The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan

by Mieke - TripleLights travel specialist

When you think about ancient, majestic castles, Japan might nog be the
first country to pop in mind. However, compared to countries like France
or Germany, Japan actually doesn’t do half bad. It boasts a number of very
pretty castles, spread all over the country. To give you an impression, I’ve
listed 10 castles which you can visit (for example when you get tired of
temples...).

Imagine yourself as a wealthy lord or a dashing dame (if you’re not already
either of those) and step into the world of battle and intrigue in Japan’s feudal
history…


The history of Japan has been a dynamic one. The land had been reigned by
emperors and feudal lords until the rise of the first shogun, Minamoto Yoritomo
in 1192. From that moment on, there was almost a constant struggle between
those waiting to get a piece of the pie from the side that was most powerful.

Emperor Go-Daigo overthrew the Shogunate in 1333, but before long he found
himself attacked by Ashikaga Takauji who captured the capital and took over its
power. These kinds of struggles typify the history of Japan until she was unified
by the end of the 16th century. This political unrest was a major cause for the
extensive building of fortresses and castles for protection in Japan, especially
in the 15th century. Unfortunately, many of the castles were destroyed after the
end of the feudal age in 1868, as unwanted reminders of the old feudal system.
Of the remaining castles, many more were lost during World War II. As a result,
not many original castles survive today. However, there are still enough to satisfy
the needs for historical relics for most travellers in Japan. And since they’re not
all located in or around Tokyo or the Osaka/Kyoto area, you can also visit them
when you’re based in more remote location.  

Please click on the castle's names to find out more. The castles are listed
based on location
: from west (Kyushu) to east (north Honshu) and Okinawa.
Please check also my handy map:

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan


Kyushu:

1: Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto


From a mid-15th century fortification, the building was transformed into a castle
over a century later by a successive feudal lord. Numerous attacks damaged the
castle, and some of its buildings had to be reconstructed, such as the castle keep.
Other ancillary wooden buildings are original.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japanphoto courtesy of  chipango.wordpress.com


Shikoku:

2: Ozu Castle, Ozu

The foundations of Ozu Castle in Ozu City in Ehime were laid as early as 1331
by Utsunomiya Toyofusa. From 1585-1617 the castle was ruled by a quick
succession of different lords, who most likely all had some say about the castle’s
lay-out and changed certain aspects of the building. From 1617 until the Meiji
Restoration in 1868, the castle remained in the same shape, but a fire destroyed
its main keep in 1888. Although the castle tower endured heavy bombings during
World War II, the castle grounds were not harmed. The keep was reconstructed in
2004, using traditional techniques and wood from the surrounding area.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of asiaexplorers.com

3: Matsuyama Castle, Matsuyama

Matsuyama Castle was built in 1603, and has had to endure numerous damages
since. Once, its castle tower burnt down entirely after it was struck by lightning on
New Year’s Day in 1784. The castle survived the reforms of the Meiji restoration,
which wiped out much of what was left of castles in Japan. However, parts of it
were destroyed by American bombers during World War II. Since the late 1960s,
Matsuyama city has been working to restore the castle.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan


Honshu:

4: Matsue Castle, Matsue

The impressive keep of Matsue Castle is still in its original state. Although the
other buildings on the site were destroyed and had to rebuilt on a later date, the
keep survived. It thus gives you a unique insight to Japanese architecture and
construction styles. The castle is a complex structure and is built in a watchtower
style. Although is seems to have five stories from the outside, it has in fact six
levels inside. Most of the walls of the castle are painted black, giving it its
nickname ‘the black castle’. The structure is strong, built to withstand warfare,
and yet it is majestic and solemn, almost a bit melancholic, and reminiscent of
the Momoyama style. 

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of connect-shimane.com  

5: Himeji Castle, Himeji

Himeji Castle is one of Japan’s most paramount castles. Together with the
Horyuji Temple in Nara, it was the first building to be designated as a cultural
heritage site in Japan in 1993. The castle grounds cover a large ground with
two wide moats. It was designed to work like a maze to fend off possible attacks
to the feudal lord living in the castle. Be warned: even though nowadays the
castle ground is fully equipped with signboards, tourists often get lost...

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of mltours.com

6: Nijo Castle, Kyoto

One of Japan’s most famous castles. Nijo Castle dates back to 1603 and
has been the stage for numerous meetings and gatherings of the Tokugawa
shogunate, which ruled the country for over 250 years since they took power
in 1603.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
Image courtesy of raubacapeu.net

7: Hikone Castle, Hikone

Hikone Castle’s predecessor, Sawayama Castle was bestowed upon the famous
warrior Ii Naomasa for his services during the Sekigahara battles in 1600. Tokugawa
Ieyasu, who gave the castle to Naomasa, had it rebuilt directly starting from 1604,
and Hikone Castle took Sawayama Castle’s place in 1624. Naomasa’s family, the
Ii’s, were a noted warrior family. Their services for the shogunate did not go unnoticed,
and they eventually received an annual salary of around 63 million litres (!) of rice.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of hikoneshi.com  

8: Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto 

Matsumoto city is located north of Tokyo in Nagano prefecture. It is a place where
you can unwind from the busy city life, offering lots of fun activities in the rich nature
of the area (called the Japanese Alps). Matsumoto is famous for their onsens, or hot
spring baths, in which some you can even encounter wild monkeys. If you make the
trip to Matsumoto, you should not miss out on the marvellous castle.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the four castles designated as 'National Treasures of
Japan' and the oldest castle donjon left. Construction began in 1592. Because of
the elegant black walls, Matsumoto Castle is also called the 'Crow Castle'. Inside
the castle the ceilings are low and steep stairs lead you past displays of armour
and weapons used during the Sengoku (or ‘Warring-States’) period when the castle
was built. Once used by archers and gunmen, the narrow wooden windows offer an
astonishing view of the mountain range, of Matsumoto City and of the koi carps and
swans circling in the moat below.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of ow.uk-.co-uk  

9: Hirosaki Castle, Hirosaki

Feudal lord Ooura Tamenobu was awarded a large plot of land around Hirosaki
for his loyalty to Hideyoshi during the Battle of Odawara. Tamenobu changed his
name to Tsugaru and started work on Hirosaki Castle in 1603. When he died in
1607, work on the castle was suspended until his son Tsugaru Nobuhira resumed
the building 1610. He finished the castle in just one year by cannibalizing materials
from Horikoshi Castle and Daikoji Castle. The reason the 3 level main keep of
Hirosaki Castle seems so small compared to the huge grounds encompassed
by the castle, is that is originally wasn’t just a 3 level building. Originally, it was
built with a 5 level keep but struck by lightning, it burned down in 1627. The
renovated 3 level keep is actually the Ninomaru tasumi yagura watchtower.
The Tsugaru clan held the castle until the Meiji Restoration when it was handed
over to the government.  

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of jcastle.info      


Okinawa:

10: Shuri Castle, Naha Okinawa


This is for sure the most remote of all the castles in my list for most travellers. However,
why not let this castle be an excuse to take a trip to the exotic islands of Okinawa? For
many Western travellers, Okinawa is too far and too expensive, which is really a shame
because it’s an awesome place to go (and actually not that expensive anymore with the
advent of LCC airlines). They have a completely different culture than mainland Japan,
which can be seen in their food, their people, their clothing, and architecture, to name a few.
Compare Shuri Castle to the castles named above and you know what I mean.

The 10 Most Enchanting Castles of Japan
photo courtesy of awomanreading.wordpress.com

Need help planning your trip to Japan ?

If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Japan, You can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

In the TripleLights website you can find the best professional guides all over Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our local guides for Japan


Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started

Recent Tour Reviews

“ Awesome virtual experience ”

Excellent
6 days ago Traveler: MELISSA -   Tour Guide: Richard

For our recent corporate team activity we did Richards virtual traditional Japanese tea ceremony experience. Our team is split across Australia, Japan and Singapore.. Richard did a phenomenal job of making our virtual experience unique that for the 1 hour we were with him it felt like we were all together in the heart of Osaka in this beautiful tea shop! Richard went the extra mile and had all the...
read more

“ Time well spent ”

Excellent
1 week ago Traveler: Ananya -   Tour Guide: CHIZURU

Chizuru is an amazing and energetic guide - very familiar with the area, she made sure that I got the most out of both Naoshima and Kurashiki. She's thoughtful and sets the pace according to what suits you, which is perfect. She's well informed and gave me all sorts of interesting nuggets of information which I really appreciated. Would highly recommend you choose to spend your time with her :) T...
read more

“ Visiting Temples was easier with Guide ”

Excellent
1 week ago Traveler: Mercedes -   Tour Guide: Mitsuru(Mark)

I learned a lot about the history and culture of Kamakura. Mark explained all about the different shrines and the meanings. It made the experience of visiting the temples so much easier.
read more

“ Great tour of Chichijima ”

Excellent
3 weeks ago Traveler: Michael -   Tour Guide: Shunsuke

Shunsuke is friendly and a good guide. He took time to understand what we wanted to see which was really great so we got to see a lot of interesting spots and learn about Ogasawara history, we would really recommend the tour :)
read more

“ Fantastic online tour at Angkor Wat ”

Excellent
4 weeks ago Traveler: TOMOKO -   Tour Guide: Chansip

Since we were planning to visit Cambodia before this pandemic, we were so happy to find an online tour at Angkor Wat on Triplelights. Our tour guide, Chansip is very kind, pleasant, patient, and knowledgeable. He explained various aspects about Angkor Wat and showed us beautiful sceneries there including many detailed carvings. It was just like a real tour. I really recommend exploring Angkor Wat ...
read more

“ Excellent guide. Well prepared tour. ”

Excellent
1 month ago Traveler: Pobparat -   Tour Guide: Hideo

He is so friendly and very knowledgeable about local history and japanese mythology. His itinerary was well preplanned. I would not have been able to explore all the places we did on my own. Thanks Hideo san!
read more

“ Excellent Tour! ”

Excellent
1 month ago Traveler: Windy -   Tour Guide: Matt

Sorry for my late review. We had a great day taking an online tour with Matt to stroll in the bush in Sydney. I was surprised by the quality of the tour and the view at the cliff was just spectacular! The only thing is that we had 3 young kids in the tour, I wish he could explain things in a more plain language.
read more

“ Amazing day full of a variety of sights ”

Excellent
1 month ago Traveler: Nancy -   Tour Guide: Fujiko

My tour with Fujiko-san was fantastic! She is a great guide - friendly, knowledgeable and always making sure her customers are enjoying their tour. She was very flexible when setting the itinerary, taking into account all of the places I wanted to see and my interests, resulting in a large variety of sights throughout the island. She knows a lot about Sado Island and it was so interesting to hear ...
read more

“ Eiichi was a pleasure. ”

Excellent
2 months ago Traveler: Scott -   Tour Guide: Eiichi

Eiichi was very friendly and came well prepared for everything I had communicated to him that I wanted to see and do. His English is excellent and I never felt embarrassed to ask him to repeat or to repeat my questions. I HIGHLY recommend Eiichi to anyone, especially those English speakers, that want a private guide and are interested in Japanese culture.
read more

“ in depth tour of Zojo-ji ”

Excellent
2 months ago Traveler: Prasanna -   Tour Guide: Kazuharu

We were looking for an in-depth understanding of Zojo-ji, and it is not one of the popular spots in Tokyo. Kazuharu prepared and came with lots of notes and tried his best to answer all our questions. He was patient and enthusiastic.
read more

Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started