The Shoshazan Engyoji Temple, Himeji
Himeji may be most famous for its castle, but it has far more to offer. Located in the mountains a few kilometres to the north, is a stunning Buddhist temple that has welcomed pilgrims for more than a thousand years.
The Shoshazan Engyoji Temple is a complex of shrines, temples and great halls spread across the Shosha Mountain. Stunning scenery and Buddhist architecture is in abundance, and the shaded pathways offer blessed relief from the hot sun.
Aside from its beauty, the complex also has religious and cultural significance. It’s on the Kannon pilgrimage route, which has been trod by pilgrims for centuries. You will still see the occasional pilgrim, dressed in their customary loose white garb. Out of respect, you should avoid taking photographs of them, unless you have their explicit permission.
Access is a little tricky if you’re afraid of heights. There is a long and winding path, but it is quite a hike and you need a degree of fitness and preparation (particularly if its hot). The easiest way up is the ropeway, a cablecar that runs every fifteen minutes and takes about 5 minutes. I hate heights with a passion, but I found this one particularly smooth and stable. Pick a spot in the middle, focus on something inside the car and listen to the Japanese and English announcements.
Once you make it to the top you can enjoy the observation deck before making your way up to the main complex. If you take the bus, you’ll miss out on the statues that line the kilometre long climb up a winding track, and the occasional views it offers.
Afterwards, I suggest you just explore what’s on offer. The map suggests it takes two hours to work your way around. My visit lasted over three, and I hadn’t seen half of what was on offer. That might be because I tend to linger at things I find interesting, and I knew I could return another day.
There is a cafe and a couple of vending machines dotted around. However, I’d recommend packing a bento, a big cold bottle of something and enjoying a picnic at one of the beauty spots.