Kansai—Kyoto, Osaka and Vicinity
KANSAI—KYOTO, OSAKA AND VICINITY
Kansai is considered the cradle of Japanese civilization, since it was here that its earliest capitals, shrines and temples were constructed. As a result, the area is rich in historic sites and cultural attractions.
Kyoto's significance in the annals of Japanese history cannot be overstated. Serving as Japan's capital for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto is the historic center of the country, filled with temples, shrines, imperial villas and other memorials to the nation's past. Although the modern age has taken its toll, Kyoto exudes a graceful charm reminiscent of the glory and splendor of Japan's ancient past, from its narrow residential streets lined with temples and traditional wooden homes to its many craft stores that have been passed down for generations. There is no other city in Japan quite like it.
794 to 1868 (when the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo), Kyoto is where the
Imperial family resided, where performing arts like Noh took root and flourished,
and where traditional crafts were created and refined. Today it boasts an astounding
300 Shinto shrines and some 1,500 Buddhist temples, not to mention an imperial
palace, a shogun's castle and two imperial villas. Some temples are admired for
their architectural integrity, others for their art treasures and priceless statues,
and others still for their beautiful gardens. Approximately 20% of Japan's national
treasures are in Kyoto. The city also boasts the nation's greatest concentration
of craft artisans, producing highly refined articles such as Nishijin silk weaving,
Yuzen dyeing, Kiyomizuyaki ceramic ware, Kyoto dolls and lacquer ware. The craftsmen's
skills have been handed down through generations of families, with a number of
craft museums and shops holding demonstrations of their work. Kyoto is also renowned
for its festivals, many of which have roots stretching back for centuries. The
three grandest are the Aoi (Hollyhock) Festival in May, Gion Festival in July,
and Jidai Festival (Festival of the Ages) in October.
Because Kyoto is known for its many crafts and traditional pastimes, clients may wish to take advantage of a stay in Kyoto by partaking in one of many courses offered by the Women's Association of Kyoto (WAK Japan; www.wakjapan.com), including flower arranging, the tea ceremony, origami (Japanese paper folding), Japanese calligraphy, Japanese cooking, and Japanese dance.
Kyoto is 513 km. (318 miles) southwest of Tokyo and 41 km. (25.4 miles) northeast of Osaka. Its streets are laid out in grid fashion and the city's bus and subway system is efficient and easy to navigate, making it easy for visitors to get around on their own. Advise your clients to pick up a copy of JNTO's Kyoto & Vicinity Walking Guide at the Tourist Information Center, which outlines a dozen self-guided tours in Kyoto's most fascinating neighborhoods (plus another dozen courses in Kyoto's vicinity). For guided walking tours, there's Johnnie Hillwalker's 5-hour Kyoto Walking tour, led by Hajime Hirooka (http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp/people/h-s-love/).
Around Kyoto Station
Higashi-Honganji Temple was established in 1602 under the sponsorship of the Tokugawa shogunate, though the present buildings date from 1895. The temple's Shosei-en Garden, a 2-min. walk away, is a pleasant oasis in this part of town. Both the Higashi-Honganji and Nishi-Honganji temples are revered by the adherents of Jodo-shinshu, one of the largest Buddhist denominations in the country.
Nishi-Honganji Temple was moved to this location in 1591 from its original site in Higashiyama and houses several national treasures, including a study hall and the front gate of the main hall.
Toji Temple was founded in 796, though most of its buildings were destroyed by fires and reconstructed in later years. The 57-m.-high (188-ft.) pagoda, which was rebuilt in 1644 by the third Tokugawa shogun and towers above nearby structures, is the tallest in Japan. Toji Temple hosts Japan's largest and one of its oldest flea markets on the 21st of each month, with a smaller market devoted to antiques held on the first Sunday of each month.
City Center and Shijo-Kawaramachi District
The Kyoto Imperial Palace served as the residence of the Imperial family from 1331 until 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Destroyed by fires repeatedly through the centuries, the present structures date from 1855, reconstructed in their original style. Though not lavishly decorated, they are impressive for their simple grandeur and designs dating from the Heian Period. Free English tours of palace grounds are given Monday to Friday (and occasional Saturdays) at 10:00am and 2:00pm, but visitors are required to fill out an application for the tour at least 20 min. before each tour and to present a passport, or through internet in advance: http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/index.html
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 by the first Tokugawa shogun as his residence whenever he stayed in Kyoto. Of the several buildings, Ninomaru Palace is the most notable, famous for its "nightingale floors," which squeak when trod upon to alert guards of intruders. The palace is surrounded by a garden designed by Kobori Enshu, one of the most prominent gardeners of his time.
The Museum of Kyoto, located in the heart of the city, chronicles Kyoto's 1,200 years of history with models of ancient buildings, changing exhibitions of Kyoto's arts and crafts and state-of-the art technical displays. Bilingual guides are available for free tours daily until 6pm.
across the Kamo River from Kyoto's downtown district, is Japan's most famous traditional
geisha quarters, with well-preserved houses harking back to the days when these
highly trained women entertained men with dance, music and conversation. For a
quick glimpse into traditional cultural arts, your clients may want to visit Gion
Corner, where demonstrations of the tea ceremony, flower arranging, ancient court
music and dance, Bunraku puppetry and other performances take place nightly March
through November at 7:00pm and 8:00pm.
Sanjusangendo Temple was constructed in 1266 and houses one of Japan's most striking collections: a wooden image of the Thousand-Handed Goddess, a masterpiece of the Kamakura Period and designated a National Treasure, surrounded by 28 faithful followers and an astounding 1,001 smaller statues of the same goddess.
The Kyoto National Museum was constructed in the 1890s as a safe repository of the priceless objects and treasures belonging to Kyoto's many temples, shrines and the imperial court, shown in changing exhibits.
The Kawai Kanjiro Memorial House is worth a visit for those interested in pottery or interested in seeing a traditional Japanese home. The former home and studio of Kawai Kanjiro, a world-famous potter, displays his pottery, personal belongings and his outdoor clay kiln.
Kiyomizu Temple is one of Kyoto's most celebrated temples, occupying Higashiyama Hill with views over the city. The main hall, built in 1633 by the Tokugawa shogunate and designated a National Treasure, juts out from the hill with a wooden veranda supported by 139 massive pillars, each one of them 15 m. (49.5 ft.) high; the entire structure was built without the use of a single nail.
Kodaiji Temple commemorates Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a great general who succeeded in unifying Japan at the end of the 16th century. Founded by his widow, the temple contains a lovely garden laid out by master gardener Kobori Enshu and a teahouse designed by Sen no Rikyu, a 16th-century tea master.
Yasaka Shrine faces the Gion entertainment quarter, with the spacious Maruyama Park spreading behind it. Very popular among Kyotoites and drawing a steady throng of visitors, it sports a main hall built in a unique architectural style called Gion-zukuri. The temple's Gion Festival is one of the most well-known celebrations in Japan.
Heian Shrine was constructed in 1895 to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of this ancient capital. Its buildings were modeled after the first Imperial palace built in 794, making it interesting for its Heian-era architectural style. But the most significant thing to see is the Shinen Garden, famous for its weeping cherry trees, irises and autumn maple leaves.
Kyoto Museum of Traditional Crafts (Fureai-Kan), in the Miyako Messe near Heian Shrine, is a must-see for those interested in Kyoto's many traditional crafts. Through displays and videos, the museum demonstrates the elaborate techniques necessary to produce the fine-quality textiles, lacquer ware, paper products, Noh masks, ceramics and other crafts that have been perfected through centuries of craftsmanship. Admission is free. After a stop here, clients may want to apply what they've learned by shopping at the nearby Kyoto Handicraft Center, Kyoto's best location for one-stop shopping for souvenirs, crafts and gifts.
A Walking Route along the Old Canal
Nanzenji Temple is one of Kyoto's best-known Zen temples, founded in 1293 but with present structures dating from the latter part of the 16th century. Of interest are its Sammon Gate, sliding screens in the main hall painted by artists of the Kano school, and its Karesansui (dry landscape)-style garden laid out with rocks and white sand.
Philosophers' Walk is a nice strolling pathway alongside an old canal between Nanzenji Temple and Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion). The path, flanked with cherry trees that are a sight to behold when in bloom, is called the Philosophers' Walk because of noted philosophers who used to stroll here in meditation.
Ginkakuji Temple (or Silver Pavilion) was constructed in 1482 as a villa for Shogun Ashikaga, a generalissimo of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). A National Treasure, the pavilion received its name from an original plan to cover the building's outer walls with silver foil. Although the plan never materialized, the name stuck and the temple is a popular attraction for its graceful architecture and beautiful grounds consisting of rippled sand, rocks and moss.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) and Uzumasa Area
Kinkakuji Temple (or Golden Pavilion) is one of Kyoto's most famous sights, due to the brilliance of its three-story gold-leafed pavilion and its moss garden and teahouses. The pavilion was constructed as a mountain villa for a shogun but was converted into a temple upon his death. It's an exact replica of the original building, which stood for more than 550 years until destroyed by a fire in 1950.
Temple is Japan's most famous Zen rock garden. It was laid out at the
end of the 15th century and has a unique composition marked by 15 large stones
arranged in a sea of raked white sand.
Koryuji Temple was founded in 622 by a family whose ancestors
immigrated from Korea. Its treasure hall contains a Miroku-Bosatsu
Buddhist statue carved in the Asuka Period (592-628), believed to be the oldest
sculpture in Kyoto and brought from the Silla Dynasty in Korea.
Both Katsura Imperial Villa and Shugakuin Imperial Villa are free but require advance permission. Applications are accepted through Internet: For reservation: http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/index.html.
Katsura Imperial Villa is considered by many to represent Japan's finest blend of traditional Japanese architecture and landscape gardening. Constructed between 1620 and 1624 by a brother of the emperor, its simple yet elegant buildings, combined with a garden where every stone, pond, tree and bush are placed in perfect harmony, are breathtakingly beautiful.
Shugakuin Imperial Villa was constructed in the mid-1600s as an imperial retirement villa and consists of an upper garden with expansive views of the countryside, a middle garden with the villa and a lower garden.
Nara predates Kyoto, serving as the nation's capital from 710 to 784. It was during the Nara Period that many of Japan's arts, crafts and literature blossomed for the first time and that Buddhism gained a foothold under the strong patronage of Nara's emperors. As the political and cultural center of the country, Nara of 1,200 years ago was a far more extensive city than it is today, with many magnificent palaces and temples. Time has taken its toll, but some of Nara's historic structures remain, many of them enclosed in an expansive park. Temples in Nara are like museums, since many of them house priceless Buddhist statues and other masterpieces.
Around Nara Park
Nara Park boasts grassy, wide-open spaces, wooded areas, many of Nara's most important historic relics and more than 1,200 free-roaming tame deer. Both JR Nara Station and Kintetsu Nara Station are within a 10-min. walk of the park.
Kofukuji Temple, at the western end of the park closest to the train stations, was founded in 710 as the tutelary temple of the Fujiwara family, who later became Japan's most powerful clan after the imperial family. Of the temple's original 175 buildings, only a handful remain, including a five-story pagoda, Japan's second-tallest (the tallest is at Toji Temple in Kyoto), and the Eastern Golden Hall. The Treasure House contains several National Treasures, including a statue of Ashura carved in the 8th century.
Temple is Nara's most famous attraction, since it houses the Daibutsu
(Great Buddha), the largest bronze statue of Buddha in Japan, in what is also
the world's largest wooden structure. Completed in 749, the seated figure measures
16.2 m. (53 ft.) high.
Kasuga Grand Shrine, at the southeast edge of Nara Park,is one of Japan's most photogenic Shinto shrines. Surrounded by dense woods and founded by a member of the Fujiwara clan, the vermilion-colored shrine is famous for its stone lanterns lining pathways and bronze lanterns hanging from eaves—3,000 of them in all. They are lit twice a year in the evenings of the Lantern Festival, in February and August.
Shin-Yakushiji Temple, a 10-min. walk to the southwest of Kasuga Shrine in a rural area, was constructed in the middle of the 8th century by the Empress Komyo to obtain the gods' help in the recovery of Emperor Shomu from an eye disease (Yakushi is the name given to the Healing Buddha). The main hall contains a statue of Yakushi-nyorai, a National Treasure, guarded by 12 statues of generals with menacing faces to ward off evil.
Toshodaiji Temple was founded in 759 by Ganjin, a Chinese priest of the Tang Dynasty who was invited to Japan by the emperor to help spread Buddhism. After suffering pirate attacks, storms, shipwrecks and the loss of his sight, Ganjin finally arrived in Japan and constructed this magnificent temple, which contains a main hall (undergoing reconstruction and closed to the public until 2010) and a lecture hall, both National Treasures, and Ganjin's tomb.
Yakushiji Temple, near Toshodaiji Temple, was erected by Emperor Tenmu as an act of devotion to help his wife recover from illness. It contains the Toto (East Tower), a 34-m. (112.-ft.) three-story pagoda believed to date from 698 and constructed to look as though it has six stories because of intermediate roofs, and the Saito (West Tower), reconstructed in 1981 after a fire destroyed it in the 16th century.
Horyuji Temple is one of the most magnificent repositories of Buddhist architectural, sculptural and pictorial art objects in Japan. Founded in 607 by Prince Shotoku, it was from here that Buddhism flourished and spread to the rest of Japan. The Kondo, or main hall, is Horyuji's oldest building, thought to have been erected some time between the 6th and 8th centuries. The Gallery of Treasures contains priceless objects, many of them National Treasures.
Chuguji Temple, next to Horyuji, served as a nunnery for members of the imperial family. It is noted for its Miroku-Bosatsu statue, a wooden Buddhist image of the 7th century revered for the serene expression on her face, and for the Tenjukoku Mandala, the oldest piece of embroidery in Japan (only a replica is on display).
Osaka, with a population of 2.6 million, is Japan's third-largest city and serves as the commercial and industrial center for western Japan. Its Kansai International Airport makes it one of two major gateways to Japan along with Tokyo, and because of an extensive transportation network radiating from Osaka, it's a good base from which to explore Kyoto, the Inland Sea, Shikoku and Kyushu. With 1,400 years of history, Osaka has served as a port town, a castle town and a commercial center for merchants, all evident still today. The crowning glory is impressive Osaka Castle, while Shitennoji Temple enjoys status as the oldest state temple in Japan. Modern attractions include Universal Studios, one of Japan's best aquariums and one of Japan's most extensive underground shopping arcades. Osaka is also noted for Bunraku puppet dramas.
Umeda, the area around Osaka Station, serves as the city's major transportation hub, as well as its business and amusement center. Popularly known as Kita-ku, or North Quarter, it teems with several department stores, office buildings, theaters, restaurants and bars.
Umeda Underground Arcade encompasses a vast underground shopping labyrinth divided into sections like Whity Umeda, Hankyu Sanbangai, Diamor Osaka and Dojima Underground Shopping Center. Hankyu Sanbangai is probably the most impressive, with fashion boutiques lining the first basement and a manmade stream flowing through the second; there's even a Trevi Plaza, named after the fountain of Trevi in Italy.
Nakanoshima is an island in the Dojima River in the center of town. As the civic center of the city, it has many prefectural and municipal offices here, but of most interest to visitors is the Museum of Oriental Ceramics which boasts one of the world's finest collections of Chinese, Korean and Japanese ceramics. The eastern end of the island forms Nakanoshima Park.
Your clients may want to visit The National Museum of Art, Osaka which houses contemporary art collections.
Temmangu Shrine, northeast of Nakanoshima Park, was founded in 949 to honor Michizane Sugawara, a noted scholar of Chinese literature, with present shrine buildings dating from 1845. Today, high-school graduates visit Temmangu Shrine in droves, praying for success in their university entrance exams.
Around Osaka Castle
Castle is one of Japan's most famous castles and Osaka's most beloved
attraction. First built in the 1580s by a great general named Toyotomi Hideyoshi,
the castle has been destroyed several times through the centuries by lightning
and battle, with the present castle a faithful replica dating from 1931 and extensively
restored in 1997. The castle is famous for its magnificent five-story donjon (keep)
with panoramic views of the city and for its massive stone walls. Its modern interior
houses a good museum highlighting the castle's history and construction, along
with samurai gear and items relating to the feudal era.
Osaka International Peace Center, on the southern end of Osaka Castle Park, is a museum dedicated to world peace. Its displays, which convey the horrors of war through personal testimonies of those who have suffered through them, do not shy away from Japan's role of aggression prior to and during World War II.
South Quarter (Minami-ku)
Namba is the heart of Osaka, with many hotels, shopping arcades, upscale fashion boutiques, restaurants and bars clustered around its main thoroughfare, Midosuji Dori boulevard. Subways, JR trains and the private Kintetsu and Nankai lines have networks through Namba, with service to Mt. Koya and beyond. Dotombori is Osaka's liveliest eating and entertainment district.
Shin-Kabukiza Theater, near Namba Station on Midosuji Dori boulevard, is a magnificent five-story structure designed in the Momoyama-Period style. The National Bunraku Theater, located east of the Dotombori entertainment district, is Japan's only theater dedicated exclusively to Japanese traditional puppetry.
Dotombori, a narrow pedestrian street flanking the south bank of the Dotombori Canal, is Osaka's liveliest and largest nightlife district, with a multitude of restaurants and bars vying for customers. Packed with atmosphere, it's a fun area for tourists and locals like. Adjacent to Dotombori is Sennichimae, another nightlife district filled with cinemas, shops, cabarets and bars.
Shinsaibashi-suji is a covered pedestrian shopping lane paralleling Midosuji Dori to the east. A third of Osaka's department stores are clustered around this area, and many of the shops lining Shinsaibashi-suji date back to the Edo Period. Nearby is Sennichimae Doguya-suji, a covered shopping lane filled with stores selling cookware and dining implements, including pots, pans, serving trays, knives, chopsticks and more. Den Den Town, Osaka's electronic district (similar to Akihabara in Tokyo), boasts some 200 shops selling everything from computers to rice cookers.
Shitennoji Temple is the spiritual heart of Osaka. Founded 1,400 years ago by Prince Shotoku, who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Japan, it was the first established temple in Japan, predating even Horyuji in Nara. Although destroyed repeatedly through the centuries, temple buildings have always been reconstructed exactly as they were in the 6th century, on a unique North-South axis. Japanese flock here to pay their respects to Prince Shotoku, still a revered figure even today, and to visit the temple's newly restored landscape garden complete with a teahouse.
Tennoji Park, southwest of Shitennoji Temple, contains a zoo, city art museum and other cultural and sports facilities.
Spa World is a huge, sophisticated bathing facility that utilizes hot springs from below the earth's surface to heat various types of pools, divided into themed bathing areas (bathers wear swim suits here). Sumiyoshi
Shrine is testimony to Osaka's history as a port. Said to have been founded
in the 3rd century to enshrine three guardian gods of seafarers, it was a popular
stop for those leaving Japan to pray for safe passage. Its many stone lanterns
were donated by sailors and shipowners through the centuries.
Expo Memorial Park
The former site of the 1970 World Exposition is now a popular recreation center containing the Japanese Garden, the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, the National Museum of Art Osaka, the National Museum of Ethnology, an amusement park, and other facilities.
The Osaka Bay Area
Osaka Bay has emerged as the city's newest and fastest-growing leisure district, with museums, restaurants, shops, a first-rate aquarium and amusement parks. The Santa Maria sightseeing boat departs Osaka Aquarium's pier for cruises of the bay.
Suntory Museum, designed by well-known architect Tadao Ando, features changing exhibits of art ranging from glassware and paintings to pottery. There's also a 3D IMAX theater here and restaurants.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, next to Suntory Museum, rates as one of Japan's best aquariums and one of the world's largest. Centered on the theme "Ring of Fire" and zeroing in on the Pacific Ocean with its fiery, volcanic perimeter, it takes visitors on a journey through 14 ecosystems, including Monterey Bay, Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef.
Universal Studios Japan is Osaka's number-one attraction. Using Hollywood blockbusters as its theme, this amusement park takes visitors through re-created movie sets with thrill rides, shows and attractions.
A Stay at a Buddhist Temple
If your client is interested in a novel and interesting experience, why not recommend an overnight stay at a temple, complete with vegetarian meals?
Mt. Koya, which can be reached via train and cable car in less than two hours from Osaka, is one of Japan's most revered mountains and has served as a Buddhist retreat for centuries. With an altitude of 985 m. (3,250 ft.), it's home to more than 150 temples, some 50 of which offer simple accommodations, vegetarian meals and the opportunity to join in morning meditations. The mountain is sacred due to Kobo Daishi, who established his Shingon sect of Buddhism here in 816. His mausoleum, Okunoin, draws more than a million pilgrims annually and is surrounded by towering cypress trees and approximately 200,000 tombstones and monuments, erected by Kobo Daishi's followers through the centuries.
Kobe was one of the first ports opened to international trade following Japan's 200-some years of isolation, paving the way for European, American, Chinese and other foreign businessmen to settle here. Today it's one of Japan's most cosmopolitan cities, with a population of 1.5 million residents, including some 44,000 foreigners who hail from more than 100 countries around the world. A hilly town, squeezed between the Rokko Mountains and the Seto Inland Sea, its narrow streets snake up and down both steep and gentle slopes, likening it to San Francisco and rendering it one of Japan's most attractive cities.
In 1995, a devastating earthquake struck a large swath through Kobe, killing more than 6,400 people and destroying some 250,000 buildings and homes. Since then Kobe has reinvented itself, with urban renewal projects that have increased its tourism appeal, including an excellent museum and several memorials devoted to the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Kobe is famous for its old neighborhood of Western-style homes built in the early 1900s, its port, its lively Chinatown with many shops and restaurants, its sake brewers, a vibrant nightlife and a wide variety of cuisine ranging from ethnic dishes to the world-famous Kobe beef. Even Kosher food is available at the Ohel Shelomoh Synagogue in Kobe, which serves a Shabbat kiddush meal after services.
Motomachi Street is a covered pedestrian shopping lane, lined with shops selling clothing, accessories and local goods, as well as restaurants and coffee shops.
Kitano is the former neighborhood of Kobe's earliest Western residents. Perched above the city on the slope above Tor Road, it features some 30 Western-style homes with Gothic or Victorian features, many of them open to the public in the form of museums, restaurants and shops. Because Kitano seems exotic to young Japanese, it attracts them in droves, with new boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants opening all the time and making for a pleasant stroll.
Nunobiki Herb Garden, spread above the city on the slope of the Rokko mountain range, is a cool retreat from the city, with herbs and fragrant flowers providing a colorful foreground to the city and harbor spreading below. It's reached via a 10-min. cable car ride from Shin-Kobe Station.
Ikuta Shrine in the heart of the city is said to have been founded by Empress Jingu in the 3rd century. It's dedicated to Wakahirume-no-Mikoto, an ancient goddess.
Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution, located in Kobe's most important urban renewal project since the Great Hanshin Earthquake, is dedicated to that fateful day and vividly conveys what happened during the first moments of the quake and the weeks, months and years that followed. Films re-create the moment the earthquake struck and follow the lives of survivors in the ensuing months, while displays describe the city's reconstruction and new earthquake measures. Bilingual volunteers are on hand to guide foreign visitors through the more technical displays of the museum.
In addition to the vermilion-colored shrine, there's a pleasant Japanese-style garden.
Meriken Park was established to celebrate Kobe's long history as a port town. It contains the Kobe Port Tower with its observation floor, the Kobe Maritime Museum with its displays chronicling Kobe's history as a port, and the Port of Kobe Earthquake Memorial, where damaged piers and tilted lampposts have been left as a visual reminder of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. Cruise boats depart Meriken Park for sightseeing jaunts of the harbor and port.
Harborland is a leisure area filled with shops, department stores, restaurants
and a small amusement park.
Port Island is a manmade island, easily reached via the Portliner Monorail from Sannomiya Station, that contains the International Conference Center Kobe, a first-class hotel, office buildings, an amusement park, and Kobe Airport.
Mt. Rokko is the highest peak of the Rokko Mountains. On the other side of the mountain range is Arima Spa, one of Japan's oldest hot-spring resorts. At the Kin-no-yu public baths, visitors can bathe in copper-colored waters with more than twice the salinity and iron of seawater, while in the Gin-no-yu public bath the transparent water is rich in carbonic acid.
Takarazuka Grand Theater in nearby Takarazuka City is the home stage of the Takarazuka Revue, founded in 1914 and featuring an all-female troupe hugely popular for its musical adaptations of Japanese and foreign tales, revues and foreign opera.
Himeji is famous for its castle, one of the few remaining original castles in Japan and considered by many to be the grandest and most beautiful. No wonder Himeji and its surroundings were chosen for some of the scenes from "The Last Samurai," a 2003 epic film about the samurai way of life.
Himeji Castle is a white castle that stretches out on both sides of the main donjon, earning it the nickname "White Heron Castle" for its resemblance of a bird poised in flight over the plain. First constructed in the 14th century but enlarged in the 1600s to its present five-story donjon, it's a magnificent work of architecture, with three moats, gates, turrets and many defense details meant to thwart intruders. It was designated a World Cultural Heritage site. If your client sees only one castle, this should be it.
Koko-en, a 5-min. walk from the castle, was laid out in 1992 but is already impressive for its nine separate gardens, each one different and enclosed by traditional walls on land where samurai houses once stood. After strolling the gardens, guests can relax at a teahouse.
Engyoji Temple, a 25-minute bus ride from Himeji Station, is a mountain retreat atop Mt. Shosha founded more than 1,000 years ago. Spread through the wooded hillsides are several impressive temple buildings and locations where "The Last Samurai" was filmed.