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 stands with a 98-square-meter grounds, 49 turrets, 47 castle gates and many long stone walls and moats. 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 is a few that should not be missed.
Regardless of how much time you have at Kumamoto Castle, you’ve got to see the reconstructed main castle keep and Honmaru Goten Palace. The former showcases the castle’s history and a panoramic view of the castle grounds and Kumamoto City from the top, while the latter 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.
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 is badly damaged, buried in piles of fallen stones and crumbled walls. Though a big area is closed to public access, you can still walk on a recommended route to see the main castle keep and several other structures from a distance. Most people like to start at Sakuranobaba-Josaien which is where the information center and many restaurants and souvenir shops are located. From there, you will find a path to walk up to the Ninomaru turret, the only part of the castle ground that is open to public access.
Though the city hopes to reopen the main castle keep in 2021, repairing the entire castle ground is expected to taken 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.