5 Best Spots in Harima, Hyogo Prefecture for Learning About Japanese Traditions and Samurai Culture

5 Best Spots in Harima, Hyogo Prefecture for Learning About Japanese Traditions and Samurai Culture

5 Mar 2021

The KANSAI Guide

The Harima area of Hyogo Prefecture is home to Himeji Castle, which was the first site in Japan to be designated as a World Heritage Site. It is a place where visitors can experience Japan's history and samurai culture. This article introduces five highly recommended destinations in the Harima area.

About Harima

Hyogo Prefecture consists of five areas with distinct histories and natural features, and the Harima area is located in the southwestern corner of the prefecture. It is an area steeped in history, being the home to castle towns such as Himeji, Ako, and Tatsuno, as well as ancient temples, so it is the perfect place for people who want to experience Japanese traditions and samurai culture. Together with Nada in the adjoining Kobe area, it is also great for people who want to learn about Japanese sake.

1. Learn About Japanese Swords at Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory

Japanese swords are known for their beautiful streamlined forms. At Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory in Rakan-no-Sato, Aioi City, visitors can see the swords being made using traditional sword-making techniques. It is free to visit and see the swordsmiths in action, but there are different stages of the sword-making process, so if you want to see the forging process of the steel being stretched through hammering, it is best to book a demonstration (10,000 JPY per demonstration). The factory also offers workshops, including ones to make short swords (8,000 JPY to 40,000 JPY per person; reservations required), so don't miss out on this opportunity to try your hand at making a Japanese sword!

【Facility name】 Kikyo Hayamitsu Japanese Sword Factory
【Opening hours】 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
【Days Closed】 Irregular
【Price】 Free to visit
【URL】 Official Homepage (Japanese only)
【Address】 Rakan-no-Sato, 28, Uryu Rakan-guchi, Yano-cho, Aioi-shi, Hyogo
【Google Map URL】 GoogleMap

2. Get a Feel of Samurai Culture at Himeji Castle, Known for its Beautiful White Walls

Himeji Castle is said to be the best among Japan's many castles. The reason is the complex and ingenious "nawabari" (the design, structure, and mechanisms of a Japanese castle) that hinders enemy attacks. The bright white plaster walls, made primarily of slaked lime with no added pigments, and the "tenshukaku" (castle keep) with its multi-layered roofs add to the charm of the castle. Himeji Castle is often referred to as "White Heron Castle" for its graceful form that resembles a heron in flight.

【Facility name】 Himeji Castle
【Opening hours】 9:00 am - 4:00 pm (gates close at 5:00 pm) *Until 5:00 pm between April 27 and August 31 (gates close at 6:00 pm)
【Days Closed】 December 29 - 30
【Price】 Admission: Adult (18 and older): 1,000 JPY, Elementary, junior high and high school student: 300 JPY
Official Homepage
KANSAI Tourism Bureau Homepage
【Address】 Himeji-jo Sannomaru Hiroba Kitagawa, 68, Honmachi, Himeji-shi, Hyogo
【Google Map URL】 GoogleMap

3. Experience Wabi Sabi at Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple

Shoshazan Engyo-ji is a Buddhist temple on Mt. Shosha, about 6 km northwest of Himeji Castle. It is a highly respected ancient temple with a history of more than 1,000 years and is located in a serene setting that evokes a sense of the Japanese aesthetics of wabi sabi, where you see beauty in imperfection. The grounds are divided into three valleys, amongst which the western valley, which is the farthest from the Sanmon Gate, has an especially quiet and calm feel to it. The temple is also known for being the filming location for the movie "The Last Samurai." The mountaintop can be accessed by ropeway.

【Facility name】 Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple
【Opening hours】 8:30 am - 6:00 pm *Closes at 5:00 pm in the winter
【Days Closed】 None *Ropeway will stop about twice a week in February for maintenance
【Price】 Admission to mountain: 500 JPY, Ropeway roundtrip: 1,000 JPY
Official Homepage
KANSAI Tourism Bureau Homepage
【Address】 2968 Shosha, Himeji-shi, Hyogo
【Google Map URL】 GoogleMap

4. Relax and Rejuvenate in Ako Onsen - Made Famous by the Chushingura

If you want to go to a hot spring where you can refresh your body and soul, head to Ako Onsen in the Seto Inland Sea area. There are several hot spring inns that welcome day visitors, among which Ginpaso is recommended for its open-air baths with stunning views that make you feel like the ocean and bath have become one. Ako is also famous as the location where the famous historical story of Chushingura* is set, so you can enjoy visiting spots with connections to the story.
*The subject of the story is the early 18th-century Ako Incident, during which a group of samurai staged an attack to avenge the death of their master. It has been retold numerous times in a variety of outlets, including kabuki, movies, and TV dramas.

【Facility name】 Ginpaso
【Opening hours】 11:00 am - 2:30 pm (last entry: 2:00 pm), 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm (last entry: 7:00 pm)
*3:00 pm - 8:00 pm on the first Monday of the month
【Days Closed】 Irregular
【Price】 Day visitor: Adult: 1,800 JPY, Child: 1,000 JPY, Toddler: 500 JPY, Free for babies (age 2 and younger)
【URL】 Ginpaso Official Homepage
【Address】 2-8 Misaki, Ako-shi, Hyogo
【Google Map URL】 GoogleMap

5. Discover the Roots of Japanese Sake

Harima is believed to be the place where sake-making using koji (malted rice), which is the origin of today's sake-making, was first practiced. It is the foremost producer of Yamada Nishiki, the highest quality rice for making sake, and is said to be the "hometown of Japanese sake." There are many breweries with long histories here, including Nadagiku Sake Brewery, which offers tours (reservations required). If you want to further experience the allure of sake, visit Nada in the adjoining Kobe area. It is one of Japan's three major sake-producing towns and has museums managed by famous breweries such as Sawanotsuru, Kiku-Masamune, and Nihon Sakari, so it is a great place to learn more about sake.

【Facility name】 Nadagiku Sake Brewery Co., Ltd.
【Opening hours】 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
【Days Closed】 December 31 - January 3
【URL】 Nadagiku Sake Brewery Co., Ltd. Official Homepage
【Address】 1-121 Tegara, Himeji-shi, Hyogo
【Google Map URL】 GoogleMap

Did you find anything that peaked your interest? We hope you refer back to this article when you take a trip to the Harima area.

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