Day Trip to Himeji Castle and Hiroshima from Osaka
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While Osaka is a one-of-a-kind city, offering an atmosphere unique from Kyoto or Tokyo, it does lack the number of attractions those other cities have. What Osaka does provide is a perfect transportation hub to allow you to make multiple day trips throughout the Kansai and Chügoku regions. One of the best day trips from Osaka, if you are short on time, is visiting both Himeji and Hiroshima. These two cities highlight some of the distinct eras in Japanese history. From Himeji Castle, a symbol of Japan’s feudal period, to Hiroshima, the site of WWII devastation and the eventual rebounding of Japan. Both cities can be visited easily along the same Shinkansen route.
How to get to Himeji and Hiroshima
The best way to get between Osaka, Himeji, and Hiroshima is by Shinkansen (the bullet trains). All three of these cities are on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen route, the same route that starts all the way up at Tokyo down to Hakata. Along this route, there are a few different trains with different stopping patterns. The fastest trains, that takes the least unnecessary stops, are the Nozomi and Mizuho trains. Most have both unreserved and reserved train cars. You can buy a ticket in advance with seat reservations, which will tell you exactly which train car to get in and where to sit. Or you can book a ticket without a seat reservation and stand in line for one of the unreserved train cars.
A day trip to both Himeji and Hiroshima will mean a fair amount of time on the train, and a long day in general. In total, you will be spending at least 3 and a half hours on trains, but split up throughout the day. As someone who loves trains and just the ability to relax in the midst of sightseeing – this was no issue at all. Out the window, you get to see the more rural parts of Japan and the smaller cities in between, for a brief moment at least as you speed by.
Check out Google Maps, Hyperdia, or the JR Shinkansen reservation counter for information on train times when planning out your day.
Depending on the time of year you are visiting, reserving your seat a few days in advance might be a good idea. We reserved our seats the day before and were very limited on times. On one of our routes (Himeji -> Hiroshima), we could not get reserved seats for the direct train for any time that day. Instead, we took our chances with an unreserved car. We arrived at the station 15 minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive so we could be the first in line, and we did manage to get a seat! It would have been a long hour of standing if we couldn’t. Save yourself the worry, and reserve the seats for all of your Shinkansen journeys on the first day you arrive in Japan.
The Shinkansen can be quite expensive. At the time of writing, the total cost for the 3 train tickets is $205 per person. That is quite a hefty price for a day trip. That is why I would recommend only doing this day trip if you have a JR Pass. A JR pass provides unlimited access to most JR line trains throughout the country. A 7-day pass itself costs $267, meaning that this day trip nearly completely covers the cost of the pass. If you are taking other day trips or traveling between cities – the pass can be a great deal. Note, the JR pass is most easily purchased prior to arriving in Japan and is only available for non-Japanese nationals.
7:00am – 8:30am : Train to Himeji
8:30am – 11:00am : Himeji Castle
11:00am – 12:00pm : Train to Hiroshima
12:00pm – 1:00pm : Lunch
1:00pm – 2:00pm : Peace Memorial Park
2:00pm – 3:30pm : Hiroshima Castle
3:30pm – 5:00pm : Shukkeien Garden
5:00pm – 6:00pm : Walk back to station and grab dinner
6:00pm – 7:30pm : Train Back to Osaka
What to do Himeji
What is there to do in Himeji – well the Himeji Castle. The Himeji Castle is one of the 12 original medieval castles of Japan. Several other castles throughout the country (including the one in Osaka) were rebuilt and renovated. Himeji Castle’s main keep is completely original. Touring the authentic interior of the castle is just as captivating as seeing the beautiful structure from the outside.
Himeji Castle is only a 10-minute walk from the JR station. The walk is incredibly easy, you just walk north on the wide sidewalks along Otemae street and onto the castle grounds.
As Himeji Castle is the most visited castle in Japan, it gets incredibly crowded. This is especially true during cherry blossom season when we visited. Often during the spring, they have to turn the crowds away or offer a timed ticket for visitors to come back and enter at a specific time. The Himeji Castle website has a crowd congestion calendar to give you a rough idea on how crowded it’ll be when you plan to visit. Additionally, check the website for the opening time, as they are often open at 8:30 am if it is expected to be a busy day. In order to avoid the crowds and the possibility of being turned away, we arrived right when they opened. We were amongst the first group allowed in the castle and got to explore it as close to empty as you can get. Long lines to buy tickets and to enter were already forming when we left the castle around 9:30 am.
You could easily spend 2 or more hours admiring the castle, but we managed to see everything in an hour. Since we arrived in the early morning when the crowds were low, we were able to navigate the grounds and interiors very easily. Allow extra time in your schedule if medieval Japanese architecture and history is something you’re passionate about.
Entrance to the castle costs 1000 yen (roughly $10USD) and you are free to walk around the castle at your own pace. You will be required to take your shoes off when walking through the castle’s interior and carry your shoes in a provided plastic bag. To avoid actually having to hold onto our bags of shoes, we clipped it onto a small backpack we brought with us. There are a lot of steep wooden staircases to get between each level of the castle, so it can be burdensome for people who have limited mobility.
Along with the main keep, there are a few other towers and buildings you can walk through on the grounds. While none of them can quite match the grandeur of the main castle structure, they are worth a visit.
After you’ve finished with Himeji, head back to the station to make your train for Hiroshima.
How to Spend the half day in Hiroshima
The easiest way to get around Hiroshima is with a combination of walking and taking the trams (streetcars). The trams cost a flat fare per ride if you stay within the city limits. We used the tram once to get from Hiroshima station to where we ate for lunch (near Hondori Station) and then walked to the rest of the sites and back to Hiroshima station at the end of the day. You can use your Suica or Passmo cards on the tram or give the attendant cash when you exit.
Hopefully, you should get to Hiroshima around lunch time – if you started later or are running a bit behind, grab food to eat on the train before arriving. If you are eating in Hiroshima, you have to get a Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a layered savory pancake of sorts. The “Okonomi” part of the word translates to “how you like it.” You can get yours made with any combination of proteins and toppings. After the cooks make it on the grill, it is passed to you, remaining on the grill, so it can stay hot as you eat it. The best rated and our favorite Okonomiyaki restaurant in Hiroshima is Nagataya, located right next to the Peace Memorial Park. There often is a line to get a seat, but it is worth it! It was by far our favorite meal in Japan. We are also quite partial to this place as it had numerous options for vegetarians.
Hiroshima Peace MEmorial Park
Located at the site of the hypocenter of the 1945 atomic bomb attack, the peace memorial park is one of the most prominent spots of Hiroshima. The park includes both the Peace Memorial Museum and the Genbaku Dome, which is the only structure left standing in the area after the blast. The rest of the park is beautifully landscaped with plenty of open lawns for locals and visitors alike to picnic or toss a ball.
There are small memorials scattered throughout dedicated to victims of different nationalities or monuments looking towards a more peaceful future. You could spend an hour just walking around outside or you can extend your time and visit the museum as well. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we visited for renovations but has since reopened. Admission is just 200yen ($2).
The primary draw to Hiroshima was the Peace Memorial Park, however, these next two sights were just as impressive and worth the trip out to Hiroshima on their own. The Hiroshima Castle is just a 15-minute walk from the walk. Unlike the Himeji Castle, the Hiroshima Castle is a reconstruction after it was destroyed from the atomic bomb. The rebuilt main keep has a unique and beautiful wooden exterior.
You can visit the castle grounds for free or pay 370 yen to visit the interior of the main keep. Rather than the original interior you saw in Himeji, the Hiroshima Castle has a museum on the castle’s history and Hiroshima in general. Life in feudal Hiroshima centered around this castle. The castle was built right in the center of town rather than upon the hills to protect the city from attacks. We stuck just to the grounds, enjoying the gorgeous cherry blossoms in bloom.
Shukkeien Garden takes the prize as my favorite garden we visited in Japan. I went in with relatively low expectations, as this was just an extra sight to see in addition to the Peace Memorial Park. Entry to Shukkeien Garden does cost (260 yen) but it is worth it! The walk from Hiroshima Castle to Shukkeien Garden is only another 15 minutes. The garden is exactly what you’d think of as a traditional Japanese garden – a large pond, bridges, tea houses, clean paths, Koi fish, and expertly cultivated gardens. Along with Koi, the main pond has tortoises, crabs, and jumping fish. You can even buy some food for the Koi for an additional 100 yen.
Take the path around the whole garden to see all the different sections and landscape styles. You could spend an hour or two just enjoying this garden. There are a couple plaques showing the garden immediately after the bombing and honor the victims buried there.
The garden was designed to be excellent in all seasons. So no matter if you are visiting in the winter or fall, you can still enjoy this magnificent garden. It is truly a peaceful oasis in Hiroshima
Train back to Osaka
It is likely time to head back to the station to catch your train to Osaka. If you have some extra time, you can grab dinner in Hiroshima to eat in or to take out and eat on the train. It is a 5-10 minute quick walk across the river to get to the station from Hiroshima. The station itself has several options for a quick bite or bento boxes to take with you.
Now, get on the train and relax for the next hour and a half after a very full day.