Looking out over the Kiso River that flows broadly below it, Inuyama Castle, otherwise known as Inuyama-jo, stakes its claim as the oldest castle in Japan, surviving wars and natural disasters to retain its original form since its construction in 1537. Its hilltop location made spotting the enemy on the march much easier.
Until 2004, it was the only castle in Japan that was privately owned, given back to the original owners in 1895 on the condition that they repair the damage from an earthquake that had struck a few years earlier and maintain it from then on.
Get to the Inuyama area by going first to Nagoya Station, then take the Meitetsu Line to Inuyama or Inuyama-yuen stations.
The castle is a 20-minute walk from both stations.
To get to Nagoya by Tokaido Shinkansen: Nagoya is 52 minutes from Osaka, and 1 hour and 40 minutes from Tokyo Station.
You can also use long-distance bus services between Inuyama Station and Tokyo (Shinjuku), Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya (every 30 minutes), Gujo Hachiman (1 hour), and Kobe.
Inuyama Castle is one of only 12 original Japanese castles remaining
Original construction was completed in 1440
The present keep was constructed in 1537 and is a National Treasure
While certainly worth a visit at any time of year, Inuyama Castle is perhaps at its most delightful in the spring and fall. Sitting on top of a small hill with commanding views of the Kisogawa Valley below and Gifu Prefecture beyond, the skyline is filled with the beautiful bursts of pink from cherry blossoms in April and the deep red and flame orange and yellow of maple leaves in late November.
These are particularly busy times around the castle, but although you may be faced with crowds, the picturesque sights make it still very much worth it.
As a castle of such historical importance, it is worth taking the time to look around inside the keep. From the steep wooden stairs, polished smooth from generations of footsteps to the exhibits of samurai armor, folding screens, and swords, you can get a sense of how the castle may have felt for those living within its huge stone walls.
The top floor of the castle is an observation platform that gives you fantastic panoramic views of the wide river, the old city, and the rolling hills on all sides.
Throughout the castle grounds, you can find small shrines, temples and hidden vantage points. At the foot of the hill on which Inuyama Castle sits, you will find the Sanko Inari Shrine, a place of worship with a short tunnel of striking red torii gates. The shrine is famed as a place for those who have been unlucky in love to pray for a match. Why not try your luck and write your hopes on one of the pink love heart prayer plates?
Directly adjacent to Sanko Inari is Haritsuna Shrine, which has some interesting statues. In 1635, this was the place where the now nationally famous Inuyama Festival originated.
In early April, Inuyama Castle is the backdrop for the Inuyama Festival, featuring 10-meter-tall floats pulled through the city before being lit up with hundreds of paper lanterns at night. As the city's cherry trees are usually in full bloom, it's a remarkable time to see Inuyama.
High on your list of places to visit should be Urakuen Japanese Garden and the adjoining teahouse Joan, both of which are impressive examples of samurai culture. You'll find other interesting exhibits at the Inuyama Artifacts Museum and the Karakuri Exhibition Room, which are both free to enter with your ticket to the castle.
With so many sights to see and its many facets, plan at least half a day to explore Inuyama Castle, although it is possible to walk around the grounds and see it in a shorter timeframe.