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Odawara Castle, a Great Day Trip for History Lovers from Tokyo, Japan

The Impressive Tower of Odawara Castle, Japn

On our most recent visit to Japan, we toured Odawara Castle, located in Kanagawa Prefecture. I was delighted to discover the captivating beauty and historical significance of the castle. Situated in the city of Odawara, Japan, this picturesque castle is an iconic symbol of the region's rich history and cultural heritage. From Tokyo, it is a quick 90 minute train ride and a 10 minute walk from the train station to the Castle. Here you will learn fascinating stories and see architectural marvels making Odawara Castle a must visit day trip from Tokyo for history buffs and travelers alike.

Why is Odawara Castle famous?

Dragon Fish Sculpture at Odawara Castle

Odawara Castle holds a significant place in Japanese history. Built in the 15th century, it originally served as the stronghold for the Hojo clan, one of the most powerful samurai families during the Warring States period. After Hojo Soun conquered the area in 1495, he and his ancestors gradually expanded the castle as the Hojo clan gained power. It was the center of activity for the Hojo clan. This magnificent castle witnessed many battles, political upheavals, and even played a role in shaping Japan's future.

However, in 1590, after a prolonged siege, the castle fell to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, marking the end of the Hojo clan's rule. Subsequently, the castle was reconstructed by the Tokugawa shogunate, who transformed it into a military stronghold. Unfortunately, the castle was destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. Nevertheless, in recent times, efforts have been made to restore and preserve its historical significance, making it a popular destination for tourists and history enthusiasts alike.

Odawara Castle, An Architectural Marvel

Main Gate at Odwara Castle, Japan

As you walk up to Odawara Castle, you cannot help but marvel at its grandeur and imposing presence. The majestic, five-story main tower (donjon) stands tall, showcasing the castle's original architectural design. Though the donjon was destroyed multiple times throughout history, the current structure was meticulously reconstructed in 1960 using traditional building techniques and materials, resulting in an authentic representation of its former glory.

The Imperial Villa was destroyed by the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, which also caused many of the stone facing on the castle ramparts to collapse. Repair work was made to the stone walls from 1930–1931. In 1934, two of the remaining turret (yagura), which had been destroyed in the 1923 earthquake, were restored, but on a half-scale.

In 1938, the castle site was proclaimed a National Historic Site, with the area under historic preservation restrictions expanded in 1959, and again in 1976 based on further archaeological investigations.

In 1950, repairs were made to the stone base of the former donjon, which had been in ruins since the Great Kantō earthquake, and the area was made into the Odawara Castle Park,

Exhibits and Artifacts

Exhibit in the Tower Museum, Odawara Castle Japan

Inside the castle, visitors can further immerse themselves in the rich history of Odawara through the various exhibits on display. The Castle Museum features numerous historical artifacts, including armor, weapons, and cultural artifacts, providing valuable insights into the life of the Hojo clan.

The Ninja Museum is on the east side near the main entrance of the castle grounds. Inside the museum is an obstacle course through which visitors can learn more about ninja culture. There is also a small Samurai Museum inside the Tokiwaki Gate building across from the castle keep. Samurai armor and swords are exhibited there.

Stunning Surroundings

Lush gardens surround the Castle today

In addition to the castle itself, the castle grounds offer breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. With its strategic location, Odawara Castle provides panoramic vistas of the city, the mountains, and even the nearby ocean on clear days. Exploring the beautifully manicured gardens, walkways, and cherry blossom trees that adorn the castle grounds is a serene and peaceful experience that adds to the overall charm of the visit.

Cultural Events and Festivals

Samuraii Photo Opportunity with the Family

Throughout the year, Odawara Castle hosts various cultural events and festivals, adding an extra layer of excitement to your visit. The Hojo Godai Festival on May 3rd each year allows you to see traditional samurai parades.

There are also two dedicated facilities for tea on the grounds. Youuan was built in 1924 by Kotaro Nozaki, a central figure in political and business circles. It is a teahouse in the true sense of the word, strictly conforming to specific standards. The other structure, Uyakuan, was built in 1991, and while it can be used for tea ceremonies, a docent described it: “tea can be served here, however, it is not a teahouse.” It is a more modern structure not built to traditional specifications.The teahouses can be viewed from the outside only, unless they are rented for tea ceremonies. Tea ceremonies range from 3-7 hours, for 1,000-3,000 yen.

The Odawara Cherry Blossom Festival (late March to early April) offer stunning cherry blossom viewings. All these events offer an immersive insight into Japanese culture, enriching your understanding of Odawara's historical significance.

Is Odawara Castle free?

Today you can visit the the castle grounds including an enormous moat and restored castle tower. There is also a Samurai Museum and a Ninja Museum as well as a Children's Amusement Park on the grounds. There is no charge to visit the grounds. For 610 yen (about $4.00 US) you can visit the history museum in the Castle Tower, the Samurai and Ninja Museums. The Children's Amusement Park is a pay as you go facility, with larger rides charging about 80 yen and smaller amusements 30 yen.

Odawara Castle is more than a place of historical importance. It is a gateway to an era long gone but still etched in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people. From its impressive architecture to its educational exhibits and the enchanting beauty of its surroundings, a visit to Odawara Castle is a journey through time that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for Japan's vibrant past. Prepare to be captivated by the charm of Odawara Castle on your day trip.

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