Kumamoto Castle, located in the heart of Kumamoto City, is considered one of Japan’s Top 3 castles. Originally built in 1607 by Kato Kiyomasa (the local feudal lord at the time), the castle’s 98-square-meter grounds has 49 turrets, 47 castle gates, and many long stone walls and moats. Though it was badly damaged by the 2016 earthquake, some areas are open to the public after extensive repairs.
Visiting the castle will take some good footwork, not to mention that there are a few hills here and there. A majority of the castle was rebuilt in 1960, and due to earthquake damage in 2016, parts of it are again being rebuilt. However, among the many magnificent architectures at the castle grounds, there are a few that should not be missed.
The castle keep boasts a panoramic view of the castle grounds and Kumamoto City from the top, while the Honmaru Goten Palace fills your eyes with extravagant golden colors.
In fact, the palace is a reconstruction of the living quarters of the feudal lord, as well as where guests would be received. No wonder why the rooms are covered by elaborate and colorful paintings polished by gold!
Near the main castle keep, the former Hosokawa Residence at San-no-Maru Park is another spot worth stopping by. The residence belonged to a high-ranking samurai and houses a spectacular inner gravel garden. Maple trees explode in colors in autumn here, yet not many visitors know about this gem. It’s also a popular spot to see cherry blossoms, with about 800 sakura trees surrounding the castle and on castle grounds.
Kumamoto Castle post-earthquake
Unfortunately, Kumamoto Castle was rocked by the devastating earthquake that hit the city in 2016. As a result, a big part of the castle ground was badly damaged, buried in piles of fallen stones and crumbled walls. After expensive repairs to the exterior of the castle keep’s main tower, however, some areas were reopened to the public in Oct. 2019. You still can’t enter the castle, and the construction continues on some buildings, but you can view the main tower up-close from the walkway to the main keep.
Though the city hopes to fully reopen the main castle keep in 2021, repairing the entire castle ground is expected to take until 2048. A walk around the castle takes about an hour. However, spare two or more hours if you’d like to appreciate the area more deeply.