Located in the northern Nagano castle town of Ueda is stunning Ueda Castle and its associated park. Filled with history and incredible scenic views, the park and its impressive fortress are worth a visit any time of year.
Ueda Castle Park is a 10-minute walk from JR Ueda Station, making it an easy place to access on foot locally and by train from the neighboring city of Nagano.
From Nagano, the trip to JR Ueda Station is 12 minutes on the Hokuriku-Shinkansen or 45 minutes on the local JR Shinonoi Line. Tokyo Station to Ueda is an hour and 15 minutes on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line.
Ueda Castle was built in the 16th century by the leaders of the Sanada samurai clan. These tough warriors are famed for repelling the nation-building Tokugawas not once, but twice. The third time, however, they were defeated.
Following the battles, some of the castle was rebuilt in the 17th century before being dismantled at the end of feudal rule in the late 1800s. Today, Ueda Castle's original stone ramparts and reproductions of its three turrets and main gate stand tall, towering over the neighboring city.
There are two shrines in the park, and it's a peaceful spot to wander and contemplate the history that transpired in the castle's shadow. You can pick up a couple of oyaki, Japanese-style savory dumplings that are a Nagano specialty. They come with a variety of fillings like winter squash and spicy eggplant.
A welcoming committee of samurai patrol the grounds, posing for photos and occasionally breaking into martial arts demonstrations. Check out the park's Ueda City Museum for samurai artifacts and other displays about the region.
In April, the park hosts the local Ueda Sanada Festival in honor of the city's famous warrior clan. Hundreds join a procession in period costumes. The entertainment includes taiko drumming and impressive musket-firing demonstrations around the castle area.
A number of events take place on the castle grounds throughout the year including craft fairs or music festivals. Check with the Ueda Tourist Information Center for exact dates.
Ueda Castle Park is spectacular in the spring when its groves of cherry trees come into bloom. In mid-April, the park hosts the Ueda Castle Sen-Bon Sakura Matsuri, or 1000 Cherry Tree Festival. Come early to get a spot for picnicking or enjoying the evening parties beneath the lit-up trees.
Noh drama performances run from August to November at the Ueda City Museum on the castle grounds. In late September, the park pulses with an exciting taiko drumming festival featuring scores of talented drummers.
During autumn, the Ueda Castle Autumn Color Festival celebrates the transformation of the park's many Japanese maple trees which turn fiery shades of red and gold.