Himeji Castle and Sea Road
Southwest of Hyōgo Prefecture, the former Harima Province stretches along the seaside of the same name, which itself forms part of the Seto Inland Sea, between Honshū and Shikoku. At the crossroads of trade routes, the region prospered during the Heian era, and clans of feudal lords settled there.
Built on a rocky promontory, Himeji Castle is the pearl of the Harima Coast. This masterpiece of military architecture is one of the twelve feudal castles of Japan still standing, and the most important wooden structure in the country. It is on the list of "national treasures", and is registered with Unesco. Its silhouette, both majestic and elegant, and its white plaster dress have earned it the nickname "Castle of the White Heron".
This fabulous dive into the culture of samurai warriors continues in the factories of katana, Japanese swords, still forged using traditional skills.
From Himeji, we gain height at Mount Shosha. The Shoshazan Engyō-ji Temple, a thousand-year-old Buddhist complex, is part of the Kansai Kannon pilgrimage. Hidden in the heart of the forest, it calls for meditation and asceticism.
For epicureans, the coast from Osaka to Kobe, passing through the district of Nada, is renowned as one of the hotspots for sake in Japan.
Famous sake (rice wine) breweries of Nada Gogo, also known as the five villages of Nada, are nearby and the sake production in Japan is said to have begun here nearly seven centuries ago. The main Sake Brewery street also has many sake museums that shed light on the sake production process.
Originally built in 1333, National Treasure listed Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture, was re-constructed in 1609 becoming a masterpiece of castle construction technology. Nicknamed "Shirasagi-jo" or White Heron Castle, as its graceful white walled appearance is compared to a white heron spreading its wings, Himeji Castle was designated Japan's first World Cultural Heritage Site in 1993.
Founded in 966, the mountain top Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple is, along with the Enryaku-ji and Daisen-ji、one of Japan’s three famous Tendai sect Buddhist temples. Here you can experience traditional health training, one-day asceticism, zazen meditation, sutra writing, and other spiritual activities in a majestic temple complex surrounded by rich nature and many other nationally designated historical sites.
Observe the skills of an authentic samurai sword smith, certified by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, at the Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory in Rakan no Sato. Visitors here can experience making a small Samurai Knife. After shaping with a file, it is heated to 800 ° C and then quenched and polished. This is a unique experience utilizing authentic Japanese sword-making techniques. You can even take your handmade samurai knife home as checked baggage.
The ruins of Rikan Castle, also known as Kumotsuki Castle, is a national historic site. On certain days between late September and early December before 8:00am, when the conditions are right, the castle’s former tower’s stone base appears to float in a sea of clouds. The best view-points to see the castle in the sea of clouds is from the Shukuba-machi Hirafuku Roadside Station observatory, or the Nishi-Harima Observatory Park.
Since the times of old, Arima Onsen has been recognized as a famous hot spring resort, and is mentioned in the ancient book, Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan, as having been discovered by the gods Oonamuchi no Mikoto and Sukunahiko no Mikoto. There are always clouds of steam rising above the town, emanating from the six natural sources of hot spring water.
The Nada Gogo area is one of Japan’s largest producers and sellers of sake, and home to sake brands such as Hakutsuru, Ozeki, Nihonsakari, Kikumasamune, Kenbishi, Sawanotsuru, Hakushika, and Hakutaka. The area’s locally grown Yamada Nishiki rice and the mineral rich waters from the Rokko mountain range support the production of high quality sake.