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The Truth About Japan’s Castle in the Clouds

The idea of visiting Japan’s so-called “Castle in the Clouds” has always been a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I do love a good Japanese castle, even if Takeda-jō is little more than ruins.

On the other hand, the unkai (“sea of clouds”) phenomenon that makes this one so special is rather difficult to see. In nearly a decade of traveling around Japan I’ve only really seen it once: On a May morning in Kumamoto prefecture’s Mt. Aso Geopark, when I frankly wasn’t expecting it at all.

If you can get past the anxiety and poor odds—Takeda-jō is only “in the clouds” 1 out of 3 days, even in peak season—continue reading to learn how to visit Takeda Castle.

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Why Do People Visit Takeda Castle?

It’s plainly obvious why people make the long journey to Takeda Castle. The “castle in the clouds” effect is massively hyped, albeit more on social media than on travel sites related to Japan. Like this one, I find most of them present a sober view of visiting Takeda Castle, and realistic odds of you being able to see the unkai at its full effect.

Indeed, unlike many other destinations in Japan, there’s not a whole lot to see in the vicinity of Takeda Castle besides the castle itself. And while the ruins are pretty cool given their location atop a towering plateau, I’m not sure anyone would bother to visit them if it weren’t for the possibility of a “sea of clouds.” Possibility, not guarantee—keep reminded yourself of this.

Visiting Takeda Castle: Step by Step

Rent a car

Although you can ride a train to JR Wadayama Station, it’s really best to have a car if you want to see Japan’s castle in the clouds. The most convenient place to rent a car is probably in Himeji, since it’s right on the Shinkansen line, although if you happen to be in Toyooka city, it’s a bit closer.

Drive to Asago city

Before you reach Takeda Castle, you first need to reach Asago city. The best way to do this, once you get your car, is to put the phone number of your hotel or ryokan into the GPS interface of your rental car. TIP: I don’t recommend taking the toll road, as it won’t save you much time.

Stay the night

Because unkai is an early morning phenomenon, it’s really necessary to stay the night in order to see it. I personally stayed at the charming Gunkakutei guest house in Asago city, although there may be other options available, depending on your dates.

Wake up before dawn

Ideally, you will arrive at the parking lot of the Ritsuunkyo viewpoint (the trail opens at 5 AM) before dawn, which means you need to wake up before dawn. Assuming you visit during the unkai “season” in October or November, you should plan to set an alarm for 4:30 at the latest.

Cross your fingers

Although coming to Takeda Castle in October or November maximizes your chances, your odds still aren’t very good. You’re going to need a lot of luck to see Takeda-jō “floating” amid a sea of clouds! While I of course suggest that you remain hopeful, try also to be mindful of the likely outcome.

How Often Does the “Sea of Clouds” Form?

Enjoy a true unkai effect is extremely rare. Although it can be a bit more or less common in certain parts of Japan, based on a variety of geographical circumstances, it doesn’t generally form anymore often than 1 out of 3 days. Both at Takeda Castle and in other spots throughout Japan, there also tends to be a “season” for the cloud sea, outside which it almost never happens.

If you want to know, before ascending to the viewpoint, whether the Japan cloud castle is going to look like it does on Instagram, there’s an easy way to tell. Namely, the fog will be so thick you can’t see the sky, and maybe not even down the street you’re staying on. If you can see stars twinkling as you walk out of your hotel or ryokan, on the other hand, your unkai chances are close to zero.


Other FAQ About Takeda Castle

How to get to Takeda Castle?

You can get to Takeda Castle by driving or traveling by train to the city of Asago, in Hyogo prefecture. After staying the night in the town, you will need to wake up the next morning before dawn and ascend a viewpoint, ideally either by rental car or taxi.

Where is the sea of clouds in Japan?

The sea of clouds exists many places in Japan, most famously at Takeda Castle in Hyogo prefecture, a couple hours from both Kobe and Himeji. Other spots in Japan where you can see unkai include Kyushu island’s Mt. Aso and the Chichibu region just northwest of Tokyo in Saitama prefecture.

What does unkai mean in Japanese?

Unkai (雲海) literally means “sea of clouds.” It refers to the phenomenon whereby thick, low-lying clouds fill valleys (and, in some cases, volcanic calderas) throughout Japan. Although this effect doesn’t only occur in Japan, the Japanese celebrate it with an enthusiasm that’s hard to find in other countries.

The Bottom Line

Once you break down how to visit Takeda Castle, getting there isn’t really an issue. It’s actually pretty simple. You need to get yourself to Asago city sometime before sunset, and get yourself up to the Takeda Castle viewpoint sometime before sunrise the next morning. The issue is timing—and, frankly, luck. Even if you come during the so-called “unkai season” during the months of October and November, your odds of seeing the phenomenon are 1-in-3 at best. Thankfully, you can insulate against disappointment by making sure the rest of your Japan trip is top-notch. The best way to do that? Hire me to plan it!


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