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Photo By: PIXTA/ キタデザ(北村笑店)
Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Fukui
Population
828,960

Maruoka Castle

This Hirayama-style castle features a pentagonal-shaped moat and is incredibly picturesque in the springtime.

By Jeanne Croteau

Majestically sitting on a hill, Maruoka Castle can be found watching the small city of Sakai in Fukui Prefecture. According to legend, a thick mist surrounds the castle whenever enemies approach. While the truthfulness of this story can be debated, the castle’s year-round beauty cannot be denied.

Built by Shibata Katsutoyo at the end of the Sengoku period in 1576, this Hirayama-style castle features a pentagonal-shaped moat. It is located along the highway connecting the Kaga and Echizen provinces. Maruoka Castle is incredibly picturesque in the springtime during cherry blossom season.

A national treasure

Maruoka Castle

Photo by: PIXTA/PIXSTAR In 1934, the castle was recognized as a national treasure.

Collectively known as the Genzou Tenshu, or 12 Castle Towers, just a dozen castle towers built before the Edo period in Japan remain. Among them is the tower at Maruoka Castle, the only one in the Hokuriku region. In 1934, the castle was recognized as a national treasure and later designated an Important Cultural Property in 1950.

Unfortunately, the tenshu collapsed during the Great Fukui Earthquake in 1948. It was reconstructed seven years later using mostly original materials and reinforced using modern technology. As a result, some have challenged the claim that Maruoka Castle is the oldest tenshu in the region, but its historical and cultural significance remains significant.

The legend of O-shizu

Photo by: WikiCommons/ baku13 Have you heard of this legend?

It’s been said that, during construction, the now-famous tower repeatedly collapsed, frustrating Katsutoyo and leaving him desperate for a solution. Ultimately, it was decided that a human sacrifice was needed to appease the gods. A poor, widowed mother named O-shizu agreed to become a human pillar on one condition—Katsutoyo had to adopt one of her children and train them as a samurai.

While the construction of Maruoka Castle was eventually completed, Katsutoyo moved away before he could keep his word. Not forgetting the widow’s sacrifice—and the unfulfilled promise—the townsfolk believed that O-shizu cried enough tears each spring to cause Maruoka Castle’s moat to overflow.

To soothe her soul (and stop the floods), a small tomb inscribed with the following poem was erected in her honor: “The rain which falls when the season of cutting algae comes is the rain reminiscent of the tears of the poor O-shizu’s sorrow.”

Visiting the castle

Maruoka Castle

Photo by: PIXTA/なめ Enjoy a breathtaking view of Fukui Prefecture from high inside the castle keep.

Maruoka Castle isn’t a large structure. While you can take your time walking around the beautiful grounds, exploring the interior won’t take more than an hour, so don’t plan a whole day around your visit. That being said, the landmark is rich with history and photography is permitted in all areas.

Interested in experiencing the history for yourself? Enjoy a breathtaking view of Fukui Prefecture from high inside the castle keep! Visitors can freely explore and look out on Sakai from the third floor of the tenshu. It’s a little tricky, though, as reaching the top requires climbing two steep stairs in slippers to protect the castle flooring.

While Maruoka Castle is spectacular every season, people love visiting in March and April. Listed among Japan’s top 200 cherry blossom spots, the landmark hosts its cherry blossom festival in the spring when more than 400 Yoshino trees around the castle bloom. During this time, the foundation is hidden, giving the illusion that the whole castle is floating on a bed of flowers.

Things To Know

Hours and fees

Maruoka Castle is open year-round. Visiting hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the last entry is at 4:30 p.m.

Admission is ¥450 for adults and ¥150 for elementary and junior high school students. There are discounted rates for groups; children seven years old and under can visit for free. 

While there are ramps on the grounds, the interior of Maruoka Castle is not wheelchair accessible. It is a small building and due to the structure of this historic site, there is no elevator inside. Additionally, bringing cash is a good idea since Sakai is relatively remote. Finding an international-friendly ATM may be a challenge. 

How To Get There

Address

By train

From JR Fukui station, take the local Hokuriku Line to Maruoka station. From nearby JR Maruoka station take the Keifuku Bus 82 Maruoka Eiheiji Line to Maruoka Bus Terminal. Proceed on foot for seven minutes to Maruoka Castle.

By bus

From Fukui station, take Keifuku Bus 32 Maruoka Line to Maruoka-Chuo Shotengai. Then, walk four minutes to Maruoka Castle.

By car

Take the Hokuriku Expressway to Sakai City Maruokamachi Oguro. Use exit Maruoka IC to get to Maruoka Castle. Free parking is available on-site.

Where To Stay

Maruoka Onsen Takekurabe
  • 88-8 Maruokacho Yamatakeda, Sakai-shi, Fukui, 910-0204 Japan
  • ¥15,950 - ¥19,250
  • 4.41/5 (227 reviews)
  • 5.7 km
Hotel Route-Inn Fukui Owada
  • 2-306 Owada, Fukui-shi, Fukui, 910-0836 Japan
  • ¥7,350 - ¥20,000
  • 4.17/5 (635 reviews)
  • 6.8 km

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