No trip to Kumamoto is complete without a visit to Kumamoto Castle – on TripAdvisor it is ranked as the number one thing to do in Kumamoto, and has earned the Certificate of Excellence. It was featured on the 2006 compilation of ‘100 Fine Castles of Japan’ and is a well-known landmark around Kyushu. Not only is this a great tourism option for those of you who love history – it’s a fun-packed outing that will be enjoyed by people of all ages. Photographers will love the opportunity to take a few snaps of this amazing structure, whatever time of day they visit. What do you know about this famous tourist attraction?
The earliest fortification on the grounds was built in 1467 by the Ideta Clan. In 1588, Lord Kata Kiyomasa (who was the daimyo ruler of the Northern Higo Province) moved into the old Kumamoto Castle. 22 years later, the Battle of Sekighara won Kiyomasa the lands of the Southern Higo Province to add to the Northern ones he held. Shortly after this, he started to build the present Kumamoto Castle.
The Castle was completed in 1607, and was inherited by Kiyomasa’s son when he died in 1611. It was much improved on the original, and had roughly 50 turrets, 20 turret gates and 30 smaller gates.
In 1632, the castle saw a change of ownership as it was taken over by the Hosokawa Clan. This famous family ruled the castle for 229 years, spanning over 11 generations. They saw many changes over the years, and uprisings such as the Shimabara Rebellion of 1637. The reign of the Hosokawa’s ended in 1871 – feudal domain systems were abolished and replaced with a governing system in the modern style. Since then, it has been owned by the Japanese government.
Each different clan or group has left its mark on the castle and its history, with changes and adaptations being made right up to the present day.
As with most castles in modern day Japan, what you see is not the original building. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, a mysterious fire caused much damage to the castle. As a large part of the castle and its buildings were made out of wood, damage was widespread. The castle keep was reconstructed in 1960, using concrete as a more sturdy alternative to wood. Between 1998 and 2008 much more of the castle and its grounds were renovated.
Despite the recent renovations, the castle has an archaic feel to it and everything has been done in keeping with original designs and using traditional materials. Many of the buildings are still made out of wood – these days, provisions have been made in case there is a fire, evident in the water stores that can be seen around the grounds.
The main tower has 6 stories, plus a basement, and stands at about 30 meters tall. The smaller tower is about 20 meters tall and has 4 stories. Inside the towers you can find historical relics relating to the two ruling feudal families of the castle.
Kumamoto Castle is a striking and imposing building. It’s dark black walls are a well-known feature and what make it so different from other castles of the time. The outer walls are built in a trademark sloping style, to make it more difficult for intruders to enter the castle. Coupled with the difficult climbing aspect, intruders were deterred by the boiling hot liquids that would be poured down on their heads as they tried to scale the walls.
One of the most beautiful parts of the castle is the Shokun Hall – a room that glistens with gold leaf paintings on the walls and ceilings. You can walk around the reconstructed palace rooms and see the traditional kitchen, ans the main hall. The Underground passageway is the official entrance to the palace, and is a rare example of this sort of passageway in Japan.
Entrance to the castle is 500 Yen for adults and 200 Yen for children (with discounts for groups and also discount tickets for a combined ticket including entry to the Hosokawa Mansion.) Unlike many tourist attractions in Japan, it is open every day of the week (including Monday!) and is only closed over the Christmas period (Dec 29-31). Opening times are 8:30/9:00 – 17:00/18:00 depending on the time of year.
Events at the castle are held around the year, so check what is going on at the time of your visit. In the Spring you can see a forest of blossoms dripping from the trees, and the Hanami Matsuri isn’t to be missed. There are plenty of festivals in the Autumn to catch your interest, and the Castle is the starting point of the annual Kumamoto Marathon too. At certain times around the year, there are ‘Castle at Night’ events where you can enter the castle grounds after the usual closing time. This is a great opportunity to see the castle when its all lit up, and also a chance for you to climb to the top of the castle tower and see the Kumamoto city view at night time.
Events are often held just outside the castle grounds on the playing fields behind the castle – known as Ni No Maru. On these playing fields, you can watch musical performances, see dance shows and purchase many delicious local delicacies from the stalls set up nearby… as well as purchasing a beer or two! Many of these events are family oriented with games and activities for young children to take part in.
Also, if you’re in the area and are looking for something else to do, the Kumamoto Arboretum is right next door.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the best attractions Kumamoto has to offer. Even if history isn’t your thing, the castle itself is an architectural beauty and the gardens in the grounds are a peaceful place to sit and get lost in a book. You can have your photograph taken with actors dressed up in traditional costumes, and if you’re lucky you’ll catch them doing a choreographed dance routine in front of the castle. There is so much to see and do, and of course the view from the top tower is a great pay-off for the climb to the top. If you don’t feel you can make it up six flights of stairs, the second tower is only a 4 story climb so give that a go instead!