One day trip to Odawara Castle in Kanagawa
If you visit Hakone and Atami, popular hot spring areas near Tokyo, Odawara in Kanagawa would be worth a stopover. It takes only 35 mins from Tokyo Station to Odawara Station by Shinkansen bullet train. Odawara Castle was the first castle at which my kids could see Japanese style donjon (castle keep). We could walk around extensive sites with trees and moats in Odawara Castle Park. There are no tall buildings around the Odawara Castle, so the area has huge blue sky and running ground.
The original mountain castle was built in the mid 15th century and the Odawara Hojo clan ruled both the castle and Odawara area from the late 15th century. It is said that Ieyasu Tokugawa referred to the design of Odawara Castle when he built Edo Castle, because Odawara Castle was hard to attack. Odawara Castle donjon was reconstructed in 1960 based on construction drawings from the Edo period and it was renovated in 2016.
In Japan, mountain castles used to be constructed hastily under urgent circumstances sometimes people started to live on the top of naturally fortified mountains. After constructing mountain castles, people started to build gorgeous Japanese castles with dojon. It is rare to see an original donjon and we usually see castles with only stone wall ruins. There are mainly three types of donjon in Japan; the donjon remaining as it is, restorated based on the original documents, or reconstructed based on current safety rules.
I had previously visited Himeji Castle, Nagoya Castle and Osaka Castle. Odawara Castle is a little bit smaller than other major castles but the scenery from the top of the donjon was astonishing. You can see both Izu Peninsula and Suruga Bay at the same time. Periodically, there are special exhibitions of military commanders from the Warring States period. The exhibition of suits of armor, swords, old documents and other historical materials was also very informative to understand the history and construction process. You can rent Samurai (Japanese warriors) armor, as well as Ninja and Princess costumes at Odawara Castle Information Hall.
After visiting Odawara Castle, we tried to cook Kamaboko, a fish-paste loaf, at Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum. Fish-paste loaf is one of the Japanese traditional foods. We ate it simply with soy sauce, mixed in salad or Oden, Japanese fish cake stew, in winter.
Suzuhiro is a traditional Kamaboko, a fish-paste loaf company in Odawara with over 150 years of history. The Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum provides a workshop to produce handmade Kamaboko. It takes 10 mins from Odawara Station to Kazamatsuri Station, located near the museum, by Hakone Tozan Line. I didn’t know how to cook Kamaboko before and the technique was more complicated than I had expected. The dough of fish was so soft and it was difficult to form the appropriate shape of Kamaboko. You can buy a kit to create Kamaboko at Suzuhiro Kamaboko Museum, but it is much easier to join the workshop to understand how to cook it. A prior reservation is needed though which can be made on the Suzuhiro website.