Takeda Castle (竹田城跡, Takedajō-seki) is a ruined castle in Asago City, Hyogo Prefecture, that is also known as the "castle floating in the sky" because of the way it appears to be floating on a sea of clouds on foggy autumn mornings.
The castle was originally built in 1411 and was later conquered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi on one of his western campaigns to reunite Japan. The castle's forces fought against the Tokugawa clan during the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, and the castle was abandoned not long after. It then gradually disintegrated over the centuries until the ruins were restored in the 1970s and 80s and the castle opened as a tourist site.
No buildings are left standing on the castle grounds, but the foundations are still largely intact, making it easy to see the castle's layout with a central fortress and three wings emanating from it. Visitors follow a marked-off, one-way walking course, and there are various locations around the grounds with great views of the surrounding mountains and the town below.
The best time to view the floating castle is in October and November around sunrise (6:00 to 6:30) when a sea of clouds can be seen on one out of three mornings on average. The most popular viewing spot is from Ritsuunkyo on the mountain slopes opposite the castle. It is possible to reach Ritsuunkyo's parking lot by car, after which a steep dirt trail winds up the mountain with multiple observation decks along its course. The lower decks can be reached in a few steps from the parking lot, but the best views are from viewpoints 1 and 2, which are 30-40 minutes up the trail.
How to access Takeda
Takeda Castle is located halfway between the Seto Inland Sea and the Sea of Japan, about 70 kilometers north of Himeji on the JR Bantan Line. The closest station is Takeda Station at the base of the hill on which the castle stands. Takeda is most easily accessed from Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka by taking the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen to Himeji and then transferring to the JR Bantan Line.
There is roughly one connection per hour along the JR Bantan Line between Himeji and Takeda in each direction. The one way journey requires a transfer at Teramae Station along the way, takes around 90-110 minutes, costs 1170 yen and is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR Kansai Wide Pass and JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass.
From Kinosaki Onsen
Take the JR Sanin Line from Kinosaki Onsen to Wadayama (55 minutes, 1-2 trains/hour) and transfer to the JR Bantan Line for Takeda (10 minutes, one train/hour). With a good connection, the entire one way journey takes around 80 minutes and costs 860 yen by local trains or around 1500-2000 yen if taking a limited express between Kinosaki Onsen and Wadayama. It is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass, JR Kansai Wide Pass and JR Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass.
How to access the castle
Two steep nature trails lead from the back of Takeda Station up to the castle. The strenuous ascent takes about 40 minutes and can be slippery after rain.
The Tenku Bus operates from March through November between Takeda Station and the Takedajo-seki bus stop (20 minutes, 260 yen one way or 500 yen for a 1-day pass), which is a relatively easy 20 minute walk from the castle entrance. There is about one bus per hour.
A taxi ride from Takeda Station to the trailhead to Takeda Castle (near the Takedajo-seki bus stop) takes 15 minutes and costs around 2000 yen. From there, it is a relatively easy 20 minute walk to the castle entrance.
There are multiple free parking lots around the town (see map above) from where visitors have the above-mentioned three options of reaching the castle.
In addition, there is the Yamajiro no Sato parking lot (also free of charge) halfway up the hill, from where the castle entrance can be reached in a 40 minute walk. Alternatively, visitors can take the Tenku Bus from the parking lot to the trailhead to Takeda Castle (160 yen one way) from where it is a relatively easy 20 minute walk to the castle entrance. Note that the two smaller parking lots near the trailhead are usually closed to regular cars.
How to access Ritsuunkyo
Ritsuunkyo does not enjoy access by public transportation. Instead, the parking lot at the trailhead can be reached in a ten minute car ride or 45 minute walk from the town center.