Kumamoto Castle (熊本城, Kumamotojō) is one of the most impressive castles in Japan. With large castle grounds and a variety of buildings, Kumamoto Castle offers its visitors one of the most complete castle experiences in Japan.
Only a few structures have survived the centuries since the castle's construction in 1607 intact. The castle keep and most other buildings are modern reconstructions, but the reconstructions are mostly of a high quality and new buildings are continually being added. With about 800 cherry trees, the castle becomes a popular cherry blossom spot usually in late March and early April.
The construction of Kumamoto Castle in the early 1600s took seven years, and it was designed by Kato Kiyomasa, the local feudal lord (daimyo). Kato was well known for his castle design skills, and his fortifications were highly regarded for their strategic effectiveness. Less than 50 years after its construction, the castle and surrounding area were taken from the Kato clan and given to the Hosokawa clan which ruled the area from Kumamoto Castle for the next two centuries.
A few years after the Meiji Restoration (1868), the castle played a pivotal role in the Seinan Civil War, during which the famous samurai Saigo Takamori led an uprising in Kyushu against the new government. Kumamoto Castle was the main garrison of government troops in Kyushu, and Saigo attacked the castle in early 1877. Despite being outnumbered, the government forces were able to withstand Saigo's two-month siege, forcing the rebel forces to retreat.
Unfortunately, the original castle keep burnt down in 1877 just before the siege. In 1960 a ferro-concrete reconstruction was built that recreates the building's outward appearance. Inside the building, however, there is a modern museum with displays on the castle's history and construction rather than a reconstruction of the original interior. The castle keep consists of two towers, a main tower with six stories and a smaller tower with four stories. Nice views of the castle grounds and surrounding city can be enjoyed from the top floor of the main tower.
A unique attraction of Kumamoto Castle is the reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace, which was created in celebration of the castle's 400th anniversary and was opened to the public in 2008. The original palace building was much larger and included the living quarters of the daimyo, but unfortunately it was one of the many buildings destroyed during the Seinan Civil War.
The current palace building was constructed with original materials and methods. Within the building visitors can see accurate recreations of the opulent surroundings in which the daimyo would receive guests. There are also interesting displays regarding the building's reconstruction.
Besides the castle keep and palace building, Kumamoto Castle features impressive stone walls and moats, as well as several turrets and storehouses, many of which can be entered. The Uto Turret is one of the few structures that survived the siege of 1877, and dates back to the period of the castle's construction. There is also a unique underground passage that leads to the palace building and a former residence of the Hosokawa clan about 500 meters northwest of the main castle grounds.
Kumamoto Castle is located in the center of Kumamoto City, a 15 minute, 170 yen tram ride from JR Kumamoto Station. Get off at Kumamotojo-mae tram stop. You can also walk from Kumamoto Station to the castle in about 30 to 45 minutes.
On June 1, 2020, an elevated walkway was opened that allows tourists to view selected areas of the inner castle grounds without impacting the construction works. No buildings can be entered. The elevated walkway is open everyday from 9:00 to 17:00 (entry until 16:30) and costs 500 yen to enter.
Furthermore, on Sundays, national holidays and selected Saturdays, a 400 meter long walkway for tourist is open and covered by the same admission ticket. The walkway leads to and half around the main keep, but no buildings can be entered.
The interior of the main keep is scheduled to reopen to the public from spring 2021.