Entry to Popular Square on Grounds of Himeji Castle May No Longer Be Free for Tourists; City Mulls Fee in Battle Against Overtourism

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tourists stroll on Sannomaru Square in the shadow of Himeji Castle in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.

HIMEJI, Hyogo — In its purported battle against overtourism, the city of Himeji first came up with a plan to quadruple the fees for foreign visitors to its famous castle. Now it is considering charging all non-residents to enter a popular square on the grounds of the castle.

Officials of the Hyogo Prefecture city contend that the admission fee to enter expansive Sannomaru Square in the shadow of Himeji Castle, a World Heritage site, is to protect an important cultural property. They are also considering prohibiting access to the square at night.

The 14,500-square-meter square is located to the south of the castle. Visitors can currently access the area 24 hours a day for free except when a special event is held for which admission is charged. The square also sees many locals strolling and jogging there.

The castle grounds has been chosen as one of the 100 best cherry blossom-viewing venues in Japan, so it particularly draws many visitors in the spring. With the main keep of the castle towering in the background, it is also a popular spot for photos and is often used as a film location and concert venue.

As the castle’s environs are designated as a Special Historic Site, the city is considering limiting access to the area through the fees from the point of view of cultural heritage preservation.

The city plans to first prohibit access to the square at night, when there are no patrols or management on duty, then move forward with discussions on whether or not to charge admission.

Local residents will likely be exempt from the fee, but the city has not yet decided on a way to distinguish them from tourists.