For the Nagoya day-tripper, Okazaki makes for an effortless and engaging change of scene. Less than 30 minutes from Nagoya station on the Meitetsu line, Okazaki is renowned for being the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu, first Shogun of the Edo period (1603 – 1868). As with many places in Japan, a lack of town planning and a taste for functional architecture has left much of Okazaki – deep in the heart of car industry land – faceless and grey.
The view that confronts you immediately upon leaving the station is far from uplifting. However a short walk across the river leads you into the delightful castle grounds. A meandering path takes you past an elegant teahouse and alongside a considerable carp pond complete with overhanging trees and red wooden bridges. Fears of a wasted journey subside and calm contemplation takes over.
The castle was originally built in 1455 and survived until the Meiji Restoration, when the main building was destroyed to provide scrap metals. In 1959 it was returned to its original glory. Surrounding the castle are various statues that are worth attention, especially the titanic turtle with what appears to be a gravestone through its back. The shrine next to the castle is a popular spot for weddings, prayers for newborns, remembering ancestors and even having your Prius blessed.
Okazaki castle, like most castles in Japan, is now a museum inside and contains the usual swords, armour, kimono and lacquerware. Unusually you are allowed to take photos of the exhibits. The view from the top is wonderful although the height can be a touch daunting on a very windy day. For the historically minded, the nearby Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushi Museum is of more interest, particularly the basement level which has a fantastic model re-enactment of the Battle of Sekigahara, the battle which gave Tokugawa Ieyasu control over the whole of Japan and cemented his family’s dominance for the next 268 years. There is also samurai armour and weapons that you can try out, providing the opportunity for some truly daft holidays snaps. Entry is included in with the castle ticket.
Two other highlights of the grounds are the Ieyasu clock, a fantastically surreal clock standing a couple of metres high which opens every hour to reveal the Shogun performing a Noh dance. The other is the phone box near the museum, built in the style of the castle. Not even Bill and Ted would’ve imagined a phone box this weird. Because of the gardens, Okazaki makes a good trip only while the weather is good, although on the first Saturday in August it gets very busy due to the famous fireworks festival.
There is also a fire festival held in February at Takisan Temple, which is also the site of Takisan Toshogu, a beautiful shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu by his grandson Iemitsu. Try and avoid using the trains at peak times. Higashi-Okazaki to Nagoya is a major commuter line and during rush hour breathing space will be at a minimum. There is also JR Okazaki station for those with JR passes, but the Meitetsu Higashi-Okazaki is the more convenient for sightseeing. The tourist information office in the station contains good maps and the staff are very helpful.