Kokura Castle is an exceptionally well-restored castle built on a plain that has become the symbol of the city of Kitakyushu. The only standing castle keep in Fukuoka Prefecture, it is exceptionally popular with visitors. One reason is that famed swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi made his home at Kokura, and the dojo teaching his style of swordsmanship was based here.
The castle grounds are lovely, and the castle overlooks a new commercial complex called Riverwalk Kitakyushu with plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment possibilities. Nature lovers and birdwatchers will also enjoy a walk along the scenic Murasaki River, which gives the complex its name.
Kokura Castle is a short walk from JR Nishi-Kokura and Kokura stations.
Kokura Castle is a 10-minute walk from Nishi-Kokura Station, which is on the Kagoshima Main Line.
It's a 20-minute walk from the bigger JR Kokura Station. JR Kokura Station is also a stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen, which offers direct access from Fukuoka and Osaka.
Kokura Castle played a pivotal role in the history of the area. It was built between 1602 and 1608 at the beginning of the Edo period. The castle was the property of the Ogasawara clan between 1632 and 1860, but was burnt down in 1866 during the war between the Kokura and Choshu clans.
The current keep is not an accurate reconstruction of the original, since the architects opted for a more aesthetically appealing design instead of faithfully rebuilding the simpler structure that once stood here.
From the outside, the keep appears to have only four stories, but actually has five inside. The castle is filled with exhibits that introduce the history of Kitakyushu and the castle. The display sections include an interactive zone that allows visitors to experience castle life as it was lived during the Edo period.
From the top floor of the castle, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Kitakyushu to the west, south and east. Also visible is mainland Honshu, Hikoshima and Shimonoseki to the north.
The keep is surrounded by a moat on two sides and the castle's extensive grounds on the other two. The grounds are collectively known as Katsuyama Park, which has hundreds of cherry trees that bloom in early April. In 1998, a small Japanese garden and pond was built within the castle environs. Within the garden and overlooking the moat is a traditional Japanese building with tatami rooms.
The most famous resident of Kokura Castle was the swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi, who moved to the castle in 1634 as a guest of Ogasawara Tadazane. The park has a memorial built on the site of his former residence. Niten Ichi-ryu, the school of swordsmanship based on his style of fighting with two swords, was based in Kokura throughout its history.
The castle overlooks Riverwalk Kitakyushu, a large entertainment complex of open-air cafes and parks with views of the river and its surroundings. Riverwalk Kitakyushu is also attached to the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center and a branch of the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art. You can take a tour of broadcaster NHK's Kitakyushu station as well.
Designed as a natural and open space within the city, Riverwalk Kitakyushu is a great place to relax, take in some culture and grab a bite to eat before or after exploring Kokura Castle.