Nara is known for its park with wild deer and the great Buddha statue of Todaiji Temple. There are, however, quite a few other nice sights to check out while there. One of them is Yamato Koriyama Castle which I want to introduce today.
Access to Koriyama Castle
You could also walk from JR Koriyama Station, but that will take about 25 minutes.
Annual Spring Festival at Koriyama Castle
There’s a castle festival (大和郡山お城まつり) every year from around the end of March to early April. When I went in 2013, it was already the 53rd festival, so it has quite a long tradition.
You can feel the great atmosphere in this short video of the 54th festival in 2014.
Spring is by far the BEST time to visit. There are food stands everywhere and the castle grounds have hundreds of cherry blossom trees.
History of Koriyama Castle
Koriyama Castle’s origins date back to 1162.
In 1580 Tsutsui Junkei – with the help of Oda Nobunaga – made it into a stronger fortification and built what became Koriyama Castle.
Toyotomi Hidenaga became the lord of Koriyama Castle shortly after that (1585). He added several improvements to the structure. As there weren’t enough stones for the castle wall, he used stones from nearby temples (gravestones, garden stones, Buddhist images etc.). Hidenaga also brought the markets from Nara to Yamato to turn it into a major and modern city.
In 1595, Mashita Nagamori became lord of the castle, but he left after losing the Battle of Sekigahara. Mizuno Katsuhige moved into the castle as ordered by Ieyasu (1615). He reconstructed the fortress. In 1724, Koriyama Castle had yet another lord, Yanagisawa Yoshisato. The Yanagisawa family took care of the castle until the Meiji Restoration.
The castle building was completely destroyed then. The stone walls and moat remained. Gates, keeps and houses on the castle grounds were reconstructed in the late 20th century.
The castle grounds have been turned into a public park that has been chosen as one of the “100 Best Hanami Spots in Japan“.
This was just a rough overview. You can read more about Yamato Koriyama Castle’s history here.
What’s There To See?
The castle park is quite spacious and during cherry blossom season it’s a pleasure to walk along the castle moat. You’ll get a great view of the moat and the extensive castle walls, all surrounded by beautiful pink sakura.
Photo on the left: Once the petals fall, they’ll flow around in the moat. A good chance for some beautiful photos!
Photo on the right: The Yanagisawa Shrine stands on the castle grounds. It’s dedicated to the Yanagisawa clan who took care of Koriyama Castle for decades.
As mentioned earlier, stones from nearby temples were used to build the castle walls. Even jizo statues were implemented.
Nowadays you can see “Sakasajizo“, a jizo put into the castle wall upside down. It’s probably too small to see it on the (right) photo, but I don’t want to spoil the fun. Go and explore it yourself! ;)
A very pleasant park. It’s great for just taking a walk or relaxing.
If you want to go to a less touristy area, this is what you should visit.
During the castle festival they’ll light up the lanterns.
The cherry blossoms are also illuminated during the matsuri, usually from 18:00-21:00.
Yamato Koriyama Castle – Worth a Visit?
If you like castles, then this goes without saying. But I also recommend it as a side trip from Nara or Kyoto, especially when you want to get away from the crowds. Even during the castle festival it wasn’t packed with people. I spent a very pleasant evening there after leaving the much busier Nara Park.
Obviously cherry blossom season is the best time to explore this castle, but I’m sure it’s quite nice all year round.
On top of it, it’s free of charge, so what’s not to love?