A Historical Journey Through Castle Hopping in Toyota | VISIT TOYOTA CITY‐Toyota City Official Travel Site-

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    A Historical Journey Through Castle Hopping in Toyota

    French-born Angie, who works at Toyota City Hall, will participate in the "Toyota Gojōin Project" and introduce tourist spots and gourmet food while hopping castles in the city.

    Hello! My name is Angie, and I’m from France. I currently work at the Internationalization Promotion Division of Toyota City Hall. In this article, I’m going to introduce you to castles (and castle sites) as well as some tourist spots that I visited as part of the Toyota Gojōin Project.

    Toyota Gojōin Project

    Did you know that there are more than 150 castles and castle sites in Toyota City?
    Tourism Toyota initiated the Toyota Gojōin Project, through which you can travel from castle to castle, experiencing the history of the city while collecting gojōin (calligraphies proving the visit to a castle).
    Twelve of these castles were recommended by various districts and had gojōin designed with family crests or patterns connected to them, which are now available for purchase.
    I had the opportunity to visit all 12 of these castles and collect their gojōin while discovering nearby tourist spots and restaurants.

    Japanese Castles

    But before delving into each castle’s introduction, let’s learn more about Japanese castles in general!
    When you think of Japanese castles, you might be thinking of well-known and large castles like Nagoya Castle and Himeji Castle. However, Japanese castles aren’t necessarily large citadels with towers and turrets.
    Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of castles in Japan. The first type, mountain castles (yamajiro), are built on mountain tops. Although bringing construction materials and food necessities to these high places proved to be a challenge, these castles made use of the mountain’s terrain for defensive power, which is why they were prevalent until the end of the Warring States period (1467-1568), a time when battles were commonplace.

    The second type is flatland-mountain castles (hirayamajiro). These castles provided a good balance between natural defenses and convenience.
    The third type is flatland castles (hirajiro), built in times of peace when battles were rare, which is why they prioritized easily accessible locations instead of defenses. Moreover, since they were also symbols of power, many of these castles are splendid pieces of architecture built with the idea in mind that they would be seen by many people.

    French Castles

    Japanese and French castles share some similarities. In France, some castles were built for defense (fortresses), while others served as residences for kings and nobility (palace-like castles).
    The former dates back to the Middle Ages. They were constructed with stones and featured fortifications, turrets, drawbridges, and so on. The Fortified City of Carcassonne, situated in the Occitania region where I’m from, is one such example.
    The latter wasn’t built for defense, but rather to function as a palace. As such, they were built lavishly using advanced architectural techniques. The Palace of Versailles (referred to as the Castle of Versailles in French), built in the Baroque style, is one famous example.

    Castles in Toyota City

    Well then, let me now introduce to you the castles and castle sites that I visited in Toyota, as well as their nearby tourist spots and restaurants.

    The very first castle that I visited was Sakura Castle. All that remains of it today is the stone base of a corner turret, but its surroundings have been rearranged as a park where events are sometimes held. There are many cherry trees in the park, so don’t hesitate to come visit it in the spring!

    Shichishū Castle received its name (which means “Seven Provinces Castle”) because it overlooked seven realms (Mikawa, Owari, Mino, Shinano, Iga, Ise, and Ōmi). The tower has been reconstructed on top of the original stone foundations. It’s also right next to the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, so I recommend checking out the two of them at the same time!

    Ueno Castle is said to have been built in the 15th century. A shrine was built on the castle site, which explains the torii gates you will be greeted by upon arrival. This one is not a mountain castle, so it’s easily accessible.

    Terabe Castle was also constructed during the 15th century. On the castle site, there used to be a main building, a study, a tearoom, and a storehouse. If you go see it, I recommend taking a walk in the Terabe Castle’s forest while appreciating its various trees, such as Japanese maples, bamboo-leaf oaks, and muku trees.

    Next, I will be introducing mountain castles situated in the mountainous regions of Toyota.
    I recommend Matsudaira Castle in the Matsudaira area to anyone interested in the history of Japan. This castle was built by Matsudaira Chikauji, the ancestor of one of Japan’s Three Unifiers, Tokugawa Ieyasu. It’s supposed to have been a typical mountain castle from the Muromachi period (1336-1573). The clan usually held residence in the Matsudaira Village, but in times of battles, it’s said that they barricaded themselves in this castle.
    I would also suggest a visit to the nearby Matsudaira Tôshôgû Shrine and Kôgetsu-in Temple, all part of the Matsudaira Village. I personally love Japanese shrines and temples, so visiting this village completely surrounded by nature was wonderful. Tôshôgû Shrine is especially beautiful in the fall, but no matter the season, you can come and see the magnificent ceiling in the worship hall. The ceiling is decorated with 108 lacquer paintings by Ando Noriyoshi of flowers and plants that can be found in the village.

    Ogyū Castle is also in the Matsudaira area. Compared to the others, it’s quite a large-scale mountain castle. At approximately 200 meters of altitude, you can understand that it fulfilled an important military role in its time. Although it’s a challenging climb, the view from the top makes it worth it.

    Kawaguchi Castle, in the Fujioka area, has a steep slope that will have you catching your breath, but once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful view of the Yahagi River.

    Asuke Castle, in the Asuke area, is a must-see for history lovers. Perched on top of Mount Mayumi, it is believed to have been built by the Suzuki Clan sometime after the 15th century, but it was abandoned in 1590. It then became the very first mountain castle in Japan to be reconstructed, and today you can see watchtowers, living quarters, kitchens, stables, defensive structures, and so on. By visiting it, you’ll be able to understand what mountain castles were truly like back then. When I visited it, it was like I was transported to the Warring States period. As one could expect, it was a time of war, so the focus was put on defenses.

    Let’s move on to the Shimoyama area with Ōkuwa Castle. From the remaining moat and earthen base, you can tell that it was well-suited for defense. Nowadays, it’s an ideal place for some forest bathing.
    If you head out to Shimoyama for this castle, I highly recommend stopping by Drive-in Yamabiko at Lake Mikawa. Their gohei-mochi lunch includes Shimoyama’s characteristic large sandal-shaped gohei-mochi, sweetfish, konjac sashimi, seasonal vegetables, and more. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the gohei-mochi! It’s definitely a must-try when visiting Shimoyama. On the way to the restaurant, you’ll also enjoy a wonderful view of Lake Mikawa.

    If you go to Ichiba Castle in the Obara area during the fall, you’ll be treated to the wonderful contrast between shikizakura (special cherry blossoms that bloom in both spring and fall) and maple trees. The summit is a great spot to appreciate the view while enjoying a quiet picnic!
    Anyone visiting Obara for its shikizakura should go to the place that boasts the most of them: Senmi Shikizakura no Sato. It was my first time seeing cherry blossoms and autumn leaves together, and I must say that it was truly enchanting.
    An experience I really enjoyed in Obara was the Obara Paper Art Museum, Washi no Furusato. There, you can try your hand at papermaking with Obara’s traditional Japanese paper art. I felt quite proud to make Japanese paper on my own!
    I would also recommend having lunch at Obara-An, which is close by. There, I ate a traditional Japanese meal composed of fresh and seasonal ingredients.

    Odo Castle, in the Asahi area, can be accessed through Zōfuku-ji Temple. The ruins are located at an altitude of 240 meters, so it takes quite a bit of time to reach them, but while you climb, you can appreciate the scenery of Asahi and look at the Jizō statues accompanying you all the way to the summit.
    Zōfuku-ji Temple, also known as Furindera Temple for its many wind chimes, is a worthwhile visit as well. Its Wind Chime Festival, held in the summer, is very popular. During the festival, Asahi comes alive with chimes and their melodious sounds, creating a lively and cheerful atmosphere throughout the area.

    Our final destination is the Inabu area, where you can explore Busetsu Castle, built during the Warring States period. This castle holds historical ties with the samurai Takeda Katsuyori, former head of the Takeda Clan. Adjacent to it is Donguri no Sato Inabu Roadside Station, where you can enjoy the natural hot spring of Donguri no Yu, or purchase fresh agricultural produce at Donguri Yokochō.
    I would also recommend checking out Gra Tir Inabu, a restaurant that offers a footbath to relax your feet in while enjoying your lunch. During my visit, the footbath had been scented with lavender, it was very relaxing.

    And that concludes our tour of all 12 castles of the Toyota Gojōin Project! It was a wonderful experience for me to visit each of these castles and collect their gojōin one by one. Through this project, you can explore various areas in Toyota City and discover each of their unique charms. Personally, I was able to discover many hidden gems I didn’t know about!

    Finally, please take a moment to watch the introduction video I made after traveling around Toyota City!