Visiting at least one Japanese Castle is probably on every visitors agenda, but with over fifty different castles to choose from, which ones are must sees?
Picking the top five castles in Japan is pretty subjective, but here’s what I consider the do not miss castles of Japan.
Himeji Castle has long been the number one castle in Japan – in fact, many travel books recommend that if you can only visit one Japanese Castle, you should make it Himeji.
Built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Himeji Castle became a staging point for many of Hedeyoshi’s campaigns across Japan. The castle grounds were built with plenty of defensive elements, including a confusing maze of paths leading to the main keep. The idea was that attackers would get confused and lost while navigating the castle streets, all the while getting picked off from arrow and gun emplacements.
Reasons to visit Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is probably the most beautiful castle in Japan, and being that it’s the most visited castle in Japan, plenty of tourists think so too. Poised like a great white heron, the castle looks out over the city – making it very easy to find after coming off the train.
Another great reason to visit Himeji Castle is that the castle is not a reconstruction, meaning you’ll be seeing the castle much like it was originally constructed.
Since I spent too much time in Kobe, I was only able to see Himeji Castle in the dark after it had closed. It was still very breathtaking, but I definitely recommend seeing it in the day. If you’re fortunate enough to time your trip during sakura (cherry blossom) season, Himeji Castle makes for some outstanding photography opportunities.
68 Honmachi, Himeji.
Matsumoto Castle, with it’s black exterior and being built on flat land rather than perched on a hill, makes it feel like the polar opposite of Himeji Castle.
In 1635, when military threats diminished, a barely defended turret for moon viewing was added to the castle.
Reasons to visit Mastumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle boasts the oldest keep in Japan (over 400 years old).
The third floor of the tower on the inside has no windows and was designed as a secret floor to house soldiers.
The Castle houses an impressive collection of Japanese armor and weapons from the Edo Period (mid-16th century).
4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto.
Nijo Castle found in the heart of Kyoto provides a look back at Japan’s Imperial Court days. Its Chinese inspired design and beautiful gardens makes it one of Japan’s top tourist stops.
Nijo Castle served as the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, while he was in Kyoto. The castle is filled with beautiful art and wall paintings and was mainly used for administrative affairs – which is reflected by the many offices and meeting rooms inside.
Reasons to visit Nijo Castle
No other castle in Japan gives you the feel of the opulent Imperial Court like Nijo, with its sliding doors and sprawling wall paintings. You have to imagine that price was not a factor in the construction of Nijo.
The squeaky Nightingale Floors (think ninja early warning system) are worth the visit alone.
You’ll also want to spend a few leisurely moments strolling through the intricately designed castle gardens.
Corner of Horikawa Dori and Nijo Dori, Kyoto.
Matsue Castle is one of the few remaining medieval castles in Japan – at least of the few remaining in their original wooden form.
Completed in 1611 by the local lord Horio Yoshiharu, Matsue Castle missed all of the great wars of feudal Japan, which is one major reason that some of the original wooden constructions still exists.
Reasons to visit Matsue Castle
Matsue’s five story watchtower styled keep (donjon) sits nestled among green grass and sculptured shrubbery which makes this solemn black structure really stand out. It makes for some striking photography.
1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue.
Although there is nothing original left of Osaka Castle, I would not take a trip through Osaka without stopping at this famous castle.
The number one reason for visiting Osaka Castle is its important place in Japanese history, playing a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century. Osaka Castle is the site of the Winter War which eventually lead the fall of the Toyotomi clan, and the rise of the Tokugawa.
Reasons to visit Osaka Castle
When you walk through the gates of Osaka Castle you can almost feel the history rushing under your feet. Although the structure is almost completely made of ferro-concrete, you still get a feel for the importance of this great castle.
The castle grounds are also a great stop for sakura viewing and makes for some wonderful photography.
Take a tour of the inside of the castle to learn about the castles long history.
1-1 Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka.
Consult Reader’s Digest for your trip planning
Photo Credits : Intro by laurenz, Himeji Castle by Ewan Cross, Matsumoto Castle by kelvin255, Nijo Castle by terryy71, Matsue Castle by nagaremono, Osaka Castle by JoopDorresteijn.
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