Saturday, July 21, 2018

Odawara Castle and I (Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture)

The 400-year Old Pine Tree

Odawara is one of my favorite finds in my travels all over Japan. It wasn't in my Lonely Planet. I got the idea from some sponsored blog that came out in Facebook a few days before one of my trips. It takes 35 minutes by Tokaido shinkansen from Tokyo, and a short walk from the JR station. 

Odawara (population roughly 195,000) is situated along Sagami Bay. Its highway was the busy main artery linking medieval Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto, covering a distance of 79.5 kilometers. For this visit, I had 3 items on my list: an apricot sweets, Miyukinohama Beach and Odawara Castle.

Hojo Ujimasa, daimyo of Odawara Castle
At the time of the warring states (Sengoku Period) in the 15th century, the Hojo clan ruling the Kanto region built a castle as their residence. 

The daimyo of Odawara, Hojo Ujimasa, while not a particularly great warrior, was a much better administrator. 

In 1588, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Japan's second greatest unifier (and the one who ordered the invasion of Korea) was to attack the Hojos. There were a lot of negotiations that eventually fell through. Hideyoshi demanded surrender. In the end, Ujimasa and brother Ujiteru were made to commit suicide (seppuku).

Through the years, the castle burned down due to an earthquake in 1633, was dismantled, and then reconstructed again in the 1960's. Nevertheless, the sleepy town flourished around this castle. 

From JR Odawara, I walked through a seemingly deserted city until I reached a lush garden filled with blossoming Wisteria. I crossed a red bridge that led to a square, the Honmaru Hiroba. which provided the good vantage spot for that picture-perfect photo. There's a shop that sells souvenir items. They also rent out samurai costumes and kimonos if you want to level up your Instagram-worthy photos. 

I was pleased that there were very few tourists, thus few distractions. The castle was left for me to discover. If Himeji Castle is my absolute favorite castle in all of Japan, Odawara Castle is second in the line. I have seen about a dozen. Japan has more than a hundred existing castles. In the glory days of Imperial Japan, there were 5,000.


The castle's park grounds has several other sites you can visit including a local museum (Rekishi Kenbun Musuem), a children's amusement park, a Wisteria trellis, Iris and Hydrangea gardens, stone walls, 2 beautiful gates (Tokiwagi-mon and Kurogane-mon Gates), and a moat, among others.  

And if you haven't noticed that photo-bomber tree, showing off beside me on the first photo, it is a 400 year old fixture of the castle ground. You don't wonder about its graceful bow towards the castle tower. It was witness to the colorful history that eventually rebuilt the castle.

I was just there to pay my respects.

Entrance to the castle tower is 500 yen for adults and 200 yen for students.

This short bridge and stairs lead to the Honmaru Square.

This was my walk through the Hydrangea garden. I felt like red carpet was rolled for me.

The garden is a blanket of pink and purple Hydrangeas.

This is one of the bridges near the eastern gate, the Akagane-mon Gate. Miyukinohama Beach is 470 meters from here.

It is 79.5 kilometers from Tokyo to Odawara. By shinkansen, this only takes 35 minutes.


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