Photo/Illutration Donors to the city of Tanba-Sasayama can have dinner in Sasayama Castle’s guest room called the Jodan no Ma. (Takeshi Okada)

TANBA-SASAYAMA, Hyogo Prefecture--Just like in the days of yore, special guests arriving at Sasayama Castle here are made to feel like masters of the house. 

Upon arrival, they are encouraged to change into kimono.

Then they are led to the guest room called the Jodan no Ma, where visitors had an audience with feudal lords in olden days.

The guests will feast on the same dinner that feudal lords served their guests.

The meal will be cooked using recipes from the Edo Period (1603-1867).

The city of Tanba-Sasayama is offering the tour featuring the exclusive dinner in the restored main building of Sasayama Castle for people who donate 1.61 million yen ($11,800) under the government’s hometown tax program. 

The overnight tour is limited to a group of two adults per day and allows them to enjoy the spacious guest room all to themselves.

The guests will stay the night at a nearby luxurious hotel, which is a refurbished old traditional Japanese house. 

Participants will also visit the surrounding castle town to explore its history, fully attended by guides. Curators will accompany them and explain historical facts and show places of interest.

Participants can also try their hand at pottery-making.

For donors who can dish out 3.227 million yen for a more lavish outing, the tour will come with additional options, such as experiencing Kodo (the art of appreciating Japanese incense), tea ceremonies, and watching performances of Kyogen, a form of classical Japanese comic theater.

Sasayama Castle was built in 1609, during the early Edo Period. It is famed for being designed by Todo Takatora (1556-1630), a daimyo warlord, who was called “a master of castle building.”

The castle was the center of politics and administration of the Sasayama Domain, a federal domain that produced 50,000 goku of rice. Goku, or koku, is an old Japanese measurement unit of rice. One goku represents 180 liters or 140 kilograms of rice.

Sasayama Castle doesn’t have a tenshukaku, a towering structure that is typically present for old Japanese castles.

Instead, the main part of the castle is a one-story structure called the Oshoin.

The Oshoin is as large as the 3,300-square-meter Ninomaru Palace of Nijo Castle in Kyoto Prefecture. It’s where official events used to be held and houses rooms including the Jodan no Ma.

The current Oshoin building was rebuilt in March 2000.

The original burned down in a fire in 1944, after surviving the castle abolishment law enacted following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and then being used as an elementary school building and a public hall.

Half a century after the fire, local residents started a drive to seek the restoration of the building.

A total of 1.2 billion yen was secured to rebuild the Oshoin, including donations.

The original Oshoin was faithfully re-created, based on academic research including excavations as well as old drawings and photos.

The new Oshoin now stands in the city center as a symbol of Tanba-Sasayama.

Scenes of the film “The Legend & Butterfly” were shot near Sasayama Castle’s Oshoin building in October 2021. (Provided by the Tanba-Sasayama city government)

The special tour is one of the gifts from the Tanba-Sasayama city government as part of the central government’s hometown tax program.

In the program, called “furusato nozei” in Japanese, taxpayers can donate cash to a local government of their choice and receive a tax deduction from their residence taxes. 

In return, they can receive a gift worth up to 30 percent of the donated sum from the municipality they donated to in addition to tax credits.

The gifts are often local specialties.

Tanba-Sasayama has many local specialties such as black beans and Tanba chestnuts, but it doesn’t receive as much in cash donations as other local entities in the program.

With more effort to offer better gifts, the city government collected more than 230 million yen by January since the start of fiscal 2022 in April.

But it’s far short of its target for the fiscal year, which is 400 million yen.

So, the city is offering the tour in hopes of collecting more donations in the program in the next fiscal year.

The city has already received reservations for the tour, which will start on April 1. 

“We hope that this tour will draw attention and that our city’s gifts in the hometown tax program will be talked about,” says Tadashi Habe, chief of the section to promote the furusato nozei for Tanba-Sasayama.

The Oshoin is open to visitors even if they don’t make a donation to the city. Visitors can see the interior and wear restored samurai armor. Even children are encouraged to try the armor on. 

“Much of the stone walls at Sasayama Castle have remained intact since the Edo Period," says Yuki Onishi, a curator. "Many places at the castle look good in photographs, including the Oshoin.”

Some scenes in the movie “The Legend & Butterfly,” which is currently playing in movie theaters and features the famed actor Takuya Kimura as the 16th-century warlord Oda Nobunaga, were shot at Sasayama Castle.

According to the city government and others, scenes of Kiyosu Castle, where Nobunaga resided, were filmed at Sasayama Castle.

For three days in October 2021, the film crew shot scenes outside the Oshoin, at the castle’s stone wall close to the inner moat, and near Sannomaru Square, with Kimura and another main actor, Haruka Ayase.

Another film “Samurai Hustle,” and TV dramas such as “Nobunaga’s Chef” and “Female Nobunaga,” also used Sasayama Castle as a filming location.

An official at the castle says that it has been used at least once a year as a shooting site in recent years, citing its location, which is just an hour's drive from Kyoto’s Uzumasa district, where a filming studio of the major film company Toei Co. is located.

In addition, the relatively fresh and clean look of the Oshoin adds to its popularity.

The Sasayama Castle Oshoin is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day except Mondays. Entry closes at 4:30 p.m. 

Entry is 400 yen for adults, 200 yen for university and high school students, and 100 yen for junior high school and elementary school students.