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Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle
Three story Yagura
Hirosaki Castle
Hirosaki Castle is a 17th century Japanese castle located in Hirosaki city, Aomori prefecture, Japan. It was constructed in 1611 by the local Tsugaru clan. A three-storied castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets (yagura) survive or have been reconstructed. Hirosaki used to be the political and cultural capital of the Tsugaru Region during the Edo Period, and remains one of the culturally richest cities in the northern Tohoku Region. Hirosaki's main attractions include its castle, samurai district and temples

The surrounding Hirosaki Park is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots. Over a million people enjoy the park 2600 trees during the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, usually during the Japanese Golden Week holidays in the end of April and beginning of May. Hirosaki Castle was built in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan. A three storied castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets (yagura) survive or were reconstructed. Hirosaki Park, the location of Hirosaki castle, is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots. Over a million people enjoy the park's 2600 trees during the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) when the blossoms are in bloom, usually during the Golden Week in the end of April and beginning of May. Hirosaki Castle is a 10 minute bus ride from JR Hirosaki Station. The historic town of Hirosaki is worth an overnight visit or longer stay. The attractions include the castle, historic buildings (including a samurai quarter) and temples. Famous nationwide for its cherry blossoms (1 million plus visitors each year) and the Neputa festival, the town also has numerous western style buildings from the Meiji period including the former library, the interesting Aomori bank building, the local Catholic and Anglican churches and other structures. The main drawcard though is Hirosaki Castle, an early 17th century fortification built from 1611 by the feudal lords of the Tsugaru clan. Lacking the defences of many of the more powerful fortifications built in southern and western Japan prior to and during the Edo period, and with little in the way of metal to be sold for scrap, much of the castle was left intact by the Meiji government and has since been preserved or reconstructed. Hirosaki Castle (OO, Hirosaki-j?) is a 17th century Japanese castle located in Hirosaki city, Aomori prefecture, Japan. It was constructed in 1611 by the local Tsugaru clan. A three-storied castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets (yagura) survive or have been reconstructed. The surrounding Hirosaki Park is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots. Over a million people enjoy the park's 2600 trees during the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, usually during the Japanese Golden Week holidays in the end of April and beginning of May. Hirosaki Castle was built in 1611 by the Tsugaru clan. A three storied castle tower, fortified moats, castle gates and some corner turrets (yagura) survive or were reconstructed. Hirosaki Park, the location of Hirosaki castle, is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom spots. Over a million people enjoy the park's 2600 trees during the sakura matsuri (cherry blossom festival) when the blossoms are in bloom, usually during the Golden Week in the end of April and beginning of May. http://www.jomon.ne.jp/~ja7bal/hiroeng.htm Hirosaki City Important Cultural Property Site Visited April 1999 Notes The grounds of Hirosaki are very spacious and the cherry blossoms in the spring were spectacular. I'd love to go back again soon for the Sakura festival. A half day trip to Kakunodate is also very worthwhile to see the old samurai town when you are in the area. History The 3 level donjon of Hirosaki-jo seems disproportionately small when compared to the huge estate encompassed by the castle today. Hirosaki-jo was originally built with a 5 level donjon which was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1627.The donjon was not rebuilt until 1810. The new 3 level donjon is built atop the inner moat using the stone wall as the palisade for the donjon. Originally it was also connected to a section of yagura along the top of this moat. The yagura, however, no longer exists and the donjon stands alone. Hirosaki-jo has the only extant donjon to the east of Matsumoto-jo (Nagano prefecture) making it a historical treasure of the Tohoku region. Hirosaki-jo is famous throughout Japan for the more than 5000 cherry trees that fill its grounds today. Every spring when the trees are in bloom thousands of visitors flock to the grounds to partake in one of Japan's finest Cherry Blossom Festivals. The Hirosaki was built between the two rivers of Iwaki and Tsuchibuchi with the first on its west and the latter on its east. This hirayamajiro is on the edge of a plateau of Mount Kudoji. The planning of the building of the castle was done by Tamenobu, but the actual building started two generations later with Nobuhira. After two years, the castle was complete. This castle was owned by the Tsugarus daimyo family from 1610 to the end of the Edo Period. In 1611, its five level tenshu was finished, but was destroyed by lightning in 1627. In 1810, a three-story tenshu was built in the southeast area of the castle grounds and has remained until today. This tenshu is on top of the inner moat with its stone wall acting as an defensive enclosure. The Hirosaki is now famous for its thousands of cherry trees spread throughout its castle grounds. During its blooming season, a great number of tourists and people of the city come to see the beautiful trees. At that time of year, the castle displays it greatest treasure for all to see. The castle was constructed in 1611 by the lord of the Tsugaru domain; today's structures are among the few original castles remaining in Japan. Situated in the heart of Hirosaki City, besides the donjon, treasured as a symbol of the city, there are five castle gates, three watchtowers, and a triple moat. The castle grounds are famous for flowering cherries (approximately 5,000 trees), and the donjon contains a museum focussed on the castle's history. Hirosaki was once the capital of Aomori Prefecture. Although that title has been relegated to Aomori City, many still see Hirosaki as the cultural and historical hub of the prefecture. Dazai, too, revered Hirosaki's charm of Aomori City's relative drabness. "I firmly believe that the prefecture has been ill-served by the decision to make Aomori [City] the capital, and not Hirosaki. ....It irks me to see Hirosaki accept its defeat with such indifference." Dazai is also, however, quite critical of Hirosaki at times. As with many places he visited, Dazai praises some things while coldly criticizing others. He derides the residents of Hirosaki for a certain stubborn snobbishness and an inflated sense of their own worth. He writes: "The people of Hirosaki possess that kind of foolish obstinacy that knows not how to bow down before a superior force, no matter how often they are beaten and no matter how much the stubborn defense of their proud isolation makes them the laughingstock of the world." It is the only city in the prefecture with a proper university, and its citizenry is therefore regarded as more educated and cosmopolitan. If you are likely to see another non-Japanese person anywhere in the prefecture, it is likely to be in Hirosaki. Hirosaki was founded in 1603 by Lord Tsugaru Tamenobu. It was the prefectural capital until the Meiji Restoration joined the Nambu and Tsugaru territories (southeast Aomori and western Aomori, respectively) into a unified prefecture. Aomori City was chosen as the new capital, but it never attained the more highbrow appeal that Hirosaki still holds. Hirosaki Castle in the Cherry Blossom Festival While Aomori City was almost completely obliterated in World War II, Hirosaki escaped unscathed, preserving its traditional landmarks and architecture. This is not to say that Hirosaki is an entirely pleasant city to spend time in. As was common in feudal times, Lord Tsugaru deliberately designed the city to be as confusing as possible to invaders. The streets are a maze of winding, meandering lanes, rarely leading where one would expect them to. A sense of direction is a detriment in Hirosaki -- a visitor would be better off wandering aimlessly and hoping for the best. Patience and diligence eventually allows one to reach Hirosaki Park, the centerpiece of the city. Within the park are more maze-like footpaths, which lead eventually to the most recognized landmark in Hirosaki, the Castle (pictured above). Surrounded by a moat and built high upon a stone precipice, the castle appears today much as it did in Dazai's time, and much as it did during Lord Tsugaru's time. In Spring, during the brief blooming period of the cherry blossoms, literally millions of people flock to Hirosaki park to bask under the cherry trees and have their picture taken next to the castle. Among the revelers in Hirosaki Park each year is Faye Steer, a resident of Hirosaki and English teacher in the nearby town of Itayanagi. Read an article she wrote on all the great and not-so-great things Hirosaki has to offer.


Hirosaki Article
In the depths of Aomori prefecture, east of the Shirakami mountain ranges and southwest of the ken's capital city, lies the sleepy city of Hirosaki. With a population of over 370,000, Hirosaki lazily grows outwards, sprawling into the Tsugaru countryside, slowly devouring small villages and rice paddies along the way. Hirosaki stretches out for miles, as you can drive, drive and drive some more, yet still technically be in Hirosaki city. I think over the years, the city boundaries have consumed over seven towns and five villages. Yet many of these sub-villages you will encounter, appear to be attached to the road that links them and nothing else. Like most cities in Japan, you can watch the development of Hirosaki grow at an alarming rate. Over night, houses, shops and entertainment areas are constructed and demolished as quickly as stick-a-brick. On a dark drive from Kuroishi city to Hirosaki at night, you can actually pin point where the countryside ends and the city begins, as the horizon's multi-coloured glow of pachinko lights, fast food advertisements and bowling/karaoke extravaganza's leads you out of the dark into the neon light. Historically, Hirosaki has always been a strong region in Aomori ken. During the 16th century - Hirosaki became the leading political, economical and cultural centre for the whole of the Tsugaru region. The residents proudly ascertain that for 2 months in 1871, the Tsugaru HQ declared the region to be called Hirosaki Prefecture. Two months later however, the title was snatched away and given to Aomori-city. I still think some of older residents are bitter about the change. Today, if you walk around the city centre you'll undoubtedly pick up on two running themes. The first is Hirosaki castle, which is pictured on nearly everything that doesn't have a pulse. The second is the city emblem which is stamped on all lampposts and manhole covers, and which is paraded around during festival time. At a first glance this emblem looks uncannily like the Nazi swastika. But I was glad to learn that this emblem is actually a Buddhist symbol, used by the reigning Tsugaru clan. As for the park and castle, it's beautiful. I don't think I've found anywhere else that performs such a stunning display of Japan's four distinct seasons. In summer, the luscious green grass and views of Iwaki-san look like a picture post-card; in autumn, a backdrop of burnt red and orange trees hosts the annual chrysanthemum festival; whilst people come from far and wide to "Ooo" and "Ahhh" at the winter snow festival. Lanterns made from packed snow light the pathways whilst both young and old shuffle around to see the many ice sculptures and igloos. The park really shines however in spring, as tourists' pour into Hirosaki in droves to see the park's 5,000 cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Hirosaki Park is one of the top 5 places in the whole of Japan to view the cherry blossom season, and people from all over Japan come to drink, eat and be merry under the fading light of an April afternoon. Hirosaki comes alive as literally thousands of tourists come each year. Shops, restaurants and department stores go out in full force, selling cherry blossom food, snacks, gifts and souvenirs. No where else in Aomori ken can you view such a spectacular display of Cherry blossom and no where else will you find its residents so proud. During August, the whole of Aomori ken comes alive with the Nebuta festival. Although the main festival is held in Aomori city, each regional area performs its own, distinct, scaled down version. Hirosaki Park in the peak of the Cherry Blossom Festival Hirosaki is no exception. Hirosaki's festival, Neputa, is celebrated during the first week of August. Instead of the three dimensional floats exhibited in Aomori city, Hirosaki's floats are fan shaped and display the traditional Nebuta style paintings. I've asked many locals about the story of Neputa and about the meaning of "Ya ya dor", (the phrase that is shouted by everyone as the floats parade down the streets), yet nobody seems to know about it's origin. "Ya ya dor", may well be a saucy mating call or simply raving gibberish, yet the local residents seem to accept it to be cry for war. For what war, nobody knows. Southwest of the castle and park lies the 5 storied pagoda and Zen temple area. The pagoda you can see from the main shopping road, Dotamachi, poking its head out from the surrounding trees. As you stand beside 'Mr. Donuts', the pagoda's summit appears to be entwined in pylon cables and telephone lines. The obvious contrast of old and new is just one of many visible in Japan. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Moving on, the Zen temple area consists of 2 main streets, west of the pagoda. Here, nearly 50 temples and shrines are actively used, ranging from small to large, old to new. When I arrived to explore the area I was met by a friendly Buddhist priest who invited me and my parents to sit in and watch a traditional Buddhist ceremony that he was performing. After the ceremony, we were invited in to his house and his wife summoned to give a Tea Ceremony demonstration. Still not satisfied that we'd experienced true hospitality, his wife then led us to her flower arrangement class that she was teaching. Only after we had experienced the entirety of Japanese culture were we allowed to leave. And only then could we do so after being given lunch which was swiftly boxed up and wrapped in the blink of an eye. Hirosaki's entertainment district is pretty much a maze. The main drinking area, a road called kajimachi lies parallel to the main shopping road, Dotamachi. If you're looking for a mini neon light extravaganza, then this is the place to come. The road is lit from start to finish with gaudy flashing lights advertising panchinko parlours, bowling alleys, snack bars and karaoke establishments. Attempting to find the same place twice, is about as easy as trying to understand Tsugaru-ben. Back street alleys hide hundreds of seedy hostess bars, while some places openly advertise their private services by hanging huge pictures of porno style women to their billboards. The Japanese have certainly lost their touch of subtly when it comes to that sort of entertainment. Hirosaki University has a small drinking district named Nishi-Hiro, literally meaning East Hirosaki. The bars are small but cozy and the clientele is mainly all university students. The drinks are cheaper than anywhere else I've found and the atmosphere is a lot less hectic. If you want to mingle with cool Japanese youth, then this is the place to come. Hirosaki has hundreds of Izakayas (pub style food and drink places), both on the outskirts and in the city centre. As for karaoke, Japan's most popular pastime activity - you can find hundreds of places to indulge. My favourite is a huge karaoke centre, shaped like Disney's princess castle. You can even choose a room with a theme, which brings me onto my next attraction, Love Hotels. Just kiddingcc To finish, I'd just like to say that out of the prefecture's three main cities, Hirosaki is the smallest in size and population. Having lived here for 18 months, you might say that my judgement is biased, but culturally I believe it has the most to offer. The historic capital of the Tsugaru region has slowly paced itself in its development, whilst managing to maintain a balance between constantly changing its interior and retaining it's historic traditions.[top]

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visit Hirosaki Castle.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

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