Exploring Japanese Castles With Daniel O’Grady

SEASON 1 EPISODE 15

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  • Of the 3,000 castles that once dotted the Japanese landscape, only 12 remain in their original condition. Anthony talks to Japanese Castle Explorer Daniel O`Grady about the historic and modern significance of these palaces.
  • Anthony includes a mini-review of the new Sony PlayStation Vita, a key product for the profit-challenged company, and is eagerly anticipated by fans. The question is, does the Vita live up to the hype?

Quick review of the Sony PlayStation Vita

Sony just released its new portable PlayStation and Anthony was asked to film its launch as he does some freelance video work for one of his clients. The portable gaming machine was tagged to offset some company’s losses in other divisions.

Anthony expected a big fanfare as well as plenty of press at the launch. But in this case, the opening was done at a little video store in Shibuya at 7 a.m.! A dozen people were waiting but there was notably more press than fans. The executives were present and showed new features and potentials of the product but it was dry and business-like. It fell short compared to well-produced Apple keynotes. Even the interaction with invited otakus was awkward and the journalists had to wait in line to get hold of the device.

As for the product itself, Anthony noted that it was larger than its earlier version but has a nice solid, professional feel to it. The graphics were good but it still seemed unpolished. They encountered some difficulty navigating through its operating system and it still required putting game chips. Perhaps it is more suitable for those in Japan who would not want to run their battery dry while playing on their phones between commutes. But it may not be a hit in countries where carrying multiple stuff can be quite tedious.

Mapping out Castles across Japan

On the show is Daniel O’Grady who runs the website Japanese Castle Explorer. It mainly explores in detail the ancient castles that have been built and still exist throughout Japan. Daniel has been in the country for 10 years and has explored many of these castles in his 1st year. In between his travels and free time, his great passion enabled him to bring his discoveries together and make them accessible to many people. These castles have existed in mountains and big cities, towering over for centuries. Nowadays, only signs indicate some of its existence. In Tokyo itself, many remnants are scattered all over the city.

Daniel has no particular plan in selecting a castle to investigate; he simply picks out a destination and asks people to help him find his way around. While Daniel does not claim to be an expert in its histories, he narrates that it was difficult to pinpoint who owned them because everyone was fighting and wanting to take someone else’s land back then. A lord can seize a castle and give it to someone who pledged allegiance to him.

Japanese castles also possess different styles and exist in various landscapes. These are often found in flatlandS or near town centers. Some were built on a hilltop. These structures depend on how well they could easily be defended or could administer to its ruling area.

Thousands can live in castle grounds while some served as a residence to key figures in Japanese history. Its functions may be different from how European castles were utilized, but now, these are greatly valued and preserved by the government to draw tourists.

Both Anthony and Daniel noticed how many castles were just rebuilt using concrete. Only 12 castles survived with their main tower intact. War devastated many of these castles. The Japanese made efforts to make them the way they were in the past. For instance, the government took great lengths to preserve castles such as the Himeji Castle and other national treasures of cultural importance. These are not privately owned and are maintained for future generations. Nagoya and Osaka also have famous castles open to the public.

Because Anthony and Daniel prefer the original structures for its age and rusty feel, Daniel recommends going to Kyushu Island, where the Kumamoto Castle is. It is a masterpiece that has existed since the 1600s yet still possesses its original stonework. In Shikoku Island, there are also 4 amazing Edo period castles. The castles Matsuyama, Kochi, Marugame, and Uwajima in different prefectures are just some of the famous towers with beautiful sceneries.

Anthony notes that Daniel’s website included symbols or crests under each castle. These symbols heralded the people who lived there as well as the koku or income from production and yield of rice.

Prefectures want tourists coming in as they help rebuild the palaces and maintain their grounds. The pay may cost from ¥ 500-600 but these are very reasonable. Getting out of the common route of going to major cities’ castles can offer many interesting things not seen in guidebooks. If you have some time and a sense of adventure, do set up your itinerary and check out Daniel’s interactive map.

Last show for 2011!

This will be Anthony’s last podcast for 2011 as he is heading back to Thailand for his winter break. He’ll pick up his remaining stuff there, see friends and even do a special show on Bangkok Podcast. However, he is also excited to come back, hinting on future guests for the show. One is a man who was granted access to photograph the Japanese yakuza. The other is a woman who went on an epic bike ride from Okinawa to Hokkaido while sampling cuisine throughout Japan.

Anthony thanks everyone for listening and supporting the show, thus making it a huge success. Special thanks also go to the guests who have been on Tokyo Podcast. He looks forward to bringing more fascinating stories from Japan when he comes back on January 8.

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