Date: 29th June 2018
Odawara Castle (小田原城) was originally built back in 1447 by the Omori clan of Suruga who were later defeated by Hojo Soun, the founder of the Odawara-Hojo clan in 1495. The Odawara-Hojo clan grew to become one of the most powerful clans in Kanto region during the Sengoku (warring states) period. It was attacked by both Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen in 1561 and 1569 respectively, both of which were unsuccessful. In preparation for the upcoming battle with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the defences of the castle was expanded in 1587, adding a 9km long wall. The Odawara-Hojo clan was forced to surrender in 1590 during the third Siege of Odawara which also saw the end of the Sengoku period, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi awarded the castle to Tokugawa Ieyasu.
Ieyasu assigned one of his senior retainers, Okubo Tadayo as the castle lord, however his successor Okubo Tadachika was stripped of his domain in 1614. The castle then came under the governance of Abe Masatsugu until 1623 when it reverted to a tenryo or guard castle. At this time, a palace was constructed as the retirement residence for Tokugawa Hidetada, the 2nd shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. However, as Hidetada chose to remain in Edo, upon his death the castle then came under the governance of Inaba Masakatsu, the eldest son of Kasuga no Tsubone, the wet nurse to Tokugawa Iemitsu, the 3rd shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. Under the Inaba’s clan governance the castle was extensively renovated however the castle suffered large damages due to the Kan’ei earthquake in 1633.
The renovation was completed in 1675, and in 1686 the Inaba was transferred and the Okubo clan returned to Odawara. In 1703, the castle was damaged in the Genroku Earthquake. Though the donjon (castle keep) was rebuilt in 1706, the reconstruction of the rest of the castle structures were only completed in 1721. The donjon tilted due to the Tenmei Earthquake in 1782 and some other structures collapsed during the Kaei Earthquake in 1853.
Following the Meiji Restoration, like countless other castles, Odawara Castle also fell under the same fate of abolishment in 1870. After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the castle site was sold to the Odawara Town (now Odawara City). Several structures were then slowly restored over the years, the most recently completed being the renovation of the donjon with earthquake-resistant structures in 2016.
The main feature of Odawara Castle today is definitely the 3-levels donjon (5 stories from the inside), which is the 7th tallest donjon in Japan. First rebuilt in 1960, it was extensively renovated in 2016. The first floor features a permanent exhibition room which depicts the castle history during the Edo period, including the role of the castle which was to protect the areas of Western Edo. The second floor depicts the history of the castle throughout the Sengoku period and focuses on the Odawara-Hojo family. The third floor consists of 3 Special Exhibition Rooms, in which at the time of my visit features the arts and crafts related to Odawara and the excavation results of the castle sites. The fourth floor is also a Special Exhibition Room, introducing the history of the castle from the Meiji Era to the present.
The fifth and highest floor contains a permanent exhibition of the reproduction of the donjon and enshrined here is Marishiten, the bodhisattva associated with light and the sun. There is also an observation deck on all four directions which gives a great view of Odawara city and Sagami Bay.
The Tokiwagi Gate which was rebuilt in 1971 now serves as a samurai gallery displaying nihonto, Japanese swords and katchu, Japanese armour. At the end of the gallery, there is a projection mapping theater, the Hana Utsu Yori, which lets you to experience as if you are viewing a warrior’s soul gradually starting to reside in a suit of armour. You can even try out the samurai armour at 300 yen.
To understand the history of the Odawara Castle better, a visit to the Rekishi Kenbun (Observation) Museum is recommended. Here, the history of the castle is explained through models, audio and visual guidance, which should not bore you. In the Hojo Godai Zone, you can learn about the history of the Odawara-Hojo family through mechanical picture-story show of Hojo Soun, a puppet show depicting the Siege of Kawagoe Castle which saw Hojo Ujiyasu’s military powers, and a mini theater which enacts the scene of the war council discussing on the counter-attack against Toyotomi Hideyoshi forces during the Siege of Odawara. The Edo Period Zone was especially interesting, with reproductions of streets and houses of Odawara, which was one of the main post stations of the Tokaido road.
One of the most prominent gates is the Akagane-mon which was rebuilt in 1934 which is of Masugata-style (square style).
Another gate which can be seen in the castle park is the Umadashi-mon which was rebuilt in 2009.
The Odawara Castle Park is a pleasant, spacious park for a stroll or a picnic. It includes even a children’s amusement park with mini locomotives and electric car rides. There are some great trees in the park as well, the Omatsu or giant pine tree which is believed to be one of the “Seven Great Pine Trees” described in the historical document of the Tenpo Era, and a large Chinese juniper at a height of 15m.
You can also see various flowers and experience a number of festivals in the park across the seasons. I will leave the flower and festival details at the end of the post. At the time of my visit I got to see hydrangeas and some irises.
Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00 (last entry at 16:30)
Closing days: December 31st to January 1st (Donjon is also closed on the 2nd Wednesday in December)
- Donjon: 500 yen
- Tokiwagi Gate (Samurai Gallery): 200 yen
- Rekishi Kenbun (Observation) Museum: 300 yen
- No 1 & 2 Combination Ticket: 600 yen
- No. 1, 2 & 3 Combination Ticket: 700 yen
- Plum blossoms, Ume: Late January to Late February
- Cherry blossoms, Sakura: Late March to Early April
- Azalea: Mid April to Early May
- Wisteria: Late April to Early May
- Iris: Late May to Late June
- Hydrangea: Early June to Late June
- Lotus: Mid July to Mid August
- Ume (Plum Blossom) Festival: Early February to Late February
- Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festival: Late March to Early April
- Odawara Hojo Five Generations Festival: 3rd May
- Odawara Castle Hydrangea and Iris Festival: Early June to Late June
- Odarawa Lantern Summer Festival: Late July
- Odawara Castle Chrysanthemum Flower Exhibition: Early Nov to Mid Nov
Odawara Castle is reachable in a 10 mins walk from Odawara Station.
Getting to Odawara Station:
- From Tokyo Station
- JR Tokaido Shinkansen – 35 mins, 3,740 yen
- JR Tokaido Line – 1 hr 30 mins, 1,490 yen
- From Shinjuku Station: Odakyu Line, 1 hr 30 mins, 880 yen
- From Hakone-Yumoto Station:
- Hakonetozan Line – 15 mins, 310 yen
- Romance Car – 12 mins, 510 yen
- From Kyoto Station: JR Tokaido Shinkansen – 2 hours, 12,080 yen