Did you know that in Japan there are more than 5,000 Castles? Have you ever wondered what Japanese castles look like? What castles are available to visit in Japan today? In this comprehensive guide to Japanese castles we will explain everything.
How is a Japanese castle?
Japanese castles were raised during the wars in the Sengoku period and It’s from. These Japanese castles were true fortresses divided into several areas called kuruwa [曲輪].
Japanese castles are usually located near mountains or surrounded by moats and a giant stone wall. Within the castle grounds there are still other walls that separate the parts and buildings of the castle.
Only soldiers and family members can live in the castle territory. The rest of the people in the region lived in small villages and towns around and around the castle.
Pronunciation Japanese castle shiro [城], but we usually hear the suffix more jyou [城] after the name. The castles in the mountains are called yamashiro [山城], when located on a plain it is called hirashiro [平城] those located in low and plain mountains are called hashigokaku [平山城].
Castles used to have 3 areas called honmaru [本丸], ninomaru [二の丸] e sannomaru [三の丸]. Some larger castles had sites called soto-guruwa.
Some castles had the style rinkaku [輪郭] where honmaru is located at the center of everything. Another common style was the renkaku [連郭] where the honmaru is next to the ninomaru. A third style used in the mountains is called teikaku [梯郭] that looks like a ladder around the mountain.
The walls were called dobe [土塀] and the stone walls were called ishigaki [石垣]. There were gaps in the walls called hasama [狭間] that allowed soldiers to defend the place and attack enemies through circular and triangular holes.
The Japanese castle owner doesn't live in the high tower
The castle owner's house is not that tall tower that people imagine. The soldiers and the castle family live in a normal house on the grounds. The high tower is actually the place where the castle's owner flees to protect himself from invaders.
The tall multi-storey tower is called tenshukaku [天守閣] and is located in honmaru [本丸]. This tall tower usually has at least 3 floors, but there are castles that exceed 5 floors. That place serves only to defend itself and to have a view of the land around the castle.
The first floors of this tower are protected by soldiers while the owner of the invaded castle is on the top floor of the tower waiting for an invader to arrive. If enemies reach the top of the tower, the owner of the castle has the right to commit seppuku.
Seppuku is a suicide ritual where the person needs to cut his belly while the enemy or someone else cuts off his head to end suffering. For the samurai and chiefs of the time, performing seppuku is dying with honor.
Unfortunately many of these castles were destroyed by fires and in World War II. Others were demolished during the Meiji Restoration, when feudal castles were considered useless.
How to visit a castle in Japan?
There are thousands of castles scattered across Japan, some are just ruins, others are honmaru or tenshukaku restored. The only castle in Japan that still holds the tenshu (tower), is that of Kakegawa.
Access to some castles is completely free, others usually charge a fee that can range from 200 up to another 1000 yen. Some castles charge access to tenshu only, others charge at honmaru or even on sannomaru.
Some castles have their shoes removed to enter the high tower. Big castles like Osaka and Nagoya are like a museum, full of samurai arts, models, costumes and weapons. Not all castles give access to the top floor and a view of the tower.
Remembering that the tower is not the only interesting thing found in a castle. Most castles are surrounded by a beautiful park, some have a Japanese garden traditional, others give access to the house and some castle buildings.
In addition to the known castles, you can search for other castles using the Google Maps application. Just be careful not to follow the trail of a castle on the maps and arrive at an empty place with nothing, since many are just ruins.
Himeji Castle - The largest castle in Japan
From now on we will talk specifically about some popular castles in Japan. Let’s start with one of the main castles that you need to know on your trip, the gigantic Himeji castle.
Himeji castle is considered the largest in Japan, it has 83 buildings, 3 moats, and is spread over 233 hectares, we have already written an article about this castle and can be read clicking here.
It was originally built in the 14th century, around 1346. It is located on a mountain in Himeji located in the Kansai region. It was expanded in the 17th century by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Daimyo responsible for unifying Japan.
Matsumoto Castle was built in 1504-1594. Since the Sengoku period, it was initially just a fortress called Fukashi. It is one of 12 castles listed as Japan’s National Treasure.
Matsumoto-jyou is one of the few castles built on plains. It is surrounded by a large lake full of swans and ducks. Some residents believe he is haunted by the ghost of a rebel farmer.
The Nagoya Castle is located in the center of the gigantic city of Nagoya. Its roots date back to 1520, surrounded by current buildings and 17th century buildings. The castle is completely surrounded, requiring a fee to access.
The tower is not the only attraction of Nagoya Castle. You also find the Hommaru Palace, which allows you to get to know Japan’s historic architecture with several panels painted by artists from different regions of the country.
The castle has some golden dolphins on the roof that represented a talisman to prevent fires, unfortunately they burned in the second world war, but have been restored.
Edo Castle - Tokyo Imperial Palace
Edo Castle was the largest castle built in Japan, with an unimaginable scale. Its outer moat circled much of what is now central Tokyo. Unfortunately, Edo Castle was completely destroyed in a fire in 1873 and was demolished. What remains are its massive moats, walls, bridges and guardhouses. Most of these were used in the design of the current Imperial Palace. Now, the location of Edo castle is the Garden that surrounds the entire Imperial Palace and is open to the public.
The Castle of Osaka it is a large castle that witnessed a large number of battles that changed the course of Japanese history. In World War II, the castle was used as an ammunition factory that employed 60,000 people.
It was completely destroyed by a bomb in 1945. Today, the castle has been rebuilt and looks much like the 19th century. Many of the moats, walls and houses have managed to survive in history.
Fukuoka Castle - Maizuru Park
Unfortunately, only the remains of a large castle that once had 47 towers remain. Fukuoka Castle was dismantled in 1871. Several of the original towers, gates, walls and parts of the castle moat remain today.
Fukuoka Castle is located in the vicinity of Ohori Park and Maizuru Park, there are the ancient stone walls and barriers of the castle. It is also known as Maizuru Castle (dancing cranes), because residents believe they see dancing cranes (birds).
Be careful not to confuse Fukuoka Castle with Maizuru Castle in Kofu on Yamanashi’s property.
Nijo Castle in Kyoto is a testament to the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate, who ruled Japan in the Edo Period. It has two large moats. Inside, there are two palaces, surrounded by gardens that are owned by the Emperor.
The Shogun’s palace is open to the public. It is richly decorated with gold leaf and has floors designed to detect ninja attacks.
Inuyama Castle is located on a mountain and one of the oldest survivors in Japan, built in 1440 and renovated in 1620. The castle overlooks the Kiso River where the ancient technique of cormorant fishing (ukai) is still practiced.
AizuWakamatsu Castle is located in the center of Aizuwakamatsu City, in Fukushima Prefecture, in northern Japan. The castle was built by Ashina Naomori in 1384, called Kurokawa Castle [黒川城 Kurokawa-jō].
It was a military and administrative center in the Aizu region until 1868 and witnessed countless battles. It was rebuilt in concrete in 1965. Today it is surrounded by a large park full of stone walls and remains of moats.
Hirosaki Castle [弘前城] was built in 1611. It was once the seat of the Tsugaru Clan that ruled Hirosaki, Mutsu province that now belongs to Aomori. It measures 612 meters from east to west and 947 meters from north to south.
Kumamoto Castle is one of the three most famous in Japan and is located in Kumamoto, and was built around 1467. The castle was besieged during the Satsuma Rebellion (1877), having been looted and burned after a siege of 53 days.
The castle’s central fortress was rebuilt in 1960. The curved stone walls, known as musha-gaeshi, were designed to prevent enemies from entering. Rock falls were also used as defensive systems.
Sasayama Castle is located in Hyogo. Construction was started by the order of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1608 and was completed in six months. Ikeda Terumasa was in charge of the construction and the planning was done by Tōdō Takatora.
Twenty daimyos are said to have been mobilized during construction. Unfortunately the castle was destroyed, leaving only the Grand Hall that was rebuilt in 2000.
The Gifu Castle [岐阜城 figu-jo] is located at the top of Kinkazan (Mount Kinka), next to the Nagara River. It was originally built by the Nikaidō clan between 1201 and 1204 during the Kamakura Period. Its first name was Inabayama Castle [稲葉山城]. And since then it has undergone several reforms.
Hiroshima Castle was built in the 1590s and destroyed in World War II by an atomic bomb. It was rebuilt and turned into a museum.
Kakegawa Castle is one of the few castles in Japan where the Goten (daimyo’s mansion) remains intact. Not to mention that the castle tower remains entirely made in a traditional way.
Kakegawa Castle was built in 1487 and is a famous Tokai spot. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the castle was demolished under the law of abolishing castles and was originally rebuilt in 1994.
Little Tsu Castle
The Tsu Castle [津城] located in the city of Tsu in Mie Prefecture. O Tsu Castle it was built by Hosono Fujiatsu in 1558. In the year 1568 the castle was taken by Oda Nobunaga and given to his younger brother Oda Nobukane.
In 1608 Takatora Todo became the lord of the castle. Situated in the middle of the city of Tsu, the castle has undergone several renovations and has been expanded in size. The castle had a tower (Tenshukaku) surrounded by many other buildings, which were built on top of walls to protect the castle from enemies.
In 1600, the castle’s tower was burnt in a fire and was never rebuilt. The only thing left was that small 3-story castle, the fossils, the doors and some highlights. Currently Tsu Castle is located in the city center and has become a famous park.
The city of Tsu also suffered attacks during World War II. In 1871 the castle was demilitarized, most of its structures were destroyed. The park also has historical monuments, green areas and a small lake. Great for those who want to discover the local history.
Where the main castle once stood today has become a beautiful fountain. You can find a beautiful statue of Takatora Todo, the great architect of the castle, in the middle of the honmaru near the tenshudai. You can reach Tsu da Castle Kintetsu Shintsumachi Station. If you are in Mie, we also recommend visiting the castles of Matsuzaka and Tamura.
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