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Written by Hilary Keyes
If you would like to savor the sight of cherry blossoms against a distinctly Japanese landscape, then a trip to Odawara Castle in Kanagawa prefecture is ideal for you.
Odawara in Kanagawa prefecture is a history-rich city that is said to have been inhabited since the earliest settlements existed in Japan. Throughout history, it was a seat of power for the region, and was particularly important during the Sengoku era, when it was held by the Hojo clan. Odawara Castle is the best existing example of a Japanese castle in the greater Tokyo area and an ideal place for a day trip from the city.
With a museum and various exhibits located throughout the castle grounds, Odawara Castle is a fantastic place to spend the day learning about Japanese history, especially in spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.
The daimyo of the Hojo family, who resided in Odawara Castle, Hachioji Castle, and Edo Castle (the current Imperial Palace) successfully kept the Kanto region safe for many years, defending it from the attacks of famous figures of the era like Uesugi Kenshin, Takeda Shingen, and even Toyotomi Hideyoshi. This last battle, lead by Toyotomi, ultimately brought about the end of the Hojo clan itself, and Odawara Castle was given to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo era (1603 - 1868).
It changed hands various times over the years until the Meiji period when it was destroyed and the stone foundation was used to house a shrine and the Imperial Villa. This villa was destroyed during the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, and the site was declared a national historic monument in 1938.
From the 1950's onwards the castle was rebuilt based on documents dating from the Edo period, but there are some points in which the current castle differs from its historical counterpart. Efforts have been made in recent years to correct this, and include the reconstruction of the historically accurate Tokiwagi Gate, Akagane Gate, and Umade Gate.
Archaeological dig in the adjacent castle grounds
This history is explained in much greater detail in the castle museum, and comes with incredible photographs, illustrations and historical artifacts, the majority of which have been excavated from the grounds around the castle. If you are lucky, you may even visit on a day when archaeologists are working in the grounds, which is a lot of fun if you are a fan of Japanese history or Indiana Jones.
The view from the castle observation deck
There are over 300 sakura trees within the grounds of Odawara Castle, all of varying ages and varieties. The majority of the cherry trees are of the Somei Yoshino type, but there are also a few shidare-zakura (weeping sakura) trees in the grounds as well. To learn more about the different types of sakura trees found in Japan, please take a look at Spot The Differences: The Five Main Varieties Of Sakura.
If you sit on the benches in the grounds during the peak blossom season, you will find yourself surrounded by branches full of sakura, and the scent of the flowers at this level is absolutely amazing.
There are also small stalls selling snacks and drinks here all year round, so if you'd like to take a break and enjoy the view of the castle, the grounds, and the cherry trees all around you, by all means, pick up something to snack on and have a mini hanami party at Odawara Castle.