Lying halfway between Kyoto and Hiroshima, Himeji boasts arguably the most impressive structure in the whole of Japan. Framed by tufts of cherry blossom from the surrounding orchards, the distinctive profile of White Heron Castle epitomises the exotic grandeur of Japan’s samurai culture. Its white walls and black-tiled, upswept roofs crown a low hill in the heart of the city, dominated by the towering keep whose six storeys soar above a series of interlocking walls, baileys, moats and Edo-style gardens.
Miraculously, it has never been damaged by earthquakes, fire or war, making it one of only twelve original castles in Japan. The six-tiered structure of its main keep and its wings underwent extensive restoration and re-opened to the public in 2015, and visitors can climb its steep staircases all the way to the top. Just north of Himeji lies the ancient Engyoji temple complex on Mt Shosha, reached by cable car. The movie Last Samurai features both castle and temple, capturing something of their majesty - enough to inspire even the most indifferent person to visit Japan.