Umbrellas matching the colors of the rainbows bob skywards as visitors navigated the flight of stone steps towards Odawara Castle’s soaring architecture. Slender Japanese cherry trees replete with blossoms framed the inclined stone causeway, painting the much needed color to the sullen grey heavens above.
I was trying to keep my eyes open the whole two hours en route to the Kanagawa Prefecture. I wanted to see Japan even if just from the bus window, but the previous night’s jaunt has taken its toll on me, I couldn’t hold my eyelids open, they were closing on their own accord; I dreamt of cherry blossoms.
Before I knew it, we were already at Odawara City and our Japanese guide was giving out the distinctly Japanese transparent umbrellas for us to use. The rain has not abated, in fact it has intensified.
I left my bag and tripod inside the bus and only brought my two cameras with me. It’s hard enough to shoot while holding an umbrella with one hand without the extra weight of lenses and filters inside a camera bag. The 1.3-kilo Sony A77 and the half-kilo Sony NEX5N was the lightest set-up I was able get away with.
A murky moat lined by flowering sakura trees surrounded the Odawara Castle complex. The white outer walls of the fortress and its graciously curving black-tiled roof looked majestic even under Japan’s gray weather. I can see triangular holes punctuating the keep’s walls, probably gun holes used to defend the donjon during the country’s tumultous eras.
Wet gravel crunched under my shoes as I proceeded deeper into the fortress’ inner walls. Odawara Castle has a total of three massive portals; the Tokiwagi, Akagane and Umade Gates. Each one is as graceful and as massive as the previous. Its doors are made of wood and copper plates held by hundreds of metal bolts.
I let my feet wander through the citadel’s many inner chambers. My companions were busy shooting a Japanese model garbed in traditional kimono. She looked lovely surrounded by cherry blossoms and all, but I’m really not a model shooter. I took a couple of frames and went my own way.
The area surrounding the Odawara Castle is sakura heaven. No wonder the Sony peeps chose it for our second day in Japan. Old cherry trees line the sidewalks and blossoms litter the grounds. It was really just unfortunate that the heavens decided not to cooperate.
I found two gift shops inside the complex, the first one hawking usual souvenir items like ref magnets, key chains and notepads and the other selling much more authentic keepsakes like prints and wooden toys. I’m still kicking myself for not getting a Samurai print inlaid on white fabric. If only it wasn’t so expensive!
Rising 70 meters from sea level, the Hirayama-styled Odawara Castle at last revealed itself after much walking and stair-climbing. The original structure was built in 1447 during Japan’s Edo Period and underwent numerous reconstructions until the Great 1923 Kanto Earthquake which finally toppled it to the ground.
It was not until twelve years later that the Japanese Government decided to restore the castle to its former glory. But not without controversy though; the original three-tiered, five-storey keep is almost historically accurate except for the observation deck found on the upper tier of the castle. Apparently, it was an add-on imposed by Odawara’s tourism guys.
But the castle is still impressive even if it’s just a replica of its former grandeur; making it into the list of Japan’s 100 Finest Castles is still an impressive feat. I would’ve entered its halls too if not for the ¥600.00 entrance fee and the prohibition of taking pictures. They’re so strict that even cellphone snaps are not allowed.
Three hours later and it’s still raining; my pants, shoes and socks were completely soaked and we still have two more sites to check out. I would’ve preferred visiting Odawara’s National Landmark on a sunny day but beggars can’t be choosers. Cold, drenched and tired; I was still a happy camper as we boarded our bus again. It’s not everyday that you get to visit a Japanese Castle anyway.
Address: 6-1 Jonai, Odawara, Kanagawa, Japan
Contact Number: (81) 465-23-1373
Entrance Fee: Free except inside the Castle
Open Hours: 9:00AM to 5:00PM Daily
Website: Click Here
GPS Coordinates: 35.250986,139.15345
View Location on Google Maps: Click Here