Echizen Ono Castle
Fukui's real-life "Castle in the Sky."
A castle in the sky overlooks the small city of Ono in the Kansai Region’s Fukui Prefecture. Echizen Ono Castle earns its Studio Ghibli moniker when the town below becomes submerged in a thick sea of mist like a painting come to life. The view alone is worth the trip, but don’t neglect to appreciate Ono’s traditional charm.
How to see the sky castle phenomenon
Specific weather conditions are needed to create the fog that turns Ono Castle into an ’80s fantasy movie. It only happens around 12 times a year. The weather in the morning needs to be cold between dawn and late-morning, but the previous day also needs to be humid. Thus, you are typically limited to days in Autumn. Thankfully, Ono changes the castle’s opening hours to 6 a.m. from October to November.
The best way to view Ono Castle is at a distance. The Inuyama castle ruins, about a kilometer west of Ono Castle, are considered the best place to view Ono Castle. However, getting to the ruins is a rough mountain hike, so you should prepare accordingly.
Ono was once a stronghold for the Ikko-ikki, a sect of fanatical Buddhist warrior monks who opposed daimyo rule. That brought the ire of Oda Nobunaga, which was generally not a good idea. He wasn’t called the “The Demon Daimyo” for nothing. To quell further uprisings, Nobunaga instituted his general, Kanamori Nagachika, as overseer of the region.
Samurai residences line 400-year-old streets, separated by moats and natural springs.
Nagachika completed the castle in 1580 and designed castle town Ono after Kyoto, Japan’s capital at the time. Thus, Ono was called the “Little Kyoto” of Hokuriku, a region of feudal Japan that comprised Fukui, Ishikawa, Niigata, and Toyama. Ono has preserved its castle town aesthetic even today. Original shops, temples, and samurai residences line 400-year-old streets, separated by moats and natural springs.
The ramparts of Echizen Ono Castle are the only remaining feature from the original structure which was torn down during the Meiji Restoration. A castle keep was built on the site in 1968 using castles of the time as a reference. Today, it’s considered one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles and also serves as the local history museum.