Wakayama Castle, The Castle of the Sleeping Tiger

It probably comes as no surprise, but Wakayama City’s most popular attraction is Wakayama Castle. Though not as popular as Himeji or Osaka Castle, Wakayama Castle played a major role in governing the Kishu Province i.e Wakayama Prefecture. Moreover, in the Edo Period, Wakayama Castle became the home of the Tokugawa clan, making Kishu province easily one of the most important in Japan. Unfortunately, the castle burnt down during WWII, but the castle itself was precisely rebuilt again and the castle is the best place to know what the castle was actually like in the Edo period.

 

The History of Wakayama Castle

Wakayama Castle surrounded by cherry blossoms

Wakayama Castle

In 1585 Hideyoshi conquered the Kishu Province. He ordered his brother, Hidenaga to build a castle on the top of Torafusu-yama, named for the fact it is shaped like a sleeping tiger. However, since Hidenaga had other castles, he gave the castle to his trusted subordinate, Kuwayama clan [桑山氏]. Later, Tokugawa assigned the castle to the Asano clan [浅野氏]as a reward for their contributions during the Sekigahara War in 1600.

model of wakayama castle

Wakayama Castle, as seen from above. Can you see the shape of the tiger?

The Three Gosanke Provinces

However, the castle soon took on a much bigger role when in 1619 the tenth son of Ieyasu, Hideyori, became head of the castle. It was not clear why an important like Hideyori suddenly made Wakayama Castle his home, but with his arrival, the Kishu Province became part of the Gosanke [御三家]. The Gosanke were three provinces governed by the most powerful branches of the Tokugawa clan. Together with the Mito and Owari provinces, only Gosanke provinces could use the Tokugawa family name and Tokugawa family crest. Also, if the current shogun do not have any descendants a new shogun would come from one of those families.

stone tiger statue in front of the moss covered walls of wakayama castle and a sakura tree

Tiger statue at Wakayama Castle

Tokugawa Yoshimune

As luck would have it, the eighth Shogun of Edo government, Tokugawa Yoshimune [徳川吉宗], was both a native and the former lord of the Kishu Province. Both talented and ambitious, Tokugawa Yoshimune made sweeping renovations to the Japanese government. Some of his great accomplishments include: Allowing foreign books to be imported, establishing hospitals for the poor, trying to stabilize the price of rice, and allowing access to records to previous court cases. He remains an extremely popular historic figure, having both an anime, Yoshimune, and a drama, Abarenbo Shogun [暴れん坊将軍], recently made about his life. Naturally, he is also the basis for Wakayama City’s character, Yoshimune-kun.

yoshimune-kin, the character of wakayama city and his dog hachi

Yohsimune-kun

Rebuilding Wakayama Castle

Much of the current Wakayama Castle that stands today was built by Tokugawa Yorinobu in the early Edo Period. The original castle tower burnt down in 1846, but was quickly rebuilt since it was the castle of a Gosanke Province. Unfortunately, the castle tower burnt down again during WWII.

 

Getting to Wakayama Castle

The closest station to Wakayama Castle is either JR Wakayama Station or the Nankai Wakayama-shi Station. If you choose to take the Nankai line, take a train bound for Wakayama-shi in Nankai Namba Station. For JR, take the Hanwa Line from Tennoji Station off the Osaka Loop Line bound for Wakayama.

Regardless of whether you take a Nakai or JR train, it will roughly take an hour to get to Wakayama. From either station Wakayama Castle is a short 10-15 minute walk, but there are lots of buses available at both stations.

 

Wakayama Castle

On our recent trip to the castle, it was especially lovely since the sakura were in full-bloom.

outer moat of wakayama castle and blooming sakura trees

Entrance of Wakayama Castle

People entering throug wakayama castle's otemon gate surrounded by blooming cherry blossom

Otemon gate, main gate of Wakayama Castle. Rebuilt in 1982.

Just as you enter the Otemon gate, you will pass Ninomaru Garden, the previous site of Ninomaru Goten. Since the climb all the way up to the castle’s main tower was a bit of a chore, most governing took place in Ninomaru Goten. In the Edo Period, Wakayama Castle’s Ninomaru Goten was relocated to Osaka Castle.

Okaguchi gate of wakayama castle with blooming cherry trees

Okaguchi gate: Once upon a time Okaguchi gate was the castle’s main gate. The gate did not burn down in WWII.

Sakura season at Wakayama Castle is especially pretty. There are as many as 600 sakura trees throughout Wakayama castle.

Blooming courtyard of Wakayama Castle in spring and people picnicking

Blooming courtyard of Wakayama Castle

Stories in Stone

One of the more interesting things about Wakayama Castle are the castle walls. Since the castle grounds expanded several times over the years, it is easy to find the many different kinds of stones used to build the castle walls. Each different era of castle building in Japan is marked by how the stone for the castle were cut. Specifically, more recent castles have squarer, more uniform stones, whereas castles from Hidenaga’s time or earlier have increasingly more irregularly shaped ones.

Nozura-zumi the oldest castle wall at Wakayama castle

Nozura-zumi: The oldest stone walls. These stones are unique because of their irregular shape. These walls date back to the time of Toyotomi and the Kuwayama clan

Kirikomi-tsugi wall of wakayama castle

Kirikomi-tsugi: This wall made during the time of the Tokugawa clan.

Main Keep

wakayama castle surrounded by blooming sakura

Wakayama Castle in springtime

The main keep of Wakayama Castle is rather unique. All turrets around the keep are connected by a series of corridors. In times of crisis, this system would allow troops to easily and efficiently move from one side of the castle to the other.  

view overlooking wakayama castle and blooming cherry trees

Layout of Wakayama Castle

This style of construction was not only exceptionally secure, but also meant  meaning guards or soliders could attack invaders from every angle.

ishi otoshi on top inside of wakayama castle's inner bailey

Ishi otoshi: When invaders would climb the wall, the castle guards would throw stones or hot sand on the invaders below.

Although large parts of Wakayama Castle burnt down during WWII, the outer wall of the inner most bailey is largely the same.

Wakayama castle surrounded with sakura

Wakayama Castle

The inside of the castle is now a museum exhibiting the castle’s historic items, mainly those belonging to the Tokugawa clan.

Entrance of Wakayama castle museum and blooming cherry blossoms

Entrance of castle museum

Points of Interest

Ohashi Roka [御橋廊下]

As previously stated, getting from Ninomaru Goten to the castle was a bit of a hassle. Of course at some point, someone had to make a trip the castle. To help expedite the trip, they built Ohashi Roka, which connected Ninomaru Goten and Nishinomaru Garden.

Ohashi Roka and wakayama castle in the background

Ohashi Roka

The current bridge was part of the castle’s revival after WWII, but angled bridges are very rare, and Ohashi Roka remains is one of the most iconic spots at Wakayama castle.

Inside of Ohashi Roka

Zoo

For some reason, Wakayama Castle has its own zoo! Though not an original component of the castle, the zoo did recently celebrate its centennial.

zoo entrance at wakayama castle with many patrons walking about

Zoo entrance

The zoo is free to enter, and keeps a small aviary, a bear, some ponies, deer, and a handful of other animals.

Maras!

Wakayama Castle

Address 1-3, Wakayama City,
Wakayama Prefecture 〒640-8146
Website http://wakayamajo.jp/index.html
Hours of Operation Castle Tower and Museum
Mon-Sun:
9:00-17:00
Closed
Dec 29th-31st
Admission Fee Castle Tower and Museum
Adults: 410 yen
Children: 200 yen

Needless to say, Wakayama Castle is a must when you visit the southern Kansai Region. The castle is also a great choice if you are looking for something to do but are on a budget. While entry to the castle itself has an entrance fee, the sprawling castle grounds, which are now a city park, are free to walk around, as well as the castle’s zoo. The best time to visit the castle is without a doubt in the spring. The castle’s 600 cherry blossom trees burst in to bloom every spring, making this one of the best places in Wakayama for hanami.

Coming next time,
Creepy or cute? Awashima Shrine and its massive doll collection!
The adventure continues…

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