Last summer, I spent a day in Kumamoto for a Granrodeo show, but I had such a horrible cold, I wasn’t up to any sight seeing in between buying goods and the actual show. So since I was facing a stretch of time with no trips, I decided to go back and see the famous castle.
I grew up in Germany, and we made frequent trips to England when I was a kid, so castles to me looked like Neuschwanstein, or Warwick (see the two pics). Castles in Japan are rather different, but quite lovely. I haven’t been to many yet, just Osaka, Hikone, Okayama and now Kumamoto.(Fukuoka’s castle is but ruins now, alas.) Kumamoto is one of Japan’s premier castles, and you can read a bit more about it here. One of the things that I love about living here is that I can say things like “I’m off to go see a castle today” and it’s true, and doesn’t involve flying to another country.
Kumamoto is the next prefecture over, and reachable by ordinary trains in a couple of hours, but I opted for the shinkansen, which only takes 38 minutes from Hakata. This worked out particularly well, since I ended up having plans back in Fukuoka in the afternoon. The castle itself is downtown, a short tram ride from the main Kumamoto station. Or a 45 minute walk. I opted for the walk, which ended up being a mistake. It was hot and boring, so two tram stops away from the castle, I caved and took the tram.
Finally made it to the castle, and was immediately approached by a volunteer offering to give me a free tour in English. (there was a booth of such volunteers, so definitely not a tout). I declined politely and firmly. While it would be nice to have the history explained while I was there, I do touristy things at my own speed and didn’t want to have my wanderings constrained. I do recommend taking them up on the offer, though; they seemed very nice.
I ended up spending a couple hours wandering around the main castle and one of the turrets, which are just a fraction of the overall property. Went up in the turret (5 stories) and the larger of the main towers in the keep itself. The turret was left empty, but the main castle had some displays on five of the floors, with the sixth being a viewing platform.
There was also a nice little museum in the Honmaru Goten Palace building, including two rooms with absolutely gorgeous paintings.My camera couldn’t really do them justice, alas.
There were tons of tourists there, mostly Japanese and Chinese, and I was asked to take group photos for folks a couple of times. They politely asked to take mine in return, but I declined — pictures of the castle are more than enough for me. Though not terribly historic or traditional, there’s also a nice rest building behind the castle, air conditioned and full of cold drink machines, for which I was grateful, as it was a sticky, humid day.
My walk to the castle had eaten up the time I’d hoped to use to visit Lafcadio Hearn‘s house, so that will need to wait for another trip. As will all the museums, shrines and historical houses near the castle. I enjoyed a nice steak salad at a nearby cafe and did some shopping at the prefectural goods store (featuring a lot of the prefecture’s famous mascot, Kumamon).
My full set of pictures can be found here.
My next local trip will probably be Nagasaki, or somewhere in Saga prefecture.