This is it, the last post in this year’s Japan travel blog series! Back in April I travelled from Osaka to Kobe to Kyushu with my mum and sister, and you can read all about our travels here. Our last destination was Kumamoto, home of Kumamoto Castle and the iconic mascot Kumamon!
Kumamoto Castle is one of the most impressive castle in Japan, with large grounds and a variety of buildings to explore. It was constructed in the early 1600s by the local daimyo Kato Kiyomasa and its sloping stone walls and moat were particularly strategic fortifications.
Unfortunately, only a few of the castle’s original structures have survived the ravages of time. The original castle keep burned down in 1877 and the walls withstood a two month-long siege during the Seinan Civil War. More recently, the castle’s walls were severely damaged during the earthquakes in April 2016. The city hopes to rebuild the main keep in three years but the surrounding grounds could take up to 20 to be fully restored.
We were in Kumamoto about two weeks before the earthquakes, so were fortunate to see the castle in its full glory during cherry blossom season. Grace was still living in Fukuoka when the earthquakes hit Kumamoto but they were felt strongly for miles, which was understandably terrifying for her. Hopefully, the restoration process will be as swift as it can be in the circumstances.
The current palace building is constructed with original materials and methods, and houses a museum spread across several floors exhibiting weapons and information about the castle’s reconstruction, which we passed through pretty quickly because of the crowds. You’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of Kumamoto if you make it to the top.
The reconstructed Honmaru Goten Palace, another building that was sadly destroyed during the Seinan Civil War, is also worth exploring. It was created to celebrate the castle’s 400th anniversary and is opulently decorated, giving you some ideas of what a daimyo’s living quarters looked like.
Two other notable parts of the castle are the underground passage that leads to the main keep and the Uto Turret, which dates back to the time of the castle’s construction. Despite the fact that a lot of the castle is reconstructed, a visit to Kumamoto Castle still feels authentic and you can easily spend several hours exploring it.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to spare in Kumamoto City itself, but we did have a good tour of the train station where we could get our Kumamon fix! Most prefectures (as well as hotels, airports, anything you can think of) in Japan have their own mascot but Kumamon’s been particularly successful and is recognised world-wide. Kumamoto prefecture created Kumamon in 2010 to promote tourism in the region and he’s generally ranked#1 Japanese mascot and Kumamon-branded merchandise has raised billions for Kumamoto. Not bad for a bear.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of the Japan holiday blog series! I feel very lucky to have visited Japan four times now but still think I’ve only scratched the surface. Visiting Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics is something I hope to be able to do, but other than that I don’t have any plans to go back to Japan any time soon because it isn’t the cheapest place to visit. I’ve enjoyed writing these travel blogs, so may use 2017 and beyond to blog about new places I’d like to visit! You can also scroll back through my previous travel blogs if you fancy some reading!