-mon Gate, you are at your final destination and the crown jewel – the Himeji Castle’s main building. Yay, you have made it! 🙂


H. Himeji Castle Main Building

The fantastic bright white main building of Himeji Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan and on all those best castles in Japan lists.

It looks like it has five floors on the outside, but it actually has seven floors as it has six floors plus a basement. The castle is 91,9 m above sea level, on top of the Hime-Yama Hill, 45,6 m high. The main building of Himeji Castle is 31,5 m high. The castle has an impressive 27 towers, 21 gates, and 11 wells!

Although we visited Himeji Castle in November, we were able to see a cherry tree in bloom 🙂

Cherry blossom Himeji Castle
A cherry blossom tree/ sakura in November!

I must admit that I was a bit disappointed as we climbed the steep wooden stairs inside the castle. The castle is more or less empty. All you see are empty rooms with no furniture or interiors.

Inside the Himeji Castle
The castle is more or less empty inside, not that much to see

However, you do see a few things of interest inside the castle, like a few wooden toilets on the floor (although they have never been used) and a wooden sink. Some walls are equipped with weapon racks where the soldiers would hang and store their weapons.

Inside Himeji Castle
Weapon racks on the walls inside the castle
Beautiful nail covers inside Himeji Castle
Beautiful nail covers inside Himeji Castle.
Stairs inside the Himeji Castle
Steep stairs to climb up the Himeji Castle

The coolest part of the castle is by far the top 6th floor. This floor has lots of windows and has an amazing view of the castle grounds, gardens, and Himeji city. I particularly loved how you could see the maze structure of all the gates and stone corridors leading up to the castle and the walking path out of the castle.

Amazing view from the top floor of Himeji Castle
Amazing view from the top floor of the castle

The castle’s rooftop is beautifully decorated with ornaments called Shachihoko, or shachi, on each gable.

shachihoko creature on the rooftops of Himeji Castle
Each rooftop of Himeji Castle has a Shachihoko – a mythical creature that protects it from fire.

Shachihoko is a mythical animal in Japanese folklore with a tiger head and a carp fish’s body. You will see these ornaments on buildings all over Japan, especially wooden temples and castles, to protect them from fire.

Great view from the top floor of Himeji Castle
Shachihoko is a mythical animal in Japanese folklore with a tiger head and a carp fish’s body.

Osakabe-jinja Shrine

On the top floor, you will also see the small and cute Osakabe-jinja or Osakabe Shrine. This shrine used to be located outside on Hime-Yama Hill but was relocated here.

Osakabe-jinja Shrine at the top floor of Himeji Castle
The only interior on the top floor of Himeji Castle is the Osakabe-jinja Shrine.

After enjoying the view from the top floor of the castle, it is time to walk out of the castle.

I. Bizen-Mon Gate & Bizen-maru Bailey

Bizen-mon or Bizen Gate leads out to Bizen-maru Bailey courtyard.

Today the Bizen-maru is a large open space and a perfect photo spot for photographing Himeji Castle. This was where the residence of the castle lord used to be until it burnt down in 1882.

Bizen-maru bailey open space at Himeji Castle
The open space Bizen-maru, which used to house the lord’s residence, is a great place to photograph Himeji Castle up-close.

After you have taken the mandatory photo of Himeji Castle up close from Bizenmaru bailey, walk back through Bizen Gate and continue through Ri-No-Mon Gate.

J. Okiku Well

Once you have passed Ri-No-Mon Gate, you will notice a well on your left-hand side surrounded by a fence of stone poles and covered with a wire roof – Okiku Ido or Okiku Well.

Okiku is a maid in the ghost story of Okiku well at Himeji Castle
A portrait of Okiku by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

One of Japan’s most famous ghost stories, or Kaidan, is associated with this well at Himeji Castle. There are, however, several versions and names of this fairytale. It is called Banchō Sarayashiki (番町皿屋敷), or The Dish Mansion at Banchō in English, or Sarayashiki (皿屋敷) or Manor of the Dishes in English.

All versions of this ghost story tell of a servant who is killed or commits suicide and returns after her death to haunt the living as a ghost. In the story our guide told us about this well, Okiku was a housemaid of Himeji Castle’s lord. She broke one of the ten dishes of the family’s precious Dutch Delft porcelain plates. She is killed over this and thrown into the well. At night, Okiku’s ghost is heard counting the nine plates.

The story is a popular Bunraku play/ traditional Japanese puppet theater, which was first played at the Osaka puppet theater in 1741. The first Kabuki/ traditional Japanese dance-drama theater version of this ghost story was played in 1824.


Continue through Nu-No-Gate, and you will be back at Mikuni Pond and the entrance where you entered the castle ground. That marks the end of this DIY free walking tour of Himeji Castle. Hope you have enjoyed it!

I highly recommend that you walk out of the castle ground, turn right, and walk over to Kokoen Garden for a nice garden stroll through this beautiful Japanese garden. You can buy a combination ticket to visit both the castle and the garden, which is only 50 Yen = US$ 0,5 more than the entry ticket to the castle.


Kokoen Japanese Garden

Next to Himeji Castle, you will find the lovely Kokoen Garden where the lord of Himeji Castle once lived in his residence.

Autumn colors at Kokoen Japanese Garden next to Himeji Castle
The stunning Kokoen Garden is located just next to Himeji Castle.

Kokoen is a beautiful traditional Japanese strolling garden, a recreation of an Edo-era samurai residence garden where the lord of Himeji Castle lived.  The garden has nine different sections with smaller gardens separated by walls, each in a different style like a Japanese water garden, tea garden, bamboo garden, and flower garden.

beautiful autumn colors in Kokoen Garden at Himeji Castle
Kokoen Garden has several sections and in the middle is a lovely pond with colorful fish.

In the middle of Kakoen garden are a pond and a teahouse where you can enjoy a cup of Matcha green tea.

Kokoen Japanese Garden is a classic strolling garden
Kokoen Garden is a classic Japanese strolling garden.

Himeji Castle’s Role In Japanese Culture

If Himeji Castle looks familiar, it might be that you have seen films where this castle appears. It has been featured in such classics as James Bond: You Only Live Twice (1967), Shiniyuku Tsuma Tono Tabiji (2011), 47 ronin (1994), Seven Samurai (1945), Shogun (1980), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985).

Aside from serving as a backdrop to international films and tv shows,  Himeji Castle plays a central role in several Japanese stories and legends. The most famous one of these is the story of Princess Sen. Princess Sen lived at Himeji Castle for ten years and her story is often told in traditional Japanese historical dramas on tv, in series, in theaters, and in more recent years in video games.

The story Of Princess Sen/ Senhime

Princess Sen (1597 – 1666), or Senhime or Lady Sen, was the eldest daughter of the second Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada and the granddaughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu who was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Tokugawa shogunate ruled Japan from 1603 until 1868 and the Meiji Restoration. Tokugawa Ieyasu is considered to be of the three “Great Unifiers” of Japan.

Old painting of Princess Sen Senhime
An old portrait of Princess Sen/ Senhime

The princess was married to Toyotomi Hideyori (1593 – 1615) when she was only 7 years old and her husband 8 years old to make peace between the two rival families.
The marriage did, however, not calm Toyotomi’s lust for power. As he grew up, he gathered an army, called the Western Army, and began to attack the shogun’s forces, called the Eastern Army, near Osaka.

In the end, Toyotomi lost the battle against the shogun (the grandfather of his wife, Princess Sen)  on the 5th of June 1615 in Osaka Castle. He and his mother committed suicide or seppuku at Osaka Castle after losing the “Osaka Summer Battle,” he was 21 years old.

Princess Sen was rescued from Osaka Castle after the battle, as the whole castle was on fire. She remarried Honda Tadatoki at the age of 20. In 1617, her father-in-law Honda Tadamasa is given Himeji Castle as a reward for his great effort in the “Siege of Osaka” battle, and Princess Sen and the family moves to Himeji Castle.

Honda Tadamasa adds several buildings to the castle complex during 1617-1618, including a special tower for his daughter-in-law. Her tower or small palace was called Musashino Goten, built at a lovely part of the castle grounds at the 3rd Bailey. Sadly, her palace is gone now, but you can see her Kesho Yagura/ dressing tower on the west side of the main castle building. She used to rest, relax, get dressed, and groomed in this tower.

Himeji Castle
Princess Sen lived ten years in Himeji Castle together with her husband and children.

Princess Sen lives ten years at Himeji Castle with her husband and his family. At Himeji Castle, Princess Sen gives birth to a son, Kochiyo, and a daughter Katsu. Her son sadly dies of disease at the age of 3, and only five years later, her husband dies of tuberculosis at the age of 31 in 1626.

As was the Japanese tradition for a widow at that time, Princess Sen cut her hair short and moves to Edo (today’s Tokyo), where she becomes a Buddhist nun and changes her name to Tenjuin. She never remarries and dies at the age of 70 in 1666. Princess Sen is buried at Chion-in Temple in Kyoto, and you can visit her grave.

Videogame Kessen for PS2
Princess Sen is one of the characters in the PlayStation2 game Kessen.

Princess Sen was a part of the video game Kessen for PlayStation 2 in 2000. In a cutscene of the video game, she tells her grandfather, shogun Ieyasu how sad she is about the war and the death of her first husband, Hideyori.

Her grandfather then replies that the people of Japan will live in peace once again. He praises her husband Hideyori for his duty as a samurai and for committing seppuku or harakiri (suicide by disembowelment which was the custom and code of honor among samurai who lost battles).


There is also a movie about Princess Sen, Lady Sen and Hideyori” from 1962. In the movie, you will see Princess Sen’s life from the fall of Osaka Castle, her marriage and life with her second husband, Honda Tadatoki, at Himeji Castle, and her becoming a nun at a Buddhist temple in Edo/ Tokyo. Here is a clip of princess Sen in this movie:

However, this is a fiction film about the life of Princess Sen. If you want to see a more historically correct movie about Senhime and her life, you should see the film “Sen-hime” from 1954. Or you can read the historical book “Yodo-dono Nikki” by Yasushi Inoue from 1955.


Festivals In Himeji

Himeji Yukata Kimono Festival – 22. – 24. June

An annual festival celebrating the start of the summer. Everybody wears their colorful Yukata/ summer kimono. The streets of Himeji, especially Osakabe Shrine in the center of Himeji City, and the castle grounds fill with beautiful kimono-dressed people eating street food and having fun. The festival highlights are the yukata parade, yukata fashion show, and music and dance performances.

Although you will find yukata festivals in many places in Japan around this time of year, the festival in Himeji is the oldest and largest and is over 260 years old. You can enjoy around 800 stalls selling snacks, food, drinks, and souvenirs. It is a very popular festival with around 200 000 visitors. The evening festival is between 16:30 and 21:30.

You can rent a yukata in Himeji and join this festival to the fullest. Several shops in Himeji rent out yukatas during the festival.

Nada Kenka Matsuri – October

Every October, the Nada Kenka Matsuri festival is on at Matsubara Hachiman-jinja Shrine in Himeji. The festival is nicknamed “fighting festival” as teams of men carry and fight with portable shrines called Mikoshi against each other, smashing and knocking the shrines against one another. Once one portable shrine is hoisted on top of another shrine, we have a winner, and the contest is over.

The Nada Kenka Matsuri festival is a two-day event, and teams from all around Japan participate. The portable shrines are huge and beautifully decorated with golden ornaments, wood carvings, and embroidered curtains: a fun and unique festival to witness.


Travelers Information

  • Opening Hours Himeji Castle:
    09:00 – 17:00 (last admission 16:00). Until 18:00 (last admission 17:00) during spring and summer (27th of April – 31st of August). Closed on 29th and 30th of December.
  • Ticket price Himeji Castle:
    1000 JPY = US$ 10 (adult), 300 JPY = US$ 3 (child, from elementary school to high school).
    If you plan to visit the neighboring Koukoen Park (which I recommend), you should buy the combination ticket, which costs 1050 Yen, only 50 Yen more than the entry ticket to the castle.
  • How to get to Himeji Castle:
    Take the Sanyo Shinkansen (bullet train) to Himeji Station. It takes about 15-20 min to walk from Himeji Station to Himeji Castle. It’s an easy, straight, flat walk from the north side of JR Himeji Station. Or you can rent a bicycle at the station or take the retro-looking Himeji Castle Loop Bus (from bus stop 6 on the north side of JR Himeji Station).
    The Sanyo Shinkansen train has a direct connection to Shin-Kobe Station in Kobe (25 min), Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka (35 min), Kyoto Station (55 min), Okayama Station (35 min). and Hiroshima Station (1 hour). You can get from Tokyo to Himeji Castle in 3 h 45 min by train.
  • Himeji Castle’s Official Webpage

That’s it our travel guide to Himeji Castle! We hope you find this DIY walking route of Himeji Castle’s highlights useful when planning your Himeji Castle trip.

Also, check out our recommended 2-week Japan itinerary to get more tips on what to see and do in Japan.


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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

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