Okayama Castle was built by Ukita Hideie, one of the Council of Five Elders established by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (the warlord who united Japan at the end of the 16th century). Taking eight long years to complete, construction finally concluded in 1597. In order to prevent an attack from the rear, the nearby Asahi River was redirected, creating a natural moat: it is said that the construction was an enormous undertaking. The castle was, at that time, characterized by the black lacquer-decorated weatherboards adorning the central keep, and that black appearance gave it the nickname “Ujo” (“Crow Castle”). In 1600, after fighting on the losing side in the battle of Sekigahara, Hideie was banished to the island of Hachijojima. In his place, Kobayakawa Hideaki was made lord of the castle. Hideaki improved the town by expanding the outer moat and establishing a temple district nearby. After Hideaki’s (premature) death, however, Okayama Castle became the seat of the government of Okayama Domain, and feudal lord Ikeda Tadatsugu moved into the castle. Thereafter, the castle was passed down through 12 generations of the Ikeda clan.
The 360-degree view from the central keep is spectacular. On the opposite side of the Asahi river, there is a scenic view of Okayama Koraku-en, a spacious, beautiful garden constructed in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa as a place for relaxation. If you look at the roof on the upper levels of the central keep, you can see that the tiles have a unique shape. These are “tomebuta-gawara,” which have different shapes depending on the building, and the ones on Okayama Castle have the shape of Okayama’s famous peaches. The building was destroyed by war, but was rebuilt and restored to its present appearance in 1966. The interior includes an exhibition room where you can learn about the history of Okayama Castle. Meanwhile, Ujo Park is a popular local hotspot known for the ruins of the greater castle.
(The castle is currently closed for renovations, and is due to reopen in November 2022.)