RaymondW's Visited Castles


Castle Date Comment
Kofu Castle I talked with a staff member in the reconstructed Yamanote Gate (rebuilt in 2007.) He told me that most of the gate was built with red pine (akamatsu in Japanese) while some of the broad supporting beams were sourced from another type of tree. Those beams were from trees that were around 1,000 years old. All the wood was sourced from within Japan, and the pine was sourced from within Yamanashi Prefecture. If you go to the Yamanote Gate, they will play a complete video for you lasting 26 minutes. You don't have to watch the whole thing. The guy there said that I could stop watching it whenever I want. The whole video is in Japanese, but parts of it are pretty interesting about the construction and history of the castle. Kofu Castle has plenty of ishigaki, and it reminds me a little bit of Marugame Castle, where practically the whole hill is encased in stone blocks. They are doing some renovation on part of the ishigaki, so one of the access routes to the honmaru is blocked off. This is a nice castle ruin for castle fans. I gave it three stars because it has a reconstructed turret, a masugata-style gate, lots of reconstructed smaller gates, and plenty of ishigaki. Both the turret and the Yamanote Gate are reconstructed using wood.
Kokokuji Castle
Kokura Castle A little slow with writing a comment for Kokura Castle, but I went to this castle as part of my trip down to Kyushu in March earlier this year. Kokura Castle is around 10 minutes on foot from JR Kokura Station. The castle keep is a concrete reconstruction built in 1959. The original castle keep burnt down in a fire in 1837 and was never rebuilt. There is a lot of ishigaki left as well as the ruins of eight gates. Some of stone walls have been restored. There is a building that looks like a reconstructed sumi yagura (corner turret), but it is part of a temple complex now. Any remaining castle buildings were destroyed by the Ogasawara Clan after they lost the Second Battle of Choshuseito in 1866, setting the castle on fire before fleeing to Tagawa. Entry to the castle keep cost 350yen. This is a castle geared towards families as there are lots of hands-on stuff and videos for young kids to try out. There is also a nice diorama of the keep and surrounding castle town as well as a replica room from the Edo Period showing Ogasawara Tadazane meeting his high-ranking officers. For me, this is a solid 2.5 star site and worth a visit for any castle fan in Kitakyushu.
Komaki Castle I went to this castle last weekend. I had low expectations of this castle ruin site after reading the website's description and Furinkazan's comment about it. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. Yes, the castle keep is definitely rubbish-looking on the outside and, of course, there was no such castle keep in its day. However, if you enjoy tracking the development and evolution of Nobunaga's castles, this is an interesting site to visit. In many ways, it is a prototype for his later and grander Azuchi Castle. There are baileys (some overgrown) lining both sides of the long Otemichi (Main Road) running up the hill eventually to the Honmaru. This is just like the design at Azuchi Castle. The main difference is that at Azuchi, the Otemichi and the baileys lining it were all encased in stone, while at Komaki they were mainly just earthenworks for the baileys and stones for the Otemichi. Once you have reached the honmaru, there is a tacky pseudo-castle concrete building which houses a museum. However, on the inside they have made some effort to fit it with wooden paneling, wooden ceiling, and covered the concrete stairs with wood. Almost everything is in Japanese except for four pages in English in a booklet describing the Battle of Komaki-Nagakute. After reading the English explanation, I pressed a nearby button to get the full audiovisual rundown in Japanese about the battle. The museum has only one suit of armour, lots of pottery, and a pretty cool section about the famous battle including a copy of a screen painting showing the Battle of Komaki-Nagakute. Standing on the veranda of the top floor, you can clearly see downtown Nagoya and the pin-prick outline of Gifu Castle perched on Mt. Kinka. Also, you can just make out the hill where Inuyama Castle is located. Just below the fake castle keep in the honmaru are some ishigaki ruins and three piles of stones that the archaeologists have found and stacked up in their 2003 excavation of the area around the honmaru. They will use all the loose stones in the future when restoring the honmaru ishigaki. Located at the base of the hill to the east and north are a series of restored baileys (obi kuruwa), their earthworks, some moats, a well, a cross-section of one part of the earthen embankments to show how they built, and some koguchi (gates) ruins. Up on the hill, there are four more koguchi ruins. Overall, this castle ruin actually had a total of 9 koguchis, but I could only locate 6 of the 9 gate ruins. I guess a re-visit is needed in winter when the undergrowth and weeds have died back. While this castle won't compete with some of the nearby heavyweights in Aiichi Prefecture like Inuyama Castle, Okazaki Castle, and Nagoya Castle, I reckon this castle is worth a re-rating to 1.5 to 2 stars because it is well signposted in Japanese (except for some of the koguchis), there are enough older sengoku-period-style defensive features to be seen, and the museum, while not great, is pretty informative about its most famous episode: the Battle of Komaki-Nagakute in 1584.
Komoro Castle
Kumamoto Castle This is one castle site without an original castle keep that can easily compare well with and surpass some of the smaller original castles in Japan. I spent two days at this castle. I think for most castle fans, you can easily spend a full day at this castle as it is huge with lots of ishigaki, original and reconstructed turrets and towers, a reconstructed palace, multiple massive baileys, deep moats, and a concrete castle keep. The original Uto Tower (Uto Yagura) would be a castle keep in its own right anywhere else in Japan, but at Kumamoto Castle, it is just one of the major defensive towers protecting one corner of the inner castle site. As mentioned on this website already, there are 13 original structures including the Uto Yagura. Not all the yaguras are open, but you can go inside Uto Yagura, Iida-maru Five-storey Yagura, Sukiyamaru Two-storey Hall, the Honmaru Goten (Main Bailey Palace) and, of course, the castle keep. Some of the other yaguras and structures are open to the public only on special occasions. About a third of the original Honmaru Goten has been restored, but it has been done very well. You can take photos inside the palace with the flash off. This is an awesome castle site to visit. If you can make it to only one castle site in Kyushu, make this your number one priority, but give yourself plenty of time to see it all. These guys are continuously working on improving the castle site. Right now, they are working on restoring the Bagu Yagura next to the Hazekata Gate. This is certainly a five star site.
Kuwana Castle
Mariko Castle Eric, the JCastle site administer, is absolutely spot on about how Mariko Castle utilized the latest military know-how in castle design when it was significantly modified by the Takeda Clan in the Sengoku Period. If you are looking for stone walls, watchtowers, and castle keeps, then this wouldn't be a fun castle site for you to visit. However, for those castle fans interested in tracking the evolution of Japanese castles from its smaller earthen and wooden mountaintop castles to the massive stone behemoths like Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle, then Mariko Castle Ruin is a fabulous one to visit. Located on a small mountain about 140m above sea level, it is a formidably constructed castle in its day designed to maximize its defenders' firepower. On it northern approach, are two sets of parallel earthen ramparts and moats while on the western side, there are three sets of parallel earthen ramparts and moats. All the earthen ramparts on both the western and northern sides were built successively higher and overlook the previous set. In effect, this is like the concentric sets of curtain walls found surrounding medieval European castles, where archers from both the lower and higher curtain walls can pour fire into the attackers. Roughly located in the middle of the second earthen rampart is a protruding semi-circular strongpoint, giving the defenders a 180 degree firing angle, allowing them to pour enfilading fire on attackers trying to scale the middle earthen rampart. This strongpoint functions very much like a mural tower on European castles' curtain walls. In Japanese, it is called Hourui. On the eastern and southern sectors of the castle, a series of vertical moats were carved into the steep mountainside to limit attackers' movement and channel them into kill zones. Two sets of terraced baileys running down from the eastern and southeastern of the main bailey allows the defenders pour fire on attackers from three directions if the southeastern corner of the castle complex is attacked. The southwestern sector of the castle is protected by two circular barbican-like baileys located below the main bailey, and they are nearly encircled by a mixture of horizontal and vertical ditches including one massive vertical moat extending over 100 metres down the mountain. This castle dates from as early as the Namboku Period (13th Century), but mostly what visitors can see nowadays of the castle ruin are the improvements made to the castle after the Takeda Clan took over in 1568. There are only earthen ramparts, earthen bridges between baileys, and moats left. All the wooden structures are long gone. Access to Mariko Castle is fairly easy. It is around a 20-minute bus ride from Shizuoka Station. From the bus stop, it is about a seven minute walk to the trailhead. It took my wife and me around 2.5 hours to do this site as we were scrambling around the mountainside sussing out most of its defensive features. Going by the JCastle rating scale for castle sites, this castle ruin probably deserves only a one-star rating, but for me, Mariko Castle Ruin is certainly worth two stars because of its intelligent design with defensive features that I rarely see at other yamajiros. Also, it is better signposted than most mountaintop castle ruins that I have been to.
Marugame Castle
Maruoka Castle
Matsue Castle
Matsumoto Castle I made it to this castle again last week. This has to be one of the most photogenic castles that I have visited, but going in August is controlled madness particularly around the Obon period when many locals are on holiday. It's a great castle to visit, and there are volunteer guides who speak English. Also, until 11 in the morning, they have a guy decked out in all the trappings of a samurai with whom you can take some photos. He had a couple of female helpers. I stayed at Toyoko Inn, so I was able to buy the discounted ticket for half price (300yen instead of 600yen). The Top 100 Castle stamp is in the little office next to the souvenir shop.
Matsusaka Castle For fans of ishigaki, this castle ruin has tons of it. I went to this castle in mid-February after going to the nearby Tamura Castle Ruin (not listed on this website yet), about 20 minutes away by JR train from Matsuzaka Station. Matsuzaka Castle is quite an impressive castle ruin with enough signs and explanations in Japanese to clearly identify the various baileys and ruins around the site. The museum on the castle ground does have some nice black and white photos of the castle before it was demolished. I spent almost two hours at this castle site. It possible to visit three castles ruins in the Matsuzaka / Tsu area in one day. I managed to get in Tamaru Castle, Matsuzaka Castle, and Tsu Castle in that order.
Matsushiro Castle
Mihara Castle There isn't much to see here. The JR train line runs right through the middle of the honmaru. There is some ishigaki to be seen as well as part of the water moat seen in the pictures on this website. Also, you can find part of the honmaru ishigaki embedded in a passageway that runs right under the train line. I only sussed out the honmaru part of the castle ruin as I had a connecting train to catch. Nearby are the remnants of parts of the outer moats and outer baileys' ishigaki. Only stop by here if you are visiting the Onomich / Mihara area or you're on your way to Hiroshima by local JR trains and have some time to spare. This is just barely a one-star site for me.
Minakuchi Castle I went to this castle ruin in late February and was pleasantly surprised. I know they have reconstructed the demaru of the castle ruin with a two-storey yagura (which was not there in the original castle) and two gates. However, once inside the yagura, I found it was a wooden reconstruction using Hinoki Cypress. The lady at the reception was very helpful. She even managed to find a simple explanation of the castle history in English which she gave me along with other pamphlets in Japanese. She also told me that they don't get many visitors as most people go to the more famous and accessible castle sites like Azuchi, Hikone, and Nagahama. Inside the yagura is a nice little museum on the ground floor which includes a model of what the original castle looked like. Entry is a measly 100yen. Apart from the demaru, the honmaru is still around, but all the buildings and other yaguras are long gone. Instead, you will find a couple of baseball fields in the honmaru. There is still a water moat running around the honmaru. It is certainly worth walking around the outside of this castle ruin. It doesn't take long to visit this castle site. I think if you spend around an hour here, it will be enough. If you have time, it may be worth your while to visit its older brother, Minakuchi-Okayama Castle Ruin located on hill nearby. There isn't much up at the older castle site up on the hill, but the baileys are clearly marked, and there are some earthen embankments, dry moats, and some ishigaki remains (not much) to see.
Minowa Castle Minowa Castle Ruin is like other earthen castles in Eastern Japan such as Sakura Castle (Chiba) and Suwahara Castle (Shizuoka) with well preserved earthen ramparts, earthen bridges, very deep moats and, in Minowa's case, a few stone walls. Some of the moats used to be filled with water. For castle fans who want to track Ii Naomasa's castles' evolution, this is certainly a worthwhile site. There isn't a lot of ishigaki (stone walls) at this castle site. What is left is located mainly around the Sannomaru (Third Bailey) and at the Kotomon (Koto Gate) on the west side. The photos have already been posted by the website administer from his trip in 2008. There is also some ishigaki at the Gozen Kuruwa (Gozen Bailey), but the area was roped off and closed to the public. Minowa Castle has some huge moats. The deepest moat, at around 20 metres from top to bottom, is located between the Honmaru and Ninomaru. As you move from north to south, the moats get shallower. Most of the moats protecting the inner baileys of Minowa Castle: Honmaru (Main Bailey), Ninomaru (Second Bailey), Kuruwa Umadashi (Kuruwa Barbican), and Gozen Kuruwa (Gozen Bailey) are 10 to 20 metres deep. The baileys are terraced and overlook the next layer of defences as you descend down the hill from north to south. Since 2011, a lot of effort has gone into making more of the castle ruin visible and accessible to visitors. Some of the massive moats have had all of its undergrowth and trees removed, so you can see them clearly as well as actually walk in them unlike at Sakura Castle, where the deep dry moat around the main bailey is full of undergrowth and inaccessible. Many of the major baileys have also had their undergrowth and weeds cut back, so they are a lot more visible now compared to some of the photos on this website. As mentioned already by web administrator, you can catch a bus to Minowa Castle from Takasaki Station. My wife and I got off at the Shiroyama Iriguchi stop (550yen), entering the castle complex from the southeast. Alternatively, you can get off at the Shogakkomae (Primary School) stop and get into the castle complex from the south via the Mizunote Bailey. This is a solid two-star castle (mainly for its impressive moats and massive earthen ramparts), but it will morph into a three-star experience if you come across Okada-san, the local castle expert who is at the site almost every day of the week. This guy is very knowledgeable about Minowa Castle (and other castles), and he is one of the members of the local NPO which promotes Minowa Castle. He explained to us about some Hojo-period ishigaki (at least 6 metres high) found in the excavation of the earthen bridge linking the Kuruwa Umadashi and Ninomaru. He also told us about the types of ishigaki found at the Sannomaru. The other ishigaki visible dates from when Ii Naomasa upgraded the castle fortifications, particularly along the main path up to the castle. Misaki City will rebuild two of the castle gates, including a wooden two-storey gatehouse at the Kuruwa Umadashi and a simpler wooden gate on the western side on the Honmaru (Nishikoguchi). If I remember correctly from what Okada-san told us, both gates will be built from Kiyaki (Zelkova).The wooden bridge which used to link the Honmaru and the Kurayashiki Bailey will also be rebuilt. It is similar to the one which links Kane Bailey and Tenbin Yagura at Hikone Castle. The work is scheduled to start next year and will take five years to complete. Guess when I will be back for a re-visit. The site is reasonably well signposted with additional signs put up since the web administrator's visit in 2008. According to Okada-san, there are plans to upgrade the signs further by making them more detailed with multilingual explanations in Japanese, English, Korean, Chinese, and German. Whether this actually happens will depend on funding available. Oh, I almost forgot: before you head out to Minowa Castle, stop by the tourist info counter at Takasaki Station and ask the helpful ladies there for an A3 double-sided handout(in Japanese only) with a map of the castle ruin and detailed explanations about the castle as well as information on catching the bus to get there and back. Armed with a map of the castle, we had no problem at all in locating one of the six ways to get into and navigate our way around this massive castle ruin. This castle ruin certainly deserves its place in the list of top 100 castles in Japan. For me, Minowa Castle Ruin is definitely worth at least 2.5 stars.
Naegi Castle My wife and I went to this castle ruin in early October. We took a taxi from Natsugawa Station. It costs around 2,000yen, but I think it saved us a lot of time because of the intermittent buses, and the fact that the nearest bus stop is around a good half an hour walk away to the castle museum and trailhead. Entry into the castle ruin is free, but if you want to see the displays inside the castle museum, it will cost you 310yen. There is a nice model of what the castle looked in its Sengoku days along with the usual displays of armour, weapons and artifacts related to the castle. They have a nice booklet for sale (only 500yen and in Japanese) and worth buying if you want some kind of detailed reference material for Naegi Castle. Well, I don't know how this isn't a Top 100 castle because it has plenty of original and restored ishigaki and earthen ramparts. The design of the castle is also quite rare in that the whole castle was built on this hill full of rocky outcrops and massive boulders which have been cleverly integrated into its defensive features and stone walls. The original castle had a lot of its buildings hanging over some of the steep sides, supported by wooden pillars anchored to the steep rocky cliffs. The lookout at the Honmaru tries to recapture some of this architectural feature. The view from the lookout is absolutely fabulous. In the distance looms Mt Ena, which Japanese hikers consider to be one of the top mountains for bushwalking in Japan. We were very lucky as we went to Naegi Castle on a fine day, so we could really enjoy a clear view of the surrounding valleys and mountains. This is a wonderful castle ruin worthy of three stars because of the unusual design, great views, few tourists (not discovered by the masses yet like Takeda Castle), and a good castle museum.
Nagahama Castle
Nagoya Castle A very impressive reconstructed castle with a great museum inside the keep. However, since the keep is not an original or rebuilt from wood, it gets excluded from getting five star in my book. Lots of ishigaki, moats, and one original corner turret left. When the reconstructed palace is finished in about ten years, then I will probably bump the ratings up to five stars.
Nakatsu Castle
Nanao Castle My wife and I finally made it to this castle after a few false starts because of bad weather for the previous times that we had planned to go. We went during Golden Week and had an absolutely perfect spring day for enjoying this mountaintop castle ruin. We took a taxi from Nanao Station up to the castle ruin. It cost about 2,500yen, so I reckon it must have been around a 7 to 8km ride. If you are driving up to Nanao Castle, there is a carpark with space for at least a dozen cars. There is also a modern toilet block opposite the carpark. This castle ruin certainly deserves its reputation as a highly rated yamajiro in Japan with the likes of Iwamura Castle, Takatori Castle, and Oka Castle. A free pamphlet (Japanese only) with a detailed map is available in a box at the entrance to this castle ruin. There is plenty of ishigaki to be found around the Main Bailey (Honmaru) and Sakurababa Bailey with a panoramic view of the Nanao Bay from the Honmaru. There are also earthwork remnants left including gate ruins, earthen embankments, and moats. All the major baileys are open to the public with easy paths, wooden stairs linking the Second Bailey with the Third Bailey, and sufficient signposts to know let where you are. In general, the castle site is fairly well maintained. According to our taxi driver, Nanao Castle has a festival on 13th September every year. This is the date when the Hatakeyama Clan lost the castle to Uesugi Kenshin after a long siege. After spending around 2.5 hours on site sussing out the stone walls and earthworks, we descended the mountain via the old Ote Trail. It's only 1.5km and even including scrambling around and taking photos of the overgrown Bansho Bailey and Jisho Bailey further down the hill, it only took us around 30-ish minutes to get down to the trailhead. From there, it is roughly another 0.5km to the Nanao Castle Museum. At the museum, there are exhibits (outside the building) of mainly tiles found from archaeological digs on site. Also, there are just two wooden doors from one of the castle's yakuimons (yukui-styled gate). Inside the museum, the highlight was a computer-generated virtual tour of what this sprawling castle complex looked like during the Sengoku Period. It looked like during the Sengoku Period, the whole mountain was covered with terraced baileys, and the ??castle proper accessible now is only a fraction of the fortified town of Nanao Castle. This CG video was only introduced from 2014. Entry to the museum cost 400yen which includes both the museum and a traditional house with a straw roof. A taxi back to Nanao Station from the Nanao Castle Museum cost about 1,300yen. Nanao Castle Ruin along with the castle museum is certainly worth at least two stars, but on the fine spring day with its fantastic view, it may be more enjoyable for a castle fan than just a two star rating.
Natsukawa Castle
Niitakayama Castle This was my first castle visit in 2014. This castle ruin is not on the Top 100 castle list, but it is a fabulous mountaintop castle to visit. On some Japanese castle websites, it has been included in a Top 100 Castle Ruin List for castles not already included in the Top 100 Castle list. This is quite a significant castle in Japanese history as it was the home castle of Kobayakawa Takakage, who played a significant role in his father's (Mori Motonari) Battle of Miyajima in 1555 and the Battle of Pyokje in 1593 on the Korean Peninsular. The castle ruin is reasonably well signposted. There is an original gate, but it has been moved to Soukou Temple in Mihara. Unfortunately, it was dark already by the time the train pulled up at Mihara Station, so I guess I will have to revisit this castle site to get in all the 60 baileys and suss out the relocated Otemon Gate at Soukou Temple.
Nijo Castle This is a great castle ruin to visit if you want to see one of the few extant castle palaces left in Japan. Other remaining ones from the Edo Period that I know of are at Kochi Castle, Kakegawa Castle and Kawagoe Castle Ruin. I took a friend who was visiting Japan here last weekend. There is a little bit of restoration work going on. The Karamon and parts of the walls surrounding the Ninomaru Palace are under wraps until 30th September 2013. The Ninomaru Palace remains unaffected and is business as usual. Also, there is a drive by the castle staff asking for donations to raise funds for preservation and restoration work.
Nirayama Castle
Nishio Castle The curse of Monday strikes again! This is another one of those minor castle sites in Japan that is closed on Mondays. There is a museum, a gate, and a turret, but both the museum and turret were closed. Some restored water moats and earthen embankments can be seen. There are also the remains of a well in the honmaru remains. Some remnants of original ishigaki can still be seen. Since I could not visit either the turret or museum, I can only give this castle site, a one-star rating on Mondays. If you are using a JR Seishun-18 ticket, you can get off at JR Anjo and either walk to the Meitetsu Kita-Anjo or Minami-Anjo Station. The latter has more trains because the express trains also stop there. A one-way Meitetsu ticket from either of the Anjo stations to Nishio Station cost 340yen. From Nishio Station, it is around a 15 minute walk to the site.
Niwase Castle
Nochiseyama Castle This castle ruin is also easy walking distance from JR Obama Station, you can easily get in Obama Castle and Nochiseyama Castle in one day. It is on the opposite side to Obama Castle and takes only around 8 minutes to get to the trailhead from Obama Station. The initial part of the trail up to the castle ruin is fairly steep, but the local authorities have put in steps on the trail, so it is fairly easy to get up and down the trail. At the start of the trail, there is a massive vertical ditch (Tatebori in Japanese) which can be seen. About 15 minutes or so up the steep trail, it levels out, and there is a sign in Japanese indicating a series of terraced baileys. No original structures have survived at this castle ruin, but you can see some stone walls up at the main bailey, stone stairs, earthworks, moats, and an earthen bridge linking two baileys. Around the main bailey, the ishigaki (stone walls) are around 1.5 metres high. Also, on the main path just below the main bailey, there are some stone wall remnants on the terraced baileys and stone stairs. This is one castle ruin off most castle fans' radar, so my wife and I practically had the whole place to ourselves. We only bumped into one other castle fan while we were there. It is a national historic site, and for those who enjoy a bushwalk around a castle ruin, this is a nice one, worthy of at least a one-star rating.
Obama Castle Obama City is raising money to rebuild the castle keep. See the following website (in Japanese only) for more details. It looks like if they can raise the funds, reconstruction of the castle keep will start in 2015.
Odaka Castle
Odani Castle This is quite an extensive mountaintop castle ruin. As mentioned by Kristy in the notes, another castle fan, you get off at JR Kawake Station. There are some mini-buses which you can take from the station to the Odani Sengoku History Musuem at the base of the mountain where the castle ruin is located. Entry to the museum cost 300yen, but it is worth the price of admission because along with getting to see the few exhibits in the museums and illustrations of the different parts of Odani Castle you get a very detailed topographical map of the whole castle site which identifies and explains 49 features in and around the castle site. I went to Odani Castle in late February. The trailhead up to the castle along the Ote Route is about 300m from the museum. This is one of the best signposted castle ruin that I have visited in Japan. It's a far cry from Kannonji Castle Ruin (another extensive mountaintop castle ruin in Shiga) where practically nothing is signposted. A lot of the signs were very new and a few have not been completed yet with the explanations not mounted on the wooden frames. I think this is the positive flow on effects of the current NHK drama which features Odani Castle. I went in late February and was surprised by the amount of snow left after the big dump of snow in mid-February. I managed to get up to Point 20 on the map, Sannou Bailey??, the highest point of Odani Castle Ruin. By that time, I was walking in around 30 to 40cm deep snow. Without some decent gaiters to keep the snow out of my hiking boots, I decided not to go on up to the northernmost two baileys of Odani Castle and missed out on the chance to get to the top of the mountain and see another castle ruin, Oozuku Castle Ruin, I think around 0.5km from Sannou Bailey. Also with so much snow, a lot of ishigaki (stone walls) were covered, so I could not even see the Big Ishigaki at the base of Sannoumaru. It was also hard to identify some of the gate ruins at the different baileys. I guess I will make another trip to this castle ruin later this year to complete the course and see the whole castle complex. Some of the baileys have had its trees and bushes removed, so visitors can see the full extent of some of the baileys. There is some ishigaki left, particularly up around Honmaru and Sannoumaru. BTW, there are shuttle buses running up to a point near the Banshomaru from the Odani Sengoku History Museum every 30 minutes, but they were not running in February. I guess they only operate them during the warmer and more popular seasons for visiting Odani Castle Ruin. This is a solid two-star site and could be three stars if you treat it as bushwalking with some castle ruins thrown in.
Odawara Castle This is a good castle to visit if you are in the Kanto Region. I made it to this place on my way to a recent conference in Tokyo. As stated on this website, it has plenty of reconstructed gates and earthworks. The museum is pretty good, and there is some attempt to make the inside of this castle look wooden with some wooden panelling. No photos are allowed in the castle. Good place to learn about Hojo Clan.
Ogaki Castle The cherry blossoms around Ogaki Castle are in full bloom this week. All the renovations are done, so the castle looks brand new on the outside. For those visiting on a weekday, this place is closed on Tuesdays. BTW, the official Ogaki City webpage for Ogaki Castle in Japanese is
Oka Castle This is a fabulous mountaintop castle ruin to visit. Personally I rate this very highly, second only to Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle, which has an extant castle keep. Out of the many yamajiros (mountaintop castles) that I have visited so far, Oka Castle for me, surpasses almost all of them including highly rated ones like Takatori Castle (Nara) and Iwamura Castle (Gifu). Oka Castle Ruin is very impressive for a number of reasons. It is a massive castle on the same scale as Kannonji Castle (Shiga), Niitakayama Castle (Hiroshima), and Okishio Castle (Hyogo, not listed on JCastle yet.) It has way more ishigaki (stone walls) than the Castle in the Clouds: Takeda Castle and probably about the same amount of ishigaki if not more than Takatori Castle. If they chop down all the trees, the visible ishigaki of Oka Castle, perched on a mountain 352 metres above sea level (actual height differential is around 100 metres from the valley floor), would stretch for almost a kilometre in roughly a J-shape. As it is, there is a team of gardeners who regularly weed-whacks the site, so that most of this massive castle ruin is accessible to castle fans unlike other yamajiros such as Takatori Castle and Kannonji Castle, where many of the sprawling baileys and stone walls are buried under dense undergrowth and trees. Despite the efforts of the gardeners, the sides of some of the baileys (the stone wall parts) are still covered by a verdant carpet of ferns and weeds. I guess the castle ruin is just so big that it is impossible to keep it completely free of the rampant summer growth. Still it is much better maintained than similar-sized yamajiros that I have been to. Size and accessibility to most of the baileys alone don't account for the wow factor of this castle ruin. It has many features that appeal to castle fans. Around a dozen different stone wall construction styles can be found at Oka Castle. In addition, there are several types of gate ruins including an Uzimon, kokuins (carved insignias), wells, an extensive drainage system, two massive display stones each measuring nearly 2m x 2m at the gate ruin to Sannomaru (Third Bailey) plus other smaller display stones elsewhere, very steep walls (particularly around the Ninomaru and Sannomaru), panoramic views including Mt. Aso in the distance on a clear day (unfortunately, it was somewhat hazy when I visited with my wife), and reasonably good signposting (in Japanese only). One final point in its favour is that there are relatively few tourists. In the four hours that we were on site, we came across probably around 50 to 60 people, and that was during the height of the Obon holiday. Combining all these factors with the detailed coloured map that you get with the 300yen entrance fee, and the fact that this castle ruin was the inspiration for Taki Rentaro's famous composition, make this a great yamajiro to visit. BTW, Taki Rentaro's statue is located in the Ninomaru (Second Bailey), not far from the site of where the Tsukimi Yagura used to be. The only downside to Oka Castle is that if you are using public transport to get there, express trains to JR Bungo-Takeda (from either Kumamoto or Oita) are quite limited with only several trains a day. The castle ruin is only a 20 minute walk from the station. The staff at the ticket booth to the castle site was very helpful, and if you ask, they do have a one-page A4 explanation of the castle in English. Kudos to the people managing Oka Castle for making it such a wonderful and accessible castle ruin to visit.
Okayama Castle
Okazaki Castle I rushed my first visit to this castle three years ago, so I decided on a re-visit yesterday and actually walked around it a bit more leisurely. I got round to see more of the moats and ishigaki on the north side of the castle ground which I missed last time. There is a free English pamphlet available on request. You can only take photos on the top floor of the castle. The other parts of the castle museum have no photos signs all over. A 44-page book in Japanese with colour photos of some of the displays in the museum as well as the history of the castle is available for 600yen. The interior of the castle could have been done better with wooden panelling to hide all the concrete. Still, the museum was pretty good.
Add your comment welcomes all comments. If you do not want to be anonymous, register or log in. It is free.