At first look Himeji Castle is a big empty building but with the right information it is a cultural, architectural, and historical wonder. We were fortunate to see it with few if any crowds. We were even more fortunate to chance upon a tour guide from VeGA, the Volunteer Guide Association of Himeji Castle. Ito-san approached us and at first I thought it was a scam. I then remembered I was in Japan and they just don't do that. Look for the blue armband near the ticket window. Because I know about Japanese and castle history, and we had plenty of time, she gave us a three hour tour for free. In flawless English no less. They tailor the tour to the person so if I had only a little time or really didn't know much, it would have gone much quicker.
Our tour was, by far, one of the best tours I have ever received at any historical site ever. I appreciate that she took to talk to us and we never felt rushed. She tailored the tour to my knowledge level. I could see that she was pleasantly surprised at my level of knowledge regarding castles, Japan, Japanese history, and the film You Only Live Twice. She was an excellent ambassador for her city and the nation of Japan.
The Volunteer Guide Association of Himeji Castle (VEGA) is an amazing resource for people to understand and connect with Himeji-jo and the city of Himeji. As a visitor to their country, I appreciate that locals would volunteer their time, on their days off, to provide instruction and insights into one of Japan's twelve remaining original castles. VEGA is a valuable asset to the castle itself, the city of Himeji, and the nation of Japan. What is more, they provide these tours not only to other Japanese but, in nearly flawless English, to foreign visitors as well. My wife and I will be forever grateful to VEGA for such a memorable day.