Let’s face it, people around the world are into Japanese castles. Remember the movie Ronin? There’s a great scene when the main characters are hiding out in the house of a wealthy Frenchman who has a complete model of the story of Chūshingura where forty-seven masterless samurai avenge their murdered lord. It’s a great scene that shows how fascinated people are with the history of Japan and its castles. Just think of how the Kurokawa movies influenced George Lucas in his approach to storytelling in the Star Wars movie franchise.
When visitors come to Okayama City, they want to see Okayama Castle, reconstruction or not, because it is true to the original. Travelers with limited time are often content to skip Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Takahashi most likely because they haven’t been made aware of the spectacular qualities of the castle in the sky.
I was in that category until I finally decided to look into the place and more importantly how to get there. You can get there pretty efficiently by bus but I went by car because I had serious time constraints. I over-relied on my mobile’s GPS and ended up being taken around in a few circles but I eventually made it to the monkey guarded road that leads to the castle.
After a pretty serious hike up to the castle which is 430 meters in elevation by the way, I realized why it is so special. For one, the local people fought to preserve it, putting up their own money and labor in the early stages of restoration. Secondly, its location defines its purpose. It is wonderfully remote, so you can just imagine that this would have been amplified hundreds of years ago.
The amount of effort it takes to get to the castle probably creates the mood to explore every aspect of the grounds while you are there. It certainly did for me. The site has two main structures, with the smaller rear structure offering the best view.
The funny thing for me was that I remember thinking that I could see myself living here. You know that feeling you get when you come across a cool place and you start imagining what it would be like to live there. Well, I went through all of that.
One of the reasons is that Bitchu Matsuyama is actually understated if you compare it to some of the other castles around Japan. It is easy to imagine living in it even though, unlike Europe, that’s not really done in Japan.
Anyway, it’s definitely worth a visit and I would even say visit Bitchu Matsuyama Castle before Okayama Castle to get a real feel for the feudal history of this prefecture.