A Day of History in Gyoda, Saitama
Located in the north of Saitama Prefecture, Gyoda City is an ideal place to spend a day for history nerds, park enthusiasts, those wanting to learn about Japanese culture – in fact the list is endless, as it is a great day out for anyone! Visitors can easily fill a day by taking in the majestic castle, learning about the history of the area in the Gyoda City Museum, strolling through the picturesque streets and parks, and observing the well-known ancient burial mounds in Sakitama Kofun Park.
Gyoda City was developed as a castle town for Oshi Castle, which was built in 1479. The castle survived several considerable attacks, the most famous of which was the final attack by Ishida Mitsunari. Mitsunari, a famous warrior of Japan, laid siege to the castle in 1590 and built a causeway to flood the whole area. The castle held out for over a month after the flood, and was only surrendered when the samurai guarding the castle heard of their lord’s defeat at the Siege of Odawara.
Today visitors can enjoy meeting actors portraying the protagonists of the siege, and will even be welcomed into the castle by employees in historical samurai costumes. There are opportunities to watch the actors carry out choreographed fight routines and take samurai photos. It is great fun to stroll around the castle and try to imagine what life may have been like for the samurai attempting to hold the castle during the famous siege.
The Gyoda City Museum is partially next to and partially inside the castle, and is certainly worth a visit to learn more about not only the castle, but also the surrounding area. The samurai theme continues in the museum, as in spring and autumn visitors are able to try on samurai armour for around ten minutes and pretend to go back in time! There are also informative and interesting displays about the general history of the area. Most of the labels are in Japanese, but it is still quite easy to understand what most of the displays are about.
Photo: peko-chan on Flickr
Visitors can also learn about the history of ‘tabi’ sock production in Gyoda. These socks are vital to Japanese kimono culture and Gyoda produces almost half of all of them, as this is the traditional industry of the area. There is a fascinating section of the museum devoted to the details of tabi-making which displays some of the materials and equipment used. Even if all of this history sounds too much for you (I won’t pretend to understand this view!), you should still go to the museum as this enables you to climb to the top of the castle and enjoy an excellent view of Gyoda City and the surrounding area.
Photo: Ad Blankestijn on Flickr
So far this article has focused on Gyoda Castle and Gyoda City Museum, but the nine ancient tombs in the vast Sakitama Kofun Park are another great reason to visit Gyoda City. The tombs were built before the seventh century and are important historical sites. They combine to make the largest grouping of ancient burial mounds in East Japan. The tomb named Maruhaka-yama is one of the largest circular burial mounds in Japan. Another of the tombs, Shogun-yama, has a display room inside so visitors can see what the tomb would probably have looked like when it was created.
Photo: baron valium on Flickr
Beyond these great attractions, Gyoda City is also a pleasant place to walk around, with many historical buildings and pretty green areas. It is easy to find the various attractions as signs on the route from the station are clear and regular. To access Gyoda City from Tokyo, take the JR Takasaki Line from Ueno Station to Gyoda Station, which takes just over an hour. I hope that you have a great time exploring such a lovely city!