History & Culture

Ozu: The Renaissance of an Enchanting Castle Town

LAST UPDATED Apr 1, 2024

Explore the charming castle town of Ozu on the banks of the Hijikawa River and discover a place that has undergone a remarkable transformation. Once a prosperous hub supported by its silk and wax trade, Ozu’s prominence gradually diminished as Japan modernized, and its castle and historical districts fell into disrepair. Recently, however, once abandoned structures are being restored and repurposed, and the town is embracing initiatives that are breathing new life into the community.

  • Ozu Castle: A majestic revival

    Standing on a hill overlooking the Hijikawa River, Ozu Castle is the symbol of the town, and the focal point of restoration efforts. The original structure had been abandoned and was demolished in the late nineteenth century. More than a century later, the citizens of Ozu launched a grassroots campaign to rebuild the castle. The reconstruction was based on old photographs, surviving schematics, and a wooden model from the Edo period (1603–1867), and carried out using traditional techniques and materials. The main keep was reconstructed using predominantly wood and other resources such as bamboo, plaster, tile, and mud, instead of ferroconcrete like most restored Japanese castles. The project took more than 10 years and was completed in 2004.

    You can visit the castle to see documents, displays, and dioramas that explain the reconstruction process and the history of the castle and the town. The keep can also be booked for an exclusive overnight stay. Guests can be lord of the castle for an evening: welcomed by samurai troops, served fine cuisine using local ingredients, and entertained with traditional performing arts, among other customizable experiences. The experience can include exclusive use of Garyu Sanso, a beautiful early-twentieth-century riverside villa, for breakfast.

  • Immerse yourself in a revitalized town

    The restoration of Ozu Castle sparked a wider movement to restore and preserve Ozu’s historical buildings, and led to the formation of Kita Management—a local organization dedicated to safeguarding the area’s architectural heritage and promoting sustainable tourism initiatives.

    Several properties in the Castle Town were restored and now form part of a decentralized hotel: at Nipponia Hotel Ozu Castle Town, accommodations and restaurants are housed in renovated historic mansions and merchant houses dating from the Edo period (1603–1867). By having the accommodations in buildings that are scattered around a living town, guests are invited to immerse themselves in and engage with the local community.

    Local businesses are flourishing, making use of the historical buildings. While exploring the town, take a break at Garyu Brewing, a craft brewery and gastropub next to the river that operates on the premises of a former silk warehouse from the early twentieth century. Other old buildings have also gained new leases on life as cafes, sake breweries, souvenir shops, museums, and ateliers. The preservation and reuse of these properties has helped create new jobs and keep valuable skills and crafts in the area, while maintaining the historical charm of the ancient castle town. The efforts have earned Ozu international accolades including first prize in the Culture & Tradition category in the 2023 Green Destinations Story Awards.

  • Travel in style

    When traveling to Ozu, consider stepping back into the era of glamorous train travel with the retro-chic JR Iyonada Monogatari. This luxury sightseeing train runs along the coast of Ehime and the Iyonada Sea between Matsuyama and either Ozu or Yawatahama. It is made up of three train cars, the third of which is a private chartered cabin. The train runs on a seasonal schedule. Enjoy views of the countryside and the Seto Inland Sea as you dine on gourmet meals made using local ingredients.

    Once you reach Ozu, you can explore the Hijikawa River on a leisurely river cruise. Traditional wooden houseboats depart multiple times a day for excursions that link historical landmarks along the river. The cruises offer a fantastic opportunity to relax and admire the scenery of Ozu from the water.

    On summer evenings, observe the ancient art of cormorant fishing, with a history of around 1,300 years. Demonstrations of “Ozu Ukai” cormorant fishing take place on the river from June to September. Experienced cormorant masters skillfully handle their trained birds to catch fish by bonfire light. Take a journey to Ozu and witness the magic of a town that has seamlessly blended its rich history with modern charm.

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  • Castles

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Southern Ehime (Nanyo)

Experience the heritage and natural beauty of southern Ehime through its historical townscapes, stunning mountain vistas, and the Uwakai Sea.