Fancy seeing Japan from some very lofty heights? You're in luck. Two of the country's historic castles are opening for overnight stays this year, with guests receiving the ultimate royal welcome.
Starting from April, guests can check into Ōzu Castle (in the coastal city of Ōzu) for overnight stays for the first time. Accommodation can be booked in the castle's four-storey tower and includes a traditional gun salute welcome, dance performance and a 'lord's meal' for the entire group. Originally built in the 14th century, the castle was restored to its former glory in 2004 using traditional materials and methods. So while you won't be staying in the original building, you will get a good sense of what it was like way back when.
What's more, the castle is just a short stroll from Ōzu's Old Town, a wonderful maze of alleyways and old-fashioned houses from the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) and Meiji Period (1868 - 1912), to give you a more immersive traditional experience.
In the coastal city of Hirado, a popular beach getaway for Japanese 'staycationers', another castle is preparing to welcome overnight visitors. From July 2020, guests can book a stay in Hirado Castle through Stay Japan, an Airbnb-style accommodation platform. Once home to the Matsura clan, who ruled over the Hirado Province during the Edo Period, the castle was built in the 16th century. Like most Japanese castles, it was demolished and destroyed over the centuries. So the original building is gone, replaced by a reconstructed and imposing five-storey fortress with many traditional details.
Both castles are included in Japan's Top 100 Castles list, compiled by the Japanese Castle Foundation, so their cultural and historical value is significant. You might wonder why they're accepting overnight stays now, this year, for the first time. There is no particular reason, a spokesperson for Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) told Lonely Planet, other than to "encourage and allow for visitors to get a truly authentic experience of Japan."
If you'd like to experience Japan from a grand and old-timey lens, this is the year to do it.