Himeji, Hyogo Travel: Film Locations of “The Last Samurai” and NHK Historical Drama
If you visit Himeji City in Hyogo Prefecture, I don’t doubt you will go to Himeji Castle, the famous world cultural heritage. But there are other sightseeing places I hope you visit too, and they are Shoshazan Engyo-ji temple and Hiromine Jinja shrine.
These places were used as filming locations of the Hollywood movie The Last Samurai, which was released in 2003 and became a sensational hit domestically as well as internationally, and a historical TV drama of NHK, “Gunshi Kanbei (Gunshi Kanbee)” aired in 2014. Kanbei Kuroda (1546-1604) is a famous strategist and the main character of the TV drama, and these places were related to his life.
*NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation, a public broadcasting organization in Japan)
Apparently many people visited these places for the first time after watching the movie and the drama like I did and were very impressed by them,.
Shoshazan Engyo-ji Temple
Transportation by Ropeway
I will start with Shoshazan Engyo-ji temple. As the temple is located on top of a mountain at an altitude of 371 meters above sea level, we will use the ropeway. Fares & Schedules
Highlight 1: Maniden Building
Shoshazan Engyo-ji was founded by a priest Shoku Shonin in 966, and it was known as Mt. Hiei of the West as many monks came for training. It preserves many important cultural assets today, but rather than being dazzling, it gave me an impression that aesthetically pleasing buildings made of weathered wood had melded with the surrounding forest.
It was blending so well with the forest that it piqued my curiosity. My research dug out a fact that the building of Maniden had started when Shoku Shonin carved a statue of Kannon goddess on a living tree still standing on its roots. They built pillars around it and the building eventually took the shape we see today. That’s really amazing.
Highlight 2: Jogyodo Hall
Jogyodo was used in filming scenes for the movie, The Last Samurai. This is a training hall where monks train by going around the principal image of Buddha while chanting the name of Amitabha Buddha earnestly. This place was also used in the movie scene that Moritsugu Katsumoto, played by actor Ken Watanabe, chanting sutras in front of Amitabha Tathagata.
Highlight 3: Mitsudo Halls
In the film of The Last Samurai, the center hall in the back called Jikido was set up as a living quarter of Katsumoto played by Ken Watanabe. In the historical drama of “Gunshi Kanbei”, the same hall was used in the scenes that General Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600) was giving orders to establish his war headquarter or he was conversing with his strategist Kanbei Kuroda.
I saw the very Jikido today was also used as a dormitory for training monks to study, dine and sleep, so it fits with the setting in The Last Samurai.
Additionally at the Jikido you can experience shakyo, which is the practice of manually copying Buddhist sutras. You can get a feeling that your mind becomes calmer and sharper, and I highly recommend you trying it, too.
There was serene existence of nameless moss, roof tiles and a gate. I think such a solemn atmosphere is the most appealing feature of Shoshazan Engyo-ji precinct.
Hiromine Jinja Shrine
I am introducing Hiromine Jinja next and this place was used to film scenes in the historical drama of “Gunshi Kanbei”, and in fact Kanbei Kuroda had a deep relationship with this shrine.
Historically speaking, this shrine has a venerable past that generations of Himeji Castle lords including Kanbei Kuroda worshipped it as the guardian deity of the castle. Today many people visit it seeking divine favor for matchmaking, protection, and recovery from illness.
Highlight: Whispering a Wish to 9 Holes
It is said that many people visit the Hiromine Jinja after hearing about a very interesting method of prayer. That is, to whisper a wish to 9 holes.
As the first step, you will identify your star that influences your fate, which is determined by your birth year and date, and receive a talisman.
Then you will go around the main building to the back and find 9 holes. A guardian deity is sitting in the depth of each hole, and you will put your offering and talisman in the box after finding a hole corresponding to your star.
If you whisper a wish in a small voice so that nobody can hear you, your wish comes true, so they say.
To the best of my knowledge such a method of prayer appears very rare in Japan, as I couldn’t find it anywhere else.
This time I introduced film locations of The Last Samurai and places related to the historical drama of NHK, “Gunshi Kanbei” in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture. Neither places are as glamorous as the Himeji Castle, but they are beautiful Japanese places that you would like to experience slowly and deeply with calmness in your heart. I do hope you will give them a try.
< Shoshazan Engyo-ji >Map
Address: 2968 Shosha, Himeji City Hyogo Prefecture
Admission Hours: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM (Hours may change depending on the season.)
Admission Fees: 500 yen
Access: Take a Shinki bus to “Shosha Ropeway” from JR Himeji Station. The ropeway requires 4 minutes to reach the mountain top.
< Hiromine Jinja >Map
Address: 52 Hiromineyama, Himeji City Hyogo Prefecture
Admission Fees: Free
Take a Shinki bus to “Hiromine” from JR Himeji Station. Get off at Hiromine stop and walk for 40 minutes.
If coming by car, drive 15 minutes from Tohori IC (exit) of Bantan Renraku Road.