This landmark is what Kumamoto is famous for; it’s a popular spot for Japanese and foreign tourists alike. Entrance fee is 500 Yen. The castle has a long history dating back to 1467 when the Ideta clan first established fortifications in the area. The initial version of Kumamoto Castle was completed in 1588.
The castle was greatly expanded in the 1600s; the transformation included nearly 50 turrets, 18 turret gates and 29 smaller gates. Since 1467, there have been six different clans who have controlled the castle at one time or another.
It’s easily recognised by its curving stone walls (musha-gaeshi) and wooden overhangs, both of which were designed to stop attackers from penetrating the castle. Even a skilful ninja would struggle to scale the sloping sides of the walls, especially with boiling hot oil being poured from the windows. The rocks are dark, black in places, adding to the imposing atmosphere.
The Seinan Rebellion of 1877 saw the main tower and part of the castle destroyed in a mysterious fire. Rebuilt in 1960 and with major restoration done in 1998, the castle is heavily reinforced with concrete. Further work was completed in 2005 and 2008.
The Akazuno Gate faces north-east; it’s believed that evil spirits come from the north-east, and so traditionally this door was always firmly shut to stop the evil spirits from entering. Inside the castle grounds, the layout is of wide pathways, edges of green space and plenty of trees. The trees are thick with moss and grass which grow out of the branches. The grass on the ground is also paved with moss, which gives an ethereal and magical feel to the place – like walking through the set of a Studio Ghibli film.
Thirteen of the original buildings in the castle grounds survived the fire, including several turrets. In the turrets is where they used to keep weapons and military supplies; soldiers would be stationed there during the time of unrest. The replica of the Iidamaru turret is beautifully constructed and a highlight of the castle visit. There is a plateau about halfway up the hill where cherry blossoms bloom in abundance during the spring time, the delicate pastels of the petals looking stunning against the stony grey walls.
Inside the main keep of the castle, it’s a six-story climb to the top. The first few floors are set out like museums where you can see old artefacts from throughout the era’s of Kumamoto Castle, and photographs of the castles around Japan, but it’s nothing outstanding. From the top of the castle, there is a good view of Kumamoto city.
The outer grounds of the castle are well worth visiting too – there are beautiful gardens and open areas where festivals happen at certain times of the year. Most memorably, the castle has special opening times at night during the cherry blossom season – the pale white of the flowers illuminate brilliantly against the dark stone and a night’s sky. A mere stone’s throw away from the castle is a small botanical garden, the Hosokawa Mansion, the Kumamoto City Museum and the Kumamoto Prefectural Art Museum, if you fancy making your Castle visit a full day’s outing.