Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to Akō Castle Ruins and Akō Ōishi Shrine

Many people come to Japan for its magnificent old castles. However, when it comes to castle ruins, we find that many tourists end up skipping them. We picture tumbledown walls and rocky boulders when we think of castle ruins. Unless notable or famous historical events have taken place there, there aren’t many incentives for international tourists to visit those places.

However, Akō Castle Ruins (赤穂城跡) is different! Designated as a National Historic Site, this castle, which was dismantled in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) by government orders, does have its unique personality. Due to Akō City‘s effort to restore the castle to its former glory, it was selected as one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles in 2006!

Unlike many castles built on the mountain or on top of a hill with geographical advantages when under attack, the Akō Castle is located on flat terrain. That was why a lot of effort was put into strengthening its defence function during the 13 years of construction back in 1648. Apart from having the Chikusa River (千種川) and the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海) acting as moats, the arrangement of the core of the castle, second and the third defence quarter dramatically differs from the other castles in the country (=゚ω゚)ノ.

© Hyogo Tourism Bureau

Akō Castle Ruins’ Special Design

A lot of the castles in Japan have their castle core surrounded by the second and the third defence quarters or have their core of the castle placed against a natural barrier, such as rivers or cliffs. Akō Castle’s design took advantage of the two common layouts by having its core surrounded by the second defence quarter. As the only side of the castle that enemies can come from without a ship is from its north, the third defence quarter was built as a defence line north of the second defence quarter.

Because the castle was never under attack, there is no way for us to verify if this rare arrangement is indeed better. However, we think it would have made it harder for those wanting to become the new lord.

Why? Because if visitors nowadays get lost when they walk around the castle ruins, imagine how confusing it must be for the intruders back then!

Honmaru Garden and Ninomaru Garden of Akō Castle


The gardens of Honmaru (the core of the castle) and Ninomaru (second defense quarter) of Akō Castle were designated as National Places of Scenery Beauty in 2002. So when you drop by the Akō Castle Ruins, don’t forget to allocate some time to relax amongst these two beautiful Japanese gardens (*´ω`).

As the ground of the castle ruins is big in size, strolling around the castle should take around 45 minutes to an hour. However, depending on how long you plan on chilling in the gardens, you might need more time here.

Especially in spring, the cherry blossom flowers will bloom from the outer moat all the way to the famous cherry blossom spot, Hanami Square (花見広場), next to Ninomaru Garden (二之丸庭園). As Akō City is still a minor destination, if you are seeking a place to appreciate the beauty of Japan’s National Flower, pack a picnic blanket and some snacks and head to Akō Castle Ruins between late March and early April!

Please refer HERE for the map of the castle on the official website. The map is in Japanese, so please use the Japanese name of the spots to read it. The Ōtemon Gate (大手門) is at the top of the map, whereas the Honmarumon Gate (本丸門) is around the center of the map.

Tip: For the best timing for photography, we recommend arriving at the castle ruins around 11 am. Because the lighting is just about right around the Ōtemon Gate (大手門) before noon, and for Honmarumon Gate (本丸門), which is the gate to the core of the castle and close to Hanami Square, you will get better lighting in the early afternoon.

Wildlife at Akō Castle Ruins


The value of Akō Castle Ruins isn’t just highly regarded by humans but by swans as well! The castle’s moats are home to quite a few swans which is another reason why we love this spot of Akō City!

And if you missed the cherry blossom season, you still have the opportunity to spot some super cute baby swans as you visit Akō Castle Ruins from May to early July (*´ω`).

Apparently, the fertility rate for swans is quite low, so the city is helping the swans raise their chick by giving them the best nest to protect them from predators that may live or lurk nearby.

Apart from swans, you might also be able to spot some nutria families in April (^_-)-☆.


How to Get to Akō Castle Ruins and its Opening Hours

  • It is a 20-minute walk from JR Banshū-Akō Station (播州赤穂駅).
  • If you prefer to take a bus, there are a few options that all depart from JR Banshū-Akō Station (播州赤穂駅).
    • Bus services running by West Shinki Bus (ウエスト神姫バス):
      • Take services that are bound for Kanpo-no-Yado Akō (かんぽの宿赤穂) and get off at Akōjō-mae (赤穂城前).
      • This service only operates on weekends and public holidays.
    • Akō City Community Bus Yuranosuke will be available from Monday to Saturday:
      • All services currently stop at Akōjō-mae.
  • Apart from the core of the castle (Honmaru) and the Ninomaru Garden, you can enter the grounds castle ruins anytime you want.
  • Honmaru and Ninomaru Garden are open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily except from the 28th of December to the 4th of January.

Akō City’s Speciality – Salt-Flavored Manjū (塩味饅頭)

If you are visiting the castle ruins on Tuesday or Thursday, as only 3 bus services are running, it might be a better idea to just walk for one day of the journey. As there are plenty of souvenir shops in the area, you definitely won’t be bored!

We recommend that you taste one of the local specialties – salt-flavored manjū (塩味饅頭). Manjū is a type of Japanese dessert that has different fillings inside. This type of confectionary is usually sweet, but in Akō, their manjū is savory! You will only know if you like it or not after you give it a try (^_-)-☆.

You can refer to one of the shop’s websites HERE to see what it looks like. The best thing about it is that it is vegan!

Akō Ōishi Shrine (赤穂大石神社)

On one side of the third defence quarter of Akō Castle, there is a shrine. Walking on the path leading to Akō Ōishi Shrine’s worship hall will probably take a bit of courage as you will be under the scrutiny of 47 samurai armed with full battle gear. Although they are made of stone, some people still find them intimidating!

© Hyogo Tourism Bureau

Each of the statues represents one of the 47 samurais that served the Akō Asano Domain (穂浅野藩) back in the late 15th century to 1701. They all sacrificed their lives to avenge their late lord, Asano Naganori (浅野 長矩), after being sentenced to commit Seppuku (the honorable way for the samurai to end their life).

The entire Akō Asano Domain was ultimately abolished as a consequence.

There are numerous explanations as to why Asano attacked Kira Yoshinaka (吉良 義央) in the shogun’s castle in Edo (now Tokyo). Although drawing a weapon in the Edo castle was considered a great breach of etiquette, Asano’s subjects believed the sentence was unjust, especially when the incident was part of Kira Yoshinaka’s plan.

After two years of preparation, the 47 Ronin (samurais without a master) led by Ōishi Yoshio (大石良雄), also known as Ōishi Kuranosuki (大石内蔵助), successfully beheaded Kira Yoshinaka. However, they all died in a similar fashion as Asano. Their act was later considered a prime example of the samurai’s virtue. The historical event was retold (although sometimes inaccurately) through many forms, such as Kabuki plays and in films, including the 2013 blockbuster – 47 Ronin starring Keanu Reeves.

Akō Ōishi Shrine’s Establishment

In 1912, the 47 Ronin were enshrined here as the main gods along with the three lords of the Akō Asano Domain and the ancestors of the Mori Clan (who replaced the Asano Clan after the death of Asano Naganori), who were later enshrined here.

On the shrine’s ground, there is also a small museum with what was used during the attack on Kira Yoshinaka on display. From the samurai sword to what the Ronin wore, it is astonishing to see how they were still well preserved after all those years!

© Hyogo Tourism Bureau

You will even find figures inside the museum that are used to detail how the attack took place (=゚ω゚)ノ.

There is also a treasure hall that contains Asano, Ōishi, and Mori families’ treasures. Close to the treasure hall, there is another worship hall that has wooden statues of the 47 Ronin, their lord – Asano Naganori, and Shigezane Kayano (萱野重実), the samurai who was going to join the attack but was unable to due to familial pressure. The wooden statues were made to mark the 250th anniversary of the death of the 47 Ronin in 1953. These two halls are certainly worthwhile exploring, especially for those interested in antiques and craftworks, as the level of intricacy is phenomenal!

If you are hungry or are keen on some dessert, drop by the Genroku Chaya (元禄茶屋) by the main gate that sells salt udon and soba, drinks, and red bean soup with rice cake. We received confirmation that the broth of the noodle soup and other savory sauces are not free of animal products. However, the desserts sold here should be entirely meat-free. You can utilize our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarians to check with the staff about the ingredients of the dishes.

Akō Ōishi Shrine’s Admission Fee, Opening Hours, and Access Information

  • It is a 15-minute walk from JR Banshū-Akō Station (播州赤穂駅)
  • If you prefer to take a bus, there are a few options which all depart from JR Banshū-Akō Station (播州赤穂駅)
    • Bus services running by West Shinki Bus (ウエスト神姫バス):
      • You can take most of the bus services departing from the station, as most of them will stop at Ōishijinja Higashi (大石神社東). Please check with the bus driver before boarding.
    • Akō City Community Bus Yuranosuke will be available from Mon to Sat:
      • All services currently stop at Ōishijinja-mae (大石神社前)
  • The shrine is free to enter, but if you want to explore the museum, treasure hall, and worship hall with the wooden statues of the Ronin on display, the admission fee is 450 yen for senior high school and above.
  • The shrine is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm daily.

Find out Where Else to Go in Akō City

Akō (赤穂) is a rural city that isn’t too far from Japan’s most elegant castle, Himeji Castle. While it is certainly not a top must-see destination in Japan, it does have its charm.

In spring, it is the place that you want to be there for its beautiful cherry blossom in the coastal area with moderate crowds!

For more information, please refer to our article on Akō City!

Click the photo to find out more about this stunning spot!

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