Just 35 Minutes from Tokyo! Sightseeing Guide for the History-Rich Odawara Castle Area in Kanagawa
When people talk about touring Kanagawa, the neighbor of Tokyo, the first things that come to mind may be the popular spots such as Yokohama and Kamakura. However, there are actually many other tourist spots in that region that are worth visiting! Here is a guide on the must-see spots in Odawara that is centered around the historical Odawara Castle.
1. Odawara Castle (including Odawara Castle Ruins Park)
Built by the military commander Hojo in the late 15th century as the base of his control over the Kanto region, Odawara Castle was a famous impregnable castle that boasted the longest fortress in Japan at 9km. It was abandoned in 1870, while the remaining stonewalls and other parts of the castle collapsed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The castle tower seen there today was rebuilt in 1960, and many tourists are captivated by the area around the Odawara Castle Ruins Park (Odawara Joshi Koen in Japanese) that is surrounded by stonewalls and a moat. Odawara City enforces a rule that prohibits the construction of buildings taller than the Odawara Castle tower, so the castle’s superb view continues to be preserved as the symbol of Odawara City.
2. Hotoku Ninomiya Shrine
Hotoku Ninomiya Shrine, located inside Odawara Castle Ruins Park, enshrines Takanori Ninomiya (more popularly known as Sontoku), a philosopher who was born to an affluent family in Odawara but led an impoverished childhood after his family lost its fortune due to natural disaster. However, he educated himself and eventually managed to restore his family home. Sontoku was a great man who dedicated his life to the world and worked to reconstruct not just his own home, but 600 farming villages as well, earning him a position in the shogunate (government). The statue of Kinjiro Ninomiya (the name of Sontoku when he was a young boy) has been erected in many elementary school yards as a symbol of diligence as he is depicted as reading a book while carrying firewood on his back.
3. Iizumizan Shofukuji
Iizumizan Shofukuji is a temple that protects the “kimon” (the northeast direction, which is the direction where demons enter and leave, so it must be avoided at whatever cost) of Odawara Castle. The present Hondo (main temple building) was rebuilt in 1706, and serves as a building reminiscent of the design from the middle of the Edo period (1603 – 1868). When you enter the temple precinct and head toward the main temple building, you will see the statue of a person praying. That statue is of Sontoku Ninomiya, the philosopher carrying firewood on his back at the Hotoku Ninomiya Shrine that was discussed earlier. Legend has it that when he was young, he was so moved by the sutra he heard at this temple that it pushed him to commit to his mission.
4. Hakone Tozan Train (Hydrangea Train)
With Odawara as its starting point, the Hakone Tozan Train is a mountain railway that takes approximately 40 minutes to get from Hakone-Yumoto Station to Gora Station. Riders love it for its slow ride in the middle of nature. More popularly known as the Hydrangea Train, this railway system is especially crowded with sightseers from mid-June through mid-July, when hydrangeas are in full bloom on the fields along its route. The special reserved-seating train called Yoru no Ajisaigo (Night Hydrangea Train) (one way, reserved-seating ticket: 310 JPY, plus 400 JPY fare) runs during this period only. When you take this train, you will be able to experience the magical scene of illuminated hydrangeas. You can also see the lit-up hydrangeas when you ride the ordinary trains that do not require prior booking, but if you want to enjoy the view in a more leisurely manner, then it would be best to get a ticket with a designated seat.
※The Yoru no Ajisaigo will run from June 17, 2017 through July 2, 2017 (booking will be accepted on weekdays from June 1st through 30th)
5. Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History
The Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Natural History is a place that showcases in chronological order the history of earth that spans 4.6 billion years from the birth of the stars and earth. Here, there are exhibits on more than 10,000 real specimens collected from all over the world, ranging from the gigantic dinosaurs and meteors, up to the smallest insects on the planet. Given the real specimens that are displayed in the 3.2m jumbo books and other elaborate exhibits and planned shows in this museum, adults and children will surely be hooked. At the 1st floor entrance and the permanent exhibition room, guests can use the Exhibition Audio Guide (explanation in text form) in English using a cell phone or smartphone.
Odawara is a place that offers great access to transport as it is serviced by such railway systems as the Odakyu Line, Tokaido Line and shinkansen (bullet train). So, how about making a little side trip to Odawara?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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