Exploring Kanagawa’s Odawara Castle: Kanto’s Largest Castle of the Sengoku Period
Odawara Castle is located in Kanagawa Prefecture, and you can visit it by a day trip from Tokyo. The castle exhibits various devices designed by samurai and ninja in Sengoku period (16th century), and you can actually turn into samurai and ninja yourself, too.
This time we’ve actually visited Odawara Castle Park for research. Please enjoy our summary of the highlights.
History of Odawara Castle
Odawara Castle is believed to have been constructed in the middle of the 15th century.
Ise Sozui, who was later known as Soun Hojo, was a warrior lord and his Nirayama Castle was located in Izu Peninsula in the southern Kanagawa Prefecture. He took over the Odawara Castle at the end of the 15th century. Using this castle as their base, he and his offspring increased their power in the Kanto Region for the next 100 years over 5 generations. They ruled present-day Kanagawa, Tokyo, Saitama Prefectures, and in their heyday their territory expanded to present-day Gunma, Tochigi, and Chiba Prefectures. The Hojo clan was the most powerful war lord in the eastern part of Japan during Sengoku period.
However in 1590, Hideyoshi Toyotomi of Osaka defeated the Hojo clan in the battle of Odawara and the clan perished. This battle is known to have marked not only the end of wars in Kanto Region at that time but also the end of Sengoku period in Japan.
Later when Ieyasu Tokugawa moved to Edo, which marks the Edo period (1603~1868), Odawara Castle became the Odawara Domain’s government center and Okubo clan and Inaba clan started to administer the castle. Odawara became an important point in Tokaido traffic between Kyoto and Tokyo, being the gateway to Hakone Mountains. In 1619, Hakone Checkpoint was constructed and started to be managed by samurai dispatched from Odawara Castle.
When samurai’s reign came to an end and Meiji period began, the castle ceased to be the government center. It was then used by the imperial family as a villa.
After WWII the castle area was turned into a park, and in recent years site excavation and reconstruction of gates as they were during Edo period have started. The castle tower was also closed for 10 months during a major renovation, and it was reopened to the public on May 1, 2016.
Castle Tower and its Vicinity
When you climb up the long stairs and enter the castle tower, you will come to the admission desk. The wall behind the counter is decorated with yosegi wooden mosaic, which has been a traditional craft of Hakone.
If you look at the various patterns closely, you will find shapes of shuriken ninja stars used by ninja.
As a matter of fact the famous Fuma ninja clan had been serving the Hojo clan in Odawara.
Inside the castle tower, the history of Odawara Castle is explained by panels and films, and ancient documents, archeological resources, or armors and swords are on display.
On the top floor, a part of the castle tower room during Edo period has been reconstructed. There is an observation deck where you can go outside, too.
You can see the towns surrounding Odawara Castle in all directions from the observation deck. The center of Odawara Castle during Sengoku period used to be on Hachimanyama, and Hideyoshi Toyotomi put his headquarter on Ishigakiyama in the battle of Odawara. These hills are in your view from the castle observation deck.
When you come out of the castle tower, you can see Tokiwagimon Gate across the park. You can rent costumes to dress as samurai or ninja at the side of the gate. Please experience the period costumes yourself, as various sizes from children to adults are available and rates are affordable, too.
I am Bushi! Become a Samurai Warlord at Odawara Castle in Kanagawa
In addition, a small amusement park for children is also located nearby, and the place is loved by families with small children.
Going Out from the Akaganemon Gate
The day we visited happened to be one of the limited days when the inside of the Akaganemon Gate was open to the public.
Akaganemon Gate was reconstructed based on researches conducted by excavation and old drawings available by following the original construction methods as much as possible.
Looking from the entrance, “Ishi otoshi” are located at the fence on the right side. Defenders used them to drop stones and dirt to fight off the enemy when the castle was under attack.
When you come out through the gate, there is a wall in front of you, and the passage bends at right angles to the right. Beyond the wall in front of you, there is space and you see another gate far back. The gate including the square space in front is called “Umadashimon Gate”. The area beyond the Umadashimon Gate is outside the castle proper. In other words, the Umadashimon Gate is an entrance/exit to the castle area.
You can see space inside the gate, then the wall, and Akaganemon Gate beyond the wall.
This space at Umadashimon Gate was used to gather castle soldiers in case of emergency. The space allowed smooth operation of sortie against enemies outside the castle and castle defense at the same time.
In addition, intruders into the castle area could not take a straight route or the shortest route to the castle tower, and the castle defenders at Akaganemon Gate could focus on attacking the intruders.
The white wall has holes that are triangles or squares. These holes were apparently used to shoot intruders by inserting guns through them.
These structures can be observed in many castles in Japan; large space located inside of main gates, bent passages to force people to go around, or many holes in the wall.
Related: Ninja Articles
Castle Park Is Loved by Locals
The Castle Park is famous for cherry blossoms, and it is selected as one of the 100 best places in Japan to see cherry blossoms. Naturally, Sakura Matsuri or cherry festival is held in spring. “Odawara Hojo Matsuri” is held on May 3rd of each year, and this is the biggest festival in Odawara in which you can see a parade of majestic warriors. A variety of events is held in Odawara throughout the year.
Odawara Castle Park is a highly recommended tourist attraction, as the place is an important historical site that tells us of Japanese history since the Sengoku period, and it is also a place loved by many local people to relax and refresh. Easily accessible from Tokyo, we recommend it to be incorporated as one of side trips in your Tokyo sightseeing plan. Information: Map