If you’ve read the Harry Potter series, then you’re probably familiar with Durmstrang Institute – a perfectly hidden school in the mountains for dark witches and wizards. If this school were to exist in real life, I think I’ve found the perfect place for it – Japan’s Takeda Castle. This spectacular castle is located in Hyogo Prefecture in the Wadayamacho district of Asago. It was constructed centuries ago on the summit of a 1000 foot high mountain. Today, the ruins of the castle run a quarter of a mile long and over 300 foot wide.
Takeda Castle is special because of the breathtaking view it presents on autumn mornings (between sunrise and 8 am). That’s when a thick mist hangs over the sky because of a sharp drop in overnight temperatures. The effect created by the mist is truly breathtaking – like a castle in the sky, floating on clouds. The entire site is often referred to as Japan’s Machu Picchu, after the majestic mountain ruins of Peru. The castle, in all its beauty and ancient glory, attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The number of visitors began to grow after the site was featured in a 2012 Japanese film called ‘Anata e’.
Photo: Heart of Japan
It is believed that a daimyo lord of the Yamana samurai constructed Takeda Castle in 1443. History tells us that the castle has changed hands several times since its construction, before Hirohide Akamatsu was appointed its lord in the year 1600. Hirohide was a soldier who fought for ruler Ieyasu Tokugawa during the battle of Sekigahara. Unfortunately, within a year’s time, Hirohide committed Seppuku, a Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment reserved for the samurai. He was the castle’s last known owner – the premises were abandoned shortly after his death.
Photo: Hyogo Tourism Association
It’s inevitable that a structure as old as Takeda Castle would start to show signs of degradation. In order to help preserve it better, local authorities are now charging a fee of 300 yen to enter the castle, which is a 40 minute hike from the foot of the mountain. While autumn (September to November) is naturally the best time to visit, some people like to see it during cherry blossom season. That’s when a burst of pink sakura trees brighten up the castle grounds, symbolizing the short, strong lives of samurai warriors.
The ‘cloud sea’ phenomenon taking place at Takeda Castle is not entirely unique in Japan. The Unkkai Terrace of Tomamu, in Hokkaido, is also famous for its stunning views from above the clouds.
Photo: Four Seasons in Japan