The Seven Most Beautiful Castles in Japan
Castles first appeared throughout Japan in the 15th century, during the era of the warring states. Warlords erected small, wooden castles on mountain tops, to defend against the frequent attacks of that time. After the unification of Japan, under Nobunaga Oda, castles started getting a lot bigger and more beautiful. Even after many centuries, Japanâ€™s castles still mesmerize tourists with their unique architecture and feudal charm.
7. Matsue Castle
Often referred to as Matsueo, or the â€œblack castleâ€, Matsue Castle is one of just a few original Japanese castles, dating back to the feudal period. Its construction began in 1607 and was completed in 1611, during the rule of Horio Yoshiharo. In 1875 all the buildings in the castle were destroyed, except the keep itself and now remains the only castle in the Sanin region.
Built after the last Japanese feudal war, Matsue Castle has never been under siege, but itâ€™s still a very strong structure, able to withstand a full scale attack. Seen from the outside Matsuejo appears to have five levels, but in reality, its Momoyama watchtower design hides six stories.
6. Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle is located in the Kumamoto prefecture and, together with Himeji and Matsumoto, is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan. It was constructed in 1607, by the Kato Clan and was one of the largest and best fortified structures of its time.
In 1877, Kumamoto Castles became a victim to Japanâ€™s last civil war. Following a 53-day siege, during a clash between an army of former samurai and the new Meiji government, the castle was burned to the ground. The structure we see today is a concrete reconstruction of the old Kumamoto Castle, dating back to 1960.
5. Nagoya Castle
Constructed at the beginning of the Edo period, Nagoya Castle soon evolved into one of the most important castle-towns in Japan and is now its fourth most important city. During World War II the castle was used as a military headquarters and prisoner camp, but was almost completely destroyed during an air raid, in 1945.
Nagoya Castle was rebuilt in 1959, but most of its precious artifacts were lost together with its original structure. Reconstruction of the entire castle complex will be completed in 2018. Meanwhile, tourists can visit the impressive museum set up inside the Nagoya Castle keep.
4. Okayama Castles
The Crow Castle or karasu-jo, as the Japanese call it, was built in 1597 and was known as the Golden Crow Castle due to its gilded roof tiles. The original Azuchi-Momoyama style structures of Okayama were destroyed by an air-bombing in World War II, so the keep had to be reconstructed out of concrete, in 1966.
Located on the Asashi River, in Okayama, the Crow Castle maintains its feudal look, but is a modern building featuring air-conditioning and elevators. Tourists visiting Okayama Castles can learn a lot about its interesting history from the many exhibits displayed inside the keep.
3. Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle is considered one of the most important structures in Japan, believed to have played a major role in the unification of Japan, under Hideoyoshi Toyotomi. Built in 1583, atop a tall stone foundation to protect it from attackers, Osaka Castle was the largest castle of its time.
The original castle was destroyed two times, during the 17th century. Tokugawa troops first burned it down in 1615, but it was rebuilt by Tokugawa Hidetada, during the 1620s. Lightning stuck the main keep and it again burned to the ground in 1665. The present structure was built in 1931 and miraculously survived the frequent air-raids of WWII.
Osaka Castle is now one of the most important tourist attractions in Japan, especially during the cherry blossom season, when thousands of tourists flock to see the 600 cherry trees in its lawn garden.
2. Matsumoto Castle
The history of the beautiful Matsumoto Castle dates back to the Sengoku period, when it was just a fort known as Fukashi Castle. It is one of the 12 original castles in the country and listed as a National Treasure of Japan.
Built in the 16th century, the Matsumoto Castle keep has survived the test of time, thanks to the efforts of Matsumoto residents. It was going to be demolished during the Meiji Restoration, when feudal castles were considered archaic and useless, but influential locals started a successful campaign to save it. Due to a structural defect and neglect, the keep was close to collapsing, but, thanks to local efforts, funds were gathered for its renovation.
Matsumoto Castle, unlike most Japanese feudal castles, is build on a plain, rather than on a hill or mountain top.
1. Himeji Castle
The most famous and visited castle in Japan, Himeji Castle is considered the prototypical Japanese castle, featuring many elements associated with feudal Japanese castle architecture. It was originally built in 1346, at the bottom of Himeji Mountain and was expanded during the rule of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, at the beginning of the 17th century.
Like many other castles in Japan, Himeji was bombarded twice by the Allied Forces, during World War II, but suffered no major damage. Post-war restoration began in 1956 and is now one of the most important tourist destinations in Japan.