The history of Odawara Castle actually began in the 15th century with a stronghold built by the Omori Clan. After Hojo Soun conquered the area in 1495, he and his ancestors gradually expanded the castle as the Hojo clan gained power. At the height of their power, the Hojo controlled much of the Kanto area with support castles on the fringes in modern day Chiba, Ibaraki, Saitama, and Kanagawa prefectures.
Odawara Castle faced three major attacks by Uesugi Kenshin in 1561, Takeda Shingen in 1569 and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590. The last siege by Toyotomi Hideoyoshi was the end of the Hojo clan's supremacy and the castle was turned over to Tokugawa Ieyasu.
As the threat from Hideyoshi grew, the Hojo built out a great defensive perimeter, called the Sogamae (総構), around the castle consisting of over 9km of trenches and embankments. Most of the trenches were deep and had shojibori type defensive structures. They extend from the ocean in a horseshoe shaped ring up into the mountains around the castle providing very strong defenses and good lookouts in the mountains to watch over the gathering forces. This defensive perimeter was so impressive the idea was copied by some of the generals that participated in the siege and most notably by Hideyoshi himself in the design of the O-doi in Kyoto.
In Hideyoshi's Siege of Odawara, he brought many his generals from around the country with about 200,000 troops to bear on Odawara Castle. In the leadup to the siege, the various generals took over Hojo castles and strongholds on their way to Odawara. As Hideyoshi closed the net around Odawawa he flaunted his strength by creating an almost festival like atmosphere with performances and tea ceremonies and he even brought in his concubine (Yodo-dono) and tea master (Sen no Rikyu). Hideyoshi's stronghold for this siege was Ishigakiyama Castle which had a good view over the wider Odawara area. Hojo eventually conceded his defeat and turned over the castle with little bloodshed.
Once Tokugawa Ieyasu took control of the castle, he stationed his vassal Okubo Tadayo as castle lord. Okubo reduced the size of the castle from the Hojo days because it representated a threat to the Tokugawa power. The Okubo family ruled over Odawara for the entire Edo Period except for a brief period in the 1700's. The castle was dismantled in 1870.
Odawara Castle is probably the best example of a castle to visit in the immediate Tokyo area. I also think it tends to not get as much credit as it deserves when people compare it to the likes of Nagoya Castle, Osaka Castle, Okayama Castle and some of the other large reconstructions. The Umadashi Bailey and associated gates are brilliant reconstructions of this elaborate defensive design ond a one of a kind reconstruction.
The museum has been recently renovated with great new exhibits. In particular I appreciated that they have a book of all the exhibits, not just the artifacts but the information panels and displays, which is something I always thought museums should do.
Odawara Castle is like getting two castles for the price of one. The main keep, moats and other great reconstructions of the central compound are what most people are familiar with. While this was the center of the Hojo's castle, structures of this type were not from the Hojo's time. They are Edo Period structures. The Odawara Castle of the Hojo was mostly built over by a new Edo Period castle, but the outer ring of defenses, called the Sogamae, were mostly abandoned after the Siege of Odawara. These classic examples of Hojo type earthworks in the mountains surrounding the city are well preserved in many places today. Here is a good map of the castle and sogamae ruins. Despite visiting twice in the autumn of 2019, I still didn't make it around to all the remnants of this great castle.
The castle is still undergoing study and they are constantly improving the site. Recent efforts have focused on the Sogamae developing parks at the Shinbori Dorui and Hachimanyama East Bailey. Current studies are closer to the inner compounds looking at the Goyomai Bailey. Gardens, stone paths and shojibori moats have been uncovered around this bailey. I really hope they are developed for castles fans to enjoy.
Odawara also provides some apps to help increase your enjoyment of your trip to Odawara.
- Odawara Sampo - Odawara Walking Courses this page on the castle site only lists the Japanese version but here is a link to the English version for iOS - these walking courses include 2 versions that will take you to parts of the Sogamae too.
- Guide to Castle Exhibits - you need to be at the museum for this one to work properly
|English Name||Odawara Castle|
|Castle Condition||Reconstructed main keep|
|Designations||Top 100 Castles, Top 100 Mountaintop Castles, National Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Edo Period|
|Main Keep Structure||3 levels, 4 stories plus one below ground|
|Year Reconstructed||1960 (concrete)|
|Features||main keep, gates, turrets, bridges, water moats, trenches, stone walls, walls|
|Access||Odawara Station (Tokaido Line), 10 minute walk|
|Visitor Information||Open 9am-5pm; Closed Dec31-Jan1; 510 yen|
|Time Required||120 mins (inner park only)|
|Location||Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture|
|Coordinates||35° 15' 3.10" N, 139° 9' 14.04" E|
|Added to Jcastle||1999|
|Admin Year Visited||1999, 2009, 2010, 2019|
|Admin Visits||May 1999; October 12, 2009; April 3, 2010; October 21, 2019; December 5, 2019|
|Friends of JCastle|
|Shirobito - Odawara Castle|
|Kojodan - Odawara Castle|
|Jokaku Horoki - Odawara Castle|
|Oshiro Meguri Fan - Odawara Castle|
|Ken's Castle Storage - Odawara Castle|