20 Castle Stamp Rally

Way back in April, I came across a flyer at one of the highway rest areas. Well, it wasn't actually a flyer. It was a Stamp Rally, and these things are pretty popular in Japan.

Castle Stamp Rally お城スタンプラリー

A Stamp Rally is a flyer or sheet of paper with a bunch of empty squares. Each empty square indicates a location. When you go to each of the locations there's a rubber stamp. And you stamp the image into the empty square on your Stamp Rally sheet. Also, rather than locations, sometimes a Stamp Rally can happen at just one location, but the rubber stamps change each week. Once collect all (or most of) the stamps, you turn in your sheet for a fabulous prize. Or sometimes it's just a chance to win a prize.

You can usually find these things at festivals. Several local merchants might get together, and make a stamp rally to jointly advertise their stores. Sometimes towns might create a stamp rally to advertise all their historical landmarks. No matter what the subject, it all comes down to advertising.

The Stamp Rally that I found was to visit 20 of the Japanese castles in the Chubu region of Japan. As I later found out, these aren't Chubu's only castles, but this Stamp Rally fell in line with a secret item on my bucket list.

Visiting Castles!

After visiting a couple of castles in Kyushu, I bought a book that listed all of the currently standing castles in Japan, as well as sites of ruined castles. I thought it would be a fun idea to visit every single one of these throughout the course of my life, so I (mentally) added it to my bucket list.

Though, after visiting 5 castles in Kansai over the course of one vacation, this goal began to feel a bit shallow. What did I really hope to gain from visiting all these places? How was this going to better my life? This was more of an exercise in quantity, than quality. I didn't care or remember enough of the history to make these visits actually worthwhile. I just liked the aesthetic. But, in that case, once you've seen a couple of castles, you've mostly seen them all.

Also, not all Japanese castles are built the same these days. Some castles still hold the wooden forms and original design, like Himeji 姫路 and Inuyama 犬山. Others are modern buildings in the shape of the original castle, like Osaka 大阪.

Anyway!

Visiting all these castles seemed like a fun idea, and even though it emphasized quantity over quality, the journey itself held fulfillment of its own. Plus! If you get all 20, you get some kind of prize! Fuck it, let's do this. There's a 8 month time limit, so there's plenty of time.

I'm going to list these in my own personal visiting order, sorted by different trips.

Trip #1 - May 4th

After obtaining the stamp rally card in April, the Golden Week string of holidays was the first chance I had to actually go somewhere outside of Takayama. So, I went down to Toyama to do a little shopping, and collect the first stamp on my card.

1. Toyama Castle 富山城

Compared to other castles I've been to before, the Toyama castle is pretty boring. The castle is not an original, and it's pretty small, too. It's a modern building with a full museum stuffed inside of it. The museum shows the lineage of the ruling class, and how the city looked back in its castle days.

The observation deck is on the 4th floor pretty close to the ground, and you can't really see anything from up there. You only over look the castle park, and part of the main street that connects to the castle. You could see more of Toyama City, if you went to the top floor of one of the nearby hotels.

And with the museum inside bulging the building to the left and right, the building itself loosely resembles a castle.

When I went there, another castle-like building was under construction, so maybe they have future plans to extend the park into a much larger complex. But, for now it's kinda dumb.

X. Kamioka Castle 神岡城



On the way back to Toyama, I stopped at Kamioka castle. This was not on my Stamp Rally card, but the weather cleared up, and you get fantastic view on the small valley town.

The castle is pretty small, and it's also not the original. It's fully plaster and cement, and has several museum cases with armor, weapons, and relics. Additionally, admission to the castle includes access to the folk museum, and a restored thatched-roof Hida home.

Trip #2 - May 17th

In the middle of May, I joined many other ALTs on a tour of Inuyama, hosted by Mr. Anthony Bianci, the first American ever elected to public office in Japan. He took us to his most favorite places along the historical road in Inuyama, which led to the castle.

15. Inuyama Castle 犬山城



Inuyama is one of the four castles in Japan regarded as a "national treasure" and listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Inuyama is 100% wood, and holds the exact original design it had from those hundreds of years ago. Which means there are very steep staircases, and a beautiful of Inuyama City and the surrounding areas.

From the top of the castle, you can see all the way to Nagoya City on a clear day, and directly across the river is Gifu prefecture, so you can see all the way there, too.

With the view, the original design and style, and the historical atmosphere of the Inuyama streets, this castle is definitely one of my favorites. And well worth the visit.

Trip #3 - June 25th

On this particular day, the teachers of Takayama held several demonstration classes in various schools throughout the city. The English teachers were separated into 2 groups, and my group visited Shokawa Junior High School to observe a class. Being in such close proximity to Gujo, I decided to jet down there, visit the castle, and achieve my third stamp.

9. Gujo Hachiman Castle 郡上八幡城



This is one of the most visible castles on this list. The Gujo Hachiman Castle towers over Hachiman City, and can easily be seen in most areas. Hachiman itself is another valley town, like Kamioka. It's surrounded by massive towering mountains, and the Hachiman Castle rests on the top of one in the middle of town.

From the castle, you can see just about everywhere in town. I happened to get there around 5pm, right when the sun begins to set, so it looked beautiful. :)

Inside the castle, there's still some wooden supports, and construction, but it's not an original like Inuyama. Some plaster and cement keep the building together, and survive the winter months. Inside, there's plenty of the usually artifacts: armor, weapons, etc.

But, I think the view is what you're there for. There's also a nearby museum. And you can buy a combo tickets for both the castle and museum at a discount. Parking isn't too bad either. On a weekday, when no one's there, you can drive all the way up the mountain to the castle and park for free. Otherwise, if it's busy, I think both parking and getting up there will be very difficult.

Trip #4 - August 9th

So far, all my trips have been incidental or convenient. But with only 3 stamps, I had to start actually planning trips to visit more castles in order to complete the rally. Most of the castles are located in the central Chubu area in Gifu and Aichi. Next, I decided to travel to Nagano prefecture, and take care of the northeastern most outlying castles.

Both the following two castles lie 2 hours east of Takayama. Thanks to the incoming typhoon, I had a completely free day, so I hopped in my car and made my way east.

5. Takashima Castle 高島城



First, I visited the most eastern and outlying castle, Takashima. I think for many people, it's a simple rest-stop on the way to Tokyo from Matsumoto or Nagano. Takashima sits in a flat area nestled between a few mountains. There's a beautiful rather large lake in the middle of town that's perfect for a nice relaxing day of boating, or whatever.

Takashima Castle sits in the middle of town, not too far away from the lake, but somewhat far away from the highway. It does have a nice park area that leverages the stonewalls of the original castle. There's a quaint pond, with some ridiculous looking ducks. It's a nice area.

Inside, Takashima is yet another museum castle, but the building itself is a bit older, and showing some age. The castle probably doesn't rake in as many tourists as they'd like, so maintenance has fallen by the wayside. It's a little sad.

From the top, you can look around and see most of Takashima city, but there are several high-rising hotels that block some of your view. But really, there's not a lot to see. Takashima really just feels like a town, rather than a city. Some people come here to vacation on the weekends because of the lake, but that's really the only attraction. Takashima doesn't feel like a tourist city.

4. Matsumoto Castle 松本城

After Takashima, I rode back north to Matsumoto castle. This castle sits in the middle of Matsumoto city and, much like Inuyama castle, it's a completely original recreation. It's one of the other 4 "nation treasures" and UNESCO world heritage sites, too. The black castle looks amazing from the outside, and the inside is completely wooden and shows off the original designs for several rooms.

I've been here before, but on this particular day, it was massively crowded. It was a Saturday, and during summer vacation. There were so many people, that they were only allowing so many people in the castle at a time. And the line to wait was over one hour long. Fuck that. It was hot outside, and with the looming typhoon, rain was on its way. I've been inside before, so I decided to skip it.

Given the distance from most usually destinations in Japan, I'm not sure if I would recommend taking the time to see it, though. Inuyama is more conveniently located. Same with Hikone. There are some decent restaurants in Matsumoto, though. There's an amazing ramen restaurant just down the street from the castle. There are options for shopping, too, but nothing you couldn't find in a larger city.

Though, I dunno. Maybe the drive to Matsumoto is worth it. I live in Takayama, so my drive is a bit more unique than most other's in Japan. Living in Takayama, I think the drive is absolutely worth it. There are plenty of hairpin turns as you go up and down several mountains. There are several old tunnels that are almost too small for the highway busses to squeeze through. So much so that you fear crashing into one as they pass by. The scenery is gorgeous.

Maybe stopping at Matsumoto on the way to Nagano is a viable option. But, I haven't been to Nagano yet, so I cannot comment.

Trip #5 - August 13th

With five stamps complete, most of the northern outlying castles have been stamped. For this trip, I decided to do the exact same thing as the last trip, except travel west to Fukui prefecture. I left around 11am after finishing some work at school in the morning. This was my first time going to Fukui prefecture, and the drive from Shirotori 白鳥 west was absolutely stunning. Beautiful high mountain roadways with amazing views, and several windy forested mountain roads in Fukui. And no where NEAR as dangerous as the roads east to Matsumoto.

As the mountains began to level off, I was met by beautiful green farm land. Many of the towns I drove through were very similar to Nyukawa and Kamitakara in Takayama. Just clumped together houses forming neighborhoods. The remnants of old settlements.

Ono City was the first really large cluster of homes and buildings on my decent from the mountains, and the Ono Castle was visible quite earlier on.

3. Echizen Ono Castle 越前大野城



It was pretty easy to find the castle since I saw it from so far away. Ono City is another flat area surrounded by mountains. And the Ono castle sits on a rather prominent hill in the middle of the beautiful green area. Getting to the castle was easy, but actually finding the parking area took a few minutes. It was right next to the entrance, but there weren't any signs directly pointing to any of it.

The parking area was on the street level, so to reach the castle required some hiking up the castle hill. I think it took me 10 minutes to get up there. Once again, Ono Castle was another recreation that housed a museum with the same things you come to expect.

The view from Ono Castle was quite beautiful. Being able to see the castle from far away was definitely a good sign. :) You could completely see all of Ono City. And actually unique to Ono Castle, much of the visible terrain from the castle was farm land. Beautiful green farm land from the rice fields. Hopefully, I captured some of that atmosphere in my photos.

I would recommend visiting Ono Castle for the view. No other castle on this list is surrounded by such an open fertile area. I think I will come back here next spring and see what the area looks like before everything is planted. And surrounded by sakura trees, too. :)

2. Maruoka Castle 丸岡城



The trip from Ono City to Maruoka City was rather nice. Ono City lied at the end of a highway bypass, so traveling to Maruoka felt like an everyday commute for most people in the city. My path diverged a little bit, though, to avoid the tollways.

Maruoka Castle rested in a very nice park in the middle of a neighborhood. And there was definitely a clear division where the park ended and the neighborhood began. Not much of the surrounding area had a lot of trees. It was grey grey grey, then green, somewhat out of nowhere.

I circled the park until I found the official parking lot. It looked like a general rest area, though. Next to the parking lot was a large building that contained a few restaurants, and a few gift shops. There was plenty of tourist information, too.

Past the building, and up the greeny hill stood the dark wooden castle. It was rather small, but it was an original wooden design. :) Inside housed several relics and photos. The stairs leading to the upper levels were very steep. They provided ropes to help make the climb. The elderly people there had a difficult time with it.

From the top, you could see quite a bit of Maruoka, including the high school under construction directly next door. The city looked nice. To the east you could see the beautiful mountains. And to the west (on a normal clear day), you could see the Sea of Japan. Overall, it was very nice. :)

Next…

I was still at Maruoka Castle, and it was a little after 3pm. I had 7 stamps, and 13 castles remaining on my list. Nagahama was the nearest castle to me, but it was still more than one hour away. Almost all these castles close at 4:30pm, so I would be cutting it close.

Fuck it… Let's go. I took to the highway, and flew down south to greet the castle. Driving in Japan under a strict time limit almost never works. There's always too many people driving too slow, or blocking traffic by turning across traffic, or every single stop light showing red.

20. Nagahama Castle 長浜城

I made it to Nagahama around 4:30pm, and found the castle, but trying to find the parking area was annoying. I came in from the north, and there were signs for parking, but they led me all around the park area to the south. And then it took me another 10 minutes to walk all the way back to the castle.

I arrived around 4:55pm, and people were still exited the castle. I went in, and all the attendants politely said, "Sorry, we're closed." But not to fret. Right next to the door where I was standing was the castle stamp! I was not able to explore the castle, and take any panoramic photos, but I did complete the most basic requirement for coming here. I walked around and took some photos of the outside, though.

Nagahama Castle rests on the beach of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It's not as large as any of the great lakes in the US, but Lake Biwa could be considered a great lake relative to the average size of a Japanese prefecture. The day was still somewhat hazy, but I could not see across.

I did not stay in Nagahama for very long, so I didn't really get a sense of the city at all. There were plenty of high rising hotel on the lakeside, though. I returned to Takayama since I needed to be at school in the morning.

Trip #6 (Day 1) - August 14th

I got home around 9pm, and started planning a route to visit the remaining 12 castles. The 3 castles in Gifu city were mostly clumped together. So were the 3 Nagoya castles. The 3 castles in Shizuoka formed a nice straight line with Okazaki castle, too. That left Hikone and Iga Ueno castles which were mostly near each other in the west. Here's the map: click! So, I formed the following plan:

I had to work for an hour in the morning. After that, I would visit the Gifu castles, then Hikone, and finish the day with Iga Ueno. I made a reservation for a hotel close to the Koyama castle, the furthest southern-eastern castle, would start there the next day, and visit all the remaining castles throughout the day.

The next morning, my student canceled on me, so that gave me an extra hour to get down to Gifu castle, and start crossing castles off my list.

6. Gifu Castle 岐阜城

Out of all the castles on the list, I wanted to visit this one the most. It's an icon for most of the city. Much like the Gujo and Ono castles, Gifu castle sits on a large mountain in the middle of the flat town, and can be seen from almost anywhere in the somewhat sprawling city. From the first time I saw the castle, I wanted to go there. It's the most beautiful view in all of the city.

Unfortunately, the weather was not on my side. Low lying clouds covered the mountain, and the castle. You could barely see the castle from the city. And when I actually got up the mountain, I was completely immersed in clouds. It was difficult to get any decent photos.

This castle itself was another plaster cement museum, but the view was absolutely worth it. Or it would've been if I could've seen more than just a fraction of the city. The hike up the mountain was rather fun and beautiful, too. I will definitely return to Gifu castle in the fall or the spring, and write a full blog post about it. But, for now, I got my stamp and continued on my way.

8. Sunomata Ichiya Castle 墨俣一夜城



After leaving Gifu castle, I followed along the north bank of the Sai river until I found the Sunomata castle just 20 minutes away. If it weren't for the clouds still covering the mountain, you could easily see Gifu castle from this point.

There were almost no people here compared to Gifu castle. As I left Gifu castle, the line for the gondola was out the door. It was probably a 40 minute wait. Sunomata castle had open street parking right in front of the castle. Simple.

Inside was another modern museum. The observation deck gave a nice view of the river and nearby Pachinko parlors, but nothing substantial. If I wasn't there just to get a stamp, I probably wouldn't have spent any more time there anyway. It was mostly forgettable.

7. Ogaki Castle 大垣城



I originally planned on leaving Ogaki castle for very last since it was located next to the office where I needed to turn in my stamp card. But with an extra hour in the morning, I decided to get it over with.

Ogaki castle stood in the middle of Ogaki city, and was over-shadowed but almost every building surrounding it. I couldn't even see the castle until I turned the corner and was right next to it. I had a little trouble trying to find parking for the place. I eventually found a parking lot a few blocks away. Then it started to rain.

Ogaki again was another museum, but this museum had a lot more hands-on exhibits. There were several interactive stations set up for anyone to watch videos explaining the castle, or answers trivia questions. There was a rather large diorama setup downstairs with figures showing off the daily life of historic Japan. And they had a bow and gun setup for anyone to hold, and pretend to fire.

At the top of the castle, you could look around and view the neighboring buildings. But there really wasn't much of a view. It's the same thing you'd see if you went into any other building in the city.

Upon leaving the castle, someone stole my umbrella from the stand. So, I wasted 40 minutes going to a nearby department store to buy a new one. Then I made my way to Hikone castle.

19. Hikone Castle 彦根城



I made it to Hikone castle around 2:30pm. Much like Inuyama and Matsumoto, Hikone Castle is another of the 4 "national treasures" and UNESCO world heritage sites. The fourth one is Himeji Castle, by the way. This place was super crowded, and traffic was rather backed up trying to get in.

Hikone Castle was a rather large complex with several buildings you could walk through. There was a separate building for the museum, too. To get to the castle itself, you had to make your way up the castle steps, and across a bridge into the castle's courtyard. The castle was pretty plain looking from the outside once I got up there. There was a huge line of people waiting to get in, but with my time table, I could not afford to go inside. The courtyard gave a pretty nice west view, though.

The stamp was actually right next to the ticket counter, so I already had what I came for. Maybe some day I'll come back here, but returning to Gifu castle is higher on my list. I got back in my car, and started making the 1 hour 30 minute fast track to Ueno Castle before it closed.

18. Iga Ueno Castle 伊賀上野城



The road to Iga from Hikone was not a smooth one. There's no highway or bypass. The road cut through the country and some smaller cities. It felt a lot like some of the backroads I used to drive when I was in college, along the Mississippi river from Platteville riding north to Rochester. It was really nice. But, it took a really long time.

Iga is a city similar to Ono in scope. It's a town further inland away from any metropolis. I'm sure a lot of the residents use the nearby bypass to commute to work every day or every week. I arrived at the Iga Castle around 4:30pm, closing time. And I found parking without too much trouble.

The castle was surrounded by a densely forested park. I looked at the map, and followed the signs and made it to the castle. Some people were still inside, but the front gate was closed. Shit. I waited for some people to leave, then I made my entrance. Last entrance was at 4:30pm, but the place was still open until 5pm. They didn't let me in the castle, but I was able to get my stamp, and a pamphlet. Close enough. I took a few photos, and then left.

Next…

With all the castles closed for the day, my next task was the travel all the way east to Kakegawa where I reserved a hotel for the evening. This was 3 1/2 hours away by using the toll road. The drive was actually rather awesome, with the exception of the traffic jam from Kameyama all the way to Yokaichi.

Once I passed Yokaichi, it was quite smooth. The highway opened up to 3 lanes, and I took the Isewangan Expressway that bypassed Nagoya city. This stretch of highway is incredible at night. There are so many lights and colors along this stretch of road. There's an amusement park completely lit up. There are several ferris wheels pulsating with color. The massive suspension bridges glow white and blue. And there's so much variety in the guard railing and barriers. Plus, being the middle of summer, there were fireworks in the sky nearby.

This photo is the exit at the end of the highway. It does not capture the amazing blue and green lights randomly sprinkled through the road. It's amazing. I need to do more road trips in Japan.

I finally made it to my hotel in Kakegawa around 9:30pm. I was tired, and I was beat from sitting on my ass all day. My plan for the next day was to wake up around 6:30am, take a shower, pack up everything, eat some of the free breakfast at 7:00am. Then make it to Koyama Castle by 8am when it opens.

Trip #6 (Day 2) - August 14th

Even though, I was beaten and tired, I was fully recharged and ready to tackle my final 7 castles. I saved all the locations on my Google Maps, so I could easily find them. I also wrote down all the travel times between the locations to get a sense of timing. Between all the locations was about 4 1/2 hours worth of travel time. This only gave me about 3 1/2 hours of "business" time at each location to find parking, get to the castle, take photos, and find the stamp. For the 7 castles that about 30 minutes each.

I took my shower, ate my breakfast, stopped at a convenience to bandage a terrible blister on my ankle, then went to Yoshida city, which houses the Koyama Castle.

12. Koyama Castle 小山城


Well, I made one mistake. The castles don't open at 8am. They open at 9am. I made it directly to the castle gates one hour early. With an hour to kill, I went back to my car and got a full tank of gas. Then I walked around the castle for a while, and took plenty of photos.

Around 8:45am, they opened the gates, but the entrance was still closed. But! Right inside the gates was the stamp. I thought about it for a minute, and decided to get my stamp and leave for the next castle. I did not have any extra time to spend waiting.

It seemed like another museum castle, though. The surrounding area was pretty nice. Koyama sat on the top of the hill in the middle of vast plains. There was lots of farm land, and the Pacific Ocean wasn't too far away, either. Yoshida was a very small town, with lots of area. Very rural, but almost no natural barriers at all to shield from the Pacific winds.

Honestly, I don't think I'll ever get a chance to come back here. It's by far the furthest castle away from my house, and the castle is the only landmark in the town. It's a footnote on the highway from Tokyo to Nagoya. I wish I would've been able to take some panoramic shots, though. I got in my car and went back to Kakegawa for the castle.

11. Kakegawa Castle 掛川城



I got back to Kakegawa around 9:30am, and it took me FOREVER to find parking for this goddamn place. I finally found a city parking ramp a few blocks away. I should've just parked at the museum, which was equally far, but found it a lot more sooner.

Kakegawa is basically a road stop between Tokyo and Nagoya. The town is centered around the shinkansen station, which is where my hotel is. The castle is about a kilometer north of the station. There are plenty of gift shops, and restaurants around there, too. It's a really nice area.

The castle towers over most of these stores, and is quite visible in this part of the town. It's on top of a grassy hill. And from the observation deck, you can see the entire town. Also, on a clear day, you can view Mt. Fuji, too! The castle is completely wooden, too. :) It's very nice.

The admission for the ticket includes a walk through the palace resting near the base of the hill. The museum is nearby, too, but you need to buy a combo ticket for entry. The rally stamp was located in the palace, which took me a little while to find.

Kakegawa Castle was quite nice. Great scenery, great castle, and lot's of places to visit within the castle courtyard.

10. Hamamatsu Castle 浜松城



Next, I hit the highway again, and went to Hamamatsu. Hamamatsu is an actual metropolis style city. Large and full of high-rises. Huge streets, with lots of taxi cabs. The city had plenty of people walking around. There were many stores, and restaurants. Almost no hints of economic depression. It felt vibrant, and healthy. The city felt big, but it probably wasn't all that big.

The castle was on the south end of a very large city park, near several hotels. I could not find parking. I eventually parked at the city pool which was near the park, but still took me about 15 minutes to walk to the castle.

The castle was another museum castle. Lots of armor and weapons and stuff. The view from the top wasn't all the great. The large buildings of the city choked any view the castle had from back in the day. Several building had tennis courts on the roof. There were pools, and a few helicopter landing pads.

Meh, this castle was ok. On to the next.

14. Okazaki Castle 岡崎城



This was the easiest castle to get to. The highway exit led straight the castle, and the parking lot was clearly marked and easily accessed from the road. Simple.

Part of the castle was under construction, but the main building was ok. Inside, the building was hosting part of an exhibit comparing swords in Manga and real life. The rest of the exhibit was in the nearby museum. It would've been nice if they offered an exhibition book for purchase. Oh well… maybe they did at the museum.

At the observation deck, you could view a lot of the city, most of which was free of any trees. You could see the Okazaki station, and several trains entering and exiting. Also, they had a fun activity upstairs where you could roll paint different colors on a small paper and recreate a woodblock painting. Mine turned out ok.

Anyway, it was 1pm and I had 3 more castles to visit. Nagoya was next, and it was over an hour away.

13. Nagoya Castle 名古屋城

Getting to Nagoya Castle wasn't too difficult, but trying to park took up some time. The main parking ramp was completely full and there was a line of cards waiting for entry. After waiting in line for about 10 minutes and not moving, I spotted some parking spots across the street. Much easier. I parked on the street, and walked back to the castle park.

There were having some kind of fair that day. There was a bouncy castle, and plenty of beer booths. There were several lines of people waiting to get their face painted, and take photos with samurai. I walked towards the castle and took my photos. I had already found the stamp at the entrance gate.

It was 2:30pm. I had 2 hours to visit 2 more castles on my list. Sure they were nearby, but I had no idea what other nonsense might stand in my way. So, I turned around and left. I think I'll come back to Nagoya Castle again, though. Maybe I could visit it on the same day as Gifu Castle.

17. Kiyosu Castle 清洲城



Kiyosu Castle was a mere 20 minutes away. There was some traffic, but I stuck with the most direct route. The parking lot was easy to find, and there were plenty of spaces open. The area seemed like it used to be some kind of theme park, but now only the castle stands in its place.

Kiyosu Castle was another museum style building, but it had a lot colorful exhibits showing off the clothing, tools, and daily life of the Japanese people just a few hundred years ago. It was really nice. :) It was definitely aimed at children.

From the top, you could watch skinkansen trails roll by, and see the downtown area in the distance. The same downtown area I saw from the Inuyama Castle above. Over all, it was a very nice museum. It wasn't wooden, but it was quite unique from the standard cement and plaster buildings that simple shove relics into glass cases. This was very modern, and had a clear aim to educate its audience in a different way. It was nice. :) I would definitely recommend taking a look if you're in Nagoya.

19 castles complete, and 1 remains.

16. Mt. Komaki Castle 小牧山城



Much like Gifu castle, Komaki Castle sits on the top of a large hill surrounded by a flat sprawling city scape. The hill is so large, you can see Komaki for several kilometers away. It made it very easy to find. Also, it's right next to an elevated highway, which makes it easy to get to.

I parked my car at 3:45pm, and was presented with a new challenge in order to complete my stamp rally card. Check out this map! A maze of windy trails waited for me. I guess fate thought I needed to earn my final stamp. I made a quick mental image of where I needed to go, and started climbing the steps through the dense forest. Actually, the denseness of the forest was surprising for something in the city. Most city forests were planted and arranged. This seemed like it was never touched from its original castle days.

I made my way through the trails in the forest, and finally reached the top. It was another castle museum, but the view was absolutely brilliant. You had a pure 360 degree view of all the northern neighborhoods and cities within Nagoya city. You could see the downtown area, too. It was an amazing reward for making it up the hill, and actually completing my Stamp Rally card.

After taking my photos, and getting back to my car, I went to Apita and bought some dinner. Komaki seems like a really nice neighborhood. There were lots of families in the department store. Lots of young mothers randomly finding other families and starting conversations. It felt like a community, rather than the eyes down, "buy my shit" normal behavior I've observed in most cities.

Komaki was a very nice end to a long journey. Oh, but the journey isn't over yet.

Final



Complete! All 20 stamps, and plenty of brochures and ticket stubs. There's one final thing left to do: turn it in.

Trip #7 - August 23rd

I had to travel back to Ogaki in order to turn in my stamp rally card. The place is open until 7pm every day, so I could have done this last week. Oh well. I was somewhat near Gifu today, so I drove down to Ogaki to finally complete this saga.

I needed to go to the Ogaki Visitor Center located inside the Oku no Hosomichi Musubi no Chi Memorial Hall 奥の細道むすびの地記念館. This hall is basically a museum based on Matsuo Bashou, and his poetry collection "Oku no Hosomichi", which roughly translates as "The Narrow Road to the Deep North." This memorial hall commemorates the final stop on his journey through the mountains, and the final chapter in his collection.

I arrived after that part of the building closed, though.

I walked over to the counter for the visitor counter, and gave them my sheet. The two women went through the whole, "すごいお疲れ様でした." spiel.

I didn't get many immediate rewards. One of the women pulled out a non-discrete white plastic bag that contained 20 buttons. Each button had a photo of the stamp rally castles, with the stamp rally title ovaled across the top.

She also grabbed a bottle of おいしい大垣の水, or 'delicious Ogaki water,' and shoved it in the bag. If I had to guess the value of the items I received, I would say no more than $3.

Then I filled out an address form, and turned that in to the woman. Apparently the ultimate prize will be mailed out later. Or maybe I just signed up for a raffle, or something instead. I mean, I guess if the prize is a bunch of food from around the Chubu area, mailing it all out at once makes sense to honor expiration dates. The official end of this stamp rally isn't until November 30th, too. So, if I do get something in the mail, it won't be until December. :(

Bleh. This is kind of a lackluster end for the amount of time spent running around to all these castles. I would say that it's the journey that counts more than the finale, but given that the sponsor of this stamp rally is Nexco, that's what they wanted everyone to do in the first place.

Stamp Rally Sponsor

It wasn't until I was planning that final road trip to collect 12 stamps in 2 days that I connected a few dots and discovered something sinister at work.

On the back of the stamp rally card is a convenient map that shows the locations of all 20 castles. These castles are laid out with a map of the highway system, and each of the nearest exits on the highway are clearly marked. "Aww, that's a nice touch. That makes it easy to use the highway to get to these places," I thought.

Oh, but wait.. Nexco has their logos on the front and back of my rally card, which indicates that they're sponsoring this thing. And Nexco is the company that owns, operates, and charges tolls for the highways in Japan.

Oh. This isn't some rally to promote history and tourism through Japanese castles. It's just an excuse to get people to use the highway system throughout Chubu and rake in the cash collected from the tollways.

All toll, I think I probably spent around 2万円 ($200). Probably more.. So, congratulations to them, I suppose. It makes sense that they would cheap out on a final prize.

Finish

Anyway, I'm still glad I went around to all these places, even though it ended up being a corporate trick. Road trippin' in Japan is pretty fun. The environments in Japan are so diverse that driving around to various places for almost 14 hours straight was quite fun. It's way more fulfilling than sitting on a train or in an airplane.

I probably won't get a chance to drive anywhere far before the end of the year, but I definitely plan on taking more road trips in the future. Perhaps north-bound.




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