Hirosaki Castle: A Fortress Steeped in History

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By Cher

Hirosaki Castle is a historic Japanese castle located in Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture. It was originally constructed in 1611 and rebuilt in 1810 after being struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. The castle is listed as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Castles by the Japan Castle Foundation and is an important cultural property of Japan.

Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle was built by Tsugaru Nobuhira, the first ruler of the Tsugaru clan, in 1611. The Tsugaru clan moved to the castle town of Hirosaki from their former territory to establish a new feudal domain during the Edo period. Nobuhira chose a central location on Mount Iwaki to build the castle, which provided views over the surrounding land.

The original Hirosaki Castle had a three-story castle tower, three smaller secondary towers called yagura, gates, and a moat. The castle grounds spanned 163,000 square meters. In its original form, Hirosaki Castle was considered one of the finest castles in the Tohoku region.

In 1627, the castle was struck by a lightning fire and badly damaged. It was rebuilt and expanded in 1628 and served as the home of the Tsugaru clan for over 200 years. In 1810, lightning struck again and caused a fire that destroyed the main castle tower. The structures were never rebuilt to their original size or grandeur. Only one yagura and the surrounding earthen walls remain from the early Edo period.

After the Meiji Restoration, the castle was dismantled and sold off in 1873. In 1894, the grounds became Hirosaki Park and in 1908 the remaining yagura tower was designated an Important Cultural Property. Preservation and restoration efforts began in the 1960s to maintain what remains of the historic castle.

Castle Design

In its original form, the central keep of Hirosaki Castle stood five stories tall and was one of the only structures in the Tohoku region to have such a tall tower. The castle featured elaborate gables and roof ornamentation. The walls were built from huge stones fitted together without mortar.

The smaller yagura towers around the central keep took their names from their positions within the castle compound – the East, West, and Minami-te (South Tower). The Minami-te is the only surviving yagura today. These sturdy corner towers were two stories tall.

The castle grounds were surrounded by tall earthen walls reinforced with stone facings. A wide moat encircled the inner citadel. The Honmaru, or central bailey, contained the donjon and living quarters. The Ni-no-maru and San-no-maru outer enclosures housed the residences of retainers.

Park and Gardens

When the castle was dismantled in the early Meiji era, its grounds became Hirosaki Park in 1894. The park encompasses about 1.24 square kilometers surrounding the castle ruins. Over 5,000 cherry trees were planted around early 20th century, including rare and endangered varieties.

Hirosaki Park is renowned as one of the top cherry blossom viewing sites in Japan. Over a million visitors come during sakura season in the spring. The Somei Yoshino trees bloom first in May, followed by weeping and mountain cherry varieties. Fall foliage is also spectacular in the expansive park.

Other features of the park include the Hirosaki Castle Botanical Garden, tennis courts, shrines, and temples. The East Bailey area contains reconstructed castle gates and walls to give an impression of the original castle layout. The ruins of the castle tower foundation can be seen rising in the central bailey.

The botanical garden contains about 1,000 cherry trees representing 50 different species. One section of the garden recreates a miniature Edo period landscape. Visitors can stroll through paths lined with herbs and maple trees around a small pond.

Festivals

Hirosaki Castle is the scenic backdrop for several of the city’s major festivals and events.

The Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival takes place every February. The park is illuminated by hundreds of snow lanterns and snow statues. In the evenings, trees are lit up and the surrounding snow reflects gentle colors across the grounds.

Cherry blossom season from late April to early May brings the Hirosaki Castle Sakura Matsuri. The peak viewing period is marked with taiko drum performances, food stalls, and evening illuminations of the cherry trees.

The Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri in August is a spectacular parade of enormous fan-shaped lantern floats. The brightly colored neputa are illuminated at night and paraded through the streets with dancers and musicians.

Visiting the Castle

Hirosaki Castle is located in central Hirosaki City, west of JR Hirosaki Station. The castle grounds are open year-round and are free to enter.

The surviving yagura tower is open as a museum. Displays inside explain the history of the castle and the daily life of its past inhabitants. For a small fee, visitors can climb to the top floor of the tower for views over Hirosaki Park.

The easiest way to reach Hirosaki from Tokyo is by rail. Visitors can take the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train to Shin-Aomori Station in about 3 hours, then transfer to local trains for the short trip to Hirosaki. There are also overnight buses from Tokyo to Hirosaki.

The peak cherry blossom season usually occurs in late April to early May. This popular time can draw large crowds. Early April or late May may provide a better opportunity to enjoy the sakura in a more peaceful setting. The matsuri festivals also attract many visitors in summer.

Hirosaki Castle stands as an important symbol of traditional Japanese culture and samurai history. Exploring the well-preserved grounds provides a glimpse into feudal times when daimyo warlords reigned from grand castles set amid peaceful gardens. The scenic cherry blossoms reflecting across the empty castle moats capture a unique beauty of old Japan.

If you enjoyed exploring the scenic grounds and ornate architecture of Hirosaki Castle, you’d love taking in the picturesque views and rich history of Hikone Castle, another magnificent Japanese castle that offers an immersive look into the country’s feudal past.

FAQ

1. What is Hirosaki Castle known for?

Hirosaki Castle is known for being one of Japan’s finest castles and one of the country’s best cherry blossom spots.

2. Where is Hirosaki Castle located?

Hirosaki Castle is located in Hirosaki, a city in the Aomori Prefecture of Japan.

3. Is Hirosaki Castle open to the public?

Yes, Hirosaki Castle is open to the public. Visitors can explore the castle keep and the surrounding castle park.

4. What can I see inside Hirosaki Castle?

Inside Hirosaki Castle, visitors can explore the castle’s interior, which features displays of historical artifacts and exhibits on the castle’s rich history.

5. Does Hirosaki Castle host a cherry blossom festival?

Yes, Hirosaki Castle hosts a famous cherry blossom festival each spring. The castle and its surrounding park are adorned with beautiful cherry blossoms, creating a stunning backdrop for visitors.

6. How did Hirosaki Castle gain its historical significance?

Hirosaki Castle gained its historical significance through its association with the Hirosaki domain, which was ruled by the Tsugaru clan during the feudal period of Japan.

7. Is Hirosaki Castle listed as a national important cultural property?

Yes, Hirosaki Castle is listed as a national important cultural property in Japan.

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