Japanese Castles – Complete Guide to the Best of Japan

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Did you know that in Japan there are more than 5,000 Castles? Ever wondered what Japanese castles look like? What castles are available to visit in Japan Today? In this complete guide about castles in Japan we will explain everything.

What is a Japanese castle like?

Japanese castles were built during the wars in Sengoku period and It's from. These Japanese castles were true fortresses divided into several areas called kuruwa [曲輪].

Japanese castles are often located close to mountains or surrounded by moats and a giant stone wall. Within the grounds of the castle there are still other walls that separate the parts and buildings of the castle.

Only soldiers and family members can live on castle territory. The rest of the people of the region lived in small villages and hamlets around and in the vicinity of the castle.

Japanese pronunciation castle shiro [城], but we often hear the suffix jyou [城] after the name. 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 flat mountains are called hashigokaku [平山城].

Japanese Castles - Complete Guide to the Best in Japan
How the structure of a Japanese castle works

Castles used to have 3 areas called honoraru [本丸], ninomaru [二の丸] and sannomaru [三の丸]. Some larger castles had places called soto-guruwa.

Some castles had the style rinkaku [輪郭] where the honmaru is located in the center of everything. Another common style was renkaku [連郭] where the honmaru stands next to the ninomaru. A third style used in the mountains is called teikaku [梯郭] which looks like a ladder around the mountain.

The walls were called dobei [土塀] and the stone walls were called ishigaki [石垣]. In the walls there were gaps called hasama [狭間] that allowed soldiers to defend the place and attack enemies through circular and triangular holes.

The owner of the Japanese castle does not 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 ground. The tall tower is actually the place where the castle owner flees to protect himself from invaders.

The tall multi-story tower is called the tenshukaku [天守閣] and is located in honoraru [本丸]. This tall tower usually has at least 3 floors, but there are castles that exceed 5 floors. That location is just to defend yourself and have a view of the terrain around the castle.

Japanese Castles - Complete Guide to the Best in Japan
Photo of a Japanese castle

The first floors of this tower are guarded by soldiers while the owner of the invaded castle stays on the top floor of the tower waiting for an invader to arrive. If the enemies reach the top of the tower, the castle owner 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 present 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 the second world war. 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 spread across Japan, some are just ruins, others are with honoraru or tenshukaku restored. The only castle in Japan that still retains the tenshu (tower) original, is that of Kakegawa.

Access to some castles is completely free, others usually charge a fee ranging from 200 to over 1000 yen. Some castles charge for access only to the tenshu, others charge for the honoraru or even in sannomaru.

Some castles have shoes removed to enter the high tower. Large castles like Osaka and Nagoya are like a museum, full of samurai art, models, costumes and weapons. Not all castles give access to the top floor and tower view.

Japanese Castles - Complete Guide to the Best in Japan
What We Found in a Japanese Castle Museum

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 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, as many are just ruins.

Himeji Castle – The largest castle in Japan

From now on we will specifically talk about some popular castles in Japan. Let's start with one of the main castles you need to know on your trip, the gigantic castle of Himeji.

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 only about this castle and it 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, the Daimyo responsible for unifying Japan.

Himeji castle - the largest castle in japan
Himeji's Castle

Matsumoto Castle

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 a National Treasure of Japan.

Matsumoto-jyou is one of the few castles built on plains. It is surrounded by a large lake full of swans and ducks. Some villagers believe it is haunted by the ghost of a rebellious farmer.

Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle

Nagoya castle

The Nagoya Castle located in the center of the gigantic city of Nagoya. Its roots date back to 1520, surrounded by current buildings and 17th century constructions. The castle is completely fenced, requiring a fee to access.

The tower is not the only attraction at Nagoya Castle. You also find the Hommaru Palace, which allows you to get to know Japan's historical architecture with several panels painted by artists from different regions of the country.

The castle has some golden dolphins on the roof which represented a talisman to prevent fires, unfortunately they burned down in WWII but have been restored.

Nagoya Castle
Nagoya Castle

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 site of Edo Castle is the Garden that surrounds the entire Imperial Palace and is open to the public.

Edo Castle - Tokyo Imperial Palace
Edo Castle

Osaka castle

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 a munitions factory employing 60,000 people.

It was completely destroyed by a bomb in 1945. Today, the castle has been rebuilt and looks much like it did in the 19th century. Many of the moats, walls and houses have managed to survive in history.

Osaka castle
Osaka castle

Fukuoka Castle – Maizuru Park

Unfortunately, only ruins remain of a large castle that once had 47 towers. Fukuoka Castle was dismantled in 1871. Several of the original towers, gates, walls and parts of the castle's moat remain today.

Fukuoka Castle is located adjacent to Ohori Park and Maizuru Park, there are the old stone walls and castle barriers. It is also known as Maizuru Castle (dancing cranes), because locals believe they see cranes (bird) dancing.

Be careful not to confuse Fukuoka Castle with Maizuru Castle in Kofu in Yamanashi Province.

Fukuoka Castle - Maizuru Park
Fukuoka Castle

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle in Kyoto is a testament to the power of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which ruled Japan in the Edo Period. It has two big pits. 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.

Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle is located on a mountain and one of the oldest surviving castles in Japan, built in 1440 and renovated in the year 1620. The castle overlooks the Kiso River where the ancient technique of cormorant fishing (ukai) is still practiced.

Inuyama Castle
Inuyama Castle

Aizu CastleWakamatsu

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, named as Kurokawa Castle [黒川城 Kurokawa-jō].

It was the military and administrative center of the Aizu region until 1868 and witnessed numerous battles. It was rebuilt in concrete in the year 1965. Today it is surrounded by a large park filled with stone walls and the remains of moats.

Aizuwakamatsu castle

Hirosaki Castle

Hirosaki Castle [弘前城] was built in 1611. It was once the seat of the Tsugaru Clan that ruled over Hirosaki, Mutsu Province that today belongs to Aomori. It measures 612 meters from east to west and 947 meters from north to south. 

Hirosaki Castle
Hirosaki Castle

Kumamoto Castle

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 keep out enemies. Rockfalls were also used as defensive systems.

Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle

Sasayama Castle

Sasayama Castle is located in Hyogo. Construction was started by order of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1608 and was completed in six months. Ikeda Terumasa was put in charge of construction and 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 which was rebuilt in 2000.

Sasayama castle
Sasayama Castle

Gifu Castle

The Gifu Castle [岐阜城 fig-jo] is located on 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.

Gifu castle
Gifu Castle

Hiroshima Castle

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.

Hiroshima Castle
Hiroshima Castle

Kakegawa Castle

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 traditional.

Kakegawa Castle was built in 1487 and is a famous landmark in Tokai. During the Meiji Period (1868-1912), the castle was demolished by the castle abolition law and was rebuilt in its original form in 1994.

Japanese Castles - Complete Guide to the Best in Japan
Kakegawa Castle with my presence lol

Small Tsu Castle

The Tsu Castle [津城] located in Tsu City 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 lord of the castle. Situated in the middle of Tsu City, the castle has undergone several renovations and 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 tower was burned in a fire and was never rebuilt. The only thing left was this small 3-story castle, the fossils, the doors and some highlights. Currently Tsu Castle is located in the center of the city and has become a famous park.

Japanese Castles - Complete Guide to the Best in Japan

The city of Tsu also suffered attacks during the second world war. 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 anyone who wants to discover local history.

Where the main castle was now turned into 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 Castle from Kintetsu Shintsumachi Station. If you are in Mie, we also recommend visiting the castles of Matsuzaka and Tamura.

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