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Seven Historical Japanese Castles

Luke K.

by GoWithGuide travel specialist:Luke K.

Last updated : Feb 24, 202315 min read

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Japan is a country of castles. Every castle is very different, and each offers an excellent insight into the history of Japan; from medieval structures, to ancient battles. The castles of Japan always have a very interesting story, various styles of Japanese gardens, and stunning architecture. We have selected seven of the best castles in Japan:

Nagoya Castle

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(image by flickr.com)

At the center of Nagoya Castle is its tenshukaku or castle tower which was rebuilt in 1959. The surrounding remains of the castle were made into Meijou Park. At present, the Honmaru palace is continuing restoration. A third of the construction costs, about 5 billion yen, comes from donations from Nagoya citizens. Local residents’ passion is linked into the restoration of Nagoya Castle. Along with the tenshukaku, Honmaru is the most important part of Nagoya Castle. For that part, the front hall and the omotesho-in parlor (a parlor constructed at the front of a building) are open to the public. The front hall is called the Tiger Room, and is the official entrance for visitors who can also use it as a waiting area. On the walls and sliding doors, there are tigers and leopards illustrated to express courage. The omotesho-in was used for the feudal lord and his servants to meet. There are paintings of flowers and birds in the rooms, and there is a profound air. They were the meeting places for the lord and his family as well as venues for dinners. It’s also said that the very first lord had had his wedding ceremony held there. Illustrations of the year-round events are famous.

The castle was enlarged after the unification of the nation for lords on the way to the capital. Gorgeous sculptures and metal fittings were added to the Shogun’s chambers, and even within Honmaru Palace, it was the most elegant area. Elsewhere, there are bathrooms and the Kuroki Sho-in which was reputed to be the lodgings for Ieyasu Tokugawa currently scheduled for restoration. Efforts are being made with the citizenry for the care and maintenance of the excellent scenery of Ninomaru Garden, called a place of scenic beauty, a new place for exchange in the area surrounding Nagoya Castle and the reconstruction of the shachihoko golden dolphins. After completion, it will become a huge location for history and culture in the Chubu area.

Admission: ¥ 500

Guidebook from Planetyze about Nagoya Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nagoya Castle
Tours of Nagoya Castle

Nijo Castle

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(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Nijo Castle was constructed in 1603 as the Kyoto lodging place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had secured victory in the Battle of Sekigahara. It was later remodeled into the form of Nijo Castle that is seen today by Iemitsu, the third shogunate. As a flatland castle, the structure was built on a larger plot of land after the territory of thedaimyo had increased. In the spacious castle grounds are Ninomaru Palace (National Treasure), Honmaru Palace (Important Cultural Property), and the Ninomaru Garden (Place of Scenic Beauty). While strolling through the castle premises, we recommend viewing these important buildings and the wall panel paintings in Ninomaru Palace, which is an Important Cultural Property.  

Of the more than 3000 wall panel paintings in Ninomaru Palace, 1016 are National Important Cultural Properties. These wall paintings were not produced at the time of the castle’s construction. Rather, they were painted by Kano Tanyu when the castle underwent a major reform in 1626. These wall panel paintings were painted using the method known as the Kano school, in which screen covered in gold leaf are decorated with brilliant pine trees using natural pigments.  

The gardens of Nijo Castle comprise three styles. From the Edo period, there is Ninomaru Garden, from the Meiji period, there is Honmaru Garden, and from the Showa period there is Seiryu Garden.Landscaping stones are placed around the pond with a central island in Ninomaru Garden, which faces the private residencies and the great hall. Although it cannot be seen by tourists from the great hall, this garden was made so that a vast landscape could originally be seen from the hall. This garden is one of the foremost examples of daimyo-style gardens. Honmaru Garden was made according to the instructions of the Emperor Meiji. Seiryu Garden was constructed in 1965 as a combination of Japanese and Western styles. In 2005, in the Journal of Japanese Gardens, a specialist American publication about Japanese gardens, Seiryu Garden was ranked fifth and Ninomaru garden was ranked tenth. In 2006, Seiryu Garden was sixth and Ninomaru Garden was eighth. Viewing the gardens is possible, but entrance is restricted. The gardens are opened to the public during various events, including the end of the year holiday. Please check the website for details. 

Admission: Adult: ¥ 600 / Child: ¥ 200

Guidebook from Planetyze about Nijo Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Nijo Castle
Tours of Nijo Castle

Kanazawa Castle

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(image by upload.wikimedia.org)

Kanazawa Mido Hall, which was once a Pure Land Buddhist temple, was invaded and taken over by General Morimasa Sakuma under orders of Nobunaga Oda. Afterwards, building of a castle began from 1583 under Toshiie Maeda, the head of the Kaga clan. However, following the loss of the castle tower from fire due to a lightning strike in 1602, only the watchtower and palace were re-built. But then another fire occurred which led to more re-building without the castle tower ever being resurrected, and even now it (inner citadel) exists only as remains of a demolished site. Currently, Kanazawa Castle is undergoing restorative construction so that it can be passed onto future generations as an important historical cultural property. In 2001, restoration of the Hishi Yagura watchtower, the Gojikken Nagaya warehouse and the Hashizume-mon Tsuzuki Yagura watchtower and command post was completed to become symbols of Kanazawa Castle which boasts an area of 1894.23 sq. meters. These buildings were protection against enemies during war, so there were latticed windows for stone-throwing and guns, mortared walls painted in white, and walls covered in square tiles jointed with raised plaster constructed against fire which were seen everywhere as a protective function. In addition, the Ishikawa-mon Gate and the Sanjikken Nagaya warehouse have been designated as Important Cultural Properties.

One attractive point about Kanazawa Castle is its diverse stone walls. Because of the different uses of the stone walls depending on the place and the repeated reconstruction, you can view completely different types of stone wall within the vast grounds so that the castle has also been called a stone wall museum. You can walk and observe at your own pace through the large site and can also tour the adjacent Kenroku-en, one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens, which was also constructed by the same head of the Kaga clan.  

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Kanazawa Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kanazawa Castle
Tours of Kanazawa Castle

Hiroshima Castle

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(image by flickr.com)

Hiroshima Castle is a 15-minute walk either from the JR Hiroshima Station or from the Atomic Bomb Dome. The castle was completed in 1589. It is said that a feudal lord during the Warring States period, Terumoto Mori, initiated the construction of the castle after feeling the necessity of having one following a visit to the Osaka Castle upon an invitation from Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a preeminent feudal lord who eventually brought an end to the Warring States period. Though it was designated as a National Treasure in 1931, it was blown out by the atomic bombing in 1945. The tower keep (tenshukaku) was restored completely by the 1958 restoration construction project; however, the exterior is made by concrete. Inside the tower keep is a museum of history that introduces the samurai (buke) culture. The most popular attraction at the museum is the space where visitors can try out wearing samurai clothes and helmets and take pictures freely  without being attended by staff members.     

The top floor of the castle has an observatory from which a panoramic view of the Hiroshima City can be seen. If the weather is good, you can see the island of Miyajima in the distance. Hiroshima Castle is also known as the castle of carps (Rijyo); many say that this name comes from a geographic name, but some say that the name comes from the fact that in the old days, there were many carps swimming in the moat. Whichever the case may be, today, many carps swim around in the moat. The connected yagura watchtower structures of the ninomarusection–omotegomon gate, waki-yagura, tamon-yagura and taiko-yagura–were restored as wooden structures in 1994; the interior of these structures are open to the public. A gate of sophistication and grace, the pillars of theomotegomon gate are partially made of wood from a thousand years old hinoki tree. The moat and stonewalls remain in the conditions they were at the time of the bombing. Hiroshima Castle has been selected as one of the 100 great castles of Japan. Also, on the grounds of the castle are a large eucalyptus tree and a willow tree which survived the atomic bombing. At night, the tower keep is lit up; the upside down view of the tower keep reflected on the water of the moat is breathtaking.

Admission: ¥ 370

Guidebook from Planetyze about Hiroshima Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hiroshima Castle
Tours of Hiroshima Castle

Inuyama Castle

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(image by flickr.com)

A castle whose memories of historical figures can be realistically thought about up to now is uncommon. The differences in the reconstruction of some buildings is evident. By no means is it a big castle, but we would like you to come and visit a place that has plenty of memories of the lifestyle of warring commanders.

Enter the castle after taking off your shoes. The actual entrance is in the basement, and part of the stone wall is uncovered. The ladder-like stairs are very steep. Along with watching your step, it is also necessary to be careful not to bump your head on the low beams running among the pillars.  This was also in consideration of preventing a full attack during an enemy invasion. In addition, there are also ishi-otoshi windows from which to drop stones,tsuke-yagura attached towers to attack from the flank, hidden rooms for soldiers and other Sengoku Era tactics against enemy forces. Currently, there are suits of armor, folding screens and other exhibits on display which are very popular.

The highest floor has a 360-degree view. Called the mawari-en, the corridor that encircles the floor is outside the castle which is unusual. Because the wood would rot if snow piled up, construction on cold ground was impossible. At the very least, the wonderful view can make one feel fully like the master of the castle. The surrounding edge goes no higher than one’s knees so it’s not even as tall as a shelf which means there is a thrilling aspect.

There is one good point behind the reason for Inuyama Castle avoiding destruction. Whenever it was known that a strong enemy was on the way, there was a quick surrender and no resistance. At any rate, the existence of a castle built over 400 years ago is a valuable experience.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 550 / Child: ¥ 110

Guidebook from Planetyze about Inuyama Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Inuyama Castle
Tours of Inuyama Castle

Osaka Castle

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Although Osaka Castle has twice been destroyed by fire, Otemon and Sakuramon, which are Important Cultural Properties, still remain, as does the castle tower, which is a registered Tangible Cultural Property. The castle tower, which was rebuilt 266 years after being burned down, is a 55-meter high, five-story (outer), eight-floor (inner) building. This is one of the foremost of the many post-Showa era castle towers, and it boasts an elevator so that elderly people and disabled persons can enjoy it too. One of the features of Osaka Castle is the glittering golden ornamentation, including the golden carp on the roof. Osaka Castle is situated inside Osaka Castle Park. Osaka Castle Park is a huge site of roughly 106 square meters. In addition to Osaka Castle, this park abounds with nature, including Nishinomaru Garden, where there are approximately 300 cherry blossom trees, and the plum grove, which has approximately 1200 plum trees across 100 varieties. Concerts also take place at Osaka Castle Hall, and it is the ideal tourist location for slow walks.  

The museum in Osaka Castle Tower is where you can learn about the history of Osaka Castle. On the first floor, you can study the life of Toyotomi Hidetoshi and learn about the history of Osaka Castle in the theater room. On the second floor, you will be introduced to general information about the castle by means of panel displays and replicas of the carp and the tiger and other decorations. On the third and fourth floors, items and documents related to Toyotomi Hidetoshi are on display. On floor five, there is a display that includes a folding panel about the siege of Osaka and the situation at the time, which served as a model for the current Osaka Castle, all of which is available in English. On the seventh floor, there are miniature models that tell the story of Toyotomi Hidetoshi’s life, while the top floor is a viewing area that takes in all of Osaka. After taking in the history from the first to seventh floors, and deepening your understanding of the history of Osaka Castle and the man known as Toyotomi Hidetoshi, the streets of Osaka as viewed from the viewing area will depict a different scene.

Admission: ¥ 600

Guidebook from Planetyze about Osaka Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Osaka Castle
Tours of Osaka Castle

Matsumoto Castle

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(image by flickr.com)

Since its construction in the latter half of the 16th century, Matsumoto Castle has kept its noble appearance. Painted in jet-black, the castle is not a completely showy structure, but it evokes a dignity that survived the turbulent times of the harsh Sengoku Era from its unwasted beauty. However, there is a history for the castle that was brought about by the passion of the local citizens. When the castle was auctioned off, those citizens along with people of influence saved it. Even afterwards, it was not demolished and through restoration and reconstruction, the castle has continued to be preserved as it was when it had been first built. Since it is one of the rare oldest existing castles in Japan, it was designated as a National Treasure and was selected to be one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles.

One of the characteristics of Matsumoto Castle is its construction on a plain. To protect a castle from enemies during the Sengoku Era, castles were frequently built on mountain tops. However, this was inconvenient for the development of commerce and industry for the town. For that reason, Matsumoto Castle was erected on a plain in the hopes for town development and countermeasures against enemy attack were rigorously developed. Around the castle, three layers of moats were built which prevented enemy invasion. Within the castle grounds, there were strong steps on the slopes and many small windows known as hazama. From those windows, rocks and firearms were able to be used while making it difficult for attack from the outside. Matsumoto Castle as seen from the outer moat was viewed as a fortress floating on the water which inspired fear. But looking at it from the other side, it is interesting that it is admired for having a gentle appearance among the beautiful pine.

The castle tower, consisting of 5 layers but 6 floors, is currently a museum and the interior exhibits weapons and equipment used at that time. Once you climb the extremely steep and narrow stairs, you should be able to realize traces of the various efforts made to make things difficult for invading enemies. However, when you reach the top floor, you will recover from the fatigue after seeing the beautiful mountains of the Japanese Northern Alps and the pretty landscape of Matsumoto spreading out in front of your eyes.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 610 / Child: ¥ 300

Guidebook from Planetyze about Matsumoto Castle
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Matsumoto Castle
Tours of Matsumoto Castle
Shiga Tour Guide - Koichi W.

Koichi W.

4.95 / 5
(56 reviews)

Hi! I'm Koichi. I was born in Osaka, I studied in Kyoto when I was a university student. Now I live in Shiga next to Kyoto. I am a national government licensed tour guide. I have been guiding about 160 groups over the past twelve months. I usually guide my customers mainly in Kansai region including Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Kobe and Shiga by public transportation systems. Well, I am curious about Japanese history, especially the history of Japan's ancient times since I was raised next to the world biggest mausoleum of the ancient Emperor called "Nintoku" in Sakai city Osaka which has just become one of the world cultural heritage sites. I dug out some ancient earthen ware vessels around there when I was a primary school student like the adventure archaeologist “Indiana Jones" (It’s our secret!!). That was my hobby. Now, one of my hobbies is outdoor activities such as mountaineering, kayaking, skiing and others. So I would like to take you to some good places where you can enjoy Japanese unique nature. I love to guide foreign visitors from all over the world. I think it is my calling or heavenly given job. Let's go and enjoy together! I hope to see you soon.                                                                                                                                 

Osaka Tour Guide - Takashi M.

Takashi M.

5.00 / 5
(17 reviews)

Hi, my name is Takashi!! When I go abroad, I think that how nice it would be to have a friend there and hang out together. I want you to feel like you have a friend in Osaka and we can go around and explore the city. I was born and grew up in Japan. And I speak English, Spanish and Japanese. I can be the perfect guide for you!! I can also guide you any other cities in Japan, just let me know where you wanna go :)                                                                                                                                 

Osaka Tour Guide - Kazuyoshi M.

Kazuyoshi M.

5.00 / 5
(5 reviews)

This tour mainly tours Osaka and Kyoto. I have lived in Osaka for 10 years and have been to Kyoto 300 times through tourism. I can also offer hands-on guided tours. I can offer maiko and geiko viewing, furoshiki (wrapping cloth) making, matcha (powdered green tea), professional acupuncture in ninja costume, and introduction-type experiences. My Instagram account has been viewed by 130,000 people in one month. Not to mention famous places. I can also guide visitors to places where foreign tourists do not usually go. I can be flexible. Best regards.                                                                                                                                 

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