Japan is synonymous with castles and temples. You’ll often hear other travellers or people on online forums say, “You’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen ’em all.”
Is that true about temples? Maybe.
Is that true about castles? Heck no.
No matter when or where you see a castle, it’s always going to be impressive…Though some more than others.
Here are seven castles that you cannot miss on your trip to Japan. If you get the opportunity to see any of these, don’t skip it.
7. Nagoya Castle, Aichi
Located in central Nagoya, this castle is not only monstrously large – it also has a unique history. During the Second World War, the Japanese military used the castle as a base, and also as a location for prisoners of war.
It was built during the famous Edo period and has gone through multiple renovations over the centuries.
6. Kanazawa Castle, Ishikawa
Located in the spacious and well-kept Kanazawa Castle Park, this castle has some of the most interesting architecture in all of Japan – using no nuts and bolts or concrete for the structure’s wooden beam support. It’s also the largest castle to be made of wood since the Meiji period.
It’s located just across the bridge from Kenrokuen, one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan, which also has a section that was used for military purposes. Speaking of which, the castle itself was used for weapons storage and there are many guard towers that were used to spot enemies and drop rocks on their heads (!!). A fascinating visit indeed.
5. Okayama Castle, Okayama
This castle is perched upon a hill and is easily visible from many directions, and has beautiful dark tones to it.
It’s got a very traditional Japanese castle architecture style, with a slight but important difference: it’s broad and bulky. This castle is located opposite (and accessible) from the second of Japan’s 3 most famous gardens called Korakuen.
4. Osaka Castle, Osaka
Osaka Castle gets a lot of criticism for being the most modern of all the castles, even equipped with an elevator up the side of the castle and utilized more so as a museum than anything else.
If you’re not interested in the museum inside or the view from the top of the castle, then we highly recommend you visit the castle at night after the crowds have dispersed. Entry to the castle is closed at night, but the park is still open and you can walk right up to and around the castle. It’s lit-up brilliantly and you get one of the most peaceful and relaxing atmospheres that Osaka has to offer – a rarity in the chaotic city.
3. Nijo Castle, Kyoto
This castle is fascinating from start to finish. From the moat that surrounds the castle, the bridge that you cross and then pass through the massive medieval-esque gates, the quaint garden, and the phenomenal art paintings inside.
Each room was the sleeping quarters of various royal inhabitants of the castle and their servants.
Perhaps the most famous feature of all for this castle are the nightingale floorboards, which creak as you step on them. This was installed by the Emperor to notify him in advance if any ninjas or assassins were approaching to kill him.
2. Matsumoto Castle, Nagano
One of Japan’s most famous castles with arguably the most exemplary surrounding natural scenery of rivers, trees and a backdrop of mountains. Its surrounding moats appear more poetic and artistic than other castles, which were clearly built with protection and deterrence in mind.
It’s not hard to see why this castle is considered by Japan to be one of its national treasures. If your jaw drops as it comes into view and as you cross the crimson red bridges leading up to its walls, we’d forgive you.
1. Himeji Castle, Hyogo
Hands-down the most iconic castle in Japan’s extensive catalogue. It towers at a massive 46 meters in height and has that classic steep and powerful architecture.
As you may already know, it was one of Japan’s only major castles that were spared from bombing during the Second World War. What you may not know, is that it was considered for demolition by Japan in the 1800s since it no longer served any practical use to them. Thankfully, it survived both destruction attempts and it is now graced not only as the most visited castle in Japan but also as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the major symbols of Japan.