Around the Castle


See Himeji Castle, then for a change of pace explore its environs. Newest and oldest of attractions is Koko-en, a spacious walled garden, just west of the castle, which was opened in 1992 to celebrate the city's centennial.

Koko-en

Koko-en is actually nine gardens in all, each built on the meticulously excavated site of a former samurai residence. It is likely that Takao-dayu, the famous courtesan said to have been the mistress of Lord Sakakibara, lived in the Nishi-oyashiki, or Lord's West Residence. Each lovely garden has a special theme, such as bamboo, pines, seedlings, summer trees, and flowers. Refresh body and spirit with tea and a sweet at the traditional Urasenke-style tea house in the tea ceremony garden. At Kassui-ken, enjoy a light lunch of anago, the grilled conger eel that is a Himeji specialty, while sitting just under the castle walls. The tiled mud-plastered walls that run along each garden, offering vistas seldom seen these days, will sweep you back into the Edo period. (Open daily 9:00 to 4:30; from May to August open till 5:30; closed December 29 to 30. Tel: 079-289-4120.)


Museum of Art


Just east of the castle is the Himeji City Museum of Art, housed in a restored and renovated early 20th-century brick building. The soft red bricks of this former infantry armory are in harmonious counterpoint with the white walls of the castle rising behind it. Illuminated at night, castle and museum are stunning. The permanent collection features various Japanese and foreign art works, and, thanks to Himeji's sister city ties with Charleroi, Belgium, paintings and prints by surrealist Paul Delvaux. Special exhibitions are eclectic and ambitious. (Open 10:00 to 5:00; closed Monday, the day following a national holiday, and December 25 to January 5. Tel: 079-222-2288)
A bit to the north and with its own special angle on the castle is the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History.
Permanent exhibition includes all you want to know about Himeji Castle as well as models of castles from all over Japan. Wonder what it was like to wear a medieval suit of armor or a 12-layered kimono? Some lucky visitors a day can try on armor or kimono in the "Trial Space." It could be you. (Open 10:00 to 5:00; closed Monday, the day following a national holiday, and year-end and beginning. Tel: 079-288-9011)

Museum of Literature


Head northwest for the Himeji City Museum of Literature, built, like Koko-en, to commemorate the city's centennial and designed by world-renowned Ando Tadao. It features social scientists or literati such as poets and novelists, who were born or brought up in this district. The building is superb and incorporates some surprise views of Himeji Castle. Don't miss seeing it in reflection from rooftop. Both harmonize with the 80-year-old Bokeitei, a traditional villa, also part of the museum. Permanent exhibitions are imaginative and well-executed; the English pamphlet is informative and well-written. (Open daily 9:00 to 5:00 ; late April to August open till 6:00; closed December 25 to January 5 (scheduled) Tel: 079-293-8228)


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