The National Treasure: Inuyama Castle
By John Asano
Inuyama Castle is one of the oldest original castles still remaining in Japan and a National Treasure of Japan. Located in Inuyama City in Aichi Prefecture, the castle is only a short trip away from Nagoya one of Japan’s biggest cities and the gateway to central Japan.
Inuyama Castle is a rarity in modern Japan as one of only twelve original castles still remaining from Japan’s feudal age. It has withstood many wars, earthquakes, natural disasters and the dismantling of most of Japan’s castles during the Meiji Era.
The original castle was more of a defensive fort and was first built in 1440. The current main tower dates from 1537 and was constructed by Oda Nobuyasu, uncle of the famous samurai warlord Oda Nobunaga.
The castle is a shining light of Momoyama period castle architecture and design. This period of Japanese history is considered to be the Golden Age of Castles and lead to an evolution in castle design.
Inuyama Castle’s main tower is the oldest in existence in Japan and has been designated a National Treasure of Japan
Inuyama Castle’s main tower (tenshu) is the oldest in existence in Japan and has been designated a National Treasure of Japan. There are only four other National Treasure Castles of Japan which are Himeji Castle, Hikone Castle, Matsue Castle (designated in 2015) and Matsumoto Castle.
The main tower is as authentic as they come and built almost entirely of wood and stone as opposed to the concrete used in most modern reconstructed castes in Japan. It has a number of interesting features including the smallest ana-gura (storeroom) of any castle in Japan and an ishigaki (stone base) that is not hollow like most other castles.
The inside of the castle while extremely cramped is also beautifully preserved and will give you an idea at how a real authentic Sengoku (Warring States) period castle looked inside. You will not find any elevators here, so expect to climb steep stairs to reach the top floor of the castle just like the samurai did back in the day. The castle boasts the longest straight staircase of any castle tower in Japan.
There are some excellent military displays inside the castle including samurai armour and swords, as well as documents from the castle’s long historical past.
Unfortunately, many of the castle’s other buildings and structures were destroyed during the Meiji Restoration. This was a period of great change in Japan when symbols of the feudal age such as castles were dismantled or destroyed in a move away from the past into the modern age.
The Main Honmaru-mon Gate, which was the main entrance to the castle was one such building destroyed during this time. The current gate is a nice reconstruction and gives you an idea what the original might have looked like in its day.
The highlight for me apart from all the history and the fact that I was visiting an original castle was the amazing views from the top floor of the castle.
The castle stands on top of a small hill that overlooks the Kiso River (nicknamed the Japan Rhine) and commands spectacular views of the surrounding plains and mountains.
The castle and castle grounds are a great place to visit in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Inuyama Castle, one of just 5 castles listed as National Treasures is a must see for any true Japanese castle fan after an authentic castle experience in Japan.
Hours: Open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Closed: December 29 to 31
Admission: 500 yen
Address: 65-2 Kitakoken, Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture
Nagoya is a short 2 hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen Line.
From Nagoya you can take a Meitetsu Limited Express train to Meitetsu Inuyama Station in around 25 minutes. The castle can be reached on foot from Inuyama Station in around 15-20 minutes.