Katsuyama Castle 勝山城

Yesterday, some other ALTs and myself traveled westward to Fukui prefecture to visit the dinosaur museum, and the castle. It takes about 2 hours to make it to the area, and between here and there are the western peaks of the Japanese Alps. Half of the journey is using the smooth and fast Tollway.

The second half is taking a narrow winding road that follows the outline of the mountains and the lakes and rivers their runoff have created. On a chill clear February morning, it looks beautiful.

For a couple of days this year, we've had this amazing clear weather with absolutely no clouds in the sky. The sky a deep blue, and all the surrounding mountains completely visible. At night, every star in the star can be seen with the naked eye.

We stopped twice to take some photos along the mountain road. This was along Lake Kuzuryu 九頭竜湖 still east of the village Kuzuryu 九頭竜. Kelly pointed out that kanji stands for 9 + Head + Dragon . I'm sure some poet hundreds of years ago, thought the rivers and the waterfalls (at the time) looked like a 9 headed serpent, then gave the area this name.

We continued down the mountain. We reached Ono, and headed north to the Dinosaur museum in Katsuyama City. After which, we went to Katsuyama Castle.

Katsuyama Castle 勝山城

It was later in the day, and clouds began to disrupt the clear blue sky.

Katsuyama Castle is an incredibly visible building on the side of the main road between Katsuyama and Ono. It's very easy to park and gain access. Today it sits next to acres of farmland and rice fields. Even back in the day, the setting would not be all that different.

It's unnatural.

Most Japanese castles sit on a mountain of rock laid by human hands, surrounded by castle walls and other towers and small buildings within the courtyard. A castle isn't really a single building, but a center point of an entire complex, which, in turn, is usually the center point of an entire town.

The current structure labeled Katsuyama Castle is indeed unnatural. According to the Internet, this is not its original location. This building was built in 1992 by a successful and wealthy local who wanted to give something back to their hometown. Apparently this whole thing cost around $70 million.

The whole thing is very ornamental, too. It feels no where near as authentic as most castles you might visit. I can imagine many local citizens feel this is a blight on their natural landscape.

Observation Deck

But the view is quite gorgeous.

Immediately after entering the Castle, you are whisked away to the top floor via escalator to view all of south-eastern Katsuyama. All the farmland the eye can see. :)

To north, north-west is downtown Katsuyama. Directly to the north is Seidaiji, a very famous buddhist temple. Just a little more further north is the Dinosaur museum, but the mountain is blocking the view.

To the east is Kyougatake 経ヶ岳, one of the prominent western-most mountains of the Japanese Alps. It stands at 1625.2 meters above sea level. To the south is Arashimagatake 荒島ヶ岳, a very beautiful white capped mountain. Its peak is 1523.5 meters above sea level.

We were completely surrounded by mountains, which is a very similar feeling you get in Takayama. But the atmosphere is much different. There are more mountains in Takayama, but they don't seem as dynamic as these.

I think that's because Katsuyama isn't really a mountain town. It is MUCH closer to sea level than Takayama. Takayama rests high up in the clouds amidst the mountains. They don't look as dynamic because we are among them. We live on a plateau. Katsuyama is down deep. The mountains rose around the city, and was not lifted with them.

Samurai Armor

We continued our slow descent down the castle to each of the 5 remaining floors of the tour. Each floor housed artwork, and artifacts from the time period. This museum had an impression display of samurai armor.

Nearly half the third floor was devoted to these cases of armor. There were a lot more than I've seen in other castle museums. Overall 16 sets of armor (I think) are displayed in this museum.

I'm guessing these were used by local generals during the warring states period, but I don't really know. I should probably actually read up on some of this stuff.


Anyway, the castle was pretty huge. The second floor had an automatic playing piano that gave the building a creepy museum feel. We left and took some picture some outside.

It's definitely a beautiful looking castle, but its beauty feels somewhat shallow. It seemed like the art, the glamor and the flare was put front first, and the history that created these beautiful structures and the times they lived in were put second (or maybe even third). The fourth floor has some history, but it was just some stuff loosely tied together with history.

I've been in castle museums before where the entire lineage of the castle owners were catalogued, and spread throughout the course of the museum, along with artifacts showcasing that history. I've been in other castle museums which had tons of interactive exhibits, dioramas, and tons of history displayed and explained in ways meant to inspire school children into learning about the history of their country.

Katsuyama Castle just seems like some rich person's collection. Their hobby. I don't think Katsuyama will inspire anyone about the history, other than its looks. And even then, its fake facade seems to tear down the authenticity of its design.

It does look pretty, though.

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