HIRADO, Nagasaki -- Hirado Castle in this southwestern Japan city will debut as a hotel in April, letting guests feel like an Edo period (1603-1868) feudal lord and family for 600,000 yen (about $5,500) per night.
The transformation of the castle's "Kaiju Yagura" tower into a hotel makes it the first permanent "shirohaku" -- literally "staying overnight at a castle" -- facility in Japan. Located on a hill with views of the sea and the grand Hirado Bridge, the hotel interior is also stuffed with luxurious examples of Japanese art and design, from walls and partitions to the lights. As the rate is also luxurious, the operator intends to spark fresh demand among well-healed tourist from Europe and the United States.
Tourists who go to Hirado Island by road can see the castle atop a hill on the right-hand side while crossing Hirado Bridge, which connects the island with mainland Kyushu. Hirado Castle was originally built in 1718, but it was mostly demolished in 1871 under a decree to have most castles torn down following the Meiji Restoration. The castle keep and tower were rebuilt using reinforced concrete after World War II. As they were rebuilt as a sightseeing spot and not designated as a cultural property, use of the castle is unrestricted, allowing it to be turned permanently into a hotel.
The two-story Kaiju Yagura tower was rebuilt in 1977 and has a total of some 120 square meters of floor space. The living-dining room adjacent to the entrance has walls with a golden base color, a glass table inspired by "Edo kiriko" cut glass, polka-dot-like lighting in the motif of the family crest of the Hirado domain lord, a partition with beautiful wood grids, and a space with "tatami" reed mats.
In the bedroom on the second floor are two double beds, and flora from each of the four seasons, such as cherry blossoms and red maple leaves, are painted on the walls. The interior is finished in a thoroughly Japanese fashion based on the Edo period's Rinpa school of art. Three directions of the added bathroom, which is protruded from the building, are glass-walled, and guests can enjoy a mesmerizing view overlooking sea and Hirado Bridge. The building was a warehouse before its 137-million-yen (about $1.3 million) rebirth as a hotel.
The 600,000-yen nightly rate covers up to five people, but does not include meals. For an extra fee, guests can order dinner and breakfast, made using specialty ingredients from Hirado's seas and mountains by a dedicated chef in a kitchen newly added to the building.
Cultural options include dressing up in traditional Japanese clothes, a tea ceremony, a special performance of "Hirado Kagura" dance -- a national intangible cultural property -- and getting the top floor of the castle keep all to themselves. A limousine taxi is also available to get between the castle and Nagasaki or Fukuoka airports. With all the optional extras, however, a one-night stay will set you back more than 1 million yen ($9,200).
In 2017, the Hirado Municipal Government offered a one-night stay in the castle keep, which drew more than 7,000 application from in and outside Japan. A couple in their 20s from Japan's Kansai region won the honor. City officials saw it as a potential "killer attraction," and developed the idea for a permanent accommodation venue. The entire castle complex is scheduled to reopen in April following some 580 million yen (about $5.3 million) in renovations, including to the roofs and stone walls. By sprucing the castle up, they aim to lure Western tourists to Hirado.
Castle hotel operator Noroshi Inc. President Seiya Kurakake said, "Using the symbol of Hirado, we have created the first shirohaku facility in the country, and we expect wealthy foreign tourists to visit. We hope to create a new tourism trend."
The castle hotel was originally set to open in summer 2020, but this was pushed back following the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. While the facility will open amid a still-stagnated global tourism demand due to the pandemic, observers will be watching to see how much the project builds overseas name recognition for Hirado and the shirohaku concept.
(Japanese original by Hiroshi Watanuki, Sasebo Bureau)