Hirosaki Castle 弘前城
A fine far northern fortress known for major festivals and its cherry blossoms
Hirosaki Castle is widely considered to be one of Japan's most beautiful castles. Constructed in the Hirayama style, the main tower was built on top of a hill for easier defense and surrounded by defensive walls, moats, and yagura towers. The park surrounding the castle is filled with cherry trees, making spring here a major event.
- Castle grounds—the moats, gates, and turrets, as well as 2,600 cherry trees
- Castle reconstruction—until around 2025, renovations will give you a rare chance to see how Japanese castles are built
- Apple pie—Aomori's most famous fruit prepared just right
How to Get There
It is about 30 minutes south by express train from Shin-Aomori to Hirosaki Station. Hirosaki Castle is easily accessible from Hirosaki Station.
You can walk around 20 minutes to the castle grounds or take a bus (15 minutes) to the Shiyakusho-mae bus stop. Hirosaki is the regional commercial center of southwest Aomori Prefecture and the center of its apple production area.
One of Japan's iconic castles
The castle was originally built in 1611 by Nobuhira, lord of the Tsugaru clan. Lord Tsugaru sided with the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Battle of Odawara that reunited Japan and with Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Battle of Sekigahara, which ushered in Japan's longest samurai government. Japanese history buffs will know that Lord Tsugaru chose sides well.
The Hirosaki Castle "keep" was originally a five-story tower. In 1627, it was struck by lightning and burned down. The current structure was rebuilt in 1810 as a three-story tower.
One of the few originals
Almost all Japanese castles were dismantled after 1868 when samurai rule came to an end or burnt down in WWII. Many of the castles you see in Japan today were rebuilt after the war. In Tohoku , Hirosaki Castle is the only castle that was built during the Edo Period (1603-1867). In 2006, Hirosaki Castle was listed by the Japan Castle Foundation as one of the "100 Fine Castles of Japan."
Center of Hirosaki culture and history
Japanese castles are not just their buildings. The grounds are home to some important cultural events. The Snow Lantern Festival , Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival , and Hirosaki Neputa Festival are all held on the park grounds or very close by.
Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival
Held in the middle of winter, this festival features hundreds of snow lanterns, small sculptures, and projection mapping that show the beauty of the castle in a very different light.
Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival
With 2,600 cherry trees, petal-filled moats, rowboats for rent, picnic areas, night lighting and thousands of revelers, as well as Hirosaki Castle as the backdrop, it's easy to see why Hirosaki Park is considered one of Japan's best cherry blossom spots.
Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri
The huge fan-shaped Neputa floats are the highlight of the lively summer festival held in the castle town of Hirosaki. The giant floats, drummers, and dancers parade around town, with Hirosaki Castle overlooking the festivities.
Easily accessible and scalable
Many of Japan's castles are built on high ground. Hirosaki Castle, however, is built on a flat plain. In addition, with only three stories, the steep stairs of the keep are much more easily scaled than those of five-story castle towers.
You will get to peek through the narrow turrets for shooting arrows and see the beautifully decorated gabled roof of the castle while looking down on the park and the whole of Hirosaki below.
Closed in winter
The castle keep is closed during much of the winter, from November 24 until mid-April. If you are there during the winter months, you'll still be able to enjoy the views from below and of the castle grounds. If you plan well, you can still see the Snow Lantern Festival or the cherry blossoms.