Less than one hour ride on a shinkansen from Hiroshima will take you to another region called Okayama city, the center of administration for Okayama Prefecture. For us, we arrived in Okayama from Tokyo the night earlier. Since we had a very limited time to explore this wonderful city famous of its Korakuen, we just took a quick tour of the nearby castle, the Okayama Castle. The castle is also known as U-jo (Raven castle) because of the black exterior paintwork. The Tenshu-kaku (castle tower) consists of 6 storeys high building complex and this castle looks very big from any angle, even as far as from inside Korakuen through the south entrance of the garden. Because of the irregular pentagon shape the building is based on, the Tenshu gives unique view from many different directions. Its Tenshu and adjacent watch towers are now considered as National Treasures by the Government.
- Castle name: Okayama-jo (where jo means castle)
- Location: Okayama city, Okayama Prefecture
- Other names: Kinnou-jo, U-jo
- Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00
- Admission fee: JPY300 (castle only); JPY560 (with Korakuen)
U-jo was built in 1597 by Ukita Hideie, a powerful daimyo of Bizen and Mimasaka provinces, the old name for modern-day Okayama Prefecture. U-jo's beautiful architecture really showed off the spirit of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. He, together with Mori Terumoto who found Hiroshima and built Hiroshima Castle, were appointed members of the Council of Five Elders by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He lived in the castle until the end of Battle of Sekigahara, the battle that saw Hideyoshi's reign as top samurai clan ended to the hands of Tokugawa clan. Ukita fled and U-jo had a new tenant, Kobayakawa Hideaki, who ruled the province from the castle before he died two years later. Again, the castle received a new family of daimyo, Ikeda Tadatsugu. He and his descendants ruled until Meiji period when samurai era subsequently vanished.
The castle survived during the Meiji Period and got very well maintained. However, World War 2 had brought a total destruction not only to the neighboring Hiroshima province but also to Okayama. Major parts of the original U-jo were destroyed in 1945 during air raids by the Allies. The castle tower (Tenshu) that I saw today was reconstructed in 1966 but the main turret Tsukimi-yagura, which is the one facing Tsukimi Bridge and a few other structures are original including the outer stone walls which were built using a method called Nozura-zumi, an ancient style of stone-wallbuilding.
Visiting castles or any other places of interests in Japan is not a problem when the need for excretion process is there. Within U-jo's complex, there are 3 separate public toilets for visitors and they are of satisfactorily clean. We didn't get inside the Tenshu since we were running out of time, remember? For those who are interested to go in, there is a fee to it but not so expensive. For shutterbugs, there are plenty of 'sweet spots' where the Tenshu-kaku can be captured in very dramatic compositions. My favorite would be from the Hondan, a plateau just in front of the Tenshu-kaku. With assortments of cherry and plum trees scattered around, U-jo has successfully brought back the grandeur of its past for us to appreciate.
Later, we walked across Tsukimi Bridge to Korakuen's south entrance but Okayama Castle can always be seen standing tall in the background. And this completes our mission of visiting the Three Castles for this short trip to Japan.