A necessary part of any Aichi based travel plan, Nagoya Castle was completed at the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun, in 1612. The Tokugawa family came from this area and, despite Ieyasu making Edo (Tokyo) his capital, Nagoya Castle became the home of the main line of the Tokugawa family. Built on the Tokaido Road that ran from the Shogun’s capital in the east to the Emperor’s home in Kyoto to the west, the castle was of major import in stopping any rebellion marching on the Shogun.
The most famous aspect of Nagoya Castle is the golden dolphins that adorn the roof. Looking little like real dolphins, they were both an emblem of the lord’s wealth and a talisman to prevent fire as it was thought they could cause rain to fall. The originals were destroyed during the Second World War when the castle, used then by the military as its local headquarters, was bombed by the USAF. The castle and its dolphins was rebuilt in 1959.
One of the larger castles in Japan, the interior has been turned into a museum with displays concerning the castle, it’s rebuilding, and life for the common people living in its shadow. The exhibitions are informative, and an interesting English booklet on the history of the castle is available for free.
In its bid to attract tourists both foreign and domestic however, the powers that be have committed some of the same crimes as other castles, such as Osaka.
The internal renovations, which include elevators, have changed the castle so drastically that it is difficult to visualise it as it would’ve been when in use as a home and a military fortress. For me this is a major mark against the castle, and has left me feeling disappointed each time I’ve visited. Nearby Inuyama Castle and Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture are better value for those who, like me, want their history undiluted with modern convenience or gift shops. It does make it much more entertaining for those with children or a less puritan attitude to the past than I.
The grounds around the castle provide space for a peaceful walk, and the various museums, tea houses and other points of interest can prove just as rewarding as the castle itself. Look out for the family of deer that live in the now dry moat and the 17th century graffiti carved into many of the stones that make the foundations and defensive walls of the castle.
Across from the main entrance to the castle stands Nagoya Noh Theatre. This has a small display on the history and details of Noh , and has extensive English signage and information.
The size of the display means the theatre is not worth a trip by itself unless Noh is your particular bag, but its proximity to the castle recommends it as a thirty minute detour. If you have an interest in seeing Noh, they occasionally do special shows of the more famous scenes from the canon with English explanations and commentary. Check with the theatre itself for these performances.
Nagoya Castle and Nagoya Noh Theatre are reached from Shiyakusho station on the Meijo subway line.