Nagoya Castle is probably the most popular tourist destination in the city. There isn’t a guide book or website about the city that doesn’t mention it. And rightly so, the castle is a central part of Nagoya’s history and even the modern culture.
In this post, I would like to give you some information that will make your visit to Nagoya Castle that much more enjoyable. Filled with insider tips and useful information you might miss if you come unprepared, or god forbid decided not to visit because ‘you have seen other castles in Japan’.
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Is Nagoya Castle Worth Visiting?
The white and green keep displayed on so many pictures about Nagoya isn’t the main reason to visit the castle at all. While the keep looks nice from the outside, it is a rather poorly made reconstruction on the inside. The keep is also currently under reconstruction and it is not possible to enter for the foreseeable future.
So, why should you visit Nagoya Castle at all, you might ask? It’s because of the recently reconstructed Honmaru Palace that you can’t pass on a visit.
This one-story wooden building used to be the residence of the lord of Nagoya and the place where he would receive visitors. It is a building with multiple rooms all filled with traditional Japanese splendor in the form of wall paintings, carvings, and amazing details.
For this reason alone it is worth visiting Nagoya Castle. But you will learn shortly there are many more.
A Quick History of Nagoya Castle
Let’s first get familiar with the history of Nagoya which completely revolves around the castle.
In 1600 Japan was finally united after a long period of war between east and west. The west had won and established its capital in Tokyo, then called Edo. The defeated forces, strongest around Osaka, returned home.
It wasn’t sure how stable the newfound peace would be and so the new leader of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu, decided to be safe than sorry and commissioned the construction of a castle in Nagoya as an effective defense line against his enemies in Osaka.
The biggest town in the region was Kiyosu, but from a strategic standpoint, the area around 8 kilometers south of it was better suited for a big castle. And so the whole town of Kiyosu was moved in 1612 in an operation now known as Kiyosu Goshi or the move of Kiyosu.
Not only the people but also temples, shrines, bridges and other important buildings were relocated to the newly founded city called Nagoya.
Tokugawa put one of his sons in charge of the region. This son became the first lord of the Owari region with Nagoya as its main city. The lord of Owari lived at Nagoya Castle and was not only in charge of the cities defense but also its development.
The arts including tea ceremony and Noh theater blossomed and fine ceramics were produced in the Owari region.
For the next 260 years, the castle and in extension the city thrived as the seat of the Owari Tokugawa clan. It was peace in Japan and the castle was never under siege.
It’s strategic location between Osaka and Edo also meant many travelers came through, which was great for the overall economy and development of the city which made it one of the most prosperous during the Edo Period.
Nagoya Castle was one of the most impressive in Japan and the first to be designated as a National Treasure in 1930.
Unfortunately during the Second World War, the castle was utterly destroyed. After the war had ended a gigantic reconstruction project was decided and the towers as well as the keep where reconstructed.
From 2009 the reconstruction of the breathtaking Honmaru Palace began and opened in full in 2018.
Since 2019 a new reconstruction project was started that will see the iconic keep with its white walls and metallic green roofs restored to its original authentic beauty. A date for the completion of the project hasn’t been set yet.
The Sights at Nagoya Castle
Nagoya Castle is situated on an expansive area of land in the center of Nagoya city. The castle grounds can be divided into 4 parts. The Nishi-no-maru area where the main gate is located, Ni-no-maru area with it’s beautiful and expansive landscape garden, the Honmaru area inside the second wall surrounded by watchtowers with the main keep and the Honmaru Palace, and the Ofuke-maru area in the back with its tea houses.
The best way to explore Nagoya Castle is by taking a leisurely stroll around the whole grounds. Here are the main attractions of Nagoya Castle.
The tower keep is the most iconic building in Nagoya. With its white walls and green corroded metal roofs. And the two golden Kinshachi tiger-fish on either side of the roof. You can find imagery on souvenir packaging, manholes and everything in between.
It was meant as the main defense in case of an attack and had all the defense mechanisms to be expected from such a highly specialized construction.
The current reconstruction was built in steel-reinforced concrete, a fact that nowadays is an eyesore to many historians and enthusiasts alike. A reconstruction using the original materials and according to the original floor plans is currently underway.
For this reason, it is not possible to visit the inside of the keep from 2019 onward. It used to house a museum with artifacts found around the castle as well as treasures of the Owari clan.
The absolute highlight of Nagoya Castle is the recently finished Honmaru Palace. It is the main reason Nagoya Castle is so much more impressive than other castles you can potentially visit in Japan.
This one-story building made completely out of cypress wood used to be the residence and administrative offices of the ruling lord.
Using the original Edo Period architectural plans the palace was rebuilt using only historical building techniques. It took a total of 10 years to complete the construction.
You can visit the inside of the Honmaru Palace and marvel at the beauty of the golden wall paintings depicting the seasons and other motives found in nature and folklore. The intricate carvings are another awe-inspiring sight.
Especially during the high tourist season, you will often find a line of people awaiting entrance to the palace as the number of people let in at the same time is restricted. To protect the building it is necessary to follow these rules:
- Take off your shoes and store them in the lockers provided
- Lockers are provided for large luggage and bags
- Do not touch anything inside the palace
- Take pictures only without flash
- Do not drink or eat inside
The Bathroom of the Palace
The bathrooms of the Honmaru Palace have a separate entrance and can only be accessed at certain times in a guided tour available in Japanese only.
If you ever wondered how the lords in the Edo Period went to the bathroom and kept clean have a look inside this fascinating set of rooms.
The Southwest Corner Tower is also accessible to the public. It was designed as an important defense line with three floors and so-called Ishi-otoshi slots to drop stones straight down at enemies approaching from below.
The watchtowers at the corners were meant as a lookout and also weapons depository and always staffed by guards.
Ninomaru Garden used to be the largest garden adjoining any lords living quarters in Japan. It was used in an official capacity as well as privately by the lords of Owari.
The garden is a beautiful Japanese style landscape garden with walking paths, hills, and plants as well as a central tea house.
Tea Ceremony Houses
Multiple tea ceremony houses can be found in the Ofuke-maru area at the back of the castle. These tea houses were used for ceremonies as well as for the study of tea ceremony by the Owari clan.
Even today tea ceremonies are held in these houses during different times of the year.
Two sets of walls surround the castle, an outer and an inner wall, two important defenses against approaching enemies.
The Daimyo, Samurai lords, in charge of the construction would mark the stones with their family crests to show how much they each contributed to the construction of the walls. You can find these carvings in the stones even today.
The biggest stone in the castle walls is the so-called Kiyomasa stone name after the architect of the castle Kato Kiyomasa, who, according to legend, brought the stone to Nagoya.
Surrounding the castle set into the stone walls were multiple sets of gates. The impressive main gate now the main entrance of Nagoya Castle used to be reserved for the use of elite guests only.
Other important gates include the Second Front Gate set into the inner walls and the Ni-no-maru second east gate.
Nagoya Castle Volunteer Guide
If you are interested in Japanese history it is best to visit Nagoya castle with a guide. Free volunteer guides gather at the east entrance of Nagoya Castle every day at 1 p.m. They will be happy to guide you on your tour around the castle grounds and give you lots of interesting information on the history of Nagoya, and the castle.
Note that many of these volunteer guides are elderly and not fluent in English. They do know what they are talking about and have memorized most of the information and interesting tidbits. But most of them are not very good at understanding and answering questions. So, be patient. They are doing this for free after all. Still, it is a free service that provided a lot of value to the visitor.
Food at Nagoya Castle
You won’t have to go hungry when visiting Nagoya Castle. There are a variety of restaurants and shops inside and outside the premises serving food for the little hunger in between as well as proper lunch and even dining options.
Snacks at Nagoya Castle
Close to the east gate as well as next to the souvenir shop in the Honmaru area you will find two small shops selling Japanese street food snacks.
The one at the east gate has delicious Mitarashi Dango as well as Goheimochi. At the one inside the Honmaru area you can buy soft-serve ice cream, especially great during a visit in summer. I especially love the Matcha soft-serve with red bean past.
The only restaurant inside the walls of Nagoya castle is a small Kishimen place that seems to have been there since the beginning of Nagoya. The flat and broad Udon noodles are served either hot or chilled and go especially well with a nice cold beer.
The perfect spot for a cheap lunch.
Outside of both the main gate as well as the east gate are two restaurant-lined streets called Kinshachi Yokocho. The restaurants close to the main gate represent the traditional Nagoya cuisine with the most popular restaurants serving local specialties such as Hitsumabushi, Miso Nikomi Udon, Ebi Senbei, and Miso Katsu.
The restaurants close to the east gate represent the modern food culture of Nagoya. Here you can find modern restaurants serving fusion food, burgers, Ramen, bubble tea and more.
Events and Festivals at Nagoya Castle Throughout the Year
There are 4 main festivals at Nagoya Castle throughout the year, representing each of the seasons. These festivals can span multiple weeks and incorporate different events inside the castle.
Other events are held at Nagoya Castle as well such as the Nagoya Castle Meets New History event held in December 2019 to January 2020.
Nagoya Castle Spring Festival
The Nagoya Castle Spring Festival starts each year with the blooming of the cherry trees. You can enjoy the beauty of the more than 1000 trees during the day but also at night when the trees are illuminated.
Especially on the weekends, other events are scheduled such as traditional Japanese music performances and tea ceremonies.
The spring festival is held yearly from late March to early May.
*Due to COVID-19 the Nagoya Castle Spring Festival has been canceled in 2020
Nagoya Castle Summer Festival
The highlight of the Nagoya Castle Summer Festival is the Bon Dancing taking place during the evenings in August. A stage is set up close to the main gate around which you will find locals and tourists alike dancing more or less traditional Japanese Bon dances.
Because each dance has only a small number of dance steps to remember it is easy to participate, just do what everybody else is doing!
The Nagoya Castle Summer Festival is held for around 2 weeks in August.
Nagoya Castle Autumn Festival
Another favorite season in Japan is autumn and many events are held to appreciate the changing of the leaves. At the Nagoya Castle Autumn Festival, a chrysanthemum growing competition is held and you can admire dolls dressed in the flowers throughout the castle grounds.
The festival is held from the middle of October to the end of November.
Nagoya Castle New Year Countdown
If you want to celebrate the new year in style in Nagoya head to the Nagoya Castle Countdown show.
Nagoya Castle also opens its gates on the first of January to welcome its guests in the new year.
How to Get to Nagoya Castle
There are multiple convenient ways to reach Nagoya Castle. From Nagoya Station, you can take the Meguru Tourist Loop Bus that will drop you off right outside the main gate. It is the easiest way to travel between the most famous sights of Nagoya such as the Toyota Museum, Tokugawa Art Museum, and Sakae. The one day ticket costs only 500 yen.
Another option is by subway. The most convenient station is Shiyakusho Station on the Meijo Line which will get you to the east gate. From Sakae, it’s only 2 stops. If you want to take the subway from Nagoya Station you need to take the Higashiyama line to Sakae and then transfer or the Sakuradori Line and transfer at Hisayaodori Station.
Accommodation Close to Nagoya Castle
If you want to stay really close to the castle you have two options.
Hotel Nagoya Castle
Hotel Nagoya Castle is a 5-star hotel overlooking the castle grounds. The spacious rooms either have city or castle views.
The hotel features an indoor swimming pool and a fitness center, as well as a sauna. 10 different restaurants offer cuisine from all over the world including French, Cantonese, and of course Japanese.
KKR Hotel Nagoya
A more budget-friendly option is the business hotel KKR Hotel Nagoya. It is located just a couple of minutes’ walk from the castle and around a 9-minute walk to the closest subway station, Shiyakusho.
Rooms have everything you need including a flatscreen TV and a desk. A breakfast buffet is served every morning.
The Nagoya Castle area is not the most convenient place to stay in Nagoya. Check out this post to learn about the best areas to stay in Nagoya, or find a list of hotels for every budget close to Nagoya Station.
Nagoya Castle is at the top of every travel guide featuring Nagoya, and for good reason. It used to be one of the most important and splendid castles in Japan and even today you can feel its magnificence during a visit.
If you like history and want to learn more about it, I recommend a visit to the Tokugawa Art Museum where you can see a selection of items used by the lords of Owari including armor and swords, Noh theater masks and costumes, tea ceremony equipment and books, scrolls, and paintings collected in an impressive library. Don’t forget to also stop by the Tokugawa Garden, take a stroll and ponder the rich history of Nagoya while enjoying the beauty of nature.
Ready to Book your Trip to Nagoya?
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Learn more about Nagoya by reading the Nagoya Travel Guide, find more activities in Nagoya such as a visit to the Osu Shopping Streets, and don’t forget to book an unforgettable food tour with Nagoya Foodie.
In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.