When it comes to visiting a medieval military stronghold in Japan, most tourists tend to conjure thoughts of the Osaka and Himeji Castle. While these fortresses are definitely worth visiting, they are located to the west in the Kansai region and can be a difficult reach for some travelers. Fret not though; luckily for those who are staying in and around Tokyo, Kanagawa Prefecture’s Odawara Castle is an excellent alternative. This eastern stronghold is the closest medieval fortress to Tokyo and can be easily reached by train.
While the current buildings are a reconstruction, Odawara Castle has a heap of historic tales to tell. For starters, the castle’s keep was originally built during the mid 15th century and fell under the control of the Hojo clan. This powerful clan ruled most of modern day Tokyo during Japan’s infamous Warring States period (1467–1603) and Odawara Castle was one of their most important bases. For those interested in learning more, the Wikipedia page does an excellent job of providing a historical overview and is worth checking out before your visit.
Unfortunately, the original castle was destroyed by an earthquake in 1703 but was soon rebuilt thereafter. The castle was once again dismantled following Japan’s entry into modernity with the Meiji Restoration. The current superstructure is constructed of ferro-concrete and is based on models and blueprints from the Edo period (1603–1868). Much like other reconstructions, the present day Odawara Castle houses an extraordinary museum.
Before moving on, let’s pause to note that Odawara borders on the Hakone. This location makes Odawara Castle a compelling detour for those en route to the famous onsen town. The fortress has all the makings of a great day trip for those itching to visit a castle but I highly recommend that you instead consider overnighting in Hakone. For more information and a sample itinerary, refer to my Hakone area guide.
How to Get There
Odawara can be easily reached in just over an hour from central Tokyo via the the JR Tokaido line. No doubt, it’s a bit of a long ride so I suggest you spend the extra coin and upgrade to the Green Car. JR Rail pass holders will be happy to know that they can also reach the area in approximately 30 minutes by hopping on any of the Kodama Shinkansen trains bound for Osaka. Regardless of how you choose to travel, be sure to consult Hyperdia or a similar service to see the best departures.
Once you’re in Odawara, you’ll find the castle located a mere ten minutes walk from the station. The stronghold sits high up on the hillside making it visible even from the station. While there’s ample signage, just follow this Google Map link to Odawara Castle’s northern entrance. You’ll want to stay on the left side of the road and keep an eye out for a path that diverges from the street. This might sound confusing now but all will become clear if you follow my directions.
What to See at Odawara Castle
Odawara Castle is open from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM and entry will run you 500 yen. You can purchase your tickets either at a vending machine in the open area around the main keep or at the entrance to the castle. In addition to admission to Odawara Castle itself, you’ll also have the opportunity to purchase a combination ticket to any of the other temporary exhibits on offer. These change over time so be sure to check in person when making a visit but expect to find some interesting narratives related to the castle.
Once you have purchased your ticket, you’ll be able to enter the main structure. As mentioned, the entire interior of the keep has been repurposed as a museum. Across the castle’s multiple layers you’ll find a number of curations that highlight its importance as a military stronghold over the years. Fans of authentic samurai weaponry will delight to know that the castle also has an impressive collection of armaments ranging from katana to arquebus.
The highest tier of Odawara Castle has been redesigned as an outdoor observation deck with a killer view of the nearby Sagami Bay. While this is not faithful to the original design of the fortress, the scenery more than makes up for the lapse in authenticity. Be warned though! I’ve read that during popular Japanese travel seasons like Golden Week hordes of camera-wielding domestic tourists descend upon this narrow walkway. Expect to be hurried along if you visit during peak season!
Other Nearby Attractions
I’ve said it before, but it’s certainly worth repeating; if you’re going to go all the way down to Odawara it would behoove you to also visit Hakone. Even if you don’t follow my two-day itinerary, you can still hop the train over to Hakone Yumoto Station for a quick trip to one of its many day-use onsen. Consider checking out Hakone Yuryo for a convenient and easy-to-visit facility. They even have a free shuttle bus that runs right from the station!
Despite my recommendations, if you’d prefer to stay in Odawara there’s still a lot of fun to be had. Odawara Castle Park for one is home to a small shrine, some wonderful gardens, and a tiny amusement park for kids. At the Tokiwagi Gate that’s immediately in front of the main building, you’ll also find a small museum displaying unique samurai armor and weapons. Be sure to buy a combination ticket when purchasing entry to Odawara Castle to save a few yen here.
In addition to the amusement park, those traveling with children will delight to know that it is possible to rent samurai, ninja, and princess costumes as well. The rental fee is only 200 yen for kids but adults can also partake in the fun for a mere 100 more yen. You’ll find the rental office also in the Tokiwagi Gate next to the weapons and armor museum. Note that costume rentals are only available from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Lastly, you might also consider checking out the Odawara Fish Center (here’s a Google Map) before heading back to Tokyo . After all, Odawara is a seaside city and is well known for its freshly caught seafood. If you don’t mind the 20 minute walk from Odawara Castle, you’ll be treated with a variety of shops and restaurants peddling delicious seafood. English language menus tend to be lacking. Go for it; stumble your way through ordering!
Until next time travelers…