The History, Culture and Nature of Himeji City
Himeji is a historical city located in the South-western part of Hyogo, between the scenic Chugoku Mountains in the north and the inland sea of Japan in the south. Himeji City is the second largest city in Hyogo after Kobe with a population of 530,000 and has been a major transportation hub in this part of Japan for centuries. Despite the leaps in progress and modernization, Himeji is widely known for its vast nature reserves and colourful culture dating back to ancient history.
I travelled to Japan many times and always consider the land of the rising sun as one of my all-time favourite destinations. Thus, I was thrilled to be invited by Himeji City Regional Promotion Office, Mr. Kojiro Fukuda as Director of Regional Revitalization Division, to explore the cultural heritage of Himeji. This trip is designed to introduce Himeji City and its surrounding area among affluent Indonesian tourists, by taking into consideration of the Muslim friendly facilities and historic destinations.
I landed early in the morning at Kansai Airport, and the journey to Himeji city began with 2 hours drive by car. In terms of distance, the city is 3 hours from Tokyo, 1 hour and 30 minutes from Nagoya, 30 minutes from Shin Osaka, and 1 hour from Hiroshima, so it is very convenient to reach Himeji city from major cities in Japan.
Arriving at Himeji, I was welcomed with the delicious traditional Japanese cuisine at Egret Castle Mille, where the magnificent view of Himeji Castle can be enjoyed. For the majority of Indonesian who are Muslim, the restaurant also offers Halal food that is available upon request.
Before exploring the historic city, I had the opportunity to wear Kimono and strolled around the castle town. Dressing up in the traditional Japanese garment has always been a memorable experience in Japan.
As I walked towards Himeji Castle, it shines beautifully at the end of a wide avenue. Himeji Castle is registered as a world heritage since 1993. The graceful white building is also called “white heron castle” and creating very stunning scenery. For more than four centuries, Himeji Castle is still standing, even throughout the extensive bombing during World War II and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake, as well as various typhoons. Despite all that has happened, to see it standing at the end of the avenue is a kind of miracle.
Kokoen Garden is a Japanese traditional round-the-pond style garden located not far from Himeji Castle. The garden inspires by the scenery of a world cultural heritage and national treasure. It was constructed and opened in 1992 to commemorate the centenary of Himeji city. There are nine different types of gardens, each is beautifully landscaped and makes for a very relaxing visit if you are looking to unwind from the fast pace of urban life.
Renting a bicycle is one of the recommended activities to wind down and appreciate the beauty of Himeji. It is also an opportunity to discover some unexpected treasures.
On the way back, I stopped at Hamamoto Coffee Miyuki, the popular coffee shop since 1975 where they offer the famous almond toast, one of the best of specialities in Himeji, as well as siphon coffee, which prepared with a vacuum coffee brewer and considers as one of the purest brewing methods ever developed. The coffee shop also introduces Indonesian coffee and addressing the conservation of forest environment in Indonesia.
The day ended with shopping for leather goods souvenir at local stores and dinner at Omotenashi Dining Fukutei, the Japanese restaurant serving the famous Himeji Oden, and dishes made with fish freshly caught in the Harima-nada Sea.
The next day, my journey continued to Kamikawa Town, where I stayed near the ski area at Mineyama Kogen Hotel Relaxia, a stylish hotel surrounded by greenery and wildlife. The hotel has bright guest rooms that are relaxing and pleasant, with modern design and a touch of Balinese influence. While staying at the hotel I had a wonderful time experiencing onsen, a Japanese hot spring.
The ski resort Mineyama Kogen Resort White Peak is newly opened for the 2017 - 2018 snow season. Located on the eastern slopes of Gyoseizan you can experience skiing or snowboarding, and enjoy staying at a well-facilitated resort hotel and have a unique experience such as a bar in the Ice-town.
For the last day of the journey, I went strawberry picking at Himeji Heartful Tourist Farm. I really enjoyed Japanese strawberries because of its highest quality, aroma, and sweetness. The farm utilise raised cultivation, so I can enjoy strawberry picking while standing, and eat them without washing thanks to their clean cultivation methods.
One of the breathtaking sceneries from this trip was visiting Ayabe Mountain Plum Forest, 240,000 square-metre wide plum forest near the sea, where I observed 20,000 plum trees at a glance. You can experience the full bloom from the end of February until the beginning of March.
The journey ended with a hot spring near the sea at Ako Hot Spring. On a clear day, you can see across the Seto Inland Sea to Shodoshima, and even Shikoku as well as enjoying the beautiful sunset.
Before I concluded the trip, I visited Okuto Sake, which is a home industry that has been brewing since 1601, and then followed by one last stop for souvenirs shopping at Mega Don Quijote Himeji Shirahama Store.
I cherish the history, culture, and nature of Japan and I wish I have more time to spend in Himeji City. There are other sightseeing places that I did not have the opportunity to visit, such as the Shoshazan Engyo-ji temple and Hiromine Jinja shrine, places that were used as filming locations of the Hollywood movie The Last Samurai and a historical TV drama of NHK, Gunshi Kanbei. Other attractions such as Mount Seppiko, Himeji Central Park, and the Himeji City Tegarayama Botanical Garden in Tegarayama Central Park also should be on the list. One day I will definitely return to Himeji City.