Do You Know About Himeji Castle Free Guided Tours?

Himeji Castle, also known as “White Heron Castle” due to its stunning white exterior, is one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles. Located in Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, this fortress is admired for its architectural beauty and historical importance. To enhance your visit and gain deeper insights, you should take advantage of the free guided tour with an English-speaking volunteer. We had a great experience and here’s everything you need to know about this fantastic service.

front view of Himeji Castle from the main entrance.

We visited Himeji Castle as part of our combined day trip to Himeji and Kobe from Osaka. About 2 weeks prior to our visit, I came across a post about visiting tips for the castle on Himeji City website that mentioned volunteer English speaking guides. We always think private guided tours are worthwhile experiences when visiting Japan, so we decided to give the service a try.

How To Book The Service

This service is provided by The Himeji Castle English Speaking Guide Group which consists of about 60-70 local volunteers. We filled out this Request form on their website and provided the date and time we would like to visit the castle.

After about 3 days, we received an email informing us that they successfully assigned a tour guide to us. Our guide also emailed us to introduce herself and gave us her personal contact. It was great that she also used WhatsApp so we could easily let her know about our train schedule.

On the date of the tour, she waited for us at Otemon Gate – the main entrance to the castle. There was also a trainee volunteer who came with her on our private tour, and she communicated it to us in advance to make sure we were okay with that. Overall, we had a great time with our guides and I will go into more details about our experience in the next section.

Otemon Gate - main entrance of Himeji Castle.
Our guide was waiting for us in front of Otemon Gate

Please note that there is a different English guided tour mentioned on the website of Himeji Castle. This one is a group tour with a fee, and the service is on a first-come-first-served basis.

Our Experiences And Benefits Of The Tour

Our guide spoke good English and she was very friendly and humorous. I really appreciated her energy and enthusiasm for guiding the tour. It was clear how much she loved Himeji Castle and took her volunteer work seriously.

Another thing is our guide came very well prepared with a lot of facts, stories and infographics – showing that The Himeji Castle English Speaking Guide Group probably provided good training to their volunteers. We also enjoyed having the trainee, who was a kind lady.

Having a guided tour is very beneficial as the castle complex is very large with a series of gates and winding paths. At the beginning of the tour, our guided explained the history of the castle to us, including how it was renovated and expanded from Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s time to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s era.

An important aspect she helped us understand was that the primary purpose of Himeji Castle was defense. She pointed out a number of defensive mechanisms throughout the tour. For instance, the loopholes on the walls surrounding the castle were for soldiers to attack invaders with weapons, such as arrows.

Holes on Himeji castle wall as a defensive mechanism.
Loopholes in different shapes on the castle walls
view when looking through a loophole on the castle wall.
Looking through one of the loophole

She also explained what certain areas were used for, why they were built in a particular way, or what were the safest areas inside the main keep. We found the information fascinating, and I will not spoil too much here.

Some people may say that the main keep is just empty inside with nothing much to see. Well, this is where having a tour guide will make a difference to your visit. Our guide explained different areas inside the tower, showed us the impressive wood work, shared interesting theories, and explained some symbols. She also showed us more defensive mechanisms, such as small hidden rooms used as hiding places for defenders to hide themselves and ambush attackers if they managed to enter the keep.

view of Himeji city from the top floor of the castle tower.
View of Himeji city from the top floor of the tower

We also loved that our guide showed us some very nice angles to take photos during the tour. It seemed like only few tourists knew about those spots.

Other Things To Know

You just need to buy tickets to the castle for yourself and whoever is coming with you. There’s no need to buy tickets for the volunteer guide. The tour is completely free, but I suggest bringing a small souvenir item or edible gift from your country to show appreciation for your tour guide.

Our private tour lasted about 2.5 hours. There will be quite a bit of walking and about 100 stairs inside the main keep. You will be required to remove your shoes in the main keep, so we recommend wearing comfortable shoes and socks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *