Want to visit some Japanese castles? Here’s a list of the 15 most beautiful castles in Japan that are worth visiting.
When thinking about castles, most tend to picture European fairytale castles, but Japan is another country where castle building was prevalent for a long period of time, and they were built in distinct ways.
Most of the castles in Japan are very impressive and features several floors with iconic shapes of the roofs.
The Nagoya castle was originally built in the 1520s by Imagawa Ujichika, who was a military governor in the area. The original name was Yanagi-no-maru, but it was changed shortly after to Nagoya Castle when a warlord conquered the castle after its construction was finished.
The castle you see today dates back to the beginning of the 1600s. The green color of the roofs is the result of oxidized copper.
Himeji is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, and it’s located in Himeji city in Hyogo prefecture. It’s full of history as well and has even been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The fortified complex in wooden structure has a total of 83 buildings and is renowned as one of the finest examples of Japanese Castle architecture from the early 17th century.
If that wasn’t impressive enough for you, this place is magical during cherry blossom, and it can easily be reached from Kyoto or Osaka by train.
Matsumoto is one of my personal favorites when it comes to Japanese castles, simply because it’s such a cool building and the fact that it’s one of the 12 remaining original castles in Japan.
The red bridge and scenery further add to the charm, and this castle was built already in 1504. It’s located in the Nagano prefecture, and can easily be reached by train from Tokyo.
Matsumoto-jō is considered a National Treasure of Japan and is certainly one of the most impressive landmarks in Nagano.
Shimabara is a Hirajiro, which means it’s a flatland castle with little or no natural barriers for protection. Therefore, it’s surrounded by moats, some as deep as 15 meters and 50 meters wide to improve the capability of defending.
It’s located in the Nagasaki prefecture in southwestern Japan and is today a museum.
Matsue is another one of the original castles in Japan, and it’s known for its large castle towers dating back to the early 17th century. It’s located in the Shimane prefecture and still has the original wooden structures.
Shuri Castle is one of the few remaining castles in Okinawa and it was an important site in the Ryukyu Kingdom. It was first built in 1429 but was almost completely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
It served as the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom for more than 400 years. In 1992 a large restoration of the central citadel and walls were reconstructed by following old photographs and historical records.
Shuri Castle is significantly different compared with the other Japanese Castles, and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks in the Okinawan islands.
Osaka Castle is one of the most visited castles in Japan, and it’s beautiful no matter if you come here during the day or later in the evening when it’s lit up.
Just like many other Japanese castles, it’s built on top of a man-made stone wall and surrounded by a moat, to increase the defensive level. Today, it’s a museum where you can see old historical pieces and get a stunning view from the top.
The Castle Park is also renowned for cherry blossom during spring, and it’s one of the most iconic landmarks in Japan.
If you’re traveling to Kyoto, you shouldn’t miss a stop at Nijo Castle, which dates back to the early 1600s. It was the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the first shogun during the Edo period.
It’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto, and in addition to impressive structures and buildings, you can also enjoy the park. Visitors can also walk inside the old residence and see historical wall paintings.
Kochi Castle is another original fortification in Japan, and it dates back to 1601 when construction started. Visitors today can see various historical objects and local treasures which are housed within the museum.
Another thing that makes Kōchi-jō unique is the fact that its donjon (the main tower) was also used as a residence, whereas most other lords during the Edo period lived in separate palace buildings.
Kochi Castle is located in the Kochi Prefecture and is open to the public.
Hirosakijō was built in the early 17th century by the Tsugaru clan, and today it’s one of the most famous cherry blossom destinations in Tohoku. But it’s beautiful at other times of the year as well.
Uwajima-jō is one of the original hilltop castles in Japan, also known as a hirayamajiro. It has a small keep built-in 1595, which has managed to stay intact from the Edo period until today.
It’s located in the Ehime prefecture and serves as a museum with free entrance.
Hikone Castle is located in the Shiga Prefecture, and it’s listed as a National Treasure. Hikone-jō was built in the early 17th century by Li Naokatsu and was the stronghold of the Li clan.
It was spared during the Meiji era when many other Japanese castles were demolished, and it was the emperor himself who requested to keep this iconic landmark.
Odawara-jō is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture and was an important stronghold during the Kamakura period. It’s situated on a hill and surrounded by moats with water, so it was known as a strong fortification, especially during the Sengoku period.
Odawara Castle has been rebuilt 2 times after its original construction in 1447 before it was demolished after the feudal age in 1872. The castle you see today is reconstructed but gives you a glimpse of its former glory.
Inuyama is often considered as being the oldest castle in Japan, and it was built already in 1440. It’s located in the Aichi Prefecture, and it used to be the stronghold of the Naruse clan.
Today, it’s renowned as a National Treasure of Japan, and it beautifully overlooks the Kiso River.
15 Maruoka Castle
Last but not least, the Maruoka Castle in the Fukui Prefecture. It’s one of the twelve original castles in Japan and its construction dates back to 1576, which was ordered by the feudal lord Shibata Katsutoyo.
According to the legend, a thick mist will arise as soon as an enemy approaches and hides the castle. If you’re coming here during spring, you can also enjoy some beautiful cherry blossom.
More about the Castles in Japan
Fortresses have been built for many centuries in Japan, but there was a surge in Japanese fortifications in the 15th and 16th century after the central government fell apart.
During this era, Japan was divided into smaller independent states who fought each other for power and lands. In order to defend themselves, they needed defensive structures, which is why so many castles were built in Japan during this period.
Many Japanese castles were unfortunately destroyed after the end of the feudal age and later in World War II. Only 12 original castles in Japan remain with their traditional building materials.
Different types of castles in Japan
The Japanese castles were classified by their natural surroundings and location during the Edo period in the following three categories.
- Hirajiro (Flatland)
- Yamajiro (Mountain)
- Hirayamajiro (Hilltop)
What was the purpose of Japanese castles?
The primary purpose of Japanese castles was for military use and defense. They were usually placed in the most strategic location and functioned as a defense fortress for important trade routes, roads, and rivers.
Later, they also developed into larger complexes, surrounded by a castle town where the Samurai resided. The Japanese castles evolved from smaller fortresses to a status symbol as well as the residence of the lord.
How many castles are in Japan?
There are more than 100 Japanese castles, although many of them are rebuilt after destruction. Only 12 original castles in Japan remains without destruction, and they are open to the public and visitors.
Historians estimate that there were once around 5000 different fortifications throughout the island nation.
What is the oldest castle in Japan?
Inuyama Castle is often referred to as the oldest castle in Japan still standing, and it was completed in 1440, although the castle we see today dates back to 1537.
Other Japanese Castles that you can visit
- Marugame Castle
- Kumamoto Castle
- Tsuraga Castle
- Ueno Castle
- Ozu Castle
- Fukuyama Castle
- Okayama Castle
The 12 Original Castles in Japan
|Name||Year of construction|
|Bitchu Matsuyama Castle||1683|
Do you have more questions about castles in Japan? Leave a comment below!