Okayama Castle: Exploring Japan’s Crow Castle

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By Cher

Okayama Castle, located in Okayama City, is one of Japan’s most famous castles. Known as “Crow Castle” for its black exterior, Okayama Castle has a long and storied history dating back over 400 years. Today, the castle is an important cultural and historical site, allowing visitors to learn about Japan’s feudal era and explore beautiful gardens and reconstructed buildings.

History of Okayama Castle

Okayama Castle was originally built in 1573 under the rule of Ukita Naoie. Naoie overthrew the previous lord and began an expansion of the lord’s residence into a full castle. The main keep and other buildings were completed in 1597 after over 20 years of construction.

The castle was the headquarters of the Ukita clan until 1600, when Ukita Hideie sided with the Toyotomi clan against Tokugawa Ieyasu at the pivotal Battle of Sekigahara. With the Toyotomi defeat, the Ukita clan lost control of Okayama Castle. It became the property of Kobayakawa Hideaki for his help in the Tokugawa victory. However, Hideaki died just two years later without an heir.

Okayama Castle was then given to the Ikeda clan, who controlled it for over 250 years until the Meiji Restoration. The Ikeda lords made major improvements, including the construction of the famous Korakuen Garden adjacent to the castle across the Asahi River.

In the late 19th century, the Meiji government abolished the feudal domain system along with many structures of the samurai era. Like other castles in Japan, Okayama Castle fell into disuse and disrepair. The outer moats were filled in and walls dismantled. On June 29, 1945, Allied bombing destroyed the entire castle complex except for two minor watchtowers.

Reconstruction of Okayama Castle began in 1964 with mostly concrete buildings in the style of the original structures. The iconic black-painted castle tower was completed in 1966 along with other restored structures. Additional work and gilding of roof decorations took place in the 1990s to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the castle’s completion.

Visiting Okayama Castle Today

Okayama Castle is located just east of Okayama Station, making it easy to visit. The reconstructed six-story castle tower sits atop the stone base of the original, offering excellent views over Okayama City. Visitors can take an elevator up to the top floor observation deck.

The interior of the main keep contains exhibits about the castle’s history from construction to destruction and renewal. There are artifacts, models, and descriptions of the castle during different eras. English translations are limited, but one can still appreciate the displays.

In addition to the main tower, the former Tsukimi Yagura, or moon-viewing turret, still stands from 1620. The nearby Omote Goten Palace building is a modern reconstruction showing the living quarters of the feudal lords. The remains of the original palace foundation and several former garden elements also help convey the scale of the former castle complex.

Surrounding Okayama Castle are attractive lawns and gardens perfect for strolling. A key highlight is the springtime cherry blossoms that attract many visitors. The castle grounds offer great photo spots with the contrast of white blossoms and dark castle walls.

Visiting Korakuen Garden

Just across the Asahi River from Okayama Castle lies Korakuen Garden, one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. The feudal lord’s private garden was first constructed in 1687 and features ponds, hills, tea ceremony houses, and seasonal plantings. The garden harmonizes beautifully with views of the neighboring castle.

Many visitors buy a combined ticket to explore both Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden. The garden can be reached by a short walk or tram ride from Okayama Castle across the river. Allow 1-2 hours to leisurely wander through the scenic landscape and traditional buildings.

Okayama Castle

Planning a Visit to Okayama

If you only have time for one castle while visiting Japan, Okayama Castle makes a great choice. It’s easy to access as a day trip from Kyoto, Osaka, or Hiroshima. Okayama Station is just over 2 hours by bullet train from Osaka and under an hour from Hiroshima.

The castle and garden are walkable from Okayama Station or a quick tram ride away. Admission to just Okayama Castle’s grounds and main keep is ¥300 for adults and ¥100 for elementary school students. A combo ticket including Korakuen Garden is ¥560 or ¥180.

Try to time a visit for the spring cherry blossom season if possible to see the iconic sakura with the unique black castle. Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden offer an amazing look into Japan’s feudal history while enjoying beautiful scenery.

If you love the majestic Okayama Castle, don’t miss Odawara Castle on your next trip to Japan. This stunning 15th-century fortress has equally impressive architecture and immerses you in medieval Japanese history.

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