Takeda Castle, the real life Castle in the Sky

The Takeda Castle ruins in the morning fog. The real life Castle in the Sky in Hyogo, Japan.

I'm sure you're all familiar with Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and the magical movies they produce. While their recent works such as Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Ponyo may be more well-known in the West, I'd argue that their earlier movies are perhaps even more surreal and fantastical. The very first movie from Studio Ghibli, Castle in the Sky (AKA Laputa) has particularly striking imagery and features, you guessed it, a floating castle. And as impossible as that may sound, what if I told you that you could see it in real life? 

Enter Takeda Castle. 

Takeda Castle, or what's left of it anyway, is located in Asago City in Hyogo Prefecture, just about halfway between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. It was built in 1411, conquered by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and abandoned not long after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. It was left to the elements for centuries until it was cleaned up and opened as a tourist site in the 1970s. While the ruins themselves aren't really anything more than a pile of rocks, at a certain time of day when viewed from a neighboring mountain, they appear to float in the sky. 

Low clouds in the morning sunrise

Despite having lived here for over a year now and Takeda Castle being only an hour's drive away, I hadn't actually made it a point to give it a visit until this past weekend. Since the peak viewing period is coming to a close, and I probably won't be here when it comes around again next year, I figured it was now or never.

They say the best time to see the castle ruins, when you're most likely to get that picturesque view of the clouds sitting below the peak filling up the valleys, is from September to November, within the hour or so after sunrise, on a day forecasted to be clear following a rainy day. 

And apparently this is pretty common knowledge, because when we arrived at the base of the mountain opposite the ruins at 5am (sunrise was at 6:30), the main parking lot halfway up the mountain as well as the secondary one at the base were already full, forcing us to turn around and park even further. I'd originally thought that a 5am arrival was perhaps a bit overly cautious, but it turns out that the timing was just right. By the time we parked and made it to the top viewpoint, it was about 6:20.

Mountains in the distance in the early morning sunrise light

The trek up wasn't too bad, especially if you're used to hiking. And because we had to park pretty far down, half of it was on paved road. If you do manage to score a stall in the main parking lot though, from there to the top viewpoint is only about half an hour. The lower viewing spot is only five minutes from the parking lot, and there are also a number of places along the trail where you could stop and get just as good of a view as well. In fact, I actually recommend not going all the way up as it was incredibly crowded, and honestly the view wasn't even that much better than any of the slightly lower spots.  

The crowd of people gathered to see the Takeda Castle Ruins at sunrise

In any case, the 3:30am wake up, the hour-long hike, the masses of people - all of it was absolutely worth it for the view. These pictures don't do it justice at all. It wasn't just the castle itself that was so impressive, but everything around it too. The red leaves framing the view, the clouds filling in every valley as far as you could see, the light haze in the sky obscuring the mountains in the distance, making them appear lighter and lighter in color the farther away they were.  

I was raised on Studio Ghibli movies and always found myself relating to the characters and wishing I could live in their magic-filled worlds, so this experience was nothing short of a dream come true for me. If you find yourself around Kansai in the fall (which I highly recommend as an experience on its own - see this post on how beautiful Kyoto is at this time of year) and want to see something a bit off the beaten path, definitely try to check Takeda Castle out. 

The moon in the morning sunrise
An electric pole peeking out through the morning mist
The Takeda Castle Ruins in the early morning light

The marker on the map indicates the Ritsuunkyo parking lot - the place to start the hike to the best view point of the castle ruins. 

Because of the rather remote location and the early timing, unless you're staying the night in the area, I'd recommend renting a car and driving. 

For more detailed transportation information see here!