Kōchi Castle is an original Japanese castle located in the city of Kōchi, in Kōchi Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. It has the distinction of being one of only twelve castles in Japan that survived the fires, wars, and other disasters after the feudal era, earning it recognition as an Important National Cultural Property.
Kochi Castle Construction and Layout
The foundations of Kōchi Castle were laid between 1601 and 1611 by Yamauchi Kazutoyo, a feudal lord who was stationed in the Tosa region. Originally Kazutoyo resided in Urado Castle, but decided to build a new castle at the site of the present-day Kōchi Castle, which was at the center of the fertile Kōchi Plain. This plain was the most prosperous area of Tosa Province.
After the main keep and central structures were completed, Kazutoyo moved into Kōchi Castle in 1603. The entire castle was finished in 1611. It initially served as the center of power for the Tosa Domain, which was ruled by the Yamauchi clan under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Much of Kōchi Castle, including the main keep, was destroyed by a massive fire that swept through the castle town in 1727. The current main keep dates from the reconstruction that took place between 1727 and 1748. Further rebuilding continued until 1753.
One unique aspect of Kōchi Castle is that all of the original structures from the innermost ring of defense, known as the honmaru, still remain intact today. This is a very rare survivability rate for a Japanese castle.
Historic Role and Current Use
For over two and a half centuries, from 1601 to 1871, Kōchi Castle was the stronghold from which the Yamauchi lords ruled over Tosa, their surrounding domain. The castle was used to house the living quarters and offices of the lords.
After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Kochi Castle was used as a military base and later as the headquarters of the local government.
Today, the castle buildings serve as repositories for local historical treasures and artifacts. The main keep exhibits the ambiance of its original Edo Period architectural style. The top floor of the tower offers panoramic views over downtown Kōchi City.
Cherry Blossoms and Gardens
In addition to its historic stone walls and architecture, Kōchi Castle is also famous for its beautiful cherry blossom gardens. Each spring, the grounds erupt in delicate pink cherry blossoms contrasting with the bright red lanterns. The castle keep rising above the fluffy flowers makes for dramatic photographs.
The gardens are particularly stunning during the nighttime cherry blossom viewing illuminations that occur during sakura season. The evening garden is lit up and the tall castle forms a regal silhouette.
Notable Architecture and Design
Kōchi Castle possesses several unique design aspects that set it apart from other Japanese castles. One is that the main keep served as both a military fortification and residence for the ruling lords. Most castles housed the living quarters separately from the main tower.
The interiors have been preserved to showcase a classic Edo Period aesthetic. Intricately carved wooden beams and paneled walls reflect traditional Japanese castle architecture.
Another signature feature is the pair of shachi statues – mythical creatures with the head of a tiger and the body of a fish. According to legend, the shachi protect the castle from fire. The Kochi shachi are located on the roof, keeping watch over the city below.
Accessing Kōchi Castle
Kōchi Castle is located close to the city center and is easily accessed from Kōchi Station. Visitors can take the tram from the station and disembark at the Kochijo-mae stop, which is right by the castle grounds. The entire trip takes around 15 minutes.
Alternatively, the castle is around a 15-20 minute walk from Kōchi Station. One can approach via the Hirome Market arcade, which is lined with local food stalls and shops.
The castle grounds are open to the public, and visitors can enter the main keep. Across the road is the Kochi Castle Museum of History, which provides in-depth exhibits and artifacts from the region’s past.
The graceful historic architecture of Kochi Castle and its stunning springtime cherry blossoms create a memorable cultural experience for visitors. As one of Japan’s last surviving original castles, it offers a look into the nation’s feudal history from over 400 years ago that still remains standing today.
After exploring the beautiful Kochi Castle, continue your castle tour of Japan by visiting the equally impressive Inuyama Castle, which is one of the country’s oldest and most historic castles located along the Kiso River.