Day-trip from Tokyo: Odawara castle

[[Featured image: The Tora (tiger) sign of the Odawara castle.]
[[Image Gallery follows]

It’s been a week now that a university friend is visiting me in Tokyo. He couldn’t have picked a worse time possible. The start of the year comes bearing fruits #NOT: progress reports, presentations, assignments, and so on. Nevertheless, I have to be a good host and entertain my valued visitor, don’t I? So, one of the events that we scheduled was a visit to the Odawara castle in Kanagawa, combined with a short visit to Hakone.

Odawara used to be a powerful city, home to the Houjou clan, that controlled a large part of the Kanto area. The castle was thought to be impenetrable. Then the feudal lords started fighting among each other and hell broke loose. At the battle for the siege of Odawara (which at that time had a coat of arms similar to the Legend of Zelda logo), Odawara castle was sieged by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. For some obscure reason, the soldiers from the disbanded Odawara army continued to fight under different clans, while disclosing the castle’s defense techniques to their new generals, even though the castle did fall to the enemy [because the defense was THAT cool, huh]. Apart from the castle, the main attractions in the vicinity include the seashore and the onsen (hot springs) in Yugawara. 

As soon as we got off at the train station (super easy to get there with JR) we realized that we were hungry. Abiding by the rule ‘no money, no honey’, we bought cheap sushi bentos and headed straight to the castle, only to stop and eat them outside the main gate. Suddenly, a young lady with a cute child comes to talk to us first in English and, after judging our ability, in Japanese. I was quite surprised to come across that level of good English (not common for Japanese people) and judging by my prior experience of enthusiastic people of all ages that want to introduce every nook and cranny of Japanese culture and customs to foreigners, we started a long conversation. She offered to show us the castle, and then a small Buddhist temple that had a valuable but unknown statue of Buddha, and also teach us some kind of ritual writing. Normally, my head should have started flashing and ding-donging at the first 5 minutes, but my trust in Japanese people must have disarmed the proselytism alarm. We suggested going first to the Buddha and then to the castle, so that we have more time for the latter. As we were walking, phrases like “The only true god is Buddha and that specific prayer” and “we have so many wars in the world because of all the false religions” started to appear, managing to re-arm the alarm, and eventually made me excuse myself tactfully. Conclusion: Don’t trust young English-speaking ladies with cute children, they only want to save your soul.

Soon after, we were heading once again towards the castle. This time, we managed to get inside without distractions. It is not as huge and imposing as the medieval castles of the West, but it had a certain charm. White and plain, it looked pretty under the blue sky. We bought a 800yen joint ticket for the castle, the museum and the samurai museum. The exhibits were not so impressive. The important part for me was the castle architecture itself and the wonderful view of both the sea and the Hakone mountainous area, which made clear in mind why that clan had such a power in their hands. However, at that exact moment, I also noticed the smoke of a forest fire on the mountain side and the fire-brigade moving hastily to the rescue. I heard no news about anything serious, and we visited Hakone soon afterwards, so I guess it was not a matter of concern after all. Regarding Hakone, we followed the obvious and usual approach: First visit lake Ashinoko to get a perfect view of Fuji and the red torii gate, and then go to Hakoneyumoto to enjoy onsen. We visited Izumi (和泉) onsen [~1300yen per person], but I consider the onsen at Yoshiike (吉池旅館) hotel [~2000yen per person] a wonderful choice (too many ladies with kimonos in the lounge – I was feeling too dirty and lowly at that point, I wanted to avoid any fanciness). The evening ended with dinner at a restaurant close-by, with tonkatsu and salmon dishes, although when asked for ramen, the onsen receptionist recommended Nisshintei (ハイカラ中華 日清亭).

Fun Japanese history facts:

  • The 3 big unifiers of Japan are Nobunaga, Hideyoshi and Ieyasu. There is a phrase  that describes the relationships among each-other:  “織田がつき 羽柴がこねし 天下餅 座りしままに 食うは徳川 – Nobunaga pounds the national rice cake, Hideyoshi kneads it, and in the end Ieyasu sits down and eats it.”
  • Hideyoshi was a nameless peasant that turned to one of Nobunaga’s top generals. But when he rose into power, he passed a law that banned class mobility. The samurai right became permanent and heritable.

  • Ieyasu grew up as a hostage of Nobunaga’s Oda clan, but despite their rivalry, eventually they became strong allies.

  • Nobunaga had a younger sister. The sister had 3 daughters. One, Chacha, married Hideyoshi. One, O-Hatsu, married Kyogoku Takatsugu (another warlord). Likewise, one, O-go, married Hidetada, Ieyasu’s son and Tokugawa shogunate heir. But Chacha and O-go’s children, Hideyori and Senhime, married each other. Even in hardships, Nobunaga’s bloodline remained strong and continued to flow quietly underground towards high power concentration.


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