When it comes to reputation for historical importance, Nagoya and Aichi are often unfairly maligned when compared to other Japanese cities such as Osaka, Kyoto and, of course, Tokyo. However, the region played an extremely important part in the creation of the nation, being the birthplace or residence to many of the outstanding names in Japanese history, including Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu.
As such the area is littered with castles that are not just striking, but also extremely important to the country’s heritage.
Perhaps the obvious place to start, the construction of Nagoya-jo as a replacement to the Yanagi-no-maru castle began under the orders of the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1610. It’s location along the Tokaido road was of such high importance to both protect trade and resist any potential attacks rising from Osaka, that it is rumoured that the castle’s chief architect Nakai Masakiyo was killed to ensure he would not relinquish any of the castle’s security secrets.
Unfortunately the building, along with the famous Kinshachi, or golden dolphins (ironically intended as a talisman to prevent fires), was razed to the ground by an American air raid on May 14, 1945, but it was reconstructed in concrete in the late 1950s. Now, for ¥500, you can join the 10,000 daily visitors to the castle and wander the grounds, inspect the museum housed within the reconstructed building or overlook the cityscape from a viewing deck.
As well as being one of only 12 Japanese castles remaining from the Edo period, Inuyama-jo also holds the distinction of being one of the four castles designated as national treasures, and it is claimed that, with its construction in 1440, it is the oldest castle in the country.
The castle, which had at one time been under the rule of Oda Nobuyasu (the uncle of Nobunaga) sits overlooking the Kiso River and as such is a popular destination for the viewing of cherry blossom in spring and the changing of the leaves in autumn. The building itself is made of wood, and the internal plans give the authentic layout of an old Japanese castle, right down to the steep, polished wooden stairs, which can be a little treacherous in your bare feet. Tours in English can be provided by volunteers upon request.
The birthplace of the samurai leader Oda Nobunaga, and the location of a meeting held by Toyotomi Hideyoshi that ultimately lead to the Battle of Sekigahara, Kiyosu-jo was demolished by Tokugawa with its parts contributing to the construction of Nagoya Castle. That the current structure was built in 1989 should not take away from the beauty of the four storied building, and the gorgeous red bridge that leads up to it.
Admission is a mere ¥300, and inside there is a museum of local artefacts, displays of armour and you can dress in the traditional samurai clothes of the region.
Okazaki castle, listed as one of Japans Top 100 Castles in 2006, is also steeped in history. Built sometime around 1531 it is famed for being the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Along with many other castles in the region it was demolished under instructions of the Meiji government in 1873, and the current structure was rebuilt in accordance with the original model, but from concrete, in 1959.
Okazaki-jo sits alongside the Otogawa river, and is a popular hanami spot, as the area is lined with cherry blossom trees, and many food stalls spring up at this time. Inside the castle itself is a museum with many audio and visual aids to help recreate the feel for the area as it once was. For a combined price of ¥500 visitors can enter the castle as well as the museum dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the famed Mikawa Bushi samurai fighters.
By Mark Guthrie
Photo: wikipedia Imuyama Castle (CC BY-SA 3.0) -Modified