Japanese castles are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country – both with history enthusiasts and casual visitors. It’s hard to not see their appeal – whether preserved in their original state or renovated, the castles look like something out of a samurai movie, and offer an interesting cultural insight on the times when it was built. Most Japanese castles offer guided tours in Japanese and English, which makes them especially popular with history enthusiasts ready to learn by experience. However, nobody will stop you from roaming the castle at your own pace either, if you’re just there to soak in the sights. The biggest and most famous Japanese castles that exist today are located outside of Tokyo – particularly in the Kansai region, so you might have to take a little day trip if you want to see a castle but are only visiting the capital. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top 7 Japanese castles, according to foreign visitors:
1. Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is hands-down the most famous castle in Japan, with both foreigners and locals. Its white color and sleek architecture resemble a bird taking flight, which is why Himeji-jo is often nicknamed the ‘white heron castle’. It dates back to 1333 when a samurai warrior built it as a fort on the town hilltop. It was then renovated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, two of the three great unifiers of Japan, and became an important strategical center for the country. Himeji Castle was also one of the first buildings in Japan to be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Located in Himeji city in Hyogo prefecture, the castle is within a short train ride from both Osaka and Kobe.
Name: Himeji Castle
Address: 670-0012, 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 09:00-16:00
Phone number: +81 079-285-1146
Official website: http://www.himejicastle.jp/en/
2. Osaka Castle
Another Kansai gem, Osaka-jo is also very popular with both foreigners and Japanese people. Built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1583, the castle was heavily inspired by an earlier building that belonged to Oda Nobunaga, namely the Azuchi castle. However, Osaka-jo surpassed its model castle in both architectural design and political importance, especially since it was located in the heart of a big city. That’s probably one of the main reasons why it gets so many visitors now, as you don’t have to go too far off the beaten path (actually, it’s right ON the beaten path) to see it if you’re staying in Osaka.
Name: Osaka Castle
Address: 540-0002, 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 09:00-17:00
Phone number: +81 06-6941-3044
Official website: http://www.osakacastle.net/english/
3. Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto castle is one of the oldest historic Japanese castles, built at roughly the same time as Himeji-jo. As opposed to Himeji, which is famous for its light-colored facade, Matsumoto castle’s exterior is mostly black – which is why the building is nicknamed the ‘crow palace’. It is currently listed as a National Treasure of Japan. Matsumoto Castle is located in Nagano prefecture and can be easily reached by train from central Tokyo. If you’re not willing going down to Kansai just to see Himeji-jo or Osaka-jo, Matsumoto Castle might be a good choice.
Name: Matsumoto Castle
Address: 390-0873, 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 08:30-16:30
Phone number: +81 263-32-2902
Official website: http://www.matsumoto-castle.jp/lang/
4. Nagoya Castle
The city of Nagoya is also home to a famous historic castle. Known as Nagoya-jo or Meijo, the castle was built between 1610 and 1619 by a military governor as a gift to his son. The city of Nagoya was an important commercial node at the time, which made the castle a strategic political spot for the ruling Tokugawa clan. The Nagoya castle was heavily affected by WWII air raids, and most of it is reconstructed today – but it’s still a sight worth seeing if you’re ever in the area.
Name: Nagoya Castle
Address: 460-0031, 1-1 Honmaru, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 09:00-16:30
Phone number: +81 52-231-1700
Official website: http://www.nagoyajo.city.nagoya.jp/13_english/index.html
5. Edo Castle
If you really don’t have the time to go out of Tokyo to visit a historic castle, your best bet would be the Edo castle. It was built as the official residence of the Tokugawa shogun and acted as the main military base during the Edo period. Nowadays, it is part of the Imperial Palace grounds, and one of the few period building in central Tokyo. Granted, it’s not as big and impressive as the likes of Osaka-jo, but it’s worth seeing as the main Tokugawa residence in the former capital city of Edo. It is also a great opportunity to take in the Imperial Palace grounds while you’re at it.
Name: Edo Castle
Address: 100-8111, 1-1 Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan
Business hour: Tue-Sun 09:00-17:00, Fridays and Mondays closed
Phone number: +81 3-3213-1111
6. Matsue Castle
If you’re a history enthusiast, you would know that most Japanese castles you can see today have been rebuilt to some extent. Frequent accidents such as fires, national disasters, and wartime air raids have taken a toll on historic buildings, but the Japanese have been trying their best to rebuild them as accurately as possible. However, this is not the case of Matsue Castle, located in Shimane prefecture. Matsue castle has been preserved intact since its completion in 1611 and is one of the few of its kind in all of Japan. Also known as the ‘black castle’, due to its dark-colored facade, Matsue castle was the residence of the Matsudaira clan, who were relative of the ruling Tokugawa clan.
Name: Matsue Castle
Address: 690-0887, 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 08:30-18:30
Phone number: +81 852-21-4030
7. Hirosaki Castle
Located in Aomori prefecture, the Hirosaki castle is most famous for being a great cherry blossom viewing spot. One of the greatest in all of Japan, in fact, as the castle grounds are home to over 2500 trees. If you happen to be visiting Japan during the cherry blossom season and are trying to avoid the hanami crowd from the parks of Tokyo, hop on a train to Aomori and check out Hirosaki castle. History-wise, the castle was built in 1611 but burned down just 16 years later after being struck by lightning. It was rebuilt in 1810, which makes it one of the few buildings renovated before the Meiji restoration.
Name: Hirosaki Castle
Address: 036-8356, 1 Shimoshiroganecho, Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture, Japan
Business hour: Mon-Sun 09:00-17:00
Phone number: +81 172-33-8739
Official website: http://www.hirosakipark.jp/
Japanese castles are famous for their unique architecture and rich history. Whether you’re into Japanese history and culture, and names like Hideyoshi and Tokugawa do ring a bell, or you’re just a casual interested in seeing how a real samurai castle looks from up close, we’re sure you’ll enjoy visiting any of the abovementioned.
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