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8 days in Kansai: 4 top Castles & Palaces

May 1, 20244 minute read
Castles & Palaces,MATF2018

If you’re unsure of the difference between Castles & Palaces, Japan is a great place to understand the distinction. Traditionally, castles were fortifications, palaces have been built as royal residences. While in Europe, stone is extensively used for both, it’s much easier to see the difference in Japan. The Japanese palaces we visited were clearly residences, comfortable and gracious, with extensive gardens.

Himeji Castle

  • If you plan to visit the Koko-en garden next door, buy a combined ticket for ¥1040, a big saving on separate tickets.
  • The Castle is not wheelchair friendly, as the inside especially is as it was originally with many steep staircases.
  • Pick up the brochure and read as you go. Not all interesting spots have an English description.
  • Check out the stone drop slots at the corners of the building on the first level. The explanation is inside that level.
  • Plastic bags are available to carry your shoes as you climb the tower.
    • **TIP  Take off your socks as well as the steps are steep and narrow.
  • Ask the story behind the haunted Okiko’s well and pick the version that interests you most.
Castles & Palaces
Himeji Castle, Okiku’s Well

Osaka Castle Museum

  • What you see is a reconstruction of the original castle built in the 15th Century. The original structure was rebuilt in 1583 and reconstructed after the 2nd World War.
  • However, the displays are very well done and give a good feel of the life of the Castle and surroundings during the early period.
  • The Castle is wheelchair friendly to the 5th floor museum – detailed history of the castle with excellent hologram ‘dioramas’. You can queue for the lift, or walk up the stairs.
  • Modifications made to improve assess mean some of the original flavour has been lost.
  • You can dress up as a Samurai (for a fee) and be photographed against the backdrop of the castle. There’s also a similar dress up stall inside as you leave for ¥500, on Level 2.
  • Check at the ticket counter if you’re eligible for a discount. We got one based on our Train Pass.
Castles & Palaces
Osaka Castle, where you can dress as a Samuri warrior.


Nijo-jo Castle

  • There are two palaces inside the castle walls, but only Ninomaru-goten Palace is open to visitors.
  • A large, single story complex, beautifully maintained and restored.
  • No photographs allowed inside, but this allows you to focus.
  • Shoes must be removed.  Carry them in a plastic bag or leave them in the racks to collect later.
  • Entrance is from the East Gate on Horikawa Street Tickets currently cost ¥600 per adult entry.
  • The Honmaru-goten Palace garden is a good place for a picnic lunch.
Castles & Palaces
Honmaru-goten Palace in Nijo-jo Castle

Imperial Palace, Kyoto

  • Entrance is free, with a strict security check. You are given a tag to return as you leave.
  • You can’t go inside the palace or any of the other buildings.
  • The Palace is set in its own gardens, surrounded by a huge park.
  • The Santo Palace is nearby, in the same park. Only the garden is open and you have to sign up (it’s free) for one of three sessions a day.

To sum up….

  • It’s well worth the 90 minutes and train fare getting to Himiji from Kyoto. Collect a map at the Station. It’s about a twenty minute walk to the Castle along a pedestrian mall. Drop by the Tourist Information Centre, to your left as you exit the Station. You can ‘rent’ a bicycle for the day for free. Take the bus loop from the stop near the station. It follows a route which shows off more of Himiji than the walk on mall.
  • If you love museums, the Osaka Castle Museum is definitely worth a visit. You get a close up view of the golden finial shachi (fish roof decorations). The outside is certainly impressive if you don’t want to go into the Castle. The grounds are a good place to enjoy a picnic.
  • Nijo-jo Castle is possibly the prettiest as you can walk around the interior and see how the Shoguns lived. You will notice the lack of furniture – it’s not really necessary apparently. Tatami mats covering the floors of the room are comfortable and a guide was overheard telling his guests that all the Shogun had to do was say ‘desk!’ and one would appear. Of course.
  • The Imperial Palace is quite a large complex. The grounds are very beautiful, with gracious gardens, especially on the Eastern side of the palace.

Check out more things to do in our story on 8 top things to do in Kansai.


# free activities, Japan, Things To Do, UNESCO listed
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