Aomori #7: Hirosaki Castle (弘前城)

In Aomori on the We Love Japan Tour I got to visit Hirosaki Castle at the end of the day. Only…


Whaaaat? Where did the castle go?!

Right now they are renovating the walls, so they moved the castle to the middle of the park!


Oh, here it is!


They are not finished moving it yet…

The castle will be moved to the middle of the park within a month or so, then the renovations of the walls should be until 2016. For reference, here’s a picture of what the castle used to look like:


Hi!

You can read more about the castle (and the renovation work) here. Hirosaki castle is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot; unfortunately, I’ve never made it to Aomori during spring. Maybe one year!

Kumamoto #2 : Kumamoto Castle (熊本城)

During my trip we were able to visit Kumamoto Prefecture in order to see the famous castle. For castle fans and regular tourists alike, this castle is one of the best in the country! You can read more about the castle and how to get there here.

Upon arrival and climbing through the gates, this was my first view of the castle:


As you can see, that’s not exactly like the postcard


Still, it’s a pretty neat view!


This is the view from the top of the main keep, looking out over Kumamoto City.


We also visited the beautifully reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace

From there, we headed out a different way we came in, turned around to get a last glimpse of the castle, and…


Oh! Here we go!


The final shot

This is the Niyo-no-Ishigaki, the stone wall of two styles. Although it isn’t easily obvious in the picture, the closer wall is made of a more reddish-colored stone, while behind it is slightly grayer. To get here, head toward the Hazekata gate either on your way in or out, and you’ll find this spot!

Shiga #2: Hikone Caste, Lake Biwa, & Chikubu Island (彦根城・琵琶湖・竹生島)

Most postcards just depict one place or feature of a prefecture, but a few are more ambitious. Shiga’s second postcard depicts three famous places in Shiga Prefecture: Hikone Castle, Lake Biwa, and Chikubu Island.

These three can definitely be seen altogether (on a clear day anyway), so it makes sense to put them together. I’ll give a little background on each before posting a few pictures.

Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It too is featured in the “Eight Views of Oumi” which I talked a tiny bit about when I introduced Tsukimi and Shiga’s 6th postcard. Chikubu Island is on Lake Biwa, and is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty and Historic Site. There are both a shrine (Chikubushima Jinja) and a temple (Hougon-ji) on the island. Hougon-ji is a really interesting place and definitely worth reading up on. Finally, Hikone Castle is one of only 12 left in Japan with the original keep, and one of only four listed as a national treasure.

I visited Hikone Castle and Lake Biwa during Golden Week a few years ago, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see Chikubu Island from the castle. Here are a few pictures nevertheless:


Hikone Castle from the back side


Looking out onto Lake Biwa. On a clear day we could’ve seen Chikubu Island.


The Castle has some nice garden areas around it not shown in the postcard, but which were very nice.

If you’ve in Shiga during the end of October/beginning of November, there’s a festival at and around the castle that looks really neat! The main event is November 3rd and you can read about it here. If you go, say “hi” to Hikonyan for me!

2015.01.20: NHK’s Fudoki program, which are short 5 minute videos on various Japan-related topics, has two videos uploaded, one about Hikone Castle’s Architecture (a short 5 minute video), and the other on Lake Biwa. There’s another NHK Program, BEGIN’s Japanology series, which has a much longer video on Lake Biwa here as well.

Hyogo #3: Himeji Castle (姫路城)

So this Monday was a holiday here in Japan called 敬老の日 (Keirou no Hi, “Respect for the Aged Day”) which is celebrated the third Monday of September every year. It originated in Hyogo Prefecture, then gained popularity throughout the country until it was declared a National Holiday. Since Hyogo is its origin, I thought I’d highlight Hyogo today!

I went to Himeji to visit a cousin doing an exchange program last year, but basically only visited Himeji and Okayama. So I don’t have any pictures for the postcards except for Himeji Castle. You can read about the history of the castle on wikipedia here, but in summary it is one of the leading examples of castle architecture to survive to modern day.

When I visited the castle was under renovation. Although this meant I didn’t get to see the iconic white castle standing tall (it was covered by a building), I did get to go up and see the roof of the building, as well as workers working on the facade and roof, which was very unique. As such, I didn’t take a picture with the postcard. I hope to go back for that again!


The castle covered by a temporary structure


Inside the building covering the castle and looking down on the roof

2015.01.20: I came across this great program by NHK called Fudoki, which explores different elements of Japan in 5 minutes. They have a new video about Himeji, since the renovations are almost complete. You can watch Part 1 here and the new video Part 2 here. The first minute or so is much the same information, but the second video goes into more detail about the restoration, so just skip forward a bit.

Osaka #3: Osaka Castle (大阪城)

Another castle I visited in 2009 was Osaka’s magnificent castle. When we visited it was late afternoon, and the light and clouds were really beautiful with the castle in the forefront. The castle is a reconstruction, but it is still interesting and nicely done! You can read more about Osaka castle here.

Osaka Castle is also a famous place to see cherry blossoms. I’ve visited during cherry season once, but I was more focused on Kyoto at that time, so I don’t have many good pictures of the castle with cherries. Another time!


Osaka Castle


Slightly from the side


A neat tiger inside the castle


Looking out over Osaka

2015.01.20: NHK’s Fudoki series, 5 minute videos about various places and things of Japan, also has a video on Osaka castle. I recommend giving it a watch here.

Nagano #2: Matsumoto Castle (国宝松本城)

So, I’m actually supposed to be in Gifu now, sightseeing and taking pictures, and of course, buying my postcards. Unfortunately, the typhoon that hit us this weekend derailed those plans. We could have gone, but torrential rain and the possibility of mudslides didn’t sound too appealing when it was easy enough to change our plans. So I’ll be visiting Gifu this coming weekend instead, and meanwhile, I’m going to start talking about some of my favorite postcards in the Gotochi collection: The Castles.

Let’s start with the first I ever visited, waaaay back in 2009 before this postcard even came out (it’s 2010’s version): The beautiful black castle of Matsumoto, Nagano! You can find some info on its history and features, plus opening times and costs, here.


Black Matsumoto Castle with its iconic red bridge


Not only is the moat very photogenic, you can also see the Japan Alps in the background, still snowcapped of course!


Night views of this castle are also really beautiful!

As you can see, I went during cherry blossom season, which was a truly beautiful time to go! The pink flowers/red bridge/black castle combination is a really nice one! At that time, I was still using a point and shoot camera (ah, way back when…) so these pictures don’t do it justice. Matsumoto is actually on the way back from Gifu for us, so I might be able to stop and take some new pictures!

2015.01.20: I’d like to add a interesting video of Matsumoto I recently discovered on youtube. This video, part of NHK’s 5 minute Fudoki program, is an interesting look at the defenses of the castle, including a recent find in the moat! It’s worth a watch!