Forget the cherry blossoms and the flashy Tokyo hotels, because starting this April, for the first time ever, it’s possible to rent out an Edo period castle in the heart of Japan—and get the shogun-style treatment while you’re there. Dating back to 1617, Ozu Castle is set in the town of Ozu on the western side of Shikoku island, and sits atop a hill, encircled by the winding Hijikawa River. After a careful restoration, the castle is now ready to welcome incoming vacationers in the same way a shogun would have received a visiting lord to his castle—complete with a re-enactment ceremony that rolls out the proverbial red carpet. Adding to the exclusivity, only thirty such private stays are being offered between April 2020 and April 2021.
“Ozu is the sole castle keep in Japan to have been reproduced in timber (to date), and is the first castle keep to offer the possibility of staying overnight,” says Jun Tarikino, CEO of Value Management, the hospitality management company that brought the castle back to life. “Careful historical research has (given us) the opportunity to reproduce and experience Japanese history.”
Upon arrival, guests will be welcomed by the sounds of trumpets marking the beginning of the welcome ceremony, then will be offered kimonos or armor to don as they witness a full reenactment of a visiting lord arriving on horseback. The lord, who is meant to be Kato Sadayasu (the first daimyo, or feudal lord, of the Kato Clan, who ruled over Ozu until 1868), will ride up the entryway as gunners fire shots into the air to announce the official arrival. Guests will then receive “Shadow Warrior” certificates as gifts from the visiting lord.
Once the initial ceremony concludes, the newly crowned warriors are brought into the castle and given a full tour as local performing artists regale them with displays of Yokagura, a Shinto ritual dance. After the show, it’s off to a private, chef-created multi-course meal featuring local seafood, meats, and veggies prepared using French techniques.
Post-dinner, there’s the option of climbing up one of the castle turrets for drinks and unhindered vistas of the night sky, followed by the opportunity to partake in a bathing ritual at the castle’s bathhouse—from which you can take in incredible views of the lit-up palace at night. Once bathing is completed, guests are led back to their ryokan-style bedroom, which is outfitted with comfy mattresses, hard-wood floors and shoji-screen doors. The following morning, enjoy a Kyōō-style breakfast at a Meiji-era Garyu Sanso teahouse complex named Tonosama Gozen, which translates to “Lord’s Meal.” The Shogun Experience starts at ¥1,000,000 for two people, including transfers to and from the Matsuyama Airport or JR station, one-night private accommodation at the castle, the 1617 Kato Sadayasu welcome ceremony, dinner, liquor, bathhouse session, and breakfast. Up to four more guests can be added for an additional ¥100,000 (approximately $900) per person.