Kumamoto Castle Honmaru Goten

Japanese Castles: Kumamoto Castle Honmaru Goten

Kumamoto Castle Honmaru Goten 熊本城 本丸御殿

Jake Davies

History of Honmaru Goten, Kumamoto Castle

The Honmaru Goten Palace of Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto, Kyushu, is where the Lord lived and conducted government business, which to a large extent revolved around official receptions in the spacious reception hall.

The original palace was constructed around 1610, but, like much of the original Kumamoto Castle buildings, was destroyed during the Seinan War of 1877. The reconstruction was completed in 2008. Actually only part of the palace has been rebuilt. The original consisted of 53 rooms measuring 1570 tatami, and the reconstruction has only 25 rooms totaling 580 tatami.

After entering the grounds of Kumamoto Castle, to reach the main courtyard and the castle keep the way passes right under the Goten Palace through the "Kuragari Tsuuro", a dark passage that is quite unusual in Japanese castle architecture.

Above your head massive beams span the passage and support the palace above. The entrance into the palace is from the main courtyard, and the fee is included in the castle entrance fee.

The first few rooms show models and plans of how the palace used to look and how the reconstruction was achieved. As far as was possible traditional materials and construction methods have been used.

Then you pass through the massive kitchen and pantry, the Gozentachinoma and Irorinoma. The Japanese had no chimneys, so ventilation was through the open ceiling and roof, so one can look up past the massive 12 meter beams and see how the roof is constructed. Now it is all new, clean wood and illuminated with electric light, but the original would have been dark and blackened by smoke and soot.

Kumamoto Goten Palace, Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu.
Main Hall with tatami floors at the Kumamoto Goten Palace, Kumamoto Castle

On the second floor above the kitchen is an unusual restaurant, the Goten Palace Restaurant. There are no menus, as there is only one set meal on offer, though it varies with the seasonal availability of ingredients, and it's a little pricey at 3,000 yen, but what you get are the kinds of dishes that would have been eaten by the daimyo and his guests, prepared with authentic Edo Period recipes.

Many of the dishes may seem familiar, but will not be made with modern sauces and condiments. Fortunately a pamphlet in English will explain what it is you are eating. Only 50 meals are prepared each day, so it is vital to book in advance. Tel: 096 325 0092.

Engawa at Kumamoto Goten Palace, Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu, Japan.
Engawa at Kumamoto Honmaru Goten Palace, Kumamoto Castle
Beautifully painted wooden screens, Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu, Japan.
Beautifully painted wooden screens showing cranes and hydrangeas at Kumamoto Goten Palace

Next one comes to the heart of the palace, "The Lord's Extravagant Inner Palace Reception Hall". It's actually a series of rooms that can be made into a hall of varying sizes by removing the sliding doors. At the far end is the Wakamatsunoma where the daimyo himself would have sat at the head of the hall.

Visitors cannot enter the tatami-floored hall, but by following the Ohiroma-engawa, a corridor that runs alongside the hall and from where one can look out upon the inner courtyard of the castle, one can look inside the Wakamatsunoma and its gorgeous artwork.

Next to it is the most opulent and ostentatious room in the palace, the Shokonnoma, built by Kiyomasa Kato for the visit of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's son Hideyori, all the surfaces save the tatami floor are decorated in gold leaf,  lacquer, and paintings, some by famed artist Kotonobu Kano.

Before leaving the palace a few more rooms can be seen including a tea house.

Open from 8:30-6 (Apr-Oct) & 8:30-5:30 (Nov-Mar)

Kumamoto Castle Access - how to get to Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle is located north east of JR Kumamoto Station. Take a tram from JR Kumamoto Station and alight at the Kumamotojo-mae stop. Visitors to Kumamoto Castle Park should also try to visit the wonderful Hosokawa Gyobu-tei, the former samurai mansion and gardens of the Hosokawa clan, who were lords of Kumamoto Castle from 1632 to 1868 after the ouster of the Kato clan and Honmyoji Temple, which contains the grave of Kato Kiyomasa.

Alternatively take the Castle Loop Bus from Kumamoto Kotsu Bus Center.

Kumamoto itself is now connected by the Kyushu Shinkansen to Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Kagoshima and onwards from Fukuoka's Hakata Station to Osaka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Nagoya Station and Tokyo.

Hotel Accommodation near Kumamoto Castle

The area of Kumamoto Castle forms the historic center of Kumamoto and there are many hotels, ryokan and backpacker guest houses within a few minutes walk of the castle grounds. Some hotels near Kumamoto Castle include the Kumamoto Castle Hotel, the Ark Hotel Kumamotojyo-mae and the Hotel Sunroute Kumamoto.

Kumamoto Goten Palace, Kyushu, southern Japan.
The reconstructed kitchen at Kumamoto Honmaru Goten Palace, Kumamoto
Kumamoto Castle Palace interior, Kyushu.
The ornate interior of the Shokonnoma at Kumamoto Honmaru Goten Palace

Book Hotel Accommodation in Kumamoto Here

Hotels in Japan - Booking.com
Hotels in Kumamoto - Booking.com
Hotels in Kumamoto - Agoda

Books on Japanese Castles