This Historic Japanese Castle Is Now Open for Year-Round Stays

Consider it R&R, with a little something extra: royalty. After debuting a trial program at Nagasaki Prefecture’s Hirado Castle in 2017 as the first-ever castle stay in Japan, the Japanese government now is allowing permanent overnight stays at the historic site on the westernmost tip of the island of Kyushu, where guests can book a solitary suite in the two-story Kaiju Yagura Turret.

The hilltop castle was first built by warlord Shigenobu Matsura in 1599, when the port city of Hirado was a rare cosmopolitan hub for foreign trade. It went through several iterations over the centuries before being demolished as part of the Meiji Restoration, after the Matsura clan finally lost power in 1868. The entire grounds then underwent a massive, painstaking reconstruction and renovation in 1962. Guests keen on that history will get exclusive after-hours access to the castle’s on-site museum, and can also walk its grounds after they’re closed to the public for the day.

“Hirado was the door to the world in the Edo period,” said the lodging’s designers at Atelier Tekuto, a Japanese design studio, in a release translated by Condé Nast Traveler. Japanese exports like porcelain, silver, and tea were funneled through the port, as well a painting style called Rinpa, which encouraged cultural exchange with the Western world, the designers said. “With the aesthetics of Rinpa as the basis, we wish to offer a place to experience the new values of Japan.”

Guests will find a nod to the notable technique (which inspired the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt) in the suite’s dining room, where chef-prepared meals—from a Japanese small-plates breakfast, to a nine-course, two-hour French dinner featuring Hirado wagyu filet—are served alongside a Rinpa-inspired mural of butterflies painted by local artist Takahide Komatsu. And while the suite itself, which can sleep up to five people, is sleek and modern, its sense of place is strengthened by the use of local materials from across Kyushu, from tatami mats with straw from the city of Kumamoto to a staircase made of Konagai stone and custom-made dishes from the heralded porcelain town of Arita. 

Hour-long martial arts lessons are offered by iaidō and kendo masters, styles that are both heavy on swordplay. Get inspired by the 7th-century kanto-no-tachi sword in the castle keep’s collection of feudal artifacts, which also includes the armor of Hiromu Matsura, the 10th-century lord of Hirado, and swords through the 18th century.

A stay at the castle also offers the chance to observe chinshin-ryu, a 17th-century warrior tea ceremony, in the Kanuntei Teahouse. Sharp green tea is paired with casdoce, a sweet local specialty cake inspired by Portuguese castellas, that’s prepared at Hirado Tsutaya, a local, 519-year-old bakery. (Casdoce, also called kasudosu, is one of the 100 sweets featured in Hyakka-no-zu, the storied Edo period hyakumi-gashi scroll.) The castle is the only place in Japan where this ceremony is open to visitors.

For another rare cultural experience, you can take in a special performance of Hirado Kagura, a Shinto ceremonial dance for chinkon, the purifying and shaking of the spirit. Or get away from it all on horseback riding trails around the island. But no matter how you spend your stay at Hirado Castle, you’re bound to be awed by the experience.

“Not everyone in Japan knows about this. Nobody really knows about this island,” says Yuko Yamasaki, a concierge at the castle. “It was a place for foreign travel, but also isolated, so it was a great place to be uniquely preserved.”

Book now: From about $5,500 per night, plus a required $400 daily meal fee per person, castlestay.jp/en

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