May 25, 2017

Explore Nagoya Castle

Found in Central Japan's Aichi Prefecture, Nagoya Castle was an incredibly important medieval stronghold during the Edo period (1603-1868).

The main keep of Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture on a clear and sunny day

Today we will be making an expedition to Nagoya Castle which is located in Central Japan. This will be a relatively brief post and much unlike some of my extremely in-depth area guides. Nagoya Castle by no means makes my list of “must-see” locations as the castle is a modern-day reconstruction and therefore lacks a sense of authenticity. That said, if you find yourself in Nagoya with some down time on your hands, the castle is definitely worth checking out.

Outposts of various types have occupied Nagoya for ages. Nagoya Castle as we know it was originally constructed by Tokugawa Ieyasu in the early Edo period. (1603–1868). Following the structure’s completion, the castle soon became the central focal point for the bustling town surrounding it. Located about halfway on the Tokaido trade route between Tokyo (then called Edo) and Osaka, the castle staunchly stood watch as a foreboding guardian over any and all foot traffic.

I’ve left hints alluding to Nagoya Castle being a reconstruction; as you might surmise, little of the original structure remains. Over the years, the castle has endured numerous earthquakes and fires. For the history buffs out there, the castle also served as the Japanese army’s Nagoya headquarters during World War II. Unfortunately, this meant that the castle bore the punishing brunt of the allied forces’ vengeance and was all but burned to the ground.

In the years following World War II, much of the castle was restored to its original pre-war likeness. Similar to Osaka Castle’s renovations, the interior of the modern reconstruction has been remodeled to serve as a museum. The few remaining structures that survived the allied fire bombings were also listed as important cultural landmarks. and still can be seen today if you know where to look (such as the southwest, southeast, and northwest turrets).

Getting to the Rebuilt Nagoya Castle

Nagoya’s Shiyakusho Station, the closest station to Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle is located in the heart of the city that bears its name. The trip to Nagoya is easily accomplished on the bullet train. However, those of you pressed for time will find it a challenge to slot an excursion to Nagoya into a jammed packed itinerary. Because of this time commitment, I only suggest visiting the castle if you’re going to be making a stop over in Nagoya.

If you find yourself already in Nagoya, you can reach the castle from Nagoya Station in just about 10 minutes. You’ll need to take the subway to Sakae Station and transfer to the Meijo Subway Line. Your final destination will be Shiyakusho Station but be sure to consult Hyperdia or a similar service for the best timing.

Once there, you’ll need to walk a few minutes further to reach Nagoya Castle. Just follow this map, or alternatively, the crowds of people who are undoubtedly heading in that direction. The castle costs 500 yen to enter; there is also a combination ticket available that includes entrance to the Tokugawa-en Gardens (see “Attractions Near Nagoya Castle”).

Exploring the Rebuilt Nagoya Castle

The main keep of Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture

The Wikipedia page has a surprisingly detailed breakdown of all Nagoya Castle’s turrets, structures, gates, and walls. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, let’s instead focus more on the museum. During peak season, you will likely find some pretty long lines but with that said, the interior justifies the wait. If you are a cunning rogue-like traveler like myself, you can skip the line by taking the handicap elevator (just be sure to practice your limp first).

Once inside, you will find the castle’s museum to be spread over several floors and situated around a central staircase. Each floor is dedicated to a specific theme be it faithfully recreating the medieval vibe of the castle’s town on 3F to the armory exhibition on 4F. A full listing of each floors’ featured presentation can be found here on Nagoya Castle’s official site.

By far, the best spot is the observation deck located on top floor. From here, you will be pleased to find an amazing vantage point providing panoramic views of the entire city of Nagoya. It’s easy to imagine just how important the original castle must have been as its strategic point of view allows for a commanding view of the surrounding landscape.

Nagoya Castle Reconstruction Redux

Aichi Prefecture’s Nagoya Castle undergoing reconstruction work

One of the peculiar oddities about Nagoya Castle is that in 2009 the city decided to faithfully reconstruct the living quarters around the castle using traditional building techniques and materials. This means the city is systematically tearing down the concrete versions and replacing the structures with historically accurate materials and design. Luckily, this does not impact your visit to Nagoya Castle whatsoever. Indeed, seeing the actual work-in-progress can be considered a main attraction unto itself.

While authentically recreating the living quarters is a massive undertaking in and of itself, Nagoya is also looking to demolish and reconstruct the main keep under a similar methodology. While this goal is certainly praiseworthy, I have to question the timing. Beginning November 2017, the keep will be closed to the public and is scheduled to be torn down in 2019. The historical reproduction is slated to be completed by 2022. Unfortunately, this timeline indicates the city of Nagoya is going to miss out on the boom of inbound tourism leading up to the Olympics.

Attractions Near Nagoya Castle

Nagoya’s beautiful Tokugawa-en gardens in Aichi Prefecture during the autumn months

As previously mentioned, Nagoya Castle sells a combination ticket that includes entry to the Tokugawa-en gardens. Traveler beware, the gardens are located nowhere near the fortress. You will need to plan on heading back to the Meijo Line and hop a lift to Ozone Station. The gardens are only a 10 minute walk from the station. Follow this map to ensure you don’t get lost.

The Tokugawa-en gardens are centered around the Ryusenko Lake and its banks make for the perfect leisurely stroll. The gardens are also home to some impressive waterfalls, charming tea houses, and spectacular foliage. If this weren’t enough to justify a visit, the gardens are also located next to the Tokugawa Art Museum which makes for another addition for your Nagoya visit.

The Tokugawa-en Gardens were originally laid out in 1695 as a place of retirement for one of the local lords. While the gardens are open year round, spring and autumn are by far the best seasons to visit. If you are looking to experience Japan’s legendary fall leaves as can be see in the picture above, make sure to hit this place up between October and November. Keep in mind, like most seasonal attractions in Japan, expect crowds.