Inuyama Castle

Located in the outskirts of Nagoya, Inuyama Castle is one of the 12 original Japanese castles. Founded in 1440 CE along the Kiso river, it dominates the quaint town of Inuyama from its stunning position over the hill.

After an interesting morning at Gifu Castle, we took the JR train to Unuma Station. From the station its a 25 minute walk to the Castle. Please note that I used the JR line because I had the JR Pass on me. If you are paying for tickets, it would be more meaningful to use the Meitetsu line and get down at the Inuyamayuen station which is a lot closer to the castle.

It was a beautiful weather and in the soft cool breeze, the walk to the castle was just lovely. After a few minutes we reached the Inuyama Bridge. Opened to the public in 2000, the iron beam bridge beautified with three arches, connects Kakamigahara in the Gifu Prefecture with Inuyama in the Aichi Prefecture. On the opposite side of the walkway you can see the Meitetsu Inuyama Line running parallel to the road.

Right after crossing the bridge over the Kiso river, we turned right, into a paved path lined with colorful momiji trees.

This straight path goes on for about 10 minutes before you hit a narrow winding elevated road that leads you to a huge white Torii. The path leading via this gate will lead you directly to the castle via the Nezutsu Shrine. However if you are one of those explorer types… follow me.

Sanko Inari Shrine

Just left to the huge white Torii, you will see a series of red torii gates. These gates lead to the Sanko Inari Shrine.

Located at the base of Inuyama Castle, Sanko Inari Shrine has a long, rich history. It’s name was originally Sankojisan and it is a highly revered place of worship for locals and tourists alike. In the Meiji period of Japan, because of the separation of gods and Buddhas, it became the Sanko Inari Shrine.

Every year on July 22, there is a traditional festival custom where families visit the shrine after dark carrying small red paper “chochin” lanterns hanging from branches of bamboo.

Before you enter through the red torii, you can find the Chozuya on your right, where you can wash your hands and purify yourself before praying at the shrine.

Although the exact date is unknown, the shrine is said to have been built in the 1500s. The shrine is particularly known for its cute, heart-shaped ema (wooden wishing plaques). Praying at the shrine is said to bring fortune in matchmaking.

Another compelling legend is the “omokaru” stone. This special stone sits on a red cushion on the side of the main hall. You need to close your eyes while standing in front of the stone and hold a wish in your mind while imagining lifting the stone. It is said your wish will be as easy to realize as the perceived weight of the stone that you felt in your mind.

As an “inari” shrine, visitors also come to pray for a prosperous business. According to one legend, it is said that placing money in a perforated basket and washing coins with sacred water on the shrine grounds will increase the amount of money several times over!

Just beside the main hall of Sanko Inari Shrine lies a short row of torii gates. Walking through the gate only made me desperately want to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Haritsuna Shrine

This shrine is listed in the Engi-Shiki, in the chapter that lists Shinto shrines at the time. It is located in the Inuyama area as one of the Five Owari Shrines and enshrines the Sochinju (local Shinto deity) of the Nobi region. The Inuyama Festival at Haritsuna Shrine has been designated a national intangible folk cultural property.

The shrine was relocated to its present location in 1882. The building structure of the shrine looks similar to “Sanko Inari Shrine”, but the atmosphere of coexistence of vicissitudes and solemnity. People come here from afar to pray for easy childbirth, warding off misfortune, warding off evil, traffic safety, and child conception.

After capturing some pictures of the revered shrine we walked back to the stone path. Before joining the stone path, you can see an “Immortal Horse” statue. It is said that the white horse is the patron saint of children, so this Imperial God Horse can pray for children.

The curved stone path led us to the ticket boot. As of writing this article, it cost us ¥500 per person to enter the castle grounds.

In 1871, many of the castle’s outlying buildings were destroyed on the orders of the new Meiji government. The Honmaru-mon Gate, which is the main entrance to the castle is a wonderfully-done reconstruction.

A brief history of Inuyama Castle

The precise year Inuyama Castle was completed is uncertain. The castle guidebook claims it was completed in 1440. According to the Heian period Engishiki a Shinto shrine, the Haritsuna Shrine was moved to make way for the castle. The structure was rebuilt several times in the Muromachi period and the current configuration was largely the work of Oda Nobuyasu, Oda Nobunaga’s uncle in 1537.

Although the antiquated architectural style of the watchtower atop the tenshu has in the past led many historians to believe this to be the oldest extant tenshu in Japan, that honor goes to Maruoka Castle, built in 1576. Construction on the current main tenshu (donjon) at Inuyama began in 1601, and continued through 1620.

Inuyama Castle was the final obstacle against Oda Nobunaga’s unification of Owari Province. After Nobunaga had defeated the Imagawa clan at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, his cousin, Oda Nobukiyo, seized Inuyama Castle with the support of Saito Yoshitasu on Mino Province. Nobugana recaptured the castle in 1564.

After Nobunaga’s death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi appointed Ishikawa Sadakiyo as castellan of Inuyama. Ishikawa rebuilt the defenses of the castle in line with contemporary designs and the current shape of the donjon is a result of this reconstruction. After the Battle of Sekigahara, the victorious Tokugawa Ieyasu expelled the Ishikawa clan and turned the castle over to Owari Domain.

Under the Tokugawa shogunate, the castle was governed by the Naruse clan, who ruled as daimyō of Inuyama Domain as vassals of the Owari Tokugawa clan until the Meiji restoration. The new Meiji government seized Inuyama Castle in 1871 and destroyed all of its auxiliary buildings except for the donjon; however, after the castle was damaged in the Great Nōbi earthquake, and it was returned to the Naruse family in 1895, on the condition that they repair and maintain it. The castle was thus unique in Japan in that it was privately owned.

Inuyama Castle was privately owned by the Naruse family until 2004 when ownership of the building and grounds was transferred to a non-profit foundation set up by the Aichi Prefecture’s Board of Education in Inuyama.

It was long believed that the donjon of Inuyama Castle was moved to the castle from Kanayama Castle in 1599, until such theory was disproved as a result of examination through a large scale restoration work, involving the dismantling of the donjon, carried out between 1961 and 1965.

After capturing some external shots of the castle, we went up the age old structure. The floor broads creaked like we were going into some kind of haunted house. The roofs are quite low, even for me at 5’10.

You have to remove your shoes to enter the keep, but once inside, the wooden floor boards and naked pillars speak volumes. Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and a host of famous historical samurai figures have trodden these floors.

The castle was for many years the private property of the Naruse clan, who were the lords during the seventeenth century up until 2004, when the management of the castle was entrusted to a public body.

Steep stairs throughout not only saved interior space, but hindered armored invaders, making defense of the castle easier. The first floor is divided into a number of chambers, with wide corridors around these chambers giving the samurai ample space to move in times of attack.

Its four floors contain armories, stock room of the lords and various defense systems. The 唐破風, Karahafu room as it’s called for the beautiful curved gables is located on one of the floors in the castle. The plover shaped windows are unique to Inuyama. The “kara” part of the world signifies the style came from China.

At the top of its steep stairs you will be able to go out and walk on its ramparts overlooking the entire valley and the Kiso River.

As the Sun gradually started to go away for the day, it cast a beautiful golden glow over the surrounding hills.

We waited for the sun to slowly die over Inuyama and the mesmerizing twilight to set in. The castle overlooking the Kiso River is perfectly positioned for one of the most beautiful view of the city. This one view alone is worth the trip.

Some of the places around Inuyama Castle still has traces of the old times like Honmachi street where you can still find merchant houses from the Edo period, including the Jo-an tea room near Urakuen garden.

Once it was dusk we climbed down the Castle and made our way back to the Inuyamayuen Station. Even though I was carrying my JR Pass, it made much more sense to use the Meitetsu line to get to Nagoya from where we could easily get a train to Kyoto.

On the Inuyama bridge, I set up my tripod to capture a couple of shots of the illumitaed castle. Strategically positioned on the wedge shaped hill with the wide, fast flowing Kiso River running around and below it, and with unhindered views of the surrounding area, it was the first castle to be owned outright by the warlord Oda Nobunaga, although he didn’t stay long, or use it as a regular base. Instead, he left his uncle as caretaker while he went off to fight more battles.

To get a close-up shot of the castle I used my 80-400mm Nikon lens. It had gotten pretty cold by then. With freezing fingers I quickly captured a few shots of the castle and packed up.

From Inuyamayuen station we caught the Limited Express to Nagoya Station. The station is an unmanned station(at least at that time we were there) so be prepared with a bit of Japanese or you might run into trouble buying tickets at the counter.

Thanks for reading! Please leave me your comments or reviews. If you liked my story please consider following me on Instagram or continue with it as I visit the mesmerizing Fushimi Inari Taisha at night.

Built in

1440 CE

Built by

Oda Hirochika

Admission Fees

¥500 per person

Events at Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Festival | April
During the first weekend of April, the city comes alive for local matsuri and its parade of floats decorate Honmachi Street. These floats are on display in a local museum. Another, in the castle, display weapons and armors from the civil wars of the sixteenth century.

Kiso River Long Run Fireworks | August
This weeklong fireworks festival takes place on the first nine days of August. During the festivities, Inuyama Castle is lit up for an extra exquisite night.

Hike to Gifu Castle

Today is an interesting day as I get to explore two of Japan’s most beautiful castles in the Chubu region. The first one, Gifu Castle or Gifu-jo, as it is called in Japanese, rests atop Mt. Kinka, located in the city of Gifu in Gifu Prefecture.

The castle was initially established here as a fortress by Nikaido Yukimasa under orders from the Kamakura Shogunate in 1201 CE. It was then known as Inabayama Castle. The fortress was later renovated into the polished structure we see today by Saito Dosan who became master of the castle in 1539.

In 1567 Oda Nobunaga invaded Mino and took control of Inabayama Castle from Saito Yoshitatsu, the grandson of Saito Dosan. After the conquest he moved his headquarters here from Komaki Castle and renamed the castle to Gifu-jo.

Kyoto to Gifu Castle

I was staying at the Keihan Kyoto Grande in Kyoto. After an early breakfast we caught the Hida Limited Express to Gifu. It takes about an hour and a half on the Express train. You can also catch the Shinkansen on the same line, which is about 30 minutes faster.

The Hida limited express train service operates only one service a day from Osaka to Takayama via Gifu.

It was a beautiful morning as we got down at Gifu Station. The station first opened in 1887. It was then named Kanō Station and was primarily used for transporting goods. In late 1888, it was upgraded to a passenger rail station, at which point its name was changed to Gifu Station.

Gifu JR Station contains the Gifu Tourist Information Office on the 2nd floor and a number of shops and cafes including MOS Burger and Mister Donut. Like most urban stations, Gifu Station has two exits. On the South exit there is not much to see except for a unique triangle shaped structure that doubles up as the entrance gate to the station.

On the north side of JR Gifu Station, right outside, lies a golden statue of Oda Nobunaga, standing gracefully over a high pedestal as if looking over the city. You can also find bus boarding platforms for all of the bus lines nearby. To get to Gifu Castle you need to wait for the bus that boards at Bay #12 or #13.

While waiting for your bus you might also catch a glimpse of the many green Gifu Nobunaga buses leaving the bus terminal at the station. The city has strong connections with the warlord Oda Nobunaga which I will go over briefly further down in my journal.

Gifu city existed long before Nobunaga. It was called Inokuchi back then. The city has always played an important role in Japan’s history due to its strategic location in the heart of Japan. “Control Gifu and you control Japan” was a common phrase used during the Sengoku period (1467-1568 CE).

The Sengoku Period, also known as the Warring States Period, was a turbulent and violent period of Japanese history when rival warlords or daimyo fought bitterly for control of Japan. It was in these chaotic times when Nobunaga conquered Gifu Castle, up-till then known as Inabayama Castle and changed the name of both the castle and town to Gifu.

The choice of name was an interesting one. He took the first character (岐) gi from Qishan (岐山), the legendary mountain from which most of ancient China was unified. The second character (阜) fu means “base of the mountain” and comes from Qufu (曲阜), the birthplace of Confucius. Nobunaga chose to use the newly renamed castle and its mountain (Kinkazan) as his base of operations in his mission to unify and control Japan. Oda Nobunaga is no longer around but you can find traces of him all around Gifu city.

After a bit of a wait we got on the bus to the Castle. After a short ride of 20 minutes or so, the bus dropped us off on a sidewalk near the base of Kinkazan.

From the bus stop itself you can view the castle sitting gracefully atop the Kinkazan mountain. From there we walked to Gifu park, located at the base of the mountain. Previously called Inabayama, the graceful mountain has long served as the representative symbol of Gifu.

In 2006, the park was selected as one of Japan’s Top 100 Public Historical Parks. Though Mount Kinka was strategically important for military purposes, living in the castle atop the mountain would have made daily life very difficult. As such, many important rulers built their main residences at the base of the mountain in modern-day Gifu Park.

Gifu Park is blessed with stunning nature and is the perfect place to enjoy the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves in fall. The best season for viewing autumn leaves is from mid- to late November.

This is the location of the former entrance to ODA Nobunaga’s residence.
Period artifacts such as passages and stone fences uncovered in archaeological excavations have been preserved and are displayed here.
You can see a passage made of rare giant stone construction, the remains of something like soil barriers, and fragments of foundation stones for staircase-shaped waterways.

On the east side of the park, there is a vermilion Three Storied Pagoda standing among the trees on a mountainside. It was built in 1916 in commemoration of Emperor Taisho’s accession to the throne.

Sanroku Station

In order to reach the castle, you can either take a 3-minute gondola ride on the Kinkazan Ropeway or hike your way up the mountain via one of the 4 different trails of varying steepness.

Souvenir shop inside Sanroku Ropeway Station

Kinkazan Ropeway takes you from Gifu Park to a midway stop of Mt. Kinka in 4 minutes. During the ride, you can enjoy the dynamic primeval forests covering Kinkazan, the beautiful stream of Nagara River, and the cityscape of Gifu. For a limited period in summer, the ropeway runs until nighttime for night enthusiasts.

The round trip cost us 1080 yen per person. You can also buy single ride tickets just to go up and then hike down the mountain via numerous marked trails.

Tenka Daiichinomon Gate

Centuries ago, the mountain was protected as a hunting ground for the Owari Clan, preserving the trees from being used to build the area as it grew from a small town to a large city. Today, the forest is designated as a national forest, giving protection to the over 700 types of plants and 80 types of birds that can be found on the mountain.

Gifu Castle was originally built by the Nikaidō clan between 1201 and 1204 during the Kamakura Period. Originally called Inabayama Castle, Gifu Castle has gone through a great number of repairs over the course of several generations.

Even though Gifu Castle was considered to be an impenetrable castle, it was once taken over by a mere sixteen men.

In 1601, Gifu Castle was destroyed and the castle towers and turrets were moved to Kano Castle. The castle eventually fell into disrepair and vanished from Gifu’s skyline. The castle we see today was reconstructed using ferroconcrete in 1956.

Shrine outside Gifu castle

Time clock outside Gifu Castle

Inside the castle, there are three floors with exhibits representing the castle’s past. With maps, weapons, pictures and other artifacts on display, visitors can recreate the story of Gifu Castle. On the top floor of the castle, an observation deck, visitors can enjoy a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the Nagara River and Nagoya.

Exhibits inside Gifu Castle

Oda Nobunaga was a powerful samurai warlord in Japan during the Sengoku Jidai (Warring States period) in the late 16th century. He is often called the first great unifier of Japan, as he conquered about a third of the country during his quest of unification before his death.

Nobunaga was born in nearby Owari domain (modern day Aichi Prefecture) and soon rose to fame due to his military conquests and victories. He is recognised as one of Japan’s greatest rulers.

Gifu City was where he realised his dream and its possibilities. It became the first stepping stone in his grand plan of unification of Japan after centuries of civil war. Nobunaga quickly established his lavish palace at the foot of Mount Kinka and a castle town flourished around the castle and mountain. A Portuguese missionary at the time describes Gifu as a “bustling Babylon” rivalling any grand city of the time in Europe.

Today, the citizens of Gifu City continue to honor Nobunaga and his contributions to the city, such as through the Gifu Nobunaga Festival – the city’s most important autumn festival held on the first full weekend of October. Parades of samurai and other historical figures, among additional events, keep his memory very much alive.

The top floor, a watchtower with a ledge running around its perimeter, is a fantastic vantage point from which to look down upon the city in a 360-degree panoramic view! From the turret you can get unhindered views of Nagara river, famous for cormorant fishing. To the east is the magnificient view of Mt. Ena and the Kiso mountains. To the north you can view the mountain range of Norikura and the Japan Alps. To the South you can view the vast expanse of the grand plains of Noubi with a view of the Kiso river serenly flowing into the Ise Bay.

At various points throughout the year, the castle is also open to night viewing, providing an awe-inspiring view of the city.

If you are a fan of samurai culture and Japanese history, then you should definitely pay this historic city a visit and trace the roots of the famous Oda Nobunaga.

Also, in the Kinkazan Squirrel Village, visitors can play with and feed squirrels while learning about the four species inside the Squirrel Village.

If you have time, don’t take the ropeway to the top. Take one of the 4 trails to the top of Kinkazan. It’s generally cool and quiet, making for a nice walk. Nearby the base of Mt. Kinkazan is also a small temple with a huge Buddha made from lacquered paper

Thanks for reading! Please consider leaving your comments or reviews. From Gifu I made my way to Inuyama Castle to catch one of the oldest original castles at sunset.

Nobunaga Festival | October
The locals love him in this city and he is regarded as a local hero and almost founding father like figure. They celebrate him every year by holding a festival called The Gifu Nobunaga Festival. It is held in October and features a samurai warrior parade down the main street of Gifu City.

Open Hours (subject to change)

March 16–May 11: 9:30am to 6:00pm
May 12–October 16: 8:30am to 6:00pm
October 17–March 15: 9:30am to 5:00pm

Night Viewing (subject to change)

April 28 – May 6: until 9:30pm
July 14 – August 31: until 10:00pm
September 1 – October 14: until 9:30pm (Sat, Sun and holidays only)
October 15 – November 30: until 6:30pm


1201 CE

Built by

Nikaido Yukimasa

Original name

Inabayama Castle

Ropeway Cost

1080 yen / round trip
620 yen / one way

After 6:00 p.m. during the panorama night view period:
Adults – 900 yen / round trip

The black Castle of Matsue

Matsue Castle in the Shimane Prefecture of Japan, is one of only 12 remaining medieval castles in their original wooden form. The castle was built as a fortress over a period of five years and completed in 1611 CE by the local feudal lord and founder of Matsue City, Yoshiharu Horio. The castle is sometimes called the “black castle” after its dark-colored exterior.

I and my wife, Mani were in Izumo for a few days. We were staying at the Dormy Inn Hotel, adjacent to Inzumoshi Station. It is a good place to stay if you are touring Izumo. The hotel’s proximity to the JR train station is very helpful if you will be using mostly public transport. There are several convenience stores nearby as well for daily needs.

For the last couple of days we went around some of the interesting places around Izumo including Cape Hino, Izumo Taisha and Hinomisaki Shrine. On our arrival, we had purchased the “Perfect Ticket” that allowed us to move around most public transits in Izumo, for a small pre-fixed fee of ¥1500. This ticket is valid for three consecutive days of travel.

We woke up to a lazy day. The weather had deteriorated and dark grey clouds had surrounded Izumo. After a simple breakfast of bread and eggs, we left the hotel at around 10.30 am. At 11.34, we caught the Yakumo 16 Limited Express bound for Okayama via Matsue. The “Perfect Ticket” will not work for JR Trains. For this ride we used our JR Passes. JR Passes are a great way to travel around Japan. It is only provided to people visiting on tourist visas. It is cheap and very helpful for traveling across Japan.

We reached JR Matsue Station a little after noon. The weather was still depressing but the day had certainly brightened up a bit. Matsue city is a castle town. Most cities in Japan were originally constructed as castle towns (Jo-ka-Machi). Matsue was no different. The city and its surrounding areas are rich in cultural assets and historical sites. The castle is located about 2 kilometres northeast of the station and lies at the center of many of the city’s tourist attractions.

Near the shopping areas, you find numerous shops selling local products such as wagashi (Japanese sweets), Yakumo-nuri (lacquerware), local sake (spirits), and kamaboko (fish sausage). Most cities in Japan were originally constructed as castle towns (Jo-ka-Machi). Matsue was no different. The castle is located about 2 kilometers northeast of the station and is in the center of many of the city’s other tourist attractions.

From the station, it is best to catch the Gurutto Lakeline bus. With its distinctive retro looks, you will have no trouble finding the cute bus. It starts at the JR railway station from No. 7 stop. Please confirm the same before queuing up for the bus.

The bus painted in red and green, with wooden paneling inside, follows a convoluted loop around the city stopping at all the major tourist spots in the town. After leaving the station, it passes a couple of heritage places and then heads to Matsue Castle. A running commentary in Japanese and English announces the important landmarks as you pass them. Large screens, towards the front of the bus, display the upcoming stops. Just before the bus reaches your stop, press the button in front of your seat, to alert the driver that you wish to get off.

The bus runs every 20 minutes for most of the day. A single time fare costs ¥200 for adults and ¥100 for children. An all-day pass is also available, allowing you to hop on and off as many times as you like for one day. It costs ¥500 for adults and ¥250 for children.

If you are carrying the “Perfect Ticket” you will not need to pay for your ride on the bus.

The bus dropped us off near the entrance of the Matsue Castle. The first thing you will see after getting down at the bus stop, is the wide moat surrounding the castle. From here you can also see two of the castle yaguras (watchtowers).

Yoshiharu Horio

As you move towards the entrance gate, a bronze statue of Horio Yoshiharu (1542 – 1611) stands there with his sword stretched towards the sky. Horio Yoshiharu was a brave and able fighter. He was said to have possessed the calmness of an enlightened spirit of the Buddha. Matsue Castle was his brainchild. The exploration of Matsue Castle would be incomplete without telling his story.

Yoshiharu’s father was a vassal of the Iwakura Oda clan during the Sengoku period. They had an ongoing feud with Oda Nobunaga, one of the foremost military leader of Japan. Their wars with Nobunaga eventually led Yoshiharu’s father to become a Ronin, a masterless samurai.

In the Sengoku, or Warring States period, every day was a life or death struggle. Yoshiharu was raised during these turbulent times. He eventually came into the employment of Nobunaga as a lowly foot soldier.

One day in Owari province (Aichi Prefecture), when Nobunaga was out hunting, a large wild boar suddenly appeared out of the woods and came charging at the hunting party. Yoshiharu, who was just a foot soldier, stood his ground and wrestled the beast with his bare hands. The bravery & calmness with which he faced the boar impressed Nobunaga, who promoted him. Yoshiharu’s bravery and calmness served him well over the following years, through a number of battles.

Towards the end of 1600, for his admirable leadership in the Battle of Sekigahara, the Horio clan were awarded land in Izumo Province and he was made the Daimyo of the region. Yoshiharu continued to live rest of his life here until he passed in 1611.

Just beyond his statue, you will find the remains of Otemon gate. You can still see the circular base for pillars of the wooden gate.

It would be easier if you looked at the layout of this area to understand the smart design of this section. This cornered space, even before you enter the castle grounds is called an Umadamari.

The Umadamari used to be a feature of most castles in the Edo period (1600 – 1867) to protect against enemy invasions. The walls would squeeze the enemy troops into a vulnerable area surrounded by all three sides. It also served a double purpose, which was a place where the troops defending the castle would prepare themselves. The small structure you see in front of the massive wall used to be a well.

Right after the gate, the path turns left to reach the castle, where a series of steps will lead you up to the castle. Once inside, you will realize that there are two levels to the stone walls. The ninomaru (second enclosure) descends from the honmaru at a lower level.

These stone walls were made in the span of over three years by a master of Ishigaki wall building style and is still the same as it was when it was built 400 years old.

Two techniques were used in laying of the stone wall of Matsue Castle. One technique used stones that had already been cut in order to make the rocks fit together easily. The other technique used natural stones whose shape was not altered. You can find many stones with a carved seal which dates back to the time when the castle was initially constructed.

Did you know: It was once a rule that girls were not allowed to dance in the streets of Matsue city. If they did, the base of the city’s symbol, Matsue Castle, would begin to shake, endangering the towering building.

The story goes that Matsue Castle’s Ishigaki stone walls contain a Hitobashira, a human sacrifice, entombed in the stonework to act like a guardian spirit of the castle. In this case, the Hitobashira was a young girl who loved to dance, and so to prevent the castle from ever falling, a law was passed preventing girls from dancing in the streets and ever upsetting the spirit within.

But before you go, you can also indulge yourself at the lovely park at the base of the castle grounds. The extensive grounds, now called Jozan Park is spread over a vast sixteen hectares wooded park. Many paths go around under the steep stone walls of the castle, the wooded hillsides, and along the moats, making for some quiet pleasant walks. This area is free to public and does not require any admission ticket.

The area is full of beautifully pruned Japanese matsu pine trees. These are still only very young trees in the Castle grounds. If you are lucky, you might also see a samurai armor wearing person, wandering around the park.

After a short climb, we reached the castle entrance. The castle appears behind this last fortification wall. On the left you will find the admission booth from where you can purchase the tickets. It cost us ¥560 per person to get inside.

A brief history of Matsue Castle

As already mentioned while talking about Horio Yoshiharu, that Tokugawa Ieyasu gave him 240,000 koku at Toda in Izumo Province as a reward for his achievements at the decisive “Battle of Sekigahara.” Matsue city didn’t exist then and Yoshiharu came to reside at the now-ruined Gassantoda Castle. Gassantoda Castle was located in Yasugi, tucked away deep in the mountains and Yoshiharu had higher aspirations.

In 1607, he began the construction of a new castle on Oshiroyama (Mt. Oshiro), which was then just an uninhabited small hill overlooking Lake Shinji, where he could take advantage of the transport possibilities offered by numerous waterways. Surrounded by wetlands and protected by the sea to the north and the lake to the west, the location was an excellent defensive base for his future fortress.

Yoshiharu was a smart man. The Renkaku-shiki layout of the castle, with its hilltop positioning, wide moats, and high Ishigaki provided an efficient defense to the castle. Construction of Matsue Castle was completed in 1611. Interestingly, it’s defenses were never put to test.

Among the 12 original castles, Matsue Castle has the second-largest donjon (keep), is the third tallest at 30m, and is the sixth oldest.

Unfortunately, the Horio clan came to an end in 1611 with the death of Yoshiharu. After Yoshiharu passed away, Kyogoku Tadataka was made Lord of Matsue for a brief period of time, followed by Matsudaira Naomasa, a grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose descendants ruled until 1871, after whom the castle was abandoned.

On entering the uppermost castle area, I was surprised to see some Momiji trees were still glowing brilliantly in the dull afternoon. We played around for a bit among the fallen red leaves.

This is a shot of my new Amazon camera backpack. I am not really thrilled with it. It’s comfy at the shoulder pads, but not very user-friendly. I am also not too happy with the single stitches, the tripod holder section is already bursting at the edges. My lower-pro backpack was amazing, unfortunately they stopped making that model.

Matsue Castle Architecture

Matsue Castle is classified as a hirayama-jiro, a castle built on a hill surrounded by flat land. The moats, stone walls, and levels of concentric embankments that encircled the castle compound, ascending in a staircase fashion from the sannomaru section at the base of the hill, up to the central keep, are all a classic example of flatland hill-castle defensive layout.

The present-day honmaru (the walled enclosure surrounding the keep) is now an expansive open space, but the keep (tenshūkaku) was once surrounded by six watchtowers (yagura) connected by roofed passageways known as watari-yagura.

The castle’s keep is a fine example of an early Edo period tenshu with five levels concealing six inner floors and an underground basement. Built in a borogata or watchtower style, and perched atop the 28-meter high hill, Matsue Castle keep has a commanding presence in the center of the city. It has an overall dark appearance, with wooden paneling covering a large part of the building.

The dark timber cladding is designed to protect the lower floors from rain. The exteriors of the lower sections are covered in black shitami-ita, to protect the mud walls beneath.

The tenshu features curving roofs that look like birds with their wings spread. For this reason, the castle is also known as Chidori-jō or Plover Castle, resembling plovers in flight.

Let’s look a bit closely at the various ingenious add-ons of Matsue Castle. The keep was designed as a defensive stronghold and was well-equipped with defensive design features, including numerous gaps for firing at invaders and ishiotoshi structures for dropping rocks on anyone attempting to scale its walls.

The shachi-hoko (mythical dolphins) on the roof of the keep are slightly over two metres tall (2.08 m). Carved in wood and covered with copper, these are the largest such pieces remaining among the 12 original castles in Japan.

Among the currently existing castles, Matsue Castle is the only castle that has inherited the “Irimoyahafu”, an architectural style from the late 1500’s. The Irimoyahafu is the triangular part on a four-sided hip and gabled roof.

Its south-facing tsukeyagura connecting tower serves as the entrance.

Matsue Castle Interiors

The interior of Matsue Castle is maintained in excellent condition and contains a fine collection of samurai helmets, armour, weapons and items of historical interest. You will have to leave your shoes near the gate at the entrance.

From its main entrance, visitors climb to the upper floor, with a halt at each floor to admire carefully staged reconstitution, of samurai armors especially, that help picture Japan’s feudal times.

Designed for warfare, you will be able to witness many defensive elements, like precarious stairways, a large turret affixed to the main building, arrow and gun holes, holes for dropping stones along with an underground well in case of siege.

Inside the castle, there is a large collection of historical artifacts. Each floor is dedicated to specific displays such as the armor, swords, and helmets of the samurai in the time of war, materials used to build the castle and a pictorial display of the castle’s history, photos of all the castles throughout Japan, and miniature replicas of the layout of Matsue as it has changed over time.

The first basement floor is known as the known as Shiogura or Salt Cellar. This section was built specifically for stockpiling food and drinking water in case the inhabitants could not leave the castle during a siege. You can find a huge 24 m deep well in a corner of the storehouse. I don’t think I have seen any other currently existing castle with a well inside. Along with the well, this salt was to be used in an emergency, showing how Matsue Castle was built with serious consideration to its utility in actual combat.

You can feel like you are back in the Edo Period. Many of the pillars and stairs of the castle and other materials that were used to make the castle are still here since the castle was first constructed. The original shachi (mythical sea creatures) of the castle’s roof is also located inside the castle.

Shachi or Shachihoko were frequently used as roof ornaments in the Edo period (1600-1868) and found atop castles, tower gates, and samurai homes. It represents an imaginary sea creature with the head of a tiger and body of a fish. These fish-shaped ornaments were placed at both ends of the main roof ridge, with the male Shachi, with thicker scales, placed on the left and the female Shachi on the right. These pieces, placed at each end of the ridge, had a duty to protect the building against fire and evil spirits.

From the basement, we moved up to the second floor. To prevent the load from being applied to the center of the building, several pillars were added here. The floor has six ishi-otoshi openings to throw stones out, and its outer wall is largely dark, thick wooden board siding with battens. Several wooden benches are spread in the center of the room for visitors to take a second to absorb the centuries-old smell.

On this floor, you can find several old exhibits from the original castle. Here we can see an onigawara, which is a roof tile made from baked clay into the shape of an ogre, a mythical creature in old tales passed down from long ago. The ends of the roof ridges of Matsue Castle were decorated with these onigawara tiles.

Not far from the ogre shaped roof tile, you can see one of the original pillars. As a general rule, Japanese castles are built around two huge wooden pillars (hashira) from foundations to the top. In Matsue Castle, for financial reasons, pillars were made of timber beams clipped together with staple-like hooks called Kasugai.

The internal staircases are all very narrow, to make it difficult for attacking enemies to secure the upper levels, and are made of paulownia, a very light and fire-resistant timber so they could be raised quickly before an enemy could use them. Stairs made of paulownia to prevent fire and decay are a distinct feature not seen in any other castle.

The third floor was mostly empty with a few scattered pieces of exhibits.

Here we see an idol of Matsudaira Naomasa, the grandchild of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He is remembered for his valor in the Battle of Osaka (1615) at the young age of 14. After Kyogoku Tadataka, the territorial authority was granted in 1638 to Matsudaira Naomasa who enjoyed favorable relations with the Tokugawa shoguns.

Rule by the Matsudaira Clan as a daimyo house continued unbroken for over 230 years, until Japan’s feudal domains were abolished and replaced with modern prefectures. For this reason, we see a deep relationship between the Matsudaira Clan and their subjects.

On the same floor, you can find the samurai armor of Goto Matabei, a much-respected professional warrior who often proudly boasted of the 53 scars on various parts of his body, trophies of the many wars in which he had participated. Goto Matabei was also recognized for his fierce bravery during the Battle of Sekigahara where Yoshiharu Horio fought along his side.

The fourth floor contains on its walls the photos of all the other original castles of japan. Made me realize, I still have a lot to cover.

On this floor we have a row of mural paintings depicting the main historical events of Matsue domain. Murals depicting the stories surrounding the construction of the castle are also easy to understand, so that the more you know the more interesting the tour becomes. They were created by Fuden Adachi, an artist from Matsue city about 300 years back.

The top floor was designed in Boro style to resemble an observation tower with a 360-degree view. The view from the large, open window spaces on the top floor offers a clear view of the town, rivers, and moats below, giving you the chance to experience the same extensive view of the city as the samurai and warlords had.

Ruin of Matsue Castle

Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, a large number of castles were demolished or auctioned off for their building materials. Matsue Castle’s age and size contributed to the considerable cost of upkeep, and former daimyō and new governor of Matsue, Matsudaira Sadayasu requested permission to tear it down in 1871.

Having been protected by three successive Edo Period (1603 – 1868) clans, the Horio, the Kyōgoku and the Matsudaira, Matsue Castle was slated for demolition through the Castle Dissolution Edict (Haijōrei) issued by the Meiji Government in 1873.

Matsue Castle fell under the jurisdiction of the military headquarters at Hiroshima, but the army was reluctant to pay for maintenance. In 1875, the army attempted to sell the Matsue tenshu and other buildings for scrap. The value of the castle materials was seriously compromised by the cost of dismantling and removing the structures, and the watchtowers, gates, and other outbuildings were sold off for a pittance and scrapped.

The tenshu was bought by Saitō Naotada, an officer from Kanazawa, for 180 yen, the equivalent of sixty bags of rice at the time.

However, local volunteers raised funds to save the castle keep, which now remains the only original castle keep in the whole of San’in Region.

Once we completed our exploration of the exhibits of the castle, we walked around the castle grounds, looking for other interesting places in this vast area. There are three shrines within the park, but the one worth seeking out is down a quiet lane to the rear of the castle. As we kept walking towards the north part of the castle, we stumbled onto the Inari shrine.

Matsue Inari Shrine

There are three shrines within the park, but the one worth seeking out is down a quiet lane to the rear of the castle. The Jozan Inari-jinja Shrine is a modest shrine tucked away in a quiet corner of the park. The usual torii gates guide you down the path towards some steep steps and at the top of them are two guardian foxes as is common at many shrines throughout the country. The shrine was established by Matsudaira Naomasa, who became the lord of Matsue domain in 1638.

the shrine—half-hidden amid the greenery and a bit difficult to find—contains thousands of representations of foxes, the messengers of the god (or goddess, depending on how the deity is represented) Inari, who determines the bounty of the rice harvest and, by extension, prosperity. Passing through a gate and along an avenue of sphinx-like foxes carved in stone, you reach the heart of the shrine, in a wooded glade crowded with more stone foxes, pitted by weather, covered with moss, crumbling with age—and accompanied by row after row of newer, bright, jaunty-looking white and gold ceramic foxes. Inari shrines, which have become increasingly popular in Japan, are thought by some to be haunted and best avoided after dark.

The shrine is the start and endpoint of the Horanenya Matsuri, a three-day festival involving decorated boats filled with musicians that is one of the three great boat festivals of Japan. Taking place only every 12 years, the next will be in 2021.

The shrine is often overlooked by all those visitors who seek out the castle and nothing more. You can find numerous small statues of kitsune, some covered in moss, the fox messengers of the deity Inari enshrined here. If you are a fan of numbers, there could be more than 2000 carved foxes surrounding the shrine.

Matsue Shrine

Going back towards the exit, we came by the Matsue Shrine, which is said to have been constructed at the same time as the castle itself. We had passed it while going up to the castle. Deified in the shrine are Horio Yoshiharu, the founder of Matsue City, and Matsudaira Naomasa, the first of the Matsudaira clan to rule the region among others.

Like most shrines there are two cute looking Shishi statues at the gate.

A smaller shrine stands nearby, separate from the main hall. I am not sure about the origins of that one.

After an overwhelming afternoon at the Matsue Castle, we gradually made our away towards the bus stop. The castle has 4 entrance/exit points. While leaving we took the Chidori bridge exit. The wind had picked up as we walked quickly towards the bus stop.

It was overall a good day. Even though it started with gross weather, it ended nicely. Matsue Castle is the symbol of the city of Matsue, and in 2015 it became the fifth Japanese castle to be designated a national treasure. I have to appreciate the craftsmanship that enabled the structure to be built without nails, assembled by artful joinery in what must be the supreme incarnation of tongue-and-groove construction.

I can only admire the burnished richness of the wooden siding; the art objects, samurai helmets, antique kimonos; the historical murals and architectural models in the castle museum; and the vertiginous view of the distant mountains from the open platform on the highest floor. Though centuries have gone by, the castle has been well maintained and preserved, allowing it to continue to project its strength and beauty to wide-eyed fanboys like us, in the same form as it was 400 years ago.

Thanks for reading! Tomorrow we leave for Kyoto. It has been a wonderful week exploring various areas of Shimane. I am certainly wiser when it comes to the mythological stories about this region. I hope to come back again to enhance my experience of this area, its cultures, and its traditions. Please leave me a comment if you liked my story or follow me on Instagram.


In the spring from March to April, there is the Camellia Festival where you can enjoy looking at the camellia, and a Castle Festival where the illumination of the castle and cherry blossom trees are magical.

A Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony is held in October annually. It is an event where you can enjoy various kinds of tea and Japanese confectionery and feel the Japanese charm.

Most of Matsue’s attractions are in a compact area north of the main JR Station and can easily be enjoyed in a day or two of sightseeing. You can also enjoy a boat ride along the moat of the castle. The Horikawa Sightseeing boat tour takes you along the 400 years old moat where the boatmen will tell you about the local history and culture. The boats departing roughly every 15 minutes from three convenient locations surrounding the castle.

The 3.7 km Horikawa Passage for small boats which has surrounded the castle since the time of its construction to the present day can be enjoyed for its elegant townscape of samurai residences and the old pine trees of Shiomi Nawate.


10 minutes by bus from JR Matsue Station

Open Days

Open every day.

Admission Hours

08:30 – 18:30 (closes at 17:00 between October and March)

Admission Fees

Adults 560 yen, children 280 yen.

Castle type

Hirayama-jō (Flatland hill castle)

Built by

Horio Yoshiharu

Date of construction

1607 – 1611

Alternative name

Chidori-jō (Plover Castle)

An evening at Kiyosu Castle

Today we explore one of the hidden gems of Japanese heritage located just about 6 km northwest of Nagoya. I am talking about Kiyosu Castle 清須城, a small castle with a long history, that the ruthless warlord Oda Nobunaga once called home.

Kiyosu Castle

The stories of Kiyosu Castle is smeared in blood. No surprises there as it played an important role in Nobunaga’s initiative for the unification of Japan.

After a violent takeover, with the assassination of Oda Nobutomo, the then clan leader of Kiyosu, Oda Nobunaga snatched the reigns of the province in 1555 CE. At that time Nagoya used to be the capital city. Following his ascent to the throne, he had Kiyosu Castle renovated and moved there, using it as his base in his war of conquest to unify the country.

During his reign, the castle town prospered as an economic and cultural center of the Owari province (western part of modern-day Aichi Prefecture) until 1610, when the capital was moved back to Nagoya.

Nagoya Station to Kiyosu

We were coming in from Nagoya, where we had spent the afternoon meandering around Nagoya Castle grounds.

The ride to Kiyosu Station didn’t take us more than 25 minutes from Nagoya Station, using the JR line. The ride is free if you are carrying JR Passes. You can also take the Meitetsu Line, but the walking time is more on that route.

Note: Meitetsu Line does not allow JR Pass.

The train dropped us off at Kiyosu station at around 3.30 pm.

From Kiyosu Station, the castle is another 20 minute leisurely walk along quiet lanes. The only sound I remember all through the walk was the sound of passing trains. Yes, the JR line runs almost parallel to the road all the way up to the castle.

Just before we arrived at castle we passed by a small park. I was pleasantly surprised to see a winter Sakura tree blooming right at the edge of the road. Generally Sakura blooms in Spring between the months of March to April. Winter Sakura, otherwise known as Fuyuzakuras (冬桜), as its name suggests, blooms in late autumn (Fuyu in Japanese translates to Winter). It is rare to see one around these parts.

Up ahead we found ourselves near the southern half of castle grounds, which is now a park, featuring a bronze statue of Oda Nobunaga in full armor, with his wife, Princess No-Hime.

Nobunaga’s statue imitates his appearance when he was about 26 years old. No-Hime’s statue standing beside his wasn’t originally built here. In the summer of 2012 due to popular consensus, it was relocated to his side.

There was still some daylight as we reached the front of the Castle. The first thing that you notice as the Castle comes into view is the lovely vermilion bridge in front of it. The cute little bridge over the Gojo river makes the castle look even more elegant.

Before you read further, I would like to clarify that the current standing castle isn’t the original structure. The original castle ruins lie exactly opposite to the current castle building. The present castle tower was reconstructed in 1989 based on the appearance and scale of the original.

The site of the actual keep now has the “Kiyosu Furusato no Yakata” a small rest area and souvenir stall on it. The shop was closed by time we reached. A bunch of girls were sitting under one of the street lights along the bridge playing some game. Their chirpy laughter was the only sound in the vicinity.

A brief history of Kiyosu Castle

Kiyosu Castle was first built around 1405 by Shiba Yoshishige, the Governor of Owari, as a major strategic defense. Owari is not a name used anymore. It used to describe the western lands of the present Aichi prefecture. In due time the castle became the seat of power for Owari.

Kiyosu Castle was the starting point for many of the historically significant samurai battles that took place in the violent Sengoku Period between 1450-1615. The major battles of Okehazama (1560), Anegawa (1570), Nagashino (1575) and Sekigahara (1600) were all launched from Kiyosu.

Oda Nobunaga and Kiyosu Castle

While talking about Kiyosu Castle, we cannot ignore the period when Oda Nobunaga reigned supreme. In 1555, after his father’s death, Oda Nobunaga enlisted the help of his uncle, Oda Nobumitsu, and together they attacked and killed Oda Nobutomo. Nobunaga then moved from Nagoya Castle to Kiyosu using it as his base for years to come.

Two years later after taking control of Kiyosu, Nobunaga’s younger brother Nobuyuki is believed to have conspired against him. Nobunaga discovered his brothers’ plot to oust him, and faked an illness to draw his brother close. When Nobuyuki came to pay his respects to his “ill” brother, Nobunaga is said to have ordered his assassination within Kiyosu Castle, eliminating his only opposition.

Kiyosu remained his base for many years. During that time, Kiyosu grew to be a vibrant city. The castle grounds once extended 1.6 kilometers east-west, and 2.8 kilometers north- south, having an outer, central and inner moat system.

By the time of his death in 1582, he controlled 30 of Japan’s 68 provinces and was the commander of the greatest samurai army in the country’s history.

Dusk at Kiyosu Castle

We walked around the castle capturing the graceful replica from different sides. The front of castle is surrounded by a rock garden.

It was nearing evening. The castle grounds were being closed. Currently a museum resides inside the castle. If you want to explore the castle grounds or visit the museum, you have to be here before 4.15 pm. We walked over to the bridge and waited for the magic hour as I refer to the sunset time when the skies light up like a dream.

The street lights over the bridge were gradually turning on one by one. The group of girls had probably gone back their homes. The area was totally deserted and it wasn’t even 5pm. If you have traveled much in Japan, it’s a fairly regular occurrence. It doesn’t even feel strange anymore. So, I set up my tripod over the bridge to catch the lovely castle in the shimmering light.

Within minutes hues of blue and purple surrounded the castle.

The rot of Kiyosu Castle

After numerous upheavals in the Sengoku Period, Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged victorious and laid the foundations Edo Government. In 1609, for better running of the government, he ordered the rebuilding of the castle at Nagoya.

In the same year the old tower of Kiyosu Castle was dismantled and the materials were used for the construction of the northwest yagura of the Nagoya castle. You can still witness that tower in Nagoya Castle, which has survived in its original form until today, being known as the Kiyosu Yagura. Once the construction at Nagoya Castle was finished, Kiyosu Castle was formally abandoned.

Kiyosu Castle Today

The current Kiyosu Castle was reconstructed in concrete in 1989 just across the Gojo river from where the actual castle stood. Since the original plans were lost it was built by using the model of the Inuyama castle, which is representative for the castles built in that period. The rebuilt tower, made of concrete, looks indeed like the Inuyama Castle, except for the absence of the small connected donjon and the karahafu undulated gable on the third floor.

It was getting dark and it was time for us to head back to the glistening lights of Nagoya. Kiyosu has a lovely castle and anyone interested in capturing a beautiful piece of heritage should not give it a miss. Once the capital of the powerful Owari domain, Kiyosu Castle’s influence may have waned, but its importance to history has not.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow this link to read about my other experiences of castles in Japan.

Originally Built

1394-1427 CE

Built by

Shiba Yoshishige



Utsunomiya Castle Ruins

I cannot forget this day ever. Today we went to explore the Utsunomiya Castle 宇都宮城 located in Tochigi Prefecture. The castle was okay but that I almost lost my Nikon D810 will stay etched in my memory for years to come.

We were staying at the APA Hotel Utsunomiya-Ekimae, a five-minute walk from the Utsunomiya Station. We try our best to book hotels near to the station. Even though they might be a little more expensive than those further away, it actually saves on travel cost and time.

We had arrived early in the day all the way from Aomori and took some rest at the hotel. After a small nap, we left the hotel in the evening to explore the Utsunomiya Castle grounds.

The hotel was about 25 minutes away on foot from the castle grounds. Rather than taking a bus or cab we decided to walk all the way to the castle. Might I add that walking along the lanes in these Japanese cities is a wonderful experience in itself.

How I almost lost my Nikon D810

As we were crossing the bridge over the Ta river, my Black Rapid camera strap broke from the hook and my D810 went sprawling on the pavement. For a few seconds I just stood in silence in complete shock. Thankfully it didn’t roll on to the road.

I hurriedly picked it up. The first thing I noticed was the 24-70mm Nikon hood was chipped in one side. But the hood had saved my lens. The camera had a few scratches on the side but was functioning without any noticeable issue. Now I understand what “built like a tank” means in all those camera reviews I had gone through before getting this hulk of a machine.

I was still shaken by the incident and I carried the camera, for the rest of the way in my hand. Black Rapid straps come pretty expensive and I didn’t expect the metal to break away like that.

Utsunomiya Castle Ruins Park

The Castle grounds falls right after the Ta river. It was the perfect evening time as we reached the Castle grounds.

Utsunomiya Castle is classified as a flatland castle. It was first built on a small hill in the Heian period by Fujiwara Sōen around the year 1063. His descendants took the name of Utsunomiya clan and remained in control of the castle for most part of the Kamakura Period between 1185 to 1333 CE.

During the Sengoku period (1467 – 1567 CE), the castle was greatly enlarged, enclosing an area over four kilometers in diameter with a series of concentric moats and high earthen ramparts. It was the most favorable time for the castle as it came to be renowned as one of the seven major castles of the Kanto region.

During their reign, the Utsunomiya clan faced repeated attacks by the Odawara Hojo clan. They were ultimately were defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and their lands including the castle were confiscated in 1597, and the castle came under the control of the Gamo clan, based in Aizu.

During the Edo Period, the castle was used as base for several Tokugawa loyalists. With the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate, Utsunomiya Castle became the center of Utsunomiya Domain, ruled by a succession of daimyo clans, beginning with the Okudaira in 1601.

In 1619, Honda Masazumi was appointed daimyo of Utsunomiya. Assisted by an able administrative staff, he largely reconstructed the castle and even hosted Shōgun Tokugawa Hidetada in the new palace when the shōgun was on his way to worship at the Nikko Tosho-gu. In particular Honda Masazumi is responsible for providing the basic layout for modern day Utsunomiya. Unfortunately the Ni-no-maru Palace burned down in 1683.

Destruction of Utsunomiya Castle

During the Boshin War of 1868, Utsunomiya Domain sided with the Imperial cause because of which it was attacked by a pro-Tokugawa army led by Ōtori Keisuke and Hijikata Toshizō. The castle fell to the pro-Tokugawa forces after a fierce battle during which most of the structures were destroyed. The battle left the castle in complete destruction.

The fall of Edo in the summer of 1868 marked the end of the Tokugawa shogunate, and a new era, Meiji, was proclaimed. Following the establishment of the Meiji government, the site of the castle came to be used as a garrison location for the Imperial Japanese Army until 1890. Prior to that it was handed over to private businesses, with the central portion becoming a public park. The rest of the area was converted into a wide lawn. Some purists have condoned the way the area has been turned into a commercial area with dozens of shops across the park.


In 2007, a large section of the walls, moats and two yagura on the site of the central bailey were reconstructed. This consisted of the Fujimi Turret, the Kiyoaki Dai Turret and a mighty section of an embankment. Utsunomiya Castle did not have a main keep, but the highly elevated yagura atop the large wall offers a nice view over the city. One can also go inside these yaguras and have a look at the wooden interior.

We wandered along the moat till late in the evening to capture this shot of the castle yagura casting a reflection in the moat below.

It was late in the evening as we started our walk back to the hotel. On the way, we spent some time at the Utsunomiya Station. There are some shopping malls alongside the station where you can shop for souvenirs.

Utsunomiya Castle does not have much for the photo enthusiasts but it does have a long heritage.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the dazzling Osanbashi Pier in Yokohama.

The stunning Osaka Castle

I dropped in at Osaka today to capture the stunning Osaka Castle in the evening light.

Osaka, Chūō-ku is the second largest metropolis of Japan. It’s a bustling city with over 19 million inhabitants. The city is well-connected by the subway. During my first few days in Osaka, I used to feel very lost making my way through the confusing subway. But I have made progress in the last few months and now am able to understand the routes better.

We started from Nara after lunch.

Nara to Osaka Castle

We reached the Tembabashi Station at about 4 pm. In my opinion its the easiest route to the Castle while coming from Nara. From the station its just a 10 minute walk to the castle.

A wide moat surrounds the grounds encircling the castle. In the center of the park, surrounded by the moat, the castle is built atop a tall stone foundation to protect its occupants from attackers.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle was built by the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who ruled Japan in the latter half of the 16th century, on the site of a temple called Ishiyama Hongan-ji. The construction work began in 1583 and most buildings including the castle tower were completed by 1585. Tens of thousands of people were contracted for the construction which lasted nearly two years.

The stone foundation itself is said to consist of  about 40,000 stones. There is an interesting story that powerful daimyo from all parts of Japan competed in sending the large rocks for the castle, to display their loyalty to the Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

The castle was destroyed in the forthcoming years and then rebuilt in 1931. The current structure is a concrete reproduction of the original and the interior functions as a museum. The central castle building is five stories on the outside, sitting on a high stone foundation. The castle’s interior consists of eight floors devoted mainly to exhibits. The castle tower has large golden dragon fish ornamental shining on the rooftop. Just below the rooftop viewpoint, the exterior walls are decorated with golden tigers.

Small packets of clouds went floating by the castle as we walked around the garden. After a bit of wandering about the castle grounds we came across some weeping Sakura trees on the north side of the garden.

The evening at Osaka Castle

A small bridge on the north side connects the castle with the grounds, over the moat. Evening was gradually setting in and the sky had begun to change into a multicolored canvas.

Beside the bridge, over the moat, a couple of pleasure boats were tied up. Business hours had closed by then and the boats floated nonchalantly over the moat as the sun was just about to hide behind the tall trees.

After a few minutes the sun went to sleep and we started our walk towards the viewpoint I had decided upon to take the evening shot of Osaka Castle.

Osaka Castle at Night

Finally, the moment for which I came here. The light was perfect. I set up my gear on the high stone wall and took this stunning view of the Osaka Castle. For the next 10 minutes the Osaka Castle looked like a fantasy structure from the mythical age of dragons.

Once the lights came on, the castle was illuminated in a burst of bright white light. I packed up my gear and we head back towards the Tembabashi Station.

It was a lovely evening at the castle. The exteriors of the Castle are stunning. There is always a good breeze blowing on the grounds. Many locals use the grounds for jogging in the evenings. Overall its a good place to spend an evening.

Thanks for sticking around to read my journal. If you have any questions, please use the comments section below. If you are in Osaka, you must visit the Kaiyukan Aquarium, the best aquarium I have seen in Japan or if you are looking for a quite evening, just wander around the Osaka Bay.


1583 CE

Built by

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Castle Tower Timings

9:00 to 17:00 (entrance until 16:30)
Closed: December 28 to January 1

Admission Fees

Adults: ¥600

The lovely Matsumoto Castle

After a whirlwind tour of Kanto region, we were finally headed home. Along the way we decided to stop at the beautiful Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jō) in Nagano Prefecture.

Constructed in 1592, it is one of four castles designated as ‘National Treasures of Japan’ and the oldest castle donjon (castle keep) remaining in Japan.

Takasaki to Matsumoto

After an early morning tour of Shorinzan Darumaji Temple, we were back in Takasaki. From Takasaki we took the Shinkansen to Nagano. The journey takes about an hour and passing through some breathtaking mountains.

At Nagano Station, after grabbing a quick bite at a Starbucks on the station premises, we hopped back on the train to Matsumoto along the JR Shinonoi Line.

The train chugged along through some high altitude mountains and from the big windows, one can see afar into the valley below. When I was here in March, travelling to Jigokudani, I could barely make out anything in the thick snow.

After an hour of passing through some lovely scenery, we reached Matsumoto Station. From the Matsumoto station, it’s a 20 minute walk to the Castle. One can also take a bus, but we love to walk. The city streets were decorated with paper lanterns for the upcoming festivities in summer. Summer is the time for festivities in japan. All across the Tohoku and the Kanto region, everywhere we went, we found people engaged in their local festivities.

It was early evening by the time we reached the castle grounds. Near the entrance, a platform had been constructed for performances during the Taiko Drum Festival . Every summer the 2000 year old Taiko Drum Festival is held at the site in which various groups from across the country gather in Matsumoto to entertain the audience with their performances under night lights with Matsumoto Castle in the background.

The surrounding park is not very widespread and It didn’t take us long to reach the castle. Along a path by the moat, many weeping Sakura trees were swaying in the light breeze.

In April the castle grounds comes alive with cherry blossoms. During these times it is common to see many newly married couples having their wedding photos taken in the grounds of the castle.

It was evening but it was still very bright. Sunsets during summer in Japan happen very late at around 7 pm. I was mighty surprised in Okinawa, when the sun refused go down even after 8 pm.

We walked along the moat watching the koi fish swimming in the clear waters surrounding the castle. The black castle casting its reflection in the water of the moat, looked like a beautiful painting. In old days, because of its black walls, Matsumoto Castle also used to be called ‘Crow Castle.’

Near the red bridge there are some seats overlooking the Castle. We sat there for some time under the growing shadows of the castle.

History of Matsumoto Castle

As we sat by the castle, Mani explained to me how Matsumoto Castle is one of oldest castle in Japan. Its origins go back to the Sengoku period. At that time Shimadachi Sadanaga of the Ogasawara clan built a fort on this site in 1504 AD. This castle used to be called Fukashi Castle. In 1550 AD it came under the rule of the Takeda clan and then Tokugawa Ieyasu..

The most interesting aspect of the castle is the main donjon/keep (tenshukaku) completed in the late 16th century, and which remains in its original wooden interiors and external stonework. This donjon was constructed between 1593 and 1594 by Lord Yasunaga, the second daimyo (vassals of the shogun) of the Ishikawa family.

It was in the Edo period when the Tokugawa shogunate established the Matsumoto domain. For the next 300 years until the abolition of the feudal system in the Meiji Restoration, the castle was ruled by the 23 generations of the Matsumoto daimyos.

Dusk was finally upon us. The flat-land castle (hirajiro), though enchanting in beauty, looked somewhat defenseless in the fading light. The inter-connected rock walls and the surrounding moat are the only defense against any attacks. The narrow wooden windows on the top floors, once used by archers and gunmen as the last defense.

The Castle consists of three stories and a concealed fourth. The second floor of the main keep features a gun museum, Teppo Gura, with a collection of guns, armor and other weapons. A hidden keep on the fourth floor is structurally independent of the main tower and is connected via a roofed passage.

We still had some 4 hours of travel left to reach Nara, so we started on our walk back towards the Station.

The weather had cooled down drastically as we walked towards the Matsumoto station. The limited express arrived in a few minutes and we were off towards home along the JR Shinonoi Line.

With over 400 years of history, Matsumoto Castle is a national treasure that one must see. I have been to many castles and in my opinion this is the most beautiful castle in Japan.

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The picturesque Chiba Castle

The Chiba Castle was not on my bucket list, but while we were in the Kanto region, we decided to give it a visit.

From the interesting Saitama Rail Museum, we took the JR train to Chiba Station. From Chiba Station, we took the Chiba Urban Monorail, a two-line suspended monorail system. It is the world’s longest suspended monorail system travelling along a 15 km route. This dual-tracked system was built by the Mitsubishi Company, to connect the suburbs of Chiba Prefecture with main city.

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It was fun watching the cars go by below our feet as the Chibatoshi-Monorail passed through the heart of the city. The ride is short, all of 6 minutes and costs ¥‎200. The monorail dropped us off at Kencho Mae station from where the Chiba castle is just a 10 minute walk. It was a cloudy evening as we walked towards the park.

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The directions are easy to follow and we at the Inohana Park in no time. A wide paved stone path leads to the castle grounds.

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A series of steps carried us up to the castle. The park was deserted, we were the only ones around. A vending machine was sitting in a corner surrounded by trees. As we faced the castle, it appeared fairly well maintained.

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The white castle was built by Chiba Tsuneshige around 1125 CE. Tsuneshige and his descendants ruled over the domain from this castle until the 1400’s. In front of the castle, on the left lies a bronze statue of the castle’s founder, Tsuneshige Chiba, on a horse.

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In 1455, Makuwari Yasutane, a related member of the Chiba clan, attacked the castle and took control of Chiba. He built a new castle (Motosakura Castle) nearby, abandoning the Chiba Castle and leaving to ruin for hundreds of years.

When the Satomi clan moved to southern Chiba Prefecture in the mid-15th century, they too ignored the Chiba castle and ruled from a newly created Otaki Castle created in 1521 by Nobukiyo Mariyatsu. Over the years as the control of the land passed from the Satomi to the Tokugawa shogunate and subsequently to the Abe, Aoyama, and Inagaki clans before being handed to Matsudaira Masahisa, whose descendants continued to rule from Otaki Castle until the Meiji restoration period.

It was only in 1672, when an application was made to the Tokugawa shogunate for permission to rebuild the Chiba castle. By that time, the castle had undergone severe devastation. It didn’t have a single functional gate and the 4-story donjon had fallen into ruins.  The castle was rebuilt in the 16th century. However the reconstructed donjon again burned down in 1842. The current castle we see today is actually a reconstruction from 1967. A new donjon was added in 1975. Even though it looks picturesque, this reconstruction is not in keeping with the original castle design.

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Due to lack of any surviving records indicating the appearance of the original donjon, the current structure was modeled after a 1832 sketch. However for a castle built in the 1100’s there should not be such a magnificent keep. Keeps came into prominence much later.

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The castle houses the Chiba City Folk Museum. There are five floors inside exhibiting personal effects relating to the Chiba Clan. Many artifacts like swords, guns, and other samurai weapons or on display here. The museum also talks about Chiba’s history and includes photos comparing it from the early 1900s until now.

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Chiba Castle is very easy to reach and can be visited for a quick couple of hours tour. If you just want to see a castle, this would be an easy trip, but if you are deep into historical things like me, you might not enjoy it so much. Not many people visit this castle and that makes it a quite and peaceful place to spend some time.

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It was dusk and we started on our way back to Takasaki, stopping for a brief moment at Tokyo.

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An evening at Hirosaki Castle

After a lovely time at the Tambo Art fields, we set off for one of the most beautiful castles in Tohoku region. Hirosaki Castle (弘前城) is a hirayama-style Japanese castle constructed in 1611. The present tower however was rebuilt in 1810 in the late Edo period (1603-1867) after a fire destroyed the original in 1627. It was the seat of the Tsugaru clan, who ruled over Hirosaki domain in the Mutsu Province, now known as central Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture.

Tambo Art Fields to Hirosaki

From Tamboato Station, we took the local to Onoekoko-Mae Station and from there another train on the Konan Line all the way to Hirosaki Station. It doesn’t take long to cover the distance, but the trains are scheduled at wide intervals and it was almost 5 pm by the time we reached Hirosaki Station. Originally opened in 1894, the present-day facilities at Hirosaki Station were completed in 2004. A bus terminal lies just outside of the train station.

Did you know: Besides rice, the Hirosaki region accounts for nearly a fifth of Japan’s apple production. They’re the best you’ll find in Japan, so enjoy some while you’re there.

Hirosaki is renowned for its agricultural produce. The Hirosaki area has been populated since the Heian Period (794 – 1185). The city has been renamed several times over the course of history. Its current name was adapted in 1808 from its former name, Takaoka. With its humid continental climate, summers in Hirosaki are hot, reaching a daily average of 23°C in August, while winters are mild in comparison.

The castle is open to visitors only from 9 am to 5 pm. But we were short on time on the next day and the castle grounds remains open till late, so we decided to go down anyway.

We love to walk, so from the station we walked down all the way to the Castle. If you are not in the mood for a walk, one can also take the 100-yen Dotemachi Loop Bus and get off at Shiyakusho-mae stop to reach the castle. That is the most convenient way to reach the castle, via the Otemon Gate located near the Hirosaki City Hall.

After a brisk walk, we reached the Sannomaru Otemon Gate in about 20 minutes. From the Sannomaru-Otemon-Gate, it’s another 10-minute walk to the castle across the vast Hirosaki Park.

The park surrounding the castle is open all round the year, but the castle itself is closed during the winter period from October 24th, until the end of March. Light was gradually failing as we walked past the Kitanokuruwa North Gate. Since it was way beyond 5 pm, we weren’t charged any admission fees for viewing the castle.

The Kitanokuruwa North Gate leads to a wide path surrounded by trees on both sides. The Hirosaki Park is home to over 2600 trees with over 50 different types of cherry trees. The Somei Yoshino cherry is the first to bloom every year, followed by the Shidarezakura (Weeping Cherry), then finally the Yaezakura (Double Layer cherry). The cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle are unique as each branch produces more flowering buds due to a special pruning technique.

History of Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle is a symbol of the city, and has a truly long history. During the late Sengoku period, Ōura Tamenobu was awarded 45,000 koku by Toyotomi Hideyoshi for his role in the Battle of Odawara in 1590. At the Battle of Sekigahara, he fought alongside Tokugawa Ieyasu, who subsequently rewarded him by making him lord of Hirosaki Domain increasing his revenues to 47,000 koku. In 1603, Ōura Tamenobu changed his name to Tsugaru and started work on Hirosaki Castle. He was the first of the Tsugaru feudal lords who established his rule over the Tsugaru area in the early 17th century. He died in 1607 and work on the castle was put on hold until his son Tsugaru Nobuhira restarted it in 1610.

The second lord, Tsugaru Nobuhira, completed the Hirosaki Castle in 1611. However, in 1627, the 5-story tenshu, was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. They tried to rebuild the castle but were prohibited by the then prevailing law that forbid more than one Castle per Province. It was not until 1810, when the present 3-story structure was erected, but at the southeast corner, rather than the original southwest location. The new 3 level keep is actually just the renovated Ninomaru tasumi yagura watchtower

Hirosaki’s Moving Castle

After walking across the vast Hirosaki Park, we finally reached a small red bridge across a moat. 

From the pictures I had looked on the internet, this was the very bridge from where people usually capture the iconic view of Hirosaki Castle, with the diminutive castle perched on the corner of its motte, overlooking the hundreds of cherry blossom trees surrounding it. However, during our visit we couldn’t find the castle where it was supposed to be. As we went up the bridge to the top, I realized that the entire castle had been moved approximately 100 meters to the northeast.

I later found out that because of the deteriorating stone walls, the the 14.4-meter-high, 400-metric-ton structure, was placed on a wheeled sled and moved very slowly over a three-month period in autumn 2015. Work is currently going on to repair the walls and the tower should be returned to its original position in 2021. So if you are visiting before that, get prepared to be shocked like me.

Fun Fact: The tower was also moved in 1897 to restore collapsed stone walls. Those repairs was completed in 1915, almost exactly 100 years ago. I wonder how they did it.

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We were finally in front of the petite castle. A wooden structure lies in front of the castle that provided me with a good viewpoint to capture the antique castle with the beautiful Iwate mountain in the background.

The current donjon of the castle was completed in 1811 by the 9th daimyō, Tsugaru Yasuchika. The structure is comparatively smaller than early Edo-period varieties of donjons, and it was built on a corner of the inner bailey on the site of a yagura, rather than the stone base of the original donjon. The small size was partly due to the restricted finances of the domain towards the end of the Edo period, but its location and design were also intended to alleviate concerns which might be raised by the Tokugawa shogunate should a larger structure be built. 

The Tsugaru clan held the castle until the Meiji Restoration when it was taken over by the government. With the Meiji Restoration and subsequent abolition of the han system, the Tsugaru clan surrendered the castle to the new Meiji government. In 1894, the castle properties were donated by the Tsugaru clan to the government for use as a park, which was then opened to the general public the following year. In 1898, an armory was established in the former Third Bailey by the IJA 8th Division. In 1906, two of the remaining yagura burned down.

In 1937, the remaining eight structures of the castle received protection from the government as “national treasures”. However, in 1944, during the height of World War II, all of the bronze in the castle, including roof tiles and decorations, were stripped away for use in the war.

In 1950, under the new cultural properties protection system, all surviving structures in the castle (with the exception of the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey) were named National Important Cultural Properties. In 1952, the grounds received further protection with their nomination as a National Historic Site. In 1953, after reconstruction, the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey also gained ICP status, giving a total of nine structures within the castle with such protection.

It was late, so we went back the same way passing the now illuminated Kitanokuruwa North Gate.

Hirosaki to Aomori

After a wonderful evening at the Hirosaki Castle grounds, we walked back to the station to catch the train to Aomori Station.

It was almost 9 pm by the time we reached Aomori Station. Luckily for us our Hotel was a just a couple of minutes away from the station. 

The stores had all closed by then and the streets wore a deserted look, so we went back to the hotel.

Hirosaki is one of my favorite castles. Even though the main keep is not very spectacular and there is less stonework compared to Osaka castle or Matsumoto castle, the building is unique. What it lacks in scale and grandeur, it makes up for in authenticity being a real Edo era castle and not a reproduction. The layout of the castle grounds and moats are perfectly preserved making it a unique experience. I sure hope to go down again if I am ever back in Japan during hanami. I had a really great time witnessing one of the more artistic castles and now for a good nights sleep 🙂 Tomorrow we leave for Akita.

Apart from Hirosaki castle, Aomori has many more interesting places to explore like the Wa-Rasse Museum, Aomori Bay and the monumental Showa Daibutsu. You can also go up the Aspam building to witness the beautiful city at night.

Thanks for reading. Please leave me a comment if you liked the post or follow my story as I visit the lovely lady of Tazawa lake.