The castle was visible when we arrived at Himeji train station. Although it looked pretty close, it was just a trick due to its huge size size and stature.
Himeji Castle has been undergoing a huge renovation project for the past 6 years - this included closing off the main keep to all visitors and even putting a scaffold and cover around it, preventing it from being visible to many tourists! The castle was finally reopened to visitors on the 26th March 2015 and has seen over 10,000 visitors a day since.
When we arrived and took the obligatory selfies, we headed to the ticket office where we were handed a piece of paper allowing entry into the main keep. It appears they are limiting the numbers that enter and fortunately we were two of them.
The view of the main keep from the outside was beautiful - bright white walls and thousands of semi circular roof tiles with white edging. At the end of the tiles were white circles creating the effect of giant pearls adorning the edges. The inside of the keep was equally as beautiful. The renovation had kept all of the original wooden features. All the rooms were made of wood and the east and west pillars (although reinforced and strengthened) remained from the original design. Each of the rooms were busy with huge tour groups filling all the space. The castle itself advises that you download their app which allows you to use data and an AR reader to visualise what the room would have looked like when the castle was in use. From the few examples I saw, it appears the app still needs some work, but should be downloaded prior to going.
The Gardens surrounding the castle were beautiful. Once again, it was a shame we missed the Cherry Blossoms! The official castle gardens were separate from the castle, but a joint ticket could be purchased for 40 yen more. Here there were several ponds and bridges. The ponds were full of huge koi carp that resembled the big ones in my grandfather's pond. The whole place was very idyllic and beautiful!