Kakegawa: A Charming Castle Town
If you take the Shinkansen toward Nagoya, somewhere in Shizuoka you will pass through a small city called Kakegawa. For most people, the Japanese included, it is just a minor stop on the way to bigger and better things. In fact, the Shinkansen station here only opened a couple years ago because no one thought to stop here. However, anyone who does decide to get off the train and explore this old town will find something truly remarkable.
You see, Kakegawa is an old castle town, and castle towns are rich with history. The original castle was built in 1513 by the Imagawa clan in a time of civil war as each of the feudal lords, or Daimyo, fought for control of the entire nation. Unfortunately for the Imagawa clan, they eventually found themselves on the losing end of things.
In 1568, Kakegawa was attacked by Tokugawa Ieyasu, future founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the province was given to a vassal of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. If you know anything about Japanese history, you will know that these guys are two of the biggest and most important names from this period. Toyotomi is the man who finally united all of Japan under his rule, and Tokugawa would eventually succeed him and found a dynasty would rule Japan peacefully for over 250 years. So Kakegawa castle, in spite of its small size, has links to some of the most important people.
Sadly, in 1854 the same year that Commodore Perry forced Japan to open itself to foreign trade, a large earthquake hit the area and badly damaged the castle complex. With feudal system nearing collapse and the days of samurai, swords, and castles at their end, it was never repaired.
Finally, in 1869, a year after the shogunate officially ended, the castle keep collapsed. Today, the only original building left is a portion of the daimyo’s palace, which is now used as a museum devoted to Edo period life in the area.
But the palace isn’t the main attraction. The castle itself is. In the early 1990s, the city of Kakegawa followed the example of many other cities in Japan and rebuilt the castle keep and restored many of the walls and moats of the inner bailey. Unlike all of the rebuilt castles that went before, like Osaka, Odawara, and Nagoya, the modern Kakegawa castle isn’t a concrete and steel structure roughly resembling the original building.
Before they started, they were able to locate the original castle plans and survey drawings from the early 1600s. With these plans and a bit of modern archeology, they were able to reconstruct the castle exactly as it was originally, using ancient techniques and materials as much as possible to keep everything as authentic as possible. It was the first time anyone in Japan had attempted anything like this with an old castle, and in my opinion it was a complete success. When you stand inside the keep, it looks, feels, and smells just like the original castles I’ve visited. They really did an excellent job with it.
So, is Kakegawa worth visiting? Definitely. The castle and palace museum are both small, but they are very well done. In addition to the castle there is an old civil servant’s college and another old house next to the castle to visit. And, if you can figure out the busses (google maps doesn’t have routes or schedules), the large map of tourist sites near the station has pictures of a couple of old temples and other interesting sites listed elsewhere in the city. Even if you only have a couple hours to see the castle though, Kakegawa is still worth a visit.
So if you are heading down the Shinkansen from Yokohama or Tokyo to Nagoya, do yourself a favor and make a stop in Kakegawa. You won’t regret it.