Komine-jo & Japan’s Oldest Park

As well as the wide-eyed, adorable-yet-slightly-unnerving Shirakawa Daruma, Shirakawa City in Fukushima is also well-known as a cherry blossom viewing spot, and as an area with long history. Definitely consider Shirakawa City’s Komine-jo Castle and Nanko Park as places to visit during this year’s cherry blossom viewing season!

Komine-jo Castle

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Komine-jo Castle, which overlooks Shirakawa City, was built during the Edo Period in 1632. It was destroyed in 1868 during the battle fought at Shirakawa in the Boshin War.

After 120 years, the main building, including its watchtowers, was rebuilt in 1991, its gates added three years later. The castle and gates were recreated using blueprints from the Edo Period.

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Upon its rebuilding, every effort was made to ensure the authenticity of the castle – it is made completely out of wood, and the architectural design is as close as possible to that of the original castle.

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Even the marbled look of the wood – which would have been achieved in the Edo Period by hand-carving the wood – was carried out in painstaking detail.

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One reason I really like Komine-jo is that there isn’t much inside it. That might seem like a silly reason to like a castle, but I often feel overwhelmed upon visiting Japanese castles when presented with huge chunks of text and information in Japanese – and , if you’re lucky, English – about the historical context of the castle.

When the castle was rebuilt over 20 years ago, it was remade as a castle, and not a museum or an exhibition space. Due to this, it is easy for visitors to appreciate the architecture and design of the castle, and you can imagine what the castle would have been like in the Edo period.

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Even without many information panels, it is still a fun place to visit! For example, the extremely narrow staircase that crosses through the centre of the castle and connects the various levels of the castle gives visitors interesting views of the castle, and is fun – if a little difficult – to climb up and down.

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Also, you can get hands on with the various windows and shutters in the walls of the castle, which is quite rare in castles. Don’t forget to check out the little windows in the floor of each floor from which rocks and stones would have been thrown down onto enemies!

 

The castle is free to visit and is open all year. Volunteers run the castle during its opening hours, some of whom are fluent in English!

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Other than its destruction during the Boshin War, Komine-jo faced damage once more in 2011 during the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake. Being made of wood, the actual structure of the castle was flexible enough to move with the strong shakes of the earthquake. That being said, the earthquake opened up cracks in some of the wooden supporting beams.

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As you can see from the photograph above, these have been filled to ensure the weight of Komine-jo Castle is being supported properly. However, if these cracks become wider over the years, time-consuming repair work may be necessary.

The main part of the castle was not badly damaged in the earthquake, but unforutnatley the same cannot be said for the stones walls surrounding it. It is due to the damage of the external walls that the castle was closed for four years, and was finally reopened in April 2015.

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People involved in planning and carrying out the rebuilding of Komine-jo Castle walls gave advice to those who would be taking on the similar challenge of rebuilding Kumamoto Castle’s walls following the earthquake in 2016.

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There is still a little work necessary to carry out on Komine-jo Castle’s walls, but the fact that it is still a “work in process” makes it a really unique place to visit. The techniques used to rebuild the walls are really interesting, and can be understood through signs and posters even if you don’t speak Japanese, as shown below.

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It’s amazing to think that a wooden castle stood tall during one of the most large earthquakes to hit Japan, but rock walls were shattered.

 

Former Komine-jo Castle Taiko Watchtower

Although the castle has been rebuilt, one building which still stands strong to this day is the  Former Komine-jo Castle Taiko Watchtower, which is a short drive from the castle itself. (Photos below taken during my Autumn-time visit!)

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If enemies approached the castle, the guards at this watch tower would play the taiko drums to sound the alarms.

It originally stood within the grounds of the castle, but after the destruction of the castle at end of the Boshin War, it was sold off privately, and moved to a separate location. It was moved once more to its current location in 1930.

It is the only building from the castle that looks, for the most part, exactly as it would have in the Edo Period – although some changes to its structure have been inevitable due to being relocated twice.

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I nearly missed the building as it is not in the castle grounds, but luckily I spotted it out of the corner of my eye whilst driving around the city. Please note that you can’t get very close to the former watchtower, but it certainly is a spectacular building to look at – even from afar!

 

Nanko Park

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Not too far away from Komine-jo and the Former Komine-jo Castle Taiko Watchtower is Nanko Park, known as the oldest public park in Japan, having been open in 1801 by the lord of the Shirakawa Domain.

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Visitors can try traditional tea, sweets and desserts – such as dango and matcha – at the various shops nearby, visit the local shrine, relax at the traditional Japanese gardens, or enjoying a walk around the lake.

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In the spring, cherry blossom lights up the park, and Nanko Park is equally spectacular in the autumn.

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Shirakawa is a lovely city to visit, no matter the time of year, so I really recommend you consider it when planning a visit to Fukushima!

Here is an example of a day trip you could have in Shirakawa:

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