Bicchu Matsuyama Castle was originally built in 1240 by Saburo Shigenobu, and Kurozaemon Muneyasu Takahashi enlarged it to include the castle's present location. The donjon and most of what you see today were built in the seventeenth century by the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Bicchu Matsuyama castle is one of only twelve original castles left in Japan, so it retains historical value that many of Japan's castles do not have. This castle is also unique because it is built on Mount Gagyu at 430 meters above sea level, which makes it the highest castle in Japan. Although the castle is not as large as most of the castles, its position on the mountaintop make it a highly impressive site!
Upon walking up to the castle, I was taken aback by how beautiful and well-preserved the castle walls are! It definitely gets you in the mood to see a mountain castle! From the top of the mountain and from the castle the surrounding mountains with the city around the Takahashi River make for a gorgeous view!
Bicchu Matsuyama Castle rarely has many people visiting at one time, and foreign tourists are even more rare. I had the entire castle to myself, which really added to its charm. Of all the castles I've seen, the history combined with the location and beauty of the castle and castle walls make ***u Matsuyama my personal favorite castle!
The entrance fee is 300 yen.
The Ikegami Mansion dates back to 1843 when it was rebuilt after a fire. The Ikegami family was a merchant family, who made a living by producing Shoyu, which is soy sauce.
Today, you can walk through the residence and learn about the production of soy sauce. In the first room there is a small museum of various artifacts, most of which do not relate to soy sauce production but instead come from the Ikegami household. In the next room is where all of the large barrels and tools used for making soy sauce is located. Although the information is all in Japanese, there are pictures beside each item to show you how it was used in the production process. It's quite an interesting place, different from houses in other preserved buildings in Japan in what it features (soy sauce).
The entrance fee is 300 yen. When you first enter, you will be in a local restaurant. You can certainly eat here, but to enter the Ikegami mansion, approach the cashier to pay and s/he will show you the entrance.
Although the date in which in the original temple was built is unkown, the current structure dates back to 1504, when the lord of Matsuyama Castle restored the exterior of the building, so it is quite old.
The garden was originally constructed in the early 1600s by Enshu Kobori, who is famous for being one of the original founders of the Japanese tea ceremony. Since it was built, the abbots of the temple have maintained the garden in its original form as a way to show honor and respect to its creator, Enshu.
The temple itself is reasonably large, and there is a samurai suit encased inside. Of course, the main focus of the temple is the Zen garden, and rightfully so. The garden's design is truly beautiful and you can enjoy it from a few different vantage points. The garden's association with the tea ceremony's founder also makes it is unique. It is easy to appreciate the garden for both its aesthetic value and historical value.
The entrance fee is 300 yen.
The easiest way to get to Takahashi is from Okayama City or Kurashiki. The stop is Bit'chu Takahashi.
You will want to pay attention to the station names, because there are three stations that have "Bit'chu" in their names: Bit'chu Hirose, Bit'chu Takahashi, and Bit'chu Takamatsu.
If you are travelling from Okayama, you will pass both of the other two stations before reaching Bit'chu Takahashi. It costs about 820 yen. Bit'chu Hirose is the stop just before Bit'chu Takahashi, and Bit'chu Takamatsu has a similar name.
If you are travelling from Kurashiki, you will only pass Bit'chu Hirose before arriving at Bit'chu Takahashi Station.
So: Just remember the station is BIT'CHU TAKAHASHI. It's not so difficult, but it's easy to make a mistake if you're not aware, and many people do!
The easiest way to get around Takahashi City is on foot. The city is not very large, so you can easily see the main sights in a day, even on foot.
The only place I would suggest not walking is to Bicchu Matsuyama Castle. You certainly can walk up if you wish. It is estimated to take about an hour, but because the castle is situated in the mountaintop, the walk is all uphill. If you like hiking or if you don't want to pay for a taxi, then you may prefer walking.
If you wish to avoid the walk, you should take a taxi from the station (there are no buses that go up to the castle, although there is one that stops at the foot of the mountain). The fee is estimated at 1330 yen, although I only payed 1200 yen. The taxi takes you most of the way however, you do have to walk up the rest of the way for about 20 minutes from where the taxis stop in order to reach the castle.
When you finish visiting the castle, you could call a taxi to take you back down, but I recommend walking down. You can save money this way, and the walk down will give you some gorgeous views of the city below. Also, walking down the mountain is a great way to visit the other sites, particularly the samurai residences and Raikyuji Temple, because you will pass them on your way back to the station.
If you choose to walk up or down Mount Gagyu to the castle, listen for the sounds of vehicles. Some parts of the road are narrow, so walk on the edge of the road rather than down the middle.