This was a handy food map provided by the hostel that I stayed in, Himeji 588 Guesthouse. Awesome location (literally two minutes away from the castle area) and relatively cheap, so I'd recommend it.
Woke up at 9am the next morning to an empty hostel, which made me freak out. I'd heard from my friend who visited previously that the line can get very crazy (took him 2 hours to get in!) and it seems like everyone was already queuing up!
I arrived and the line didn't seem too bad, so I went to visit the west bailey (nishinomaru) furst, or the princess' corridors. Detailed explanations inside about the princess' life, the construction of the castle, etc. Ended up having to rush through it though because people were talking about how long the line to the main castle was getting.
And yup, by the time I make it into the line, it takes about 45 minutes to get into the castle. They limit how many people are in it at once, but it's still a pretty crowded experience inside. It's pretty bare inside and typical Japanese castle construction, but what makes it special is that it's original. It has never been damaged throughout all the historical events Japan has been through. You wouldn't be able to tell though as the castle just finished renovation and looks quite new.
It was really cute how they had people dressed up as ninjas or warriors hanging around the castle and interacting with tourists. I walked out of the castle to have this ninja attempt to slay me. You can take pictures with them for free too :)
I bought the combined admission ticket, so after visiting the castle I started walking towards Kokoen. It's a little walk from the castle, and on the way I passed this:
You can pay for a boat ride on the moat. It only operates during certain times of the year and space is limited, so take note!
Kokoen is one of the larger and nicer gardens I've been to. I was pleasantly surprised to see momiji in it and lots of koi fish! Definitely need to have your camera ready for this place.
At certain vantage points you can also get Himeji Castle peaking out in the background.
After Kokoen I rushed to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History because of insider information that I saw posted in the hostel. The museum hosts free kimono or warrior costume wearing sessions at 10:30, 13:30, and 15:30 everyday. Only two people per session, and if more than two people sign up then they have a drawing to choose. I hoped thatt wouldn't be crowded.
I was just being a worry wart though. The museum was basically empty, and I was the only person waiting. I chose the Japanese aristocrat kimono costume. It was an intense experience because the staff helps you put on ten layers, literally. Took about 15 minutes to put it on and it felt like I was loading up on bricks. You can also buy 4x6 photos for 100yen each or purika sized photos for 150yen if you would like. Highly recommended for travelers on a budget.
The plaza across from the castle had food tents set up, so of course I had to taste some of it. Above is oden, which is various skewered items mostly made of fish soaked in soup.
And what I had missed trying out for breakfast: almond butter, a Himeji specialty. Though it didn't taste anything like butter. It tasted like peanut butter mixed with a buttery spread. Indulgently delicious and the perfect way to end my day trip in Himeji.