Field Report:  A walk through the grounds of Nagoya Castle, Japan (28 November 2018)

In my previous post, I wrote in detail about the newly reconstructed Honmaru Palace of Nagoya Castle. Needless to say, that episode was just a slice out of a visit to the castle compound, which has a lot more to see besides the palace at its centre.

Let’s see how the rest of that day went.

Now then, a reminder of our present whereabouts.

The city of Nagoya (名古屋), capital of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture…

…and sometimes accused – unfairly accused – of being a drab, soulless, boring urban centre, high on commerce but low on places of interest.

You won’t hear me making that accusation, though. Nagoya has more than enough history and culture and attractions and cuisine and all the rest to keep drawing me back – not just once, or twice, or thrice, but at least four times thus far. (I say “at least”, because it’s hard to keep track of all my movements across 19 visits to Japan, and a previous stop or two at Nagoya may have slipped from memory.)

Right, let’s start things off with a hearty breakfast of Japanese curry.

Yum. Can’t go wrong with this stuff.

Check out of the hotel, leave bags with reception, and head out the door for a little daytime sightseeing on the grounds of Nagoya Castle (名古屋城, Nagoya-jō).

My main target was the newly reconstructed Honmaru Palace, a lavishly decorated mansion that stood next to Nagoya Castle’s main tower for centuries before being reduced to ashes (along with the castle tower itself) by Allied bombing in the closing weeks of the Second World War. Rebuilt in stages over a period of about ten years, the palace’s last major state rooms finally opened for viewing in the autumn of 2018.

Read more about the palace and its jaw-dropping interiors in my previous field report.

Of course, I saw a fair bit on the castle grounds both before and after my inspection of the palace. Let’s start things off at Shiyakusho Station (市役所駅, Shiyakusho-eki), on the Meijō Line of the municipal subway system.

I’m not sure what to think about these giant place-name photo-op signs. Sometimes, they make me cringe just as badly as those horrible souvenir T-shirts with “I LOVE (insert city name)” printed on them. At other times, like now, they’re eye-catching enough to win me over … at least long enough for a very quick snapshot.

Hmm, the promenade’s been spruced up a bit since my last visit. That bank of restaurants wasn’t here before.

This is the “Muneharu Zone” of the recently opened Kinshachi Yokochō, a collection of restaurants split between two areas next to different gates leading into Nagoya Castle. The section shown above sits near the castle’s east gate.

Now for a peek at part of the castle moat and some of its formidable stone walls.

There’s nothing left of the castle’s east gate save for its massive stone foundations. That said, with the Honmaru Palace newly rebuilt and the main tower now due for reconstruction, perhaps a resurrected version of this portal isn’t too far beyond the realm of possibility.

The gate leads into Nagoya Castle’s Ninomaru enclosure. A sprawling mansion that once stood in this enceinte, the Ninomaru Palace, became the primary residence and administrative headquarters of the Lords of Owari Domain when the first daimyō of their line, Tokugawa Yoshinao, transferred here from the Honmaru Palace in 1620. Afterwards, the Honmaru Palace was used as a guest house for the ruling shōgun whenever he happened to be in town.

Unlike the Honmaru Palace, the Ninomaru Palace has not been rebuilt, and there are currently no plans to do so. However, one might get a sense of its lost splendour from various elements that have been re-created at the Tokugawa Art Museum (my favourite Nagoya attraction, apart from the castle that is). These include partial reconstructions of reception rooms, a tea house, and even a stage – all furnished with original artefacts drawn from the massive collection of treasures accumulated through the centuries by the Owari Tokugawa family.

As for the original site, all that remains are a few remnants of the vast garden that once served as the palace’s backyard. In keeping with the season, some of the trees were sporting nice autumn hues when I strolled past.

The walk towards the Honmaru took me past some of the castle’s fortifications and one of its surviving guard towers.

Nearly all of Nagoya Castle’s original wooden structures have been lost to the ravages of time, war, and disaster. Here’s one of the few survivors: the outer gate of what was formerly a double-gated masugata enclosure, guarding the southern entrance to the Honmaru.

The inner gate – much larger and more sturdily built, with a massive tile-roofed gatehouse overhead – once filled the gap in the stonework seen below.

And just around that corner…

…well, click here to read more about what I found.

After completing my tour of the palace, I approached the southwest corner of the Honmaru to inspect the Seinan-sumi-yagura (“southwest corner tower”), completed circa 1612. I didn’t have a good view of the building’s exterior from within the Honmaru, since the tower was mostly concealed by trees…

…so here’s another snapshot of that same building, taken from outside the Honmaru.

Let’s go inside.

The interiors of this centuries-old structure are very well preserved, and probably manage to convey some sense of what the nearby main tower once looked like from within – albeit on a far smaller scale – before that soaring structure burned down in 1945.

Now then, let’s have a look through the windows. There are stout plaster-covered wooden bars across each opening, but the gaps are large enough for one to poke a camera lens through and carry out some unobstructed picture-taking.

From up here, I spotted a new building down in the castle’s Nishinomaru enclosure. I’ve read that it will eventually house the original Edo Period paintings that once graced the Honmaru Palace, replicas of which now sit in the reconstructed mansion I explored just moments earlier.

Looking out through a north-facing window, I spied the castle’s two tenshu (donjons) peeking out from behind the trees.

Of course, they’re best appreciated from the ground – as in this picture taken from the open space behind the reconstructed Honmaru Palace.

The two towers were rebuilt in concrete after the war, with authentic-looking exteriors masking a modern interior. Much of that space was used as a museum, with the top floor of the taller main tenshu employed as an observation deck.

Note that the interiors are now permanently closed to visitors. The towers are scheduled to be torn down soon, with more historically faithful replicas – executed in wood rather than concrete – due to be erected over the next few years.

I got a sneak preview of the soon-to-be-built wooden tenshu‘s interior through a special VR experience, hosted in a metal shed just behind the Honmaru Palace. The interactive exhibit was due to run only until 30th November 2018, but if that’s been extended – or reintroduced – I do recommend sparing a few minutes for this rather interesting activity.

After a quick snack stop, I resumed my trek towards the northern edge of the Honmaru enclosure, stealing a glance up at the now-closed tenshu as I walked past.

I left the Honmaru by way of the Fumei-mon. Like many other Edo Period structures on the castle grounds, the original gate was lost to wartime bombing in 1945 (this replica was built in 1978).

Before the main tenshu was rebuilt after the war, the original foundation stones – damaged by fire and the weight of the collapsed tower – were moved out of the way and stashed in a field just north of the Honmaru, in the castle’s Ofukemaru enceinte.

In one corner of the same field sits this rather odd-looking structure, with massive stone slabs for walls and another piece of stone serving as its roof. Known as the Danbara-kofun, the rock chamber is believed to have been originally used as a tomb in what’s now Shimane Prefecture, hundreds of miles to the west. I haven’t the foggiest idea how, why, or when it ended up here on the grounds of Nagoya Castle, however.

The Ofukemaru area has a number of other interesting features. Amongst them are a surviving Edo Period turret, an old storehouse dating from the Meiji Era, even some trees sporting lovely autumn colours…

…as well as great views of the main tenshu‘s base, now covered up with a dense web of scaffolding. I suspect it’s part of the ongoing preparations for the demolition of the two towers and their eventual reconstruction.

I must say, all that metal makes the tenshu look rather like a gigantic rocket, ready to blast off into space.

Down south from the Ofukemaru into the Nishinomaru, out through the main gate – and another farewell to one of my favourite castles in Japan. See you again soon, mate.

There was a stop for the Me~guru tourist loop bus near the main gate, but I had time to kill before the next service and decided to visit the shops and restaurants of the Kinshachi Yokochō nearby. Unlike the trendy cuisine featured in the “Muneharu Zone” near the east gate, the offerings at the “Yoshinao Zone” close to the main gate had a more traditional bent, featuring well-known Nagoya/Aichi dishes.

I’d have wanted to enjoy a nice meal here before moving on, but it was the lunch rush and the restaurants that managed to pique my interest were packed. I therefore decided to ease my hunger pangs with a 500-yen set of three dengaku skewers: small blocks of grilled tofu dressed with a subtly sweet miso-based sauce.

I did a little more sightseeing in Nagoya – my customary visit to the awesome Tokugawa Art Museum, plus a quick stroll in the downtown area – before moving on to Tōkyō to continue my holiday. The next morning, I set off on a side trip to Yamanashi Prefecture, where I achieved a very special milestone…

…but let’s save that for another time and another post. (^_^)


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