This month, since the Coronavirus scare is upon us, I was granted some days off. So of course with the crowds thinning, there’s no reason to stay at home since I'm asymptomatic (please don't be that guy with a fever and traveling though - I hate you already!). Where to this time? Hyogo prefecture! For someone who works in Hyogo prefecture, I know very little about it. (thankfully it doesn’t seem like the locals know all that much either, so I don’t feel half as bad) But I know there’s always been one place I wanted to venture to - the famed Machu Picchu of Japan, The Castle in the Sky - Takeda Castle ruins.
And off I went to the town where the beautiful castle that once was.
Takeda is located in Hyogo Prefecture countryside, close to the Sea of Japan side. It is slightly more remote, but not impossible to do by public transport. To avoid multiple transfers, you can take the Hamakaze from Osaka station (which also stops in Kobe and Himeji along the way). But please note that there are only 3 or 4 Hamakaze trains that run every day. If you miss them, you will have to take local routes or a combo of other trains.
I took the 9:38am Limited Express Hamakaze, which would take me to Takeda station in 2 hours. But if you already know (and you follow my twitter), traveling is never smooth sailing for me.
I ended up getting stuck in the middle of the Bantan line, just one limited express stop away from my destination. The line was experiencing some trouble and no trains were getting through. After waiting for some time, the train conductors announced that the line will resume in an hour and a half. Basically, just way too long.
Anyway, long story short, I got to Takeda station 2 hours later than I expected. But for some reasons, the timing still worked out no problem. I had plenty of time to drop into my awesome hotel for the night to drop my things off (which I'll cover in another blog post!), and caught the bus up to the easy path up to Takeda ruins.
Going up Takeda Castle Ruins
The Tenku bus runs hourly from Takeda station to Takeda castle ruins stopping at two major parking areas along the way. One parking area is at the bottom the of the hill, while the other parking area (Yamajiro no Sato bus stop) is more a of a rest stop between the bottom and top. So if you are driving and you want to save yourself the hike, you can also still hitch a ride from the bus since cars are only allowed up a certain point.
However, the bus only comes every 30 minutes or so (depending on time of day). So make sure you check the bus schedule at the tourist information center by Takeda JR station, or several other information centers nearby. From the bus, it is still a good 10 minute walk uphill, but the path is well paved, easy to follow and is more of a gentle incline. I definitely can’t say it’s easy, but I would say this hike wasn’t difficult at all.
At the end of the paved path is the entrance into the Takeda Castle ruins. Pay, and you will have access to the top to explore however you like. The entrance and exit are in separate locations, so it's best to follow to the path they created to reach the end, but that's of course up to you.
A few more stone steps up, and you'll be rewarded with tons of amazing views of the town below and different parts of the castle ruins on a nice, sunny day.
The castle ruins is huge complex. Plan at least one hour to view, take pictures and walk through the entire castle. It would also be a nice spot to rest, have a light picnic on one of many benches scattered around the ruins and enjoy the view.
Especially if you can catch sakura season in time. As you can see in the picture below, there are buds forming on the sakura trees at the tops of the ruins. The sakura usually blossom around late March and early April, but a few locals I spoke to seem to think it will blossom earlier this year (2020). There are also a lot of great sakura spots at the foot on the mountain in town (you can check out where those are in the map I posted above).
After a good 50 minutes, I headed back down these stairs back to the paved path and rushed for my bus back down to the station, where I will be staying the night in hopes for some luck that the weather will give me some form of the Sea of Clouds.
Weather plays a huge part of what you will be able (or not be able) to see. To catch the Sea of Clouds like the first picture I posted (well, first of all, that's on a different mountain range, but I will get to that later!), it's usually right before sunrise between the months of September and April. You have a higher chance between September and November, but even then, the weather is important.
Whilst researching, I came across other blogs that mentioned the previous day must be sunny and the night before the sunrise, it must rain in order to catch the Sea of Clouds.
I got the sunny part down, but the forecast said it will rain from night all up until the next day. Since the rain isn't stopping, I don't have high hopes - but I've decided to attempt the hike up Ritsuunkyo the next morning.
Mt. Ritsuunkyo Hike
Ritsuunkyo is a mountain range on the opposite side of the rail tracks, just next to the Takeda Castle Ruins. It stands at just over 700 ft above sea level, making it taller than the Takeda Castle Ruins at just above 300 ft - giving you a great view of the ruins from above if you decide to go all the way up.
I hired a taxi through the hotel I stayed at, to get me to the Ritsuunkyo Parking Lot at 6AM. It costed about 2000 yen for the round trip. It would have saved me 40 minutes of walking up some inclined switchbacks, and I had read that the road up was not paved. That got me worried as I would be hiking in the dark, and in the rain. So I opted for the taxi.
By the way, the road up to the parking lot is paved now. It looks really new though, so I believe this must be recent.
There are three observation decks at Ritsuunkyo.
The 1st observation point is the furthest to hike, but also the highest of the three. It takes about 30 minutes to reach it from the Ritsuunkyo Parking Lot. I was advised by my taxi driver not to make this trip up, as the path past the 2nd observation point is much more narrow and rugged - not good in the pouring rain and pre-sunrise. So I didn't.
However, I did make the 2nd observation point.
But I couldn't get any nice pictures with an umbrella and a walking stick in hand, but there were taken in between 2nd and 3rd where there was a covered rest area.
The 2nd observation point is at the level of the Takeda Castle Ruins, which still gives you a good view of the Sea of Clouds. This takes about 10 minutes from the parking lot, but I found myself making it in 5 minutes. It's not all that far.
The 3rd observation is the closest to the parking lot, and only mere minutes away.
Do note that the entire path are stone steps, so they can be a bit uneven at parts. But it was not overly difficult or rough, even in the pouring rain. There are walking sticks you can borrow at the start of the trail, which really helps.
So as you can see, I wasn't able to capture the Sea of Clouds completely, but there were some short spurts where I was able to still see the Takeda Castle Ruins somewhat from a distance. It was an amazing sight even in bad weather, so I recommend this trip to both hikers and non-hikers.
I highly recommend those who are heading to Kinosaki Onsen to stop here for a few hours before making your way up there. However, if you want to stay overnight, stick around for my next blog post!