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Odawara Castle: The Impregnable Castle

Odawara Castle is a fortified landmark located in the namesake city in Kanagawa prefecture, southwest of Tokyo, and is considered the area’s crown jewel. Its huge, flower-filled park, in which some trees have been classified as natural monuments, is peppered with the main keep, two museums, various bridges, and moats, making for a pleasant discovery, particularly on a family trip.

Odawara Castle and its surrounding gardens in Kanagawa Prefecture are only a short distance from the Tokyo metropolitan area, making them perfect day-trip destinations for city people wishing to escape the hustle and bustle for a day. The castle has an interesting history and is a popular flower-viewing location.

Odawara Castle in Kanagawa Prefecture was formerly the home of the strong Hojo clan, which ruled over the Kanto area during the Warring States era (1467–1568). The centre keeps, tenshukaku, is the highest structure in eastern Japan, at 27.2 metres tall. Major restorations performed in 2016 restored the castle to its former glory. The notoriety of Odawara Castle grew after a victorious siege by warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590 took down the Hojo clan. The castle’s precincts, however, are a recreation of their look during the end of the Edo era (1603–1868), when Japan was governed by the Tokugawa shogunate. The roof tiles of the honmaru, the main complex, and the castle gates all carry the Tokugawa clan triple hollyhock insignia.

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History: From Impregnable Fortress to Defender of Kantō

During the Kamakura period, Odawara was a stronghold of the Doi clan, and a fortified palace built by their collateral branch, the Kobayakawa clan, existed on the approximate site of the current castle. Odawara fell under the power of the Omori clan of Suruga following the Uesugi Zenshu Revolt of 1416. In 1495, they were vanquished by Ise Moritoki of Izu, the progenitor of the Odawara Hojo clan. Five generations of the Odawara Hojo clan improved and expanded on the walls of Odawara Castle as the hub of their estates, which covered the majority of Kanto.

Odawara Castle had very strong defences during the Sengoku period because it was built on a hill, surrounded by moats with water on the low side and dry ditches on the hillside, with banks, walls, and cliffs located all around the castle, allowing the defenders to repel attacks by Uesugi Kenshin in 1561 and Takeda Shingen in 1569. In 1587, the Odawara Hojo substantially upgraded the castle’s defences in preparation for the impending confrontation with Toyotomi Hideyoshi. However, during the Battle of Odawara in 1590, Hideyoshi used a three-month siege and bluff to force the surrender of the Odawara Hojo without storming the castle. He gave the estates of the Odawara Hojo to his main general, Tokugawa Ieyasu, after ordering the destruction of the majority of the defences.

 

Edo period Odawara Castle

After Ieyasu finished Edo Castle, he gave the site of Odawara Fortress to one of his senior servants, Okubo Tadayo, who rebuilt the castle on a much smaller scale, with the entire castle fitting inside what was originally the third bailey of the Sengoku period Hojo castle. His successor, Okubo Takachika, was deposed by the shogunate in 1614. Abe Masatsugu was in charge of the castle from 1619 to 1623. After 1623, Odawara Domain reverted to tenryo status, and a palace was built in the inner bailey to serve as Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada retirement house; however, Hidetada opted to remain in Edo during his retirement. Odawara Domain was resurrected after his death as an 85,000 koku holding for Inaba Masakatsu, the eldest son of Kasuga no Tsubone, the wet nurse to Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu. In 1634, Iemitsu paid a visit to Odawara Castle. The castle was significantly restored during the reign of the Inaba clan. The Inaba were transferred in 1686, and the Okubo clan returned to Odawara, with the domain expanding to 103,000 kokudaka. The castle was severely damaged in the 1703 Genroku earthquake, which destroyed the majority of the castle structures. The donjon had been repaired by 1706, but the rest of the castle had not been completed until 1721. Extensive devastation happened again during the Tenmei earthquake in 1782 and the Kaei earthquake in 1853. During the Meiji restoration’s Boshin War, Okubo Tadanori allowed the Satcho Alliance’s pro-Imperial forces to pass through Odawara unopposed on their approach to Edo.

 

Odawara Castle in the modern era

The new Meiji government ordered the removal of all former feudal defences, and all structures of Odawara Castle were demolished between 1870 and 1872 in accordance with this mandate. The former donjon’s stone base became the foundation for a Shinto shrine, the Okubo Jinja, dedicated to the spirits of the Okubo daimyo’s generations, in 1893. The Odawara Imperial Villa was built in 1901 on the location of the former inner and second bailies. The 1923 Great Kanto earthquake devastated the Imperial Villa, as well as many of the stone facings on the castle ramparts. Repairs to the stone walls were done between 1930 and 1931, although they were of poor quality. Two of the remaining yagura (which were devastated in the 1923 earthquake) were restored on a half-scale in 1934.

The castle site was designated a National Historic Site in 1938, and the area subject to historic preservation restrictions was increased in 1959 and again in 1976 based on additional archaeological findings.

The stone base of the previous donjon, which had been in ruins since the Great Kanto earthquake, was repaired in 1950, and the area was transformed into the Odawara Castle Park, which included an art museum, local history museum, city library, amusement park, and zoo. The three-tiered, five-story donjon, the top floor of which contains an observatory, was erected in reinforced concrete in 1960 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Odawara’s proclamation as a city. The restored donjon, however, is not historically correct because the observation deck was added at the request of the Odawara City tourism authority. Since the late 1960s, plans have been considered for a more exact restoration of the core castle grounds to their late Edo-era shape. As a result of these designs, the Tokiwagi Gate was rebuilt in 1971, the Akagane Gate in 1997, and the Umadashi Gate in 2009. From July 2015 to April 2016, the castle tower was renovated to boost seismic resistance and modernise its exhibits. The Odawara City Government donated all entry fees on the day of the re-opening to the Kumamoto City Government to be used to reconstruct Kumamoto Castle, which was devastated in the 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes.

In 2006, the Japan Castle Foundation named the restored Odawara Castle one of the 100 Fine Castles of Japan.

 

Touring the Central Keep

Why not begin your tour of the realm with Tenshu, the main keep? Despite the fact that it was rebuilt in 1960, the structure continues to impress from its base, where the first stone stairways to its entrance begin.

The castle keep has three levels on the outside and four levels on the inside. The inside includes exhibits about the castle’s history as well as displays of relics such as armour and swords. The top floor provides beautiful views of the park and the surrounding city. The castle is also well-known for its cherry blossoms (which bloom from late March to early April) and a variety of other flowers, including as plum blossoms, azalea, wisteria, iris, hydrangea, and lotus blossoms.

The castle touring path begins with Umadashi Gate and continues across Dobashi Bridge. The vermillion Manabi Bridge, with its moat, stone ramparts, and corner turret, is located to the north.

The Akagane Gate, which leads to the second compound, is located across the Sumiyoshi Bridge. The name Akagane, which means “copper,” comes from the copper fittings on the enormous wooden door of the gate. The castle lord’s residence was located in this section of the castle. After the castle was demolished in the late 1800s, a mansion was built in the second compound in 1901, but it was devastated in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

Central Keep Displays of the Castle’s History

When tourists walk through the Tokiwagi Gate, they can see the central keep. In the main enclosure originally stood a palace built in the seventeenth century to house Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, but it was destroyed. Today, the huge open space provides a magnificent perspective of the four-story tall central keep’s three-tiered roof.

The central keep is 38.7 metres tall, including the stone ramparts. The structure includes panels that describe the castle’s history as well as notable historical relics such as suits of armour, swords, documents, and photographs. The top floor, which is 60 metres above sea level, provides panoramic views of the city and Sagami Bay.

 

The Ninja Museum

 

The Museum Odawara Castle
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Inside the keep, a charming museum was set up to provide a greater understanding of the area’s history, but without going too far. The Ninja Museum is located on the castle grounds on the eastern side, near the main entrance. Inside the museum, there is an obstacle course where visitors can learn more about ninja skills and culture, as well as feel what it’s like to be one.

The main surprise is the observatory, which is positioned on the higher floor, about sixty metres above sea level, and has a 360-degree external view. It is important to keep in mind that the space is limited, and it is vital to walk in the same direction as the other visitors.

A minor Samurai Museum can also be seen inside the Tokisaki Gate structure, which is located across from the castle keep. Within are displays of samurai armour and swords.

 

The shrine dedicated to Ninomiya Sontoku

 

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Hotoku Ninomiya shrine is located a few dozen metres south of the keep. It was built in 1894 to honour Ninomiya Sontoku (1787-1856), a farmer’s son who was born in the neighbourhood. He was the typical autodidact, achieving a greater social rank via hard effort. He was an important Edo period agrarian reformist and economist who contributed to the wealth of the Odawara domain.

The shrine’s entrance is unique in its simplicity, with a raw wood torii gate near the lotus pond Hasuike, and does not reveal the splendours it shelters:

  • The main hall Honden, where people pray, has been left in its natural hue, and a massive Shimenawa sacred rope hangs above its entrance.
  • The small sacred pond Kami Ike is home to carps that can be fed, but only with food purchased on-site.
  • Ninomiya Sontoku statue, which stands beside the ema votive plates,

depicts the guy in his youth as popular accounts described him: engrossed with reading, seizing any opportunity to learn, even during the wood gathering duty.

Isolated from the city and the surrounding park, Hotoku Ninomiya shrine is a fantastic companion to a visit to Odawara Castle.

 

Castle’s Opening Time and Entrance Fees

The operating hours of Odawara Castle vary depending on the facility. From 9am to 5pm, the Castle Tower and Tokiwagi Gate are normally open. The Castle Tower is open until 7 p.m. throughout the summer, Golden Week, and festival seasons.

The Castle Tower costs 500 yen to enter, and the Tokiwagi Gate costs 200 yen. If you purchase tickets for both facilities, the total cost is only 600 yen, saving you 100 yen! (As of April of 2019)

 

How to get there?

JR Odawara Station is about a 10-minute walk from Odawara Castle. We recommend taking a train from Yokohama Station in Kanagawa or Tokyo Station in Tokyo to Odawara Station. You can take the JR Tokaido Line from either station and reach to Odawara Station without changing trains. It will take approximately one hour from Yokohama Station and approximately one hour and twenty minutes from Tokyo Station.

Some other info:

  • Spot name: Odawara Castle
  • Street address:6-1,Odawara-shi, Jounai, Kanagawa-ken, 〒250-0014
  • Access: About a 10-minute walk from JR Odawara Station
  • Wi-Fi:Available
  • Language: English
  • Ticket Purchase: At the entrance
  • Credit cards: No credit cards accepted

 

In the spring, Odawara Castle is a popular location for viewing cherry blossoms. Plum blossoms bloom in the winter, azaleas and wisterias bloom from April to May, irises bloom from May to June, hydrangeas bloom in June, and lotuses bloom from July to August.

You may also download a multilingual app that will take you through much of the castle, which is especially useful in the top floors of the tower museum, where multilingual signage is rare, though English, simplified and traditional Chinese, and Korean are available in some parts.

The Triforce emblem may be found all throughout the grounds. This, however, is not a sign of Zelda’s love; rather, it is the Mitsu-uroko crest of the Hojo clan (“three scales”).

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