The Castles of Chubu
The myriad castles of feudal Japan were originally built to guard important or strategic sites, but also became homes for powerful rulers and centers of governance. Now, many of Japan’s castles have been reconstructed and repurposed as heritage sites, their museums full of artifacts and stories from a bygone era. These are some of the castles you can find around Chubu (Central Japan).
Gifu Castle sits atop a small mountain at the center of Gifu city and for a period was at the hub of operations for infamous warlord Oda Nobunaga. After demolition in the seventeenth century, rebuilding and later destruction during the Second World War, the castle was rebuilt in a modern cement structure in the 1950s. Many of the local people contributed to the effort by lugging materials up Kinkazan, the mountain on which the castle sits. Kinkazan itself can be hiked within an hour or so, but there is also a ropeway to the castle if a relaxing ascent is more your thing. The observation deck provides stunning views across Central Japan.
Hamamatsu Castle was also rebuilt in the 1950s. You can see the Pacific Ocean from the top story and the castle is surrounded by a very peaceful garden park. The great unifier of Japan Tokugawa Ieyasu himself lived in the castle for 17 years prior to becoming ruler of Japan. Hamamatsu is famous for eel, gyoza (Chinese-style dumplings) and Yamaha musical instruments.
Inuyama Castle overlooks the Kiso River on the border between Aichi and Gifu. It is one of twelve castles built before the Edo period and some claim it is the oldest castle in Japan. Its relatively close proximity to Nagoya makes for a great day trip, especially considering some of the other attractions in the area such as shrines and temples, monkey parks and open-air museums. The Inuyama festival, held during the first week of April, is not to be missed.
Kanazawa Castle is up in Ishikawa on the west side of Japan. It’s a large structure in the middle of a renowned garden park. Various periods of destruction mean that only some of the castle is in its original form. The entrance gate dates from 1788, but work is being done to restore other structures on the site.
Kiyosu Castle was built to guard the routes between Kyoto and Kamakura. There are no recorded plans of the castle in its original form, so its reconstruction in 1989 was based on Inuyama Castle.
Nagoya Castle is a popular sightseeing spot in Nagoya and hosts different festivals throughout the year. Unfortunately it was destroyed in World War II, but was quickly rebuilt in the 1950s. It is famous for its two golden tiger-headed dolphins. It makes a great change of pace from a day in the city, and was infamously destroyed by Godzilla in a 1950s film edition of Japan’s most famous monster franchise.
Okazaki Castle in Aichi was rebuilt in the 1980s. It is a famous cherry blossom viewing spot and, importantly, the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Gujo Hachiman Castle in Gifu had originally been built in the sixteenth century, but was rebuilt in 1933 after its destruction during the Meiji Period of modernization. The castle gives a great vantage point for viewing the valley below, which is especially beautiful during autumn.
One of Japan’s most famous castles, Matsumoto Castle is also known as the crow castle due to its black exterior. Matsumoto has a great vibe, and is near the big mountains of Nagano. Essential if you’re partaking in any summer/winter fun in the area.