In the southwestern corner of Kanagawa prefecture lies the city of Odawara. It’s about a 45 minute to 1 hour train ride from Tokyo on the Tokaido Line or Odakyu Odawara Line. It’s also accessible via Shinkansen. This city has a major landmark, and that is Kanagawa’s only castle, Odawara Castle.
This castle was originally built in 1447, and has been rebuilt three times since. The current building was reconstructed in 1960 out of concrete. While it does look impressive, it’s not entirely historically accurate. There’s an added observatory on the 5th floor.
The castle grounds are quite extensive. There’s a series of walls and moats surrounding the grounds. Entering from the south side, about a 15 minute walk from Odawara Station, you cross a beautiful bridge to the outer gate. After passing through this gate, there’s another gate to pass through. And then another gate to get to the castle’s grounds. Here, you can find gardens and a wonderful little museum that gives you a very detailed guide of Odawara Castle’s history. Unfortunately, it’s all in Japanese. However, if you’re lucky, you may be able to get an English-speaking volunteer guide who will tell you all about the castle and its history. It’s worth it. The history of the castle is quite fascinating, especially the story about its downfall.
Going up the hill, there’s yet another gate to pass through. This goes to the inner grounds of the castle. What surprises a lot of visitors are the monkeys. It’s like a tiny zoo, but with only monkeys. There used to be an elephant, but she died in recent years. I was lucky enough to see her just months before her death of old age.
The castle itself is quite beautiful to look at. As you enter the castle, you’ll be notified by signs that photography is not allowed inside. Once you get inside, you will not find an authentic castle interior, but you will find a museum. There are many artifacts from the history of Odawara, including samurai armour, weapons, portraits, and everyday items that were used over the 425 year history of the castle before it was torn down at the end of the Meiji Period in 1872. Another thing that reminds you that this is a reproduction is the elevator. The 5th floor observatory is not authentic, but provides a nice view of the city in all directions.
Although Odawara Castle may not be an original or a faithful reproduction, it is a very good way to see what castles were like. The interesting thing about this castle is that the castle grounds were the inspiration for the grounds of Edo Castle, which is now the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. With a fascinating history, Odawara Castle is a worthwhile visit.