Kumamoto Castle is the third largest castle in Japan and one of its most popular historic sites. Originally built in the early 1600s by renowned castle architect Kato Kiyomasa, the fortification was burnt during the Seinan Civil War in 1877 and again sustained damage in the powerful earthquakes of 2016.
Though an earlier fortification had stood on the site since the mid-1400s, the foundations for the current incarnation of Kumamoto Castle were first laid in 1600 by local warlord Kato Kiyomasa. Having studied castle design during Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Korea campaign, Kato constructed some of the most impressive defensive walls in the nation at his new fortress. The Kato family was replaced as lords of the region a mere half-century later and the castle came under the control of the Hosokawa clan. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, samurai leader Saigo Takamori laid siege to the fortress. Despite his efforts, the inhabitants outlasted him, though the main keep mysteriously burned during the struggle. A new main tower was built in 1960, which houses a history museum and an observation deck on the top level.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the top spots for hanami, or cherry blossom viewing, in late March and early April. Around 800 sakura bloom around the Kumamoto Castle Park, drawing thousands of picnickers to enjoy the colorful spring scene.
Visitors to the city can learn a bit more about Kato’s castle building techniques, among other things, at the Wakuwaku-za, a cultural complex located in the Josaien complex at the base of the castle. An assortment of shops and restaurants make this a good stop for locally-themed souvenirs or lunch; local delicacies here include horsemeat croquettes, spicy lotus root tempura, and a vermicelli noodle dish known as taipien.
In April 2016, the Mashiki district of Kumamoto city was struck by two severe earthquakes. The disasters caused damage to several of the original watchtowers, and many of the rooftiles on the main keep were dislodged. The castle is currently closed to visitors while a 20-year renovation process is carried out. Specialists are attempting to use traditional methods and techniques to restore the castle, making it a vital project in understanding the castle construction of the feudal era. However, parts of the main keep and grounds will open for a limited time during the World Rugby Championships in October 2019.