Japan’s Must See CastlesJapan’s Must See Castles

Japan’s Must See Castles

 Japan’s Must See Castles


Japan is littered with incredible and ancient attractions.  Whether it is a city or a town, you can find plenty of shrines, temples, parks, and more to go explore.  Of these historic attractions, the area’s castle tends to be the crown jewel of attractions.  Everyone wants to see the biggest and best castle in the area.  The problem is that in the late 1800’s almost all of them were torn down.  More than half of them have been rebuilt as museums that resemble their old forms, some are still in their ruin form, and some remain as they did hundreds of years ago.  We have examined over 200 of the country’s best castles and are proud to present our picks for Japan’s Must See Castles.



Japan’s Must See Castles

#10 Oka Castle

One of the many castles in Japan that remains in its ruin state, Oka Castle can be found in Oita Prefecture’s Bungo Taketa and is our number 10 pick for Japan’s Must See Castles.  The castle once was one of the easiest defended castles in all of Japan and never once had its walls penetrated.  The castle sits atop a mountain which is surrounded by a river.   The castle was built 1185 and was one of the largest castles in the area.

All that remains of the castle now is its magnificent walls and gates.  What makes the castle such a great experience is its seclusion.  The site is not frequently visited by tourists like other castles on this list, which gives you the feeling of discovery and an ancient Japan experience unlike any other.

Another fantastic reason to come to Oka Castle is its Sakura trees that make for one of the best place to view Hanami in all of Kyushu.  The castle in combination with the beautiful town of Taketa, often referred to as “Kyushu’s Little Kyoto,” will make for one fantastic yet unique castle experience.  Taketa is also famous for its hot springs, so be sure to soak in an onsen after your climb up to the mountain.

 photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋) via photopin cc


Entrance to Hiroshima

Japan’s Must See Castles

#9 Hiroshima Castle


Hiroshima Castle was established in 1589, by Mori Terumoto, before there was even a Hiroshima City.  The castle was torn down with the abolition of the feudal system during the Meiji Restoration in 1869.  Following the Meiji Restoration, the castle served as a military facility, and even the Imperial General Headquarters during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895).  The castle was then completely destroyed after the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, and a replica was later built as a memorial museum to honor Hiroshima’s great history.  The replica of the castle was completed in 1958.

Hiroshima Castle has been reconstructed into a museum that displays the history of Hiroshima prior to World War 2.  In the museum you can learn about the battles fought in Hiroshima, the former rulers of the castle, as well see the layout of the city throughout the years.  There is even a station where you can get your picture taken while trying on traditional samurai armor.  The pictures and history are well worth the few hundred yen to anyone interested in Japanese history.

The main tower of the castle contains five floors and stands over 26 meters on top of the 12 meter high stone foundation.  The tower is made of mainly pine and offers a fantastic view both inside and out.  Inside the tower you are able to see a great distance into the city, but the best view of the tower maybe from beyond the moat looking towards the castle.

The grounds inside the walls are magnificent and contain an abundance of beautiful nature.  The city is well known for its fall colors, and the castle does not disappoint.  The trees here are not just beautiful but also historic.  Three of the castle’s numerous trees  survived the atomic bombing in 1945.  Two of the trees were within 740 meters of the hypocenter while the third was roughly 910 meters away.

 photo credit: arcreyes [-ratamahatta-] via photopin cc


Japan’s Must See Castles

#8  Nagoya Castle


Nagoya Castle (Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture) is a flatland castle that was built between the years of 1610 – 1619 and served as the center for one of the most important castle towns in all of Japan.  The castle served one of the three Tokugawa branches, and through the family’s riches and the city’s prosperity, Nagoya became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Japan.

The castle was destroyed in one of the air raids during World War 2, but was then rebuilt 1957-59.  The rebuilt castle holds all sorts of historical artifacts related to the castle or the city from when the Tokugawa family controlled the area.  These include miniature recreations of the former castle and its surrounding areas, paintings, and of course an observation tower that gives a tremendous view of the surrounding area from the 7th floor.

What makes Nagoya Castle so special though are its walls, gardens, and turrets.  The castle is exactly what you imagine when you think of traditional Japanese castles.  It is like something straight out of an anime, and you get to walk right through it.  It is a fantastic experience and should not be missed if you are in the area.  Here you can see the famed golden, tiger headed, dolphins that are fixed to the top of the castle.  The dolphins are fixed up there to protect the castle from fires and are some of the most noteworthy fixtures found in the castle.

Nagoya Castle is also fairly well known as one of the country’s Top 3 Castles, as well as one of the best places to view hanami.  If you happen to be in the area during sakura season, be sure to make the trip to the castle.

 photo credit: Kyota via photopin cc


Japan’s Must See Castles

#7  Shuri Castle


Shuri Castle (Naha, Okinawa Prefecture) is one of the most unique castles found in all of Japan and is located in Naha, Okinawa.  The castle was constructed some time in the 14th century and was last rebuilt in 1992.  The castle does not have the typical Japanese castle look but is a massive red building that contains a fairly large courtyard.  The area’s architecture was largely influenced by its relationship with China, which adds to this castle’s unique appeal.

Shuri Castle’s gardens and villa are some of the largest attractions here at the caste and contain some of the most beautiful arrangements and designs.  Next to the castle you can find the historic Shurimon gate as well as the Tamaudun Mausoleum, the royal tombs.  Both of these attractions are worth checking out while visiting Shuri Castle.

Shuri Castle is incredibly unique and a great addition to any trip to Naha.  Its design and layout secured its spot on our list of Japan’s Must See Castles.

photo credit: Kabacchi via photopin cc



Japan’s Must See Castles

#6  Osaka Castle


Osaka Castle (Osaka City) has a long and significant history that began 1583, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi began construction.  The castle planned to have a five-story main tower, three-stories underground, and golden leaf decorations to impress visitors.  During its 500 year long history, the castle has been through numerous wars.  The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over.  Although some turrets and older structures were destroyed in the air raids during WW2, the castle itself miraculously remained relatively unharmed.

The castle has been remade into a museum that offers a look at the history of the castle and the city.  In the museum you can see some great artwork as well as artifacts.  The grounds are free to walk through, but the museum costs 600 yen to enter and is open between the hours of 9:00 and 5:00.  The observation deck at the top of the castle offers a tremendous view of the grounds and the city.

The grounds surrounding the castle are massive and expand over 2 square kilometers.  On the grounds you will be surrounded by thousands of trees, 2 beautiful moats, and hundreds of people every day just enjoying the relaxed atmosphere of the park.  There are shrines, gardens and even fountains for people to enjoy.  The grounds themselves are absolutely free to explore and use and are often filled with locals just out for a stroll.

The castle grounds also contains the Nishinomaru Garden which has 600 cherry treas, a tea house, and some spectacular views of the castle.  This garden is spectacular and one of the better hanami viewing areas in Japan.  Unlike the rest of the grounds however, the Nishinomaru Garden does have an admission fee of 200 Yen.  All of these fantastic attractions make Osaka Castle an obvious pick for one of Japan’s Must See Castles.  The castle has also long been regarded as one of the country’s Top 3 castles, be sure to check out our article to see the others.

 photo credit: MShades via photopin cc



Japan’s Must See Castles

#5  Kumamoto Castle


The famed Kumamoto Castle was constructed in 1467 in the center of Kumamoto City.  The castle was demolished in the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 and reconstructed in 1960.  The castle was always viewed as one of the most defensible castles in the history of Japan.  The castle had massive moats and towering walls that given a curved shape to make it difficult to scale.  All in all the castle was incredibly well designed and beautifully laid out.

The castle starts by bringing you under its walls in an underground walkway that leads into Kumamoto Castle’s inner courts.  Once in the courtyard visitors can work their way inside the castle.  Like most castles in Japan now, inside the castle is a massive museum devoted to the history of the city and its castle.  Here you can even dress up in armor and get your picture taken.  There is also a fairly decent observatory tower at the top of the castle.

The castle is also famous for being one of the best places for cherry blossom viewing in all of Japan.  The castle grounds are quite beautiful year round, but if you can definitely try to come in early spring.

Kumamoto Castle is often viewed as one of the most beautiful castles in all of Japan and is included in the Top 3 Most Spectacular Castles by most lists.  Do not be confused by our placement at the number 5 slot.  Kumamoto Castle is every bit deserving of the top 3 slot, but we just feel the castles below are more deserving of our list of Japan’s Must See Castles.  The castle is also featured in our “Best of Kyushu,” be sure to check out the what else the island has to offer in that article.

 photo credit: Nam2@7676 via photopin cc



Japan’s Must See Castles

#4  Nijo Castle


The Nijo Castle (Kyoto) was built in 1626 and was originally designed to be the Kyoto residence for the Tokugawa Shogunate.  As with most historic buildings, the castle has a history of destruction and reconstruction.  In 1750 the central keep was struck by lightning and thus burned down.  A fire burned down the Inner Palace in 1788, then had over 100 years of vacancy until a prince moved back in 1893.  The Nijo Castle was then donated to the city of Kyoto in 1939, and in 1940 the city opened the castle up to the public.

Nijo Castle contains a great deal of fantastic attractions that make the castle one of the many must see attractions in Kyoto.  The castle building itself is called “Ni No Maru Palace,” or the Two Ring Palace for its two surrounding defensive walls.  The Ni No Maru Palace is made up entirely of Hinoki Cyprus and is lavishly decorated with a gold leaf and beautiful carvings.  The palace is split into five connecting buildings that are all beautiful and serve as a walk through history.

These buildings hold several reception chambers as well as sleeping chambers for the many residence of the palace.  One of the most interesting features of the Ni No Maru Palace is its “Nightingale Floors.”  These floors chirp like a Nightingale whenever someone steps on them.  This served as an ancient day alarm system to warn if there were any attackers at night.  The castle is full of protective precautions including secret doors which bodyguards could use to reach the shogunate faster.

The Nijo Castle also contains what is referred to as the Honmaru Palace, which is contains four distinct parts including a living quarters, kitchen, reception hall, and an entrance hall.  At its prime, the Honmaru Palace rivaled the Ni No Maru Palace and even had 55 separate buildings attached to it.  However both the size and importance dwindled with time.  Still the buildings are quite impressive and contain several fantastic pieces of art work.

Inside the castle’s walls are some phenomenal gardens that deserve your attention.  The Ni No Maru Gardens are some of the best gardens in Kyoto and contain a tranquil pond surrounded by pine trees and giant rocks.  It is a fantastic example of Japanese landscape gardening.  Nijo Castle is also quite famous for its plum trees that bloom in late February to early March.  The plum trees have beautiful purple flowers that, much like cherry blossoms, only bloom for a short time before falling off.  If you are lucky enough to be here during the plum blossoming, you simply must take a stroll through the plum orchard.

Nijo Castle offers a tremendous opportunity to take in and experience a part of feudal era Japan.  Its architectural beauty, history, and views make it one of Japan’s Must See Castles.

photo credit: sito_ via photopin cc,




Japan’s Must See Castles

#3  Matsuyama Castle


Matsuyama Castle, located in Matsuyama City in Ehime, is a five story flatland castle that was built in 1603.  The castle is one of the few that survived the Meiji Restoration, but was unfortunately sections of the castle were destroyed by air raids during World War 2.  These sections are still under renovation, but is mainly finished and is a beautiful attraction to go see.

The castle is classified as a flatland castle, but don’t let that confuse you.  This castle is located on top of a fairly steep hill.  To reach the castle you can either climb the hill yourself or take the Ropeway or Chair Lift.

Once at the castle you will see one of Japan’s most beautiful original castles that contains some spectacular gardens, high towers that contain an observation deck, and of course some spectacular walls and turrets that make for a castle experience you are not likely to forget.  There are even exhibits that display the history of the castle as well as the city located in the castle.  One of the favorite attractions here is the Ninomaru Gardens, which are located 15-20 minutes walk from the castle.  There is even a nice path that leads to the gardens.

All in all the castle makes for a rather unique experience that anyone coming to Ehime should take part in.  The castle is one of the few that has survived all of these years, and is easily deserving of being on this list of Japan’s Must See Castles.  Matsuyama Castle is also included in our “Best of Shikoku” article, check it out to see what Shikoku has to offer.

 photo credit: zrim via photopin cc



Japan’s Must See Castles

#2  Matsumoto


Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto City, Nagano), also known as Crow Castle due to its black paint job, was built in 1504 and is thought to be the most beautiful and complete of all the remaining original castles.  Other than the outer castle land which was reclaimed by the Meiji government, Matsumoto Castle somehow survived the Meiji Restoration.  It has been through some renovations, but compared to the other castles found in Japan, this one is legitimately a valued piece of history.

On top of it being an original, the castle is pretty rare for its location.  The castle is surrounded by a nice sized moat, but has no land advantage.  It is placed on a flatland with no hill or cliff to offer a natural form of protection.  Not only that, but the paint job is also fairly unique to castles of its day.

The castle sports 3 turrets along its walls.  Two of them were built with defense in mind and certainly served their purpose.  The last was built for moon viewing with defense more of an afterthought.  The inner parts of the castle hold exhibits to show the history of the area.  The second floor of the main keep also holds a gun museum that displays various weapons that were used at the temple throughout the years.

Overall Matsumoto’s history, beauty, and unique features makes it near the top of our list of Japan’s Must See Castles as well as our “Japan Bucket List.”

 photo credit: mksfca via photopin cc



Japan’s Must See Castles

#1  Himeji


This will come to no surprise, but we have to put Himeji Castle (Himeji, Hyogo) at the top of our list.  The castle was built in 1333, and is the largest and most visited castles in the entire country.  The castle survived the Meiji Restoration, World War 2 bombings, earthquakes, and a host of other natural disasters that have hit the area.  The castle has been placed on many lists as the most spectacular castles in all of Japan and is well deserving of this title.

The grounds contained extraordinary walls, three moats, and a host of other incredible defensive measures that made Himeji one difficult castle to invade.  The inside of the castle you can explore several floors of ancient rooms that contain paintings, weapons, and historic artifacts.

Unfortunately, the castle is under construction at the moment and will be until Spring of 2014.  Even though the castle is under construction, you can still access majority of the grounds.  In a little less than a year, the castle in all its polished splendor will be revealed and once again everyone will see what makes Himeji Castle at the top of our list of Japan’s Must See Castles.

 photo credit: roybuloy via photopin cc




What’s on your list?

That’s our list.  There were plenty of great castles we did not talk about.  We tried to hit several types of castles and show some that you may have never seen before.  That being said, we would love to hear what we missed!  Leave a comment and tell us what you think!