Sunday, June 11, 2017

Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple

Our stop was announced and I said my goodbye to my seatmate, Mr Yamamoto. My friends and I shuffled along the aisle to the door, ready to jump out of the shinkansen and storm Himeji Castle and Engyoji Temple.

We exited the JR Himeji Station and saw buildings converging towards Himeji Castle straight ahead. We decided to walk to the castle instead of taking the loop bus which would have transported us to Himeji Castle in just 5 minutes (fare is 100 yen). The walk would have taken 15 minutes but it took us more than that—we were walking slowly, enjoying the city scene and the sculptures along the way.

Himeji Castle straight ahead

White herons on Himeji's manhole cover

One of the many sculptures along the way

Almost there

Himeji-jo (Himeji Castle)
9AM to 5PM (last admission 4PM)
Admission fee: 1000 yen (1040 yen combination ticket with Kokoen Garden)

Directions to Himeji-jo: From Himeji Station, take the loop bus to Himeji Castle (5 minutes, 100 yen). Or walk from the station along Otomae-dori (Otomae Street) to the castle (15 minutes).

We crossed the moat via a bridge that led to Otemon Gate where gatekeepers barred our entry. We shot them with our cameras and they surrendered, letting us through. Once inside the castle grounds, we saw that the area is huge and we made a beeline to the largest gate in the castle, Hishinomon (Diamond Gate), where we paid the fee to get inside the majestic 17th century Himeji Castle (aka Shirasagi-jo or White Heron Castle) that has never been destroyed by wars, earthquakes or fires.

At the time of our visit Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had only been open for 7 months after having undergone 5.5 years of extensive restoration work. There were hoards of visitors, both local and foreign, and we joined in the crowd to explore all seven floors (basement included) of the main keep. We had to take off our footwear, put it in plastic bags, and carry it along with us while we toured the castle. We were herded from floor to floor, on cold wooden floors, and up steep and narrow wooden stairs. The interiors of Himeji Castle were bare, save for few displays and explanations of Himeji Castle's architectural and defense features. The topmost floor afforded a view of Himeji City.

Cross the bridge to get to Otemon Gate

Gatekeepers at Otemon Gate

White Heron Castle

Through labyrinthine corridors to the main keep

After Himeji Castle we went to Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha, on the fringes of Himeji City. Why? Because some "The Last Samurai" scenes were shot there. Haha!

Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
830AM to 6PM
Admission free: 500 yen
Shuttle service from Ropeway Uphill Station to Maniden, roundtrip: 500 yen

Directions to Engyoji Temple: Buy a Shoshazan Ropeway combination ticket (1300 yen) at Shinki Bus Terminal in front of Himeji Station. The combination ticket is for a roundtrip bus ride from Himeji Station or Himeji Castle to Mount Shosha Ropeway (cable car) Foot Station, and a roundtrip cable car ride to Mount Shosha. From the cable car Uphill Station on the mountain, it is a 20-minute walk to Engyoji Temple or a short shuttle bus ride (500 yen, roundtrip).

We arrived on the mountain quite late in the afternoon and had less than two hours to explore before Engyoji Temple closed for the day. The temple complex is on a slope (it is on a mountain after all) so we decided to take the shuttle bus from the cable car uphill station to Maniden, Engyoji Temple's two-storey main building dedicated to the goddess of mercy.

Himeji City as seen from the Ropeway Uphill Station

Terrace of Maniden

From the temple's main building, Maniden, we walked for some minutes under the shade of trees until we reached Mitsunodo, three wooden halls that together formed a U-shape. But not before passing the tombs of the Honda Family, the lords of Himeji Castle.

Honda Family Mausoleum

When facing Mitsunodo, the lecture hall called Daikodo is on the right. Enshrined in Daikodo is Buddha and its two guardians. Across Daikodo is the training hall called Jogyodo. Jogyodo's stage was where ceremonial music and dancing dedicated to Buddha and its two guardians (housed opposite, in Daikodo) were performed. And between these two is Jikido, the lodging and dining hall of the monks. Currently the second floor of the Jikido houses the treasures of Engyoji Temple.


Jogyodo as seen from Jikido

We were able to enter Daikodo and Jikido, but not Jogyodo as it was already closed when we were done exploring the two other halls. Had we had more time, it would have been nice to hike through the woods of the temple complex and see the numerous sub-temples of Engyoji.

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple (you're here!)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb
Osaka, Japanecdote: Where is Bentencho Station?
Osaka: Osaka Castle and Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai
Osaka, Japanecdote: Learn From Your Mistakes

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