By Iain Stanley
The Obi Castle Ruins sit at the northern edge of the quaint, rural town of Obi in Nichinan, Miyazaki. A designated important historical site, Obi Town is an idyllic setting dominated by traditional streets lined with traditional shops, former samurai residences, quaint roadside Carp-laden streams and the former castle grounds themselves.
Often described as the ‘Little Kyoto’ of Kyushu, Obi is unique to Miyazaki in more ways than one. The Miyazaki staple palm tree makes way for cedar and the town itself is largely underexploited by tourists – good news for those looking for peace and quiet when they travel as a trip here promises serene tranquility, even on the weekends.
The castle itself was ruled by the Ito Clan for 14 generations during the Edo period (1603–1867). The Ōte-mon front gate makes for a elegant, beautiful entrance to the castle grounds and provides strong photo opportunities. It was restored with Obi cedar wood over a hundred years old, and is flanked by jinrikisha rickshaw drivers who offer short tours around the neighbourhood.
Once inside, visitors can explore the museum and the restored Matsuo-no-maru private residences for an additional fee. The castle grounds themselves are otherwise free to explore and offer several serene highlights, including the “Shiawase-sugi” square surrounded by cedar trees, and the 'Iyashi no mori', a literally soothing and serene forested grove of 140 year old cedar trees offering a warm, quiet paradise on the right day. With the gentle lull of the nearby river, cool hilltop breeze, rays of sunlight flickering through the canopy and mossy carpet underfoot, it is hard to believe the original citadel once stood here.
Around Obi Town
For keen explorers, a special gastronomic walking tour map is available for ¥600 (at the Obi Castle Parking Lot Information Centre and Information Centre next to Obi Station) which gets you complimentary gifts at over 40 participating locations around Obi Town, as well as some special discounts on food and products.
If you are looking for a nearby lunch spot, Hattoritei is well worth a visit – just a few minutes walk from the castle grounds entrance, they offer a traditional Japanese lunch set menu in an authentic tatami dwelling set against a beautiful Japanese garden.
Those looking for a hands-on experience could try Shihan-Mato, a style of archery unique to Miyazaki. From a seated stance, short bows deliver long arrows at a target 8.2 m away. This unique taiken activity can be tried at the archery range a few minutes south-west of the main Obi Castle gates.
Visit during the third Saturday and Sunday in October and you'll be in time for the Obi Castle Town Festival (飫肥城下祭り), comprising a traditional parade comprising local arts and samurai processions, and a whole lot more.
Obi is a great destination for those visiting the Nichinan area of Miyazaki and is easily accessed by train and by bus from Miyazaki Station. Obi Station is a 10-15 minute walk to the east of the main town and castle grounds, while the bus shelter for the Miyazaki City-bound route (Miyako Transport) is located to the south-west, about 5 minutes from the castle entrance. This route takes in Udo jingu and Aoshima, which means it is a great choice for those taking advantage of the ¥1,000 bus pass available for purchase at Miyazaki Station (an exclusive price for foreign visitors).
For those on a more relaxed schedule, a special luxury train service, Umi-sachi Yama-sachi, makes the trip between Miyazaki Station and Obi, for those looking to arrive in style. The Nango-bound service departs Miyazaki Station at 10:07am on most weekends and holidays, but check the JR Kyushu website for the exact schedule in advance of your trip.
If you're travelling around the prefecture, be sure to explore the other highlights that Miyazaki has to offer.
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