Last month I finally got to do my belayed trip to the city of Odawara in Kanagawa prefecture to the south-west of Tokyo. Getting there from Tokyo is not difficult at all but it’s a couple of hours by train unless you go by the high speed Shinkansen bullet trains (fast but expensive). Traveling inside and out of Japan is very expensive compared to many other countries, real low cost airlines and bus companies have so far avoided the country and many times a decent domestic vacation can cost many times as much as a comparative domestic vacation in any European or Asian country. This has resulted in a situation where many Japanese avoid domestic tourism due to costs and it isn’t very rare meet people who have never traveled outside of their home prefecture or even home town. For some Japanese the only real chance they have to see the rest of the country is during one of the obligatory school trips during junior and senior high school, usually to Hiroshima, Tokyo or Kyoto. For this reason, Odawara is a pretty good place to visit if you’re based in Tokyo. It is easy to get there, lot’s of history and a few nice beaches! It also feels much more like a southern ocean resort town than other towns in Kanagawa, Chiba or Tokyo.
The main draw of the city’s tourism is the Odawara Castle (). Located on slightly higher ground than the town it was a good defensive spot and fortified by bigger and bigger castles until 1870 when the castle was ordered destroyed like all feudal fortifications as the new imperial era started with emperor Meiji. In the 1950s, after a civil war, a world war and quite a few major earthquakes the castle was finally revived but not much of what we can see today is original. In a country mostly spared the ravages of gunpowder artillery, most castles were originally built in wood, but these days most of the castles are unfortunately built out of concrete, which is one of the reasons I never bother to go inside. There are a couple of original wooden castles left and they are a joy to see from the inside!
However, from the outside the castles look fantastic, Odawara castle is no exception. Looking at the photos, it struck me that it really looks more like a toy than a real building!
Parts of the castle grounds and the many defensive gates have been restored more or less realistically (there is a “cut through” wall section on the grounds where you can see how these castles were actually built, lath and plaster, very much like the old English Tudor style mansions), and if you have the stamina it’s nice to walk around the castle and imagine how it once must have looked.
And I am not sure why I know this, but it seems that the official day for Castles here in Japan is April 6th. Just like the official world day for mathematics is March 14th. Let’s remember this for next year!
If you spend any more than a couple of weeks in Tokyo, Odawara is a must-see. More on this great little city later! If you want to read about other castles I have blogged about, please check out the beautiful Matsumoto Castle, the cute Kakegawa Castle, Shuri Castle in Okinawa, the ruins of Hachioji castle, and of course the papercraft castle!