Ehime Prefecture has to offer a lot of great castles, so I went there for a short castle tour last year in September. My first destination was Imabari Castle.
Imabari City (今治市) is located in Ehime Prefecture (map), facing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. Imabari also has its own port. You can easily see some of the small islands of the Seto Inland Sea from there. For most tourists Matsuyama City might be the main attraction in Ehime Prefecture, but especially castle fans should definitely consider Imabari as well.
History of Imabari Castle
Imabari Castle (今治城) was built in 1604 by Takatora Todo (1556-1630), a military commander, who did well in the famous Battle of Sekigahara. To thank him for his great work during the war, the shogun granted him land in Imabari. At that time the major castle was on top of Mt. Karako (Kofuku Castle), but for Takatora the distant location seemed to be too inconvenient, so he built a new castle close to the port: Imabari Castle.
He had a good reputation as expert castle-builder. So it’s not surprising that Lord Todo constructed a remarkable fortress with outer, middle and inner moats filled with seawater, a five-story tower, nine castle gates and about 20 turrets in only a few years.
In 1608 Lord Todo moved from Uwajima Castle to the now completed Imabari Castle, but in the same year he was reassigned to Tsu in Ise Prefecture. Takayoshi, Takatora’s adopted son, took over Imabari Castle. Shortly after that his son was also sent to a different location. From then on Sadafusa Matsudaira became the new lord of Imabari Castle.
In 1610 the castle’s main tower was dismantled and transported to Osaka. Originally it was supposed to become the new tower of Iga Ueno Castle (Mie), but eventually it became the main keep of Kameyama Castle (Mie).
Imabari Castle shared the same fate as most other castles and was destroyed during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).
Imabari Castle Moats
Imabari Castle is known for its seawater-filled system of moats and its location on flat coastal land – which is a rare combination in Japan.
It’s one of the top three Mizujiro (“Water Castles”) in Japan – along with Takamatsu Castle in Kagawa Prefecture and Nakatsu Castle in Oita Prefecture.
The castle moats are well-preserved and add to the castle’s beautiful appearance.
Stone stairs lead you to the inner castle grounds.
Imabari Castle Tower – Tenshukaku
The castle tower, Tenshukaku (天守閣), was rebuilt in 1980. Some turrets were reconstructed in the following years.
The tower consists of 5 layers and 6 floors.
Inside you’ll find a museum with many samurai-related historical and cultural objects connected to Imabari Castle such as swords, armors, drawings of the castle and calligraphy.
Right next to the castle tower, on the castle grounds, there’s a shrine: Fukiage Shrine (吹揚神社)
This is not common, but there are a few Japanese Castles that have a shrine right next to them e.g. Izushi Castle, Nakatsu Castle, Okazaki Castle … to name just a few that come to my mind right now.
You’ve probably already figured by looking at the fox statue and the red gates that it is a “Inari Shrine”. The most famous Inari shrine can be found in Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine.
The View From The Top Floor
From the 6th floor – which is the top floor – you’ll have a great view over the castle grounds, the moats and a part of Imabari City.
In the distance you can also see some of the smaller Seto Inland Islands as well as the Kurushima Kaikyo Bridge.
Fukiage Shrine seen from above.
The castle moats are so huge and used even nowadays e.g. for rowing clubs.
The inner castle grounds are neat and everything is well taken care of.
There’s a statue of Todo Takatora (藤堂 高虎), the lord who built Imabari Castle.
Not too far from the statue you’ll find two reconstructed turrets. On the right photo “Yamazato Yagura” (山里櫓) is displayed which was reconstructed in 1990.
Here you can see the “Bugu Yagura” (武具櫓) which was rebuilt in 1980 – in the same year as the castle tower.
This is the “Kurogane Gate” (鉄御門). It will lead you to a bridge to cross the outer castle moat.
Once you crossed the bridge, you’ll have a beautiful view of the castle and the moat. In the background you see the castle tower and in the front another yagura: Okane Yagura (御金櫓) – reconstructed in 1985.
Personally I really liked Imabari Castle. I’ve seen over 100 Japanese castles by now, but this is definitely in my top list. Unlike some of my male colleagues, I don’t focus so much on architecture and history of a castle. I just like huge castle grounds, a high tower with a great view, being close to the ocean is also a plus – and I love well-preserved moats! Imabari Castle can’t win against the original keeps like Himeji Castle as it’s “only” a reconstruction, but I certainly adore “water castles”!
With the admission ticket (500 yen) you can not only enter the main castle tower, but also the Okane Yagura, Yamasato Yagura and the Bugu Yagura as part of the Kurogane Gate.
Admission Ticket Front and Back (*click to enlarge):
Extra Travel Tips:
You can do a bicycle tour from Chugoku to Shikoku going from one little island to another while crossing the beautiful Seto Inland Sea. Start and end points are Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) and Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture).
Imabari is famous for towels, so make sure to buy a small hand towel as a souvenir. If you walk from the JR station to the castle, you should come across some stores. If you have extra time, you could also visit the ICHIHIRO Towel Museum in Imabari.