If you are a Japanese history buff, the first attraction you will want to visit once you arrive at Sendai must be the Sendai Castle (仙台城). The castle, situated atop Mt. Aoba or Aobayama in Japanese, was built by Date Masamune (伊達政宗), one of the most famous feudal lords in the late 15th to early 16 century. While the original castle was destroyed by a series of historical events from the late 19th century, it still ranks as one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles!
Who is Date Masamune?
For those who don’t know who Date Masamune is, he is the most influential leader in the Tōhoku region from the late Sengoku period to the early Edo period. He is the 17th head of the Date clan and the first lord of the Sendai Domain (仙台藩). And he is commonly known as the Single-Eyed Dragon Masamune, because he lost eyesight in his right eye due to smallpox and often covered his eye up.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi was Japan’s leader, Masamune was once his trusted vassal. But after Hideyoshi passed away, he became a supporter of Tokugawa Ieyasu and largely contributed to Ieyasu’s victory in the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の戦い) in 1600.
Masamune was thus granted a large piece of land in lower northeastern Japan and laid the foundation of the modern-day city of Sendai.
Sendai Castle’s History
Sendai Castle, also known as the Aoba Castle, was completed in 1602 when it had quite vast grounds. The mountain castle, situated at its east with an altitude of 130 meters, was built against a cliff and had Tatsunokuchi Valley (竜の口渓谷) at its south. The castle had great geographical advantages during wars, creating a challenge for enemies and rivals as it would be hard to climb the cliffs and actually reach the castle.
Since the castle was constructed after the turbulent era, you might think it doesn’t need the natural stronghold and all its defense functions. But to Masamune, it was required just in case the Tokugawa clan became an enemy. Sendai Castle is thus said to be the symbol of Masamune’s ambition of becoming the country’s leader.
With that being said, a Tenshukaku (castle keep) wasn’t built to show the Date clan’s loyalty to the Tokugawa shogunate. Instead, when Masamune was alive, all castle’s key functions were taken place in the Honmaru, built in the luxurious Azuchi Momoyama style.
Why did we say “when Masamune was alive”? Because it was just inconvenient to hike up the mountain to perform government affairs. So after Ninomaru (二の丸) was completed at the foot of the mountain in 1639, the Honmaru didn’t get much use anymore.
During the Meiji restoration in the late 19th century, parts of the Sendai castle were dismantled or lost in fire hazards. But what eventually destroyed the entire complex was the Sendai air raid in 1945.
After the war, a couple of corner towers were restored. Date Masamune’s statue, which was used for military purposes, was also remade and then placed at the Honmaru Ruins that oversee the Sendai City center.
In 1997, maintenance work was performed on the Honmaru’s stone walls, with the castle ruins excavated at the same time. The results from the excavation work revealed the site’s historical value. So in 2003, Sendai Castle was designated as a National Historic Site.
How to Get to Sendai Castle
The easiest and fastest way to get to Sendai Castle is by taking the Sendai Sightseeing City Loop Bus – Loople Sendai (るーぷる仙台), then getting off at the Site of Sendai Castle (仙台城跡). From JR Sendai Station, it will take around 20 minutes.
The loop bus also stops at multiple key attractions in the city center. So consider getting a One-Day Pass to save on transportation.
For more information, please refer to the Access Information Section in our Sendai City article.
Tip: The Sendai Castle has a unique way of welcoming its guests. The Date Warlord Corps (伊達武将隊) is formed by a group of five people, each cosplaying one of the famous samurais who were deeply related to the Date clan and Sendai, including Date Masamune. On most days, at least one of them will be around the castle doing various performances. So if you are interested, translate their schedule HERE to English by Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
Heading to Sendai Castle
The Sendai Castle has now been transformed into the Aobayama Park (青葉山公園). If you want to follow the route taken by samurais in the past, get off the Loople Sendai at Sendai City Museum/Sendai International Center (博物館・国際センター前). This way, you can walk/hike past a couple of attractions that used to be a part of Sendai Castle, such as the Sendai Castle Ōtemon Side Turret (大手門脇櫓), which was a part of the castle’s Ninomaru.
Miyagi Prefecture Gokoku Shrine (宮城縣護国神社)
What welcomes you into Sendai Castle’s Honmaru is the Miyagi Prefecture Gokoku Shrine’s Torii gate. Don’t doubt it. You are at the right place.
Back then, Emperor Meiji wanted a place to pray for those who lost their lives since the Meiji restoration. So, a part of the grounds of the Honmaru was transformed into a shrine that enshrines those who were from Miyagi Prefecture who lost their lives for the country since the Meiji period.
Leaving aside what the shrine was erected for, most locals don’t come to the shrine to worship those who died for the country. The shrine is pretty much treated as a guardian shrine where people pray for a better and more successful life.
Once you pass the torii gate and keep hiking up, you will eventually reach a large empty rectangular space with many stones on the ground. This was where the Great Hall of the Honmaru, Ōhiroma (大広間), used to sit. To feel its past glory, head to the Aoba Castle Museum and Sendai Castle Museum.
Sendai Castle Museum (仙台城見聞館)
Next to the Ōhiroma Ruins, the Sendai Castle Museum is where you can view photos and videos of the results of the excavation of the Sendai Castle ruins and the records of stone wall repair work. There is also a model of the Ōhiroma and Sendai Castle’s commemorative stamp. So if you are a collector of Japan’s Top 100 Castle’s commemorative stamps, don’t miss out on this building!
After you visit the museum, you will surely understand why the castle was designated as a national historic site.
Aoba Castle Museum (青葉城資料展示館)
Aoba Castle Museum is the main attraction on the grounds of Sendai Castle. It is where the Honmaru used to be.
In the museum, you will find information about the history of the Sendai Castle and the Date clan, including armor, letters, and daily necessities from the Edo period. In particular, the CG Theater is the perfect place to realize the scale of Sendai Castle and its geographical location. While it certainly doesn’t seem like there is a cliff close to Sendai Castle, the short film will demonstrate to you what the castle’s surroundings used to look like.
Aoba Castle Museum’s Opening Hours and Admission Fees
- Aoba Castle Museum is open from
- 9 am to 4:20 pm from April to October
- The last admission to the museum is at 3:50 pm
- The last admission for Sendai Castle Virtual Reality is at 3:20 pm
- 9 am to 3:40 pm from November to March
- The last admission to the museum is at 3:10 pm
- The last admission for Sendai Castle Virtual Reality is at 2:40 pm
- 9 am to 4:20 pm from April to October
- The admission fee is
- 700 yen for adults
- 500 yen for high school students
- 300 yen for elementary school students
- Sendai Castle Virtual Reality costs
- 800 yen for adults
- 600 yen for high school students
- 500 yen for elementary school students
- Aoba Castle Museum Admission + Sendai Castle Virtual Reality costs
- 1,300 yen for adults
- 1,000 yen for high school students
- 700 yen for elementary school students
The Statue of Date Masamune (伊達政宗公騎馬像)
When you visit Sendai Castle, ensure you get a photo of the imposing Date Masamune’s statue. Otherwise, it would almost be like you have never visited this historical spot! As one of the most popular spots in Sendai City, some waiting may be required if you want a photo without strangers as the backdrop.
The Statue of Date Masamune is the symbol of Sendai. But this statue is actually the second generation placed in 1964. The original statue was placed in 1935 for Masamune’s 300th anniversary. But it was taken by the government during World War Two, and the statue probably formed a part of fighter jets or firearms.
From sunset to 11 pm, this statue is illuminated every day. It is also the best spot to get a panoramic view of Sendai City and a fantastic night view.
Important: Affected by the earthquake in March 2022, the statue is currently under maintenance and is scheduled to meet the public in April 2023.
The Honmaru’s North Stone Wall (本丸北壁石垣)
Because Sendai Castle was a mountain castle, tall stone walls weren’t needed. But there is one spot in the park where you can see some magnificent stone wall structures.
Locating north of Honmaru, the stone wall is as tall as 17 meters! If you love historical architecture, spend some time examining the stone wall’s elegant lines (^_-)-☆.
Sendai City Museum (仙台市博物館)
If you have more time to spare, drop by the Sendai City Museum for more detailed information about Date Masamune and the Date clan. This is where you can encounter Date Masamune’s armor and battle coat.
Another highlight of the museum’s exhibits is the national treasure, the materials related to the Keichō Mission to Europe (慶長遣歐使節團). The mission was sent by Date Masamune to greet the Spanish king and the Pope in 1613.
The museum was built on Sendai Castle’s Sannomaru Ruins. Together with other historical materials and crafts related to the Sendai Domain, there are around 98,000 items in the museum’s collection, with around 1,000 of them permanently displayed.
For more information, please refer to the official website HERE.
Important: The museum is under major renovation and is scheduled to be reopened in April 2024.
Sendai City Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- The museum is open daily except for Mondays and the next business day after a public holiday from 9 am to 4:45 pm.
- The last admission is at 4:15 pm
- If Monday is a public holiday, it will close on the next business day.
- The museum is closed from the 28th of December to the 4th of January.
- The admission fee is
- 460 yen for adults
- 230 yen for senior high school students
- 110 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- The museum is an 8-minute walk from Sendai City Subway’s International Center Station (国際センター駅) South 1 exit.
- From Loople Sendai’s bus stop, Sendai City Museum/Sendai International Center (博物館・国際センター前), it is around a 3-minute walk.
The Required Time at Sendai Castle
- If you only plan to visit attractions around the Honmaru Ruins, including the Miyagi Prefecture Gokoku Shrine (宮城縣護國神社), the Sendai Castle Museum (資料館), and the Statue of Date Masamune (伊達政宗公騎馬像), it will take you around 30 minutes only.
- If you also want to visit the Sannomaru Ruins/Sendai City Museum at the foot of Mt. Aoba, a return trip will take around 2 hours.
- A couple of natural hiking trails connect the Honmaru Ruins and the Sannomaru Ruins. But note there are some steep hills.
The Best Time to Visit Sendai Castle
- In April and November, you can stop by Zuihōden Temple (瑞鳳殿) located next door, which is Date Masamune’s mausoleum for cherry blossoms and fall foliage hunting.
- In May, the light green foliage in Sendai City can be adored.
- In late November, when clouds rarely block the nighttime sky, the night view from the castle is the best in Sendai City.
Tip: Leaving Sendai Castle to the end of the day is recommended so you can gaze at the night view from the Honmaru Ruins without much waiting. Especially in autumn and winter when the sun sets at around 5 pm.
Discover Other Fantastic Attractions in Sendai
You might not be aware of it, but Sendai, the Tōhoku region‘s biggest city, receives more than 20 million tourists each year!
So if you want to find out how Sendai managed to attract so many people to visit it, refer to our article on Sendai, which is filled with historical, cultural, and natural attractions (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.