Welcome to Kochi Castle – one of the twelve original Japanese castles - over 400 years in origin and still intact, rising from the ashes of a big fire in 1727, surviving many natural disasters, the destruction of countless castles after the Meiji Restoration and the bombing of Kochi City during World War Two. Travel back in time a few hundred years and imagine you are an attacking samurai or ninja. Your mission is to reach the top of Kochi Castle tower and stand on the lookout platform enjoying the view! What is the best way to get there in one piece, and what obstacles stand in your way? How easy or difficult is it to successfully reach the inside of the castle and climb to its highest point successfully?
Do you have what it takes to conquer Kochi Castle? Let’s start the challenge!
Passing through the Otemon Gate
Here we are at the formidable otemon, the main gate of the castle. This is the oldest part of Kochi Castle, dating from 1664. From here we can see our goal, the tower, up to our left in the distance. This is one of the only spots in Japan where snap-happy tourists can get a unique shot incorporating both castle main gate and tower.
We must pass through this gate to enter the castle grounds but watch out for defenders dropping stones and boiling water from the second floor and shooting from the walls! Do you think you can survive this initial attack? Now, we are successfully through the gate, we must start climbing the first set of steps. Be careful, these stones were deliberately made uneven to deter invaders going up and aid protectors coming down, so watch your footing!
You may now be tempted, as a ninja, to save time and attempt to climb the castle walls. As you negotiate the huge slabs of stone, look out above for rocks thrown from dropping holes, and iron spikes set into the walls, perfect for repelling ninja! To be honest, even a highly-skilled climber would be hard pushed to get in that way – you better come down and try an alternative route! You might think that an easier way may be through the Tsumemon Gate directly in front of you, if you survive possible fire from three different directions before you even get there! However, even if the door is breached, it’s a trick and the path on the other side will lead you back outside the castle. Better to go around. This way will lead you to the top of the gate, from where you may enter the castle. The second-floor ceiling would be too low for drawn samurai swords though, so if you don’t have a shorter blade, a throwing star (shuriken) would be your best bet.
To the top!
Nowadays you need to pay a small fee to enter the castle proper, but it’s worth it to see all the buildings in the main citadel in their original state. Now we are inside, we can head towards the 18.5-meter tower, but before that there is another point of interest: the Lord's Reception Suite - Kochi Castle's one uniquely still remains. Imagine the lord sitting in his elevated chamber as befits his higher status. Vulnerable to attack you may think, but no!There are armed soldiers waiting to leap to his defence from a hidden room, which can now be seen by the public. Now, to the tower. There are six floors to negotiate, not four as it appears from outside, and the stairs are quite steep – be careful not to slip. We may pause on each floor on the way up to look out the windows and imagine the battle still raging below as we ascend. Finally, we reach the top! It’s not for the faint hearted with just a rail to stop you from falling, but the panoramic view is well worth it, with the mountains to the north and city to the south. The only regret is we don’t have an authentic costume to wear to celebrate our success!
After your exertions, you must be feeling hungry and thirsty. No problem! There are two great options nearby to solve this problem: The Sunday Market and Hirome Market (Hirome Ichiba).
Let us wander along Otesuji Street to the east of the castle and quench our thirst with a cup of refreshing yuzu juice and satisfy our rumbling stomach with a snack of deep-fried sweet potato!
Still hungry and perhaps requiring a drink of something stronger? Help is at hand at the Hirome Market and food court. With approx. 65 stalls and restaurants and a communal eating area in the center, this is the best place in Kochi to rub shoulders with the locals while sampling the local specialties. Grab some katsuo no tataki, tosamaki, deep fried chicken and a beer to wash it down with and soak up the lively atmosphere. Who knows, you may even bump into a real ninja!