Odawara Castle is a rebuilt elegant hilltop castle situated in the City of Odawara in the southwest of Kanagawa Prefecture. The fine, three-tiered, five-storied donjon is conveniently located just about a leisure 10-minute walk from Odawara Station on the Odakyu Line, the main transfer point for visitors going to Hakone. It is the closest castle with a castle keep to Tokyo.
The castle grounds are spacious and even include a home for monkeys. Besides the main gate there is a costume rental shop, where you can indulge in a little make-believe and become part of old Japan, taking a commemorative photo with the Japanese castle as a background.
Against the backdrop of Odawara Castle and its moat, over 300 somei yoshino sakura cherry trees and a few shidare-zakura (weeping cherry trees) are found in the castle grounds as well.
The main tower, while containing some interesting displays, is a slightly aged concrete reproduction. There is no photography allowed inside the main keep; no cameras, video cameras or even mobile phone cameras can be used.
Nonetheless, you will be blessed with a spectacular view of the city and Sagami Bay glittering from the observatory. A mellow walk from the main building is the shade of Odawara Castle Park, known for its beautiful plum and cherry blossoms. It is also the venue for interesting events such as yabusame (horseback archery), the divine martial art in Japan, throughout the year.
The park is beautiful and so spacious that when I visited people were able to spread out to enjoy the blossoms.
While hanami (flower viewing) is the main reason people gather in the castle grounds, it’s not only the delicate blossoms that attract visitors. Food also plays an important role during the Sakura Matsuri, or Cherry Blossom Festival, late March to early April.
During this festival, gourmet food trucks bring a variety of flavors to the venue with savory and sweet dishes being offered.
Among the highlights is soft serve sakura ice cream. Having a picnic with friends or family under a canopy of pink petals is a fun way to celebrate the season.
You may also purchase a colorful spring-inspired bento from the train station or grab some hanami dango (sweet rice dumplings made from rice flour served as a trio of round dumplings on a skewer) from nearby stalls and have a small hanami party on a wooden bench in front of the castle.
Lined with an almost endless number of cherry trees, Odawara Castle is probably the first place that many people in the neighborhood think of when it comes to enjoying a beautiful scene of cherry blossoms in spring.
At the time of my visit the flowers were not yet in full bloom, but I met with hundreds of visitors, parents travelling with babies or small kids, a group of co-workers and primary school kids enjoying their spring break. The place was livelier than I had imagined.
During the Cherry Blossom Festival, the castle grounds are lit up with pink lanterns hung for visitors enjoying the cherry blossoms after dark, a custom called yozakura (literally, “night sakura”). On these days the castle grounds are open until 8pm. At other times the hours are 9am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm).Admission to the castle keep is 500 yen for adults, 200 yen for high school students and younger.
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/