Okazaki Castle is the symbol of the city, and for many years played a central role in the town's life. These days it is the centrepiece of Okazaki Park, a massively popular spot for hanami parties under the cherry blossoms and the wisteria flowers each spring, and the focus of the Ieyasu Gyoretsu parade in April, the famous Okazaki Fireworks festival each August, and the Autumn Civic Festival (Location).
The castle donjon is illuminated each night, and Okazaki simply wouldn't be the same without the pride the citizens take in the history of their castletown.
The castle was originally built by the warrior Saigo Tsugiyori in 1452, with control passing to the rising Matsudaira family when Matsudaira Kiyoyasu (Tokugawa Ieyasu's grandfather) captured the castle in 1524. At that stage the castle would have been a wooden fort with defensive earthworks, and recent research suggests that the original site of the castle was in nearby Myodaiji, with Matsudaira Kiyoyasu moving the fort to its current location when he took control of the region, probably forcing the relocation of the Inasaki Jinja shrine - where rice grown for the ceremonies at Ise Jingu was stored.
Its strategic location alone would have made Okazaki castle important, but its real claim to fame is as the birthplace of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Although the castle fell into the control of the neighboring Imagawa clan, from 1560 to 1590 Okazaki was the stronghold of Tokugawa Ieyasu, as he grew from being a historical footnote, to become the largest landholder in Japan. After he transferred his domains to the Kanto region in 1590, the new lord of the castle Tanaka Yoshimasa began to enlarge the precincts by adding the strong moats that we can see today. After the victory at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, control of the castle was given to Tokugawa loyalists such as Honda Yasunori, who in 1617 added the three level, five story donjon that dominated the city's skyline for the next 260 years. It was this donjon that can seen in photographs taken towards the end of the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate, and in the early Meiji period. Unfortunately, in 1873 the new Meiji government demolished the castle and sold many of the fittings for scrap. The castle had dominated Okazaki, the Tokaido, and the towns social, political and economic life for so long that it was greatly missed.
For the people of Okazaki it had played an important role in their cultural life and identity as a joukamachi - a castle town.
In 1959, the donjon was rebuilt according to its original scale and design, and it is the donjon that most people consider to be the castle, although in its heyday the moats and ramparts were what gave the castle its strength. In addition, a gate and museum have been added. The museum details the life of the people during the period, although the balance of the rich collection of exhibits tends to be focused on the weaponry and the role played by Tokugawa Ieyasu and his warriors in ending the long period of civil war - this is after all a castle that amongst many other things, has a monument dedicated to the umbilical cord of the town's most famous son.
The grounds of the castle are extensive. It includes the oldest municipal Noh theater in Japan and a great way to experience traditional Japanese ‘Kabuki’ theater in the outdoors. With the idea of faithfully invoking the ambiance of the traditional theater, it was constructed by leading craftsmen throughout the country. Positioned inside a small courtyard, the atmosphere is further enhanced due to the impressive backdrop of the Castle. Open throughout the year, with the exception of the New Year Holiday (29th December - 1st January) tickets are typically 3000-4000 yen depending on the performance. Contact number (0564) 23-6250.
Just in front of the Castle (on the opposite side of the bridge) is the beautiful Okazaki Park Tea room (Kishoan). Primarily designed to offer visitors the chance to study the ancient practice of Tea Ceremony the class length can run from three hours to a whole day. It is also open to visitors who would just like a quick refreshment during their stroll in the park and sells a range of traditional Japanese teas. Prices for tea ceremony tuition start from 3,150 yen for a three hour course. For regular customers, the tea room is open from 10am – 4pm.
Situated just next to Okazaki Park and ten minutes walk from the Higashi Okazaki Train Station the Iyeyasu and Mikawa Bushi Museum tells the story of two of Aichi's most influential Samurai clans – the Genji and the Ashikaga clan. The Museum is split into five sections which chronicle the rise and lasting influence of Shogun Iyeyasu - the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The museum itself is quite small but is well supplied with artifacts from the era. Although foreign visitors are supplied with an English brochure on admission, the exhibits themselves unfortunately are displayed solely in Japanese. General admission is 350 yen or 500 yen if you include entrance to the Castle. The museum is open throughout the year (except for the New Year Holiday 29th December - 3rd January). Opening hours are from 9am to 5pm, with the last admission at 4:30. For more details, please contact (0564) 24-2204.