Written by: Matt Newkirk
Destination: Himeji, Japan
Visited: April 2018
Himeji castle, which sits square in the center of the town of Himeji Japan, is often touted as one of the best place to go to see the cherry blossom bloom (sakura) in Japan. I can tell you first hand that Himeji Castle truly is a sight to behold in the spring, during the cherry blossom festival.
Himeji Castle was originally constructed in 1333 in the Hyōgo Prefecture of Japan. During the first two hundred years of its existence, Himeji Castle underwent several additions and reconstructions, until 1618 when the castle settled into its current state. Himeji Castle has since managed to somehow weather the past 400 years basically unscathed, despite extensive nearby bombing in WWII, and at least one major earthquake.
As I approached the castle from the nearby train station in Himeji, it reminded me of something out of a children's story book. The majestic medieval castle with its etherial white walls and gently sloping roof seemed to float on pink fluffy clouds of cherry blossoms. The sakura around the castle were so dense and vibrant that they reminded me of cotton candy.
Moat surrounding Himeji Castle
Once I reached deep green moat that surrounds the castle, the cherry blossoms opened up a little to reveal that the white castle actually sits perched atop a foundation of seemingly random shaped stone blocks, carved to perfectly interlock and provide the solid base for the incredible structure.
Himeji Castle complex is surprisingly large, consisting of more than 80 buildings in total. As I wandered through the enormous wooden gates, more sakura greeted me at each turn. Thick moss had overgrown some of the stonework and roof tiles around the castle, providing some perspective on just how long ago these stones were set into place. Ornate bronze embellishments cap off the ancient roof and provide additional fortification to doors and archways.
As we approached Himeji Castle's main keep, we had to wait a few minutes in the courtyard because the castle was filled to capacity with visitors hoping to tour the castle while the sakura blossoms were in bloom. The crowd control was surprisingly good however, and we did not have to hang out for too long before we were free to enter the castle and make our way up the narrow wooden stairs. Once inside the castle, I was taken aback at the staggering amount of wood making up the structure. In particular, I marveled at the thick wooden beams that provided the main structural support for the six story castle. The view of the cherry blossoms surrounding Himeji Castle was truly a sight to behold, and was definitely worth braving the crowds to reach the top story.
Himeji Castle Courtyard
Getting to Himeji Castle is easy. We traveled to Himeji as a day trip from Osaka on the shinkensen (bullet train), using our JR Pass. The trains are as comfortable as they are fast, and the 45 minute trip was a breeze. You can also reach Himeji from Kyoto in about an hour. For more details on shinkensen trains to Himeji from Osaka, here is a useful link. From the train station, Himeji Castle is just a pleasant 10 minute walk to the North.
Shinkensen from Oasaka to Himeji
If you are planning to visit Japan during the cherry blossom festival, you really should consider taking the short day trip from Osaka or Kyoto to Himeji Castle. The sakura surrounding the castle provided some of the most stunning scenes that I had witnessed on my entire trip to Japan last spring.