In December, I visited my then-fiance for a month in Tokyo, Japan. As part of a pre-wedding honeymoon gift, we stayed two nights in Hakone (箱根). We visited some geologic as well as cultural wonders at Lake Ashi (芦ノ湖) and Hakone Shrine (箱根神社) and Owakudani (大涌谷) and the Glass Forest Museum (ガラスの森美術館). On our way back to Tokyo we wanted to check out Odawara Castle (小田原城).
The previous night, a friend of mine whose father owns the ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel) we stayed at, Hotel Kajikaso, came from Tokyo to meet up with my fiance and I. My fiance’s father made the reservation for us, and when we got to the ryokan I posted about it on Facebook. My friend saw it and decided to drive up from his university in Tokyo to visit us. Before that, we had no idea it was his father’s ryokan. I was glad to see him again, and even though we stayed up pretty late and we still had to get up early, it was nice to catch up after not meeting for over half a year.
After we ate our last traditional Japanese breakfast at the ryokan and took a quick dip in the room’s rotemburo (private open-air hot springs), we headed out. On the way back to Tokyo we had planned to stop at the city of Odawara (小田原市) in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県). When I planned my month-long trip to Japan, I decided I wanted to visit Odawara Castle (小田原城) when we went to Hakone. I really enjoy visiting Japanese castles, although I haven’t been to many, and I wanted to explore one I had not yet seen.
Odawara Castle was the home of the Hojo family, who ruled the Kanto region during the Warring States Period (15th century). The city was later a post town for the Tokaido Highway, which linked up Tokyo and Kyoto. The castle was destroyed and is now just rebuilt, but there is always a lot to learn about Japanese history when you visit a castle. The park surrounding Odawara Castle is called the Castle Ruins Park (城址公園) and is famous for cherry blossoms and plum blossoms. At Honmaru Square (本丸広場), within the castle compound, you can rent samurai attire or kimono to wear, but I was there in the off season.
The city of Odawara is a transportation hub, where major railways such as the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line, the Odakyu Line, and Hakone Tozan Line all meet. It is also the entrance to Fuji Hakone Izu National Park. Other than the castle, we didn’t have time for much else, but we were able to explore the castle and its grounds for most of the afternoon before returning to Tokyo.
The main keep, in all its glory, lies nestled within the center of the grounds. There is an expansive park, plus several smaller gates and sets of stairs, to travel through until you reach the center. The main keep itself is on the highest point, of course to offer better views for defensive purposes. This castle is rebuilt and not original, but there is still a lot of original material on the inside (where no photos are allowed, of course).
A bridge leading from the outer park area to the beginning of the outbuildings surrounding the castle.
The main keep of Odawara Castle costs ￥400 to enter, but the views from the top of the keep are absolutely worth it (especially on a clear day).
At the top of the main keep, just outside of the gift shop on the top floor, you have a 360° view of the surrounding city, and to the mountains. The first view is of the Miura Peninsula (三浦半島). This peninsula lies to the south of Tokyo, and is an important geographic location for Japan’s self-defense, with both Japanese and American naval bases.
You can also see the Tanzawa Mountains (丹沢山地) from the castle keep.
We were also able to look back over where we had just come from in Hakone from the keep.
You can also view an island called Izu Oshima (伊豆大島) from the keep, which is an active volcanic island of the Izu Island chain. This island is a stratovolcano which last erupted in 1990 and has a population of less than 9,000 people.
After taking in the amazing views and great weather from the top of Odawara Castle, we picked up some omiyage or souvenirs from the gift shop on the top floor of the main keep, then made our way back down to the car. We left behind the mountains of Kanagawa Prefecture, and headed back to Tokyo.
What castles have you explored? In Japan, or in other countries? Have you been to Odawara Castle? Let me know!