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10 gorgeous Japanese castles that can transport you again in time

There are various explanation why Japanese castles needs to be a part of your journey plans.  They’re architecturally each lovely and spectacular, they’re typically related to a few of the most gorgeous gardens within the nation and so they present a glimpse again into the feudal age, the time of Shoguns, Samurai, Ninja and Geisha.

Himeji Castle with the first cherry blossom open in front
10 gorgeous Japanese castles that can transport you again in time 19

When we’re going to be passing wherever close to a citadel that we haven’t explored earlier than it’s nearly unattainable to withstand the temptation so as to add it to the itinerary.  A part of the reason being in all probability that I’ve learn means too many Japanese novels.

I like to visualise the world of the samurai and ninjas as we wander by means of these historic websites, uncover the delicate track of the Nightengale flooring and spot ornate and significant particulars.  The castles do look loads completely different than they did of their feudal heyday in fact. The very best-preserved segments are often the moats and fortifications such because the partitions, turrets and sometimes the citadel towers however intensive work has gone into authentically recreating different segments as they had been in centuries previous.

Most of the castles you will notice in Japan are recreations, sections of the citadel that had been rebuilt from the ruins when castles had been destroyed by battle, excessive climate circumstances, hearth or the systematic demolition set out by the Haijō Edict below Emperor Meiji as a part of the unification of Japan in a symbolic finish to the Feudal Age.

Why go to a Japanese citadel?

Historic worth

The Japanese castles advanced from earlier fortifications over the centuries however the extra dramatic constructions we admire in the present day usually date from the sixteenth century. Coming from Australia, an historical land itself however with its earliest surviving man-made constructions relationship from the late 18th century, Japan’s shrines, temples and castles fascinate me.


Japan celebrates its distinct seasons and that’s notably evident in its many lovely gardens designed to transition superbly from one season to the subsequent however put the highlight on a specific flower or characteristic. The cherry blossom and the autumn leaves are probably the most notable to guests however wisteria, azaleas, hydrangeas, iris, pink moss and dozens of others have their moments to shine.

Two of Japan’s self-selected ‘3 most lovely gardens’, Kōraku-en in Okayama and Kenroku-en in Kanazawa had been designed and loved as citadel gardens earlier than later being opened to the general public. Even these citadel gardens that don’t take pleasure in such recognition are usually nonetheless fairly lovely and maintained in line with their early design. The Shoguns and aristocracy of the interval clearly loved the humanities and sweetness of their environment.

Architectural curiosity and sweetness

The castles fluctuate considerably of their measurement, styling and placement and whereas there may be consistency of their total design and fortification their are additionally could fascinating architectural side and aesthetic options.

A few of the most notable are the inclusion of household crests into the roof and wall tiles or the dramatic protecting talismans. Shachihoko is a fish with a lions head that’s typically positioned on either side of a roof to guard from hearth, you will notice it distinctively featured at Nagoya Fortress and has turn out to be a logo of town.

Cultural worth

I wouldn’t think about myself a historical past buff in any respect however I do benefit from the cultural and historic aspect of visiting castles and the connection of every to the three nice unifiers of Japan. Virtually the entire castles have a connection to at the least one of many nice warlords, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Tokugawa Ieyasu and so they mirror the three distinctive characters who formed trendy Japan.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a devoted patron of the humanities and complex design particulars could be seen within the castles he’s related with and within the festivals related to these castles. The Nagahama Hikiyama Matsuri for instance options younger Kabuki actors acting on gilded floats which can be pulled by means of town streets from the shrine in the direction of the citadel. The gorgeous floats and traditions have been maintained by means of the centuries.

Unique Castles in Japan

There are solely 12 unique castles remaining in Japan and that makes them additional particular and price going somewhat out of your approach to go to.  To qualify they will need to have retained the citadel tower.  The most effective issues about these citadel cities is that they’ve typically preserved considerably extra than simply the citadel itself making them fascinating to go to on many ranges.  The very best-known and probably probably the most beautiful of the unique castles is Himeji Fortress which had a major restoration a couple of years again to make sure its preservation for the long run.  It’s actually dramatic particularly when considered surrounded by cherry blossoms, a view we had been lucky sufficient to take pleasure in on our first go to in 2010.

A private favorite although is within the small city of Hikone the place each the citadel constructing itself and the stables have survived and that provides an fascinating additional ingredient.  There’s an exquisite historic buying avenue that leads away from the citadel down in the direction of Lake Biwa which is now largely eating places and the like however properly value following all the way down to the lake.  We visited Hikone Fortress within the winter so it wasn’t one of the best time to take pleasure in what I perceive are some wonderful gardens however to see it lined in snow had fairly an impression too though that tower ground was darn chilly although your socks.

The total listing of unique Japanese castles consists of:

  • Bitchu Matsuyama – also called Takahashi Fortress (Okayama Prefecture)
  • Himeji (Hyogo prefecture – Nationwide Treasure)
  • Hikone (Shiga prefecture – Nationwide Treasure)
  • Hirosaki (Aomori prefecture)
  • Inuyama (Aichi prefecture – Nationwide Treasure)
  • Kochi (Kochi prefecture)
  • Marugame (Kagawa prefecture)
  • Maruoka (Fukui prefecture)
  • Matsue (Shimane prefecture – Nationwide Treasure)
  • Matsumoto (Nagano prefecture – Nationwide Treasure)
  • Matsuyama (Ehime prefecture)
  • Uwajima (Ehime prefecture)

To be classed as an unique citadel implies that the primary citadel maintain is unbroken because it was on the time of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Most of the ‘recreated’ castles embody unique constructions reminiscent of warehouses, turrets, partitions, moats and different fortifications however their essential citadel tower has been rebuilt with various levels of authenticity.

Of those 12 unique castles, there are 5 with Nationwide Treasure standing. These are Himeji, Hikone, Matsumoto, Inuyama and Matsue.

10 unimaginable Japanese castles to go to

These castles don’t all have unique citadel buildings from the feudal interval, some have had the primary citadel recreated in trendy instances, and others have sufficient different pursuits to make them value visiting regardless of their lack of the citadel tower.  I plan so as to add to our assortment of Japanese castles visited over time, however these 10 could be our suggestions to this point. 

One thing completely different about visiting Japanese castles from these in Europe is that aside from the odd room or scene, they’re largely empty or home museum displays. They aren’t furnished and don’t present direct insights into the comforts or lack of it that the inhabitants would have loved throughout their heyday.   The constructions are unimaginable and delightful however what it will have been wish to have lived or labored inside them is basically left to your creativeness.

That is one thing I’ve heard many individuals, particularly those that have visited castles and stately properties in Europe touch upon.  I like to learn Japanese historic fiction, so it’s not arduous to permit the reel to play in your head imagining what it will need to have been like however I’ve typically thought it a disgrace that there isn’t extra visible inside them to counsel how the assorted areas had been used. They’ve in fact been stripped naked and unoccupied for 100-150 years at this level so the constructions being so properly preserved in themselves is spectacular.

1.  Himeji Fortress

Himeji Fortress is one in every of solely 12 unique castles with the primary citadel tower remaining, it’s a Nationwide Treasure and is broadly recognised as one of many high three castles in Japan.  It’s additionally my primary because it was the primary we visited and fired a ardour for travelling farther from the crushed path to seek out extra. Our go to right here was because the cherry blossoms simply handed their peak and in opposition to a transparent blue sky.  It’s a gorgeous sight.

Himeji Castle with cherry blossom

As you discover you may have wonderful entry to see all of the spectacular fortifications across the citadel and grounds together with openings within the wall referred to as ‘Musha Otoshi’ from contained in the citadel maintain and west bailey (Nishinomaru) the place the princesses lived. These openings had been a final line of defence positioned there to drop boiling water, oil and rocks down on would-be attackers. Maybe it’s as a result of it was so impressively fortified, that Himeji-jo by no means got here below assault.

If you’re at Himeji citadel throughout the cherry blossom season you’ll need to linger across the nice garden within the Sannomaru by means of the Otemon gate. It’s lined with cherry bushes that body gorgeous views of the citadel. This a part of the citadel grounds is open to the general public and free to enter, past is a ticket gate on the Hishi gate to see the internal elements of the citadel grounds and enter the buildings.

Planning your go to to Himeji Fortress

2.  Hikone

As talked about above, Hikone is a private favorite, it’s an unique citadel and whereas far smaller than Himeji it’s lovely in its personal proper.  Amongst the opposite constructions nonetheless standing in Hakone are the horse stables that are positioned simply outdoors the internal moat that surrounds the citadel and are the primary half you come to.  

Enormous chunks of snow had been melting and sliding from the roof of the stables onto the footpath as we arrived and the entire space actually was image excellent.

Hikone Castle

The views from the highest ground of the citadel out to Lake Biwa are spectacular and we had an exquisite afternoon wandering the historic buying avenue down in the direction of the lake afterwards.  I’m instructed the gardens are additionally value permitting a while for however they had been below a layer of snow whereas we had been right here in February.

It’s a stunning little city and properly value stopping in at. It could actually simply be included if you’re travelling as much as both Nagahama or Kanawawa by prepare from the central cities of Osaka and Kyoto.

Planning your go to to Hikone Fortress

3.  Matsumoto

Like the entire Japanese castles featured right here, Matsumoto Fortress was constructed throughout the warring states interval however in contrast to most, it has not seen battle throughout its 400-year historical past, as an alternative to many it now represents the area’s quest for peace and stability throughout the ages.

The flatland citadel is named the black crow citadel and is kind of distinctive though it does characteristic each black and white in its facade. The design alternative is claimed to be a mark of respect from Lord Ishikawa to Toyotomi Hideyoshi whose Osaka Fortress on the time was additionally black.

Matsumoto Fortress is gorgeous considered throughout the extensive moat and is likely one of the most full with a secondary donjon (citadel tower) and defensive turret adjoining the primary citadel maintain that dates again to 1592. Whereas the citadel presents as having 5 tiers there’s a sixth hidden ground inside

4. Inuyama

In Aichi, solely a 30-minute prepare journey from Nagoya metropolis is Inuyama. That is one other of the unique castles and properly value a go to to benefit from the Yamajiro or mountain citadel searching over the spectacular Kiso River under and the stunning citadel buying avenue and city that encompass it.

The citadel was rebuilt a number of instances between the mid-1300s and 1500s however what we see preserved on the location in the present day was largely the work of Oda Nobunaga’s son, Oda Nobutasu.

All three of Japan’s 3 nice unifiers had a historical past with Inuyama Fortress. Oda Nobunaga took the citadel twice, as soon as in 1560 and once more in 1564, after his dying Toyotomi Hideyoshi had the citadel defences rebuilt in a extra up to date design after which in 1600 Tokugawa Ieyasu took the citadel within the Battle of Sekigahara.

5. Hiroshima

There was a thirteenth unique citadel at Hiroshima that survived till trendy instances. It averted demolition within the Meiji Restoration however was misplaced on the sixth of August 1945 when an atomic bomb was detonated over town on the finish of WWII.  Town was rebuilt within the years that adopted together with the citadel in 1958.

Hiroshima Castle main tower

Stays of the unique foundations could be seen all through the expansive citadel grounds and through sakura the sting of the moat is a well-liked place for locals to chill out and benefit from the cherry blossoms.

Panorama of Hiroshima castle moat and defences
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6.  Okayama

Okayama citadel is one other recreation however this one is particular as a lot of the intensive citadel gardens have additionally been preserved because the citadel itself, they’re referred to as Korakuen and are recognised as one of many 3 most lovely gardens in Japan.  

Okayama castle
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Whereas the citadel appears out throughout the internal moat to the backyard, the backyard itself enjoys spectacular vistas of the citadel from varied factors round it.  Options such because the Ryuten Relaxation Home positioned on a stream inside the backyard had been options of feudal instances which can be nonetheless represented within the backyard in the present day.

If you’re headed to Okayama the Korakuen Backyard needs to be in your listing, it’s simply accessible from the Shinkansen station the place there are many lockers to depart your luggage if you’re simply stopping off in your journey. I

f you may have some additional time then a brief prepare journey from the centre of Okayama to Kurashiki Bikan, a historic service provider city constructed across the canal is one other a part of town value including to your itinerary.

7.  Kanazawa

Kanazawa Fortress is well-known for Kenrokuen Gardens, one other of the highest 3 gardens in Japan. The citadel itself has had ongoing rebuilding initiatives underway for the reason that Nineties which have enhanced the unique feudal-age stays of turrets, storehouses and fortifications with substantial recreated citadel buildings.

Kanazawa castle

8.  Nijo

Inside the metropolis of Kyoto, we think about Nijo Fortress a must-visit spot though what stays of the particular citadel fortification is minimal. Some foundations of the primary citadel, partitions and turrets are nonetheless right here however what Nijo has that makes it so particular is the surviving palace, the intensive gardens with double moat and plenty of different historic buildings.

Nijo Castle
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9.  Osaka

Osaka is the most important metropolis to have a citadel its the central metropolis. As a recreation, it’s maybe one of many much less spectacular in some methods with its ferroconcrete building however its spectacular positioning within the surrounding park, being seen from the tallest buildings and lookouts like Harukas 360 and the Umeda Sky Constructing all through town and the view from the highest of the citadel itself giving an encompassing view

Osaka Castle in Spring
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10.  Nagahama

The city of Nagahama received our hearts on our 2011 winter go to once we made our means on the market to attend a bonsai show of cherry and plum bushes, an occasion referred to as Bonbai, within the historic Keiunkan a venue that performed host to Emperors and Princesses. It’s a superb city, so pleasant, with nice meals, artisans, spectacular festivals and a citadel. Not surprisingly we now have discovered an excuse to incorporate a cease right here a number of instances since.

The citadel in Nagahama sits on the sting of the picturesque Lake Biwa, a spectacular location and though the citadel is a recreation it’s a much-loved gathering place for locals to return collectively, particularly throughout the cherry blossom season.

Escape again in time within the pages of a guide

If you’re within the dreaming and planning levels of your journey and also you wish to learn there are some good novels set in feudal Japan which may feed your curiosity in Japanese Castles and that interval in Japan’s historical past. They make an incredible learn and if you do get the possibility to go to a few of these fabulous spots they arrive to life in your creativeness.

Tales of the Otori is an efficient place to begin. This well-known trilogy by Lian Hearn and includes:

  • Throughout the Nightengale Flooring
  • Grass for his Pillow, and
  • Brilliance of the Moon

It was subsequently prolonged with ‘The Harsh Cry of the Heron’ set 17 years later bringing within the story of Lord Takao Otori’s kids and a prequel ‘Heaven’s Internet is Extensive’, the story of Lord Shigaru as much as the purpose the place he met Takao.

The fictional work is about amongst the intrigue, brutality and complexities of feudal Japan, the world of shoguns and samurai, concubines and ninjas.

One other learn to satiate an curiosity in Japan’s historical past and tradition is The Story of Genji. Set within the eleventh century it’s believed to be the world’s first novel and written over 1000 years in the past. It was penned by a noblewoman, a lady-in-waiting inside the Courtroom however don’t count on it to be all prim and correct, Murasaki Shikibu didn’t shrink back from the scandals of the aristocracy.

In case you get caught up on this one you’ll need to embody a cease at Uji in Kyoto, it’s a straightforward day journey from town and has many connections to the novel. I used to be additionally wowed by the unimaginable element in a show of painted screens depicting scenes from the guide at Nezu Museum in Shibuya. Whereas that exhibit was momentary I’d extremely advocate a go to to the museum, gardens and teahouse.

Just a few suggestions for visiting Japanese castles

  • If you wish to go to castles from a base inside a serious metropolis then Kyoto is a superb alternative. There are many nice day journeys from Kyoto and the unique castles of Himeji and Hikone can each be reached simply from there together with Korakuen, the citadel backyard at Okayama recognised as one in every of Japan’s high 3 gardens.
  • If you’re planning to journey round between cities on day journeys or a spherical journey then one of many Japan Rail Passes has beforehand been a superb alternative, since late 2023 it not often pays off however we now have the knowledge right here to work out if a JR move is value it in your itinerary. It’s nonetheless simple to get round Japan even with out the move.
  • Most of the smaller citadel cities have an exquisite really feel to them and along with the citadel, gardens and any related museums it’s value in search of out the historic avenue main as much as the citadel as these are sometimes properly preserved and might embody some wonderful eating places and teashops. They received’t essentially be the way in which you are available in from the station however they received’t be arduous to seek out.
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