Other Places of Interest

In the mountains east of the castle, about 25 minutes by bus, is a cluster of offbeat attractions that will appeal to all ages. First is the Hyogo Children's Center, in an intriguing building designed by Ando Tadao to pique the imagination of the children using it. The center, which sponsors special events throughout the year, also holds daily workshops in paper and bamboo and wood and has a children's library, exhibition room, playroom, hall, theater, and restaurant. Though intended primarily for family use, all are open to the public. In the garden are prize-winning sculptures selected from entries submitted by children from around the world. (Open 9:30 to 4:30; closed Tuesday, the last day of the month, and December 29 to January 4. Tel: 079-267-1153)

Nearby is the Himeji City Science Museum, designed to provide hands-on fun for kids and grown-ups alike. The many displays of magnets, scales (want to know how much you weigh on the sun? on the moon? on Venus?), gyroscopes, levers, pulleys, sensors, and mirrors turn science into a game. There are also imaginative space and natural history exhibits and a planetarium with daily shows. (Open 9:30 to 5:00; closed Tuesday, the day following a national holiday, and December 28 to January 4. Tel: 079-267-3001)

Hoshinoko yakata

Linked by mountain path to these is the Hoshinoko yakata (Star Child Castle), a municipal facility which caters to families but is open to all. It also offers reasonable accommodations. Here's a chance to stay in a building designed by Ando Tadao, for it too is an Ando creation. Or visit its sleek, airy restaurant and try its sophisticated menu. The sixth-floor reading room, open to the public from 9:00 to 5:00, contains 7,000 volumes; most are children's picture books, the rest are devoted to astronomy. Sprawl out on the floor with a book or enjoy the view of bamboo-covered mountains beyond. But the big attraction here is the 90-cm rooftop telescope, one of the largest in Japan. Two star-gazing programs are given nightly. (Tel: 079-267-3050)

The Japan Toy Museum, in suburban Kodera, about 10 kilometers northeast of Himeji Castle, is also guaranteed to delight the child in us all. Founded by collector Inoue Shigeyoshi, it is now the largest museum of its kind in Japan. It has about 30,000 Japanese dolls and folk toys, 10,000 dolls and toys from around the world, some 9,000 tin toys, and about 2,000 chirimen silk bag dolls. The collection is housed in six traditional-style buildings.

Annual exhibits include Christmas toys, chirimen silk bags in the shape of dolls, flowers, insects, animals, and fish, and hinaningyo , the dolls displayed for the Girls Day celebration on March 3. The museum offers ten workshops a year in making traditional toys from everyday materials. Its monthly classes in making chirimen bag dolls draw participants from around the country. (Open 10:00 to 5:00; closed Wednesday, the day following a national holiday, and December 28 to January 4. Tel: 079-232-4388)
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