When you think of castles you may mostly be thinking of Europe, but the castles in Japan are some of the best you can see anywhere, with their historic samurai history and beautiufl wooden architecture.
After spending many months travelling around Japan these are 6 castles that I highly recommend for you to visit. Choose at least one as a Japanese castle in a quintessential part of Japanese history.
Matsuyama Castle is one of my favourite castles in Japan that I visited. It doesn’t get the attention that castles like Himeji get (see below) but it’s a beautifully preserved castle and being that Matsuyama sees less tourists than some of the other castles listed here you will most likely get a lot of space to yourself.
The castle dates back to 1603 when it was built on Mount Katsuyama which is a small hill 132 metres high in the centre of Matsuyama.
Read more about Matsuyama.
Kumamoto Castle stands in importance as one of the final stands of the samurai in 1877 against the imperial forces. If you have any interest in samurai history then a trip to Kumamoto Castle (if you are in the area) is a must.
Sadly, it was badly damaged in the 2016 earthquake in the region and is still undergoing renovation, with areas of the castle closed from entry. Still there are parts to visit and it’s an impressive place.
Many of the wooden buildings are from the original castle built in 1607 although the keep area is a modern concrete reconstruction.
Read more about Kumamoto Castle and the last stand of the Samurai.
Himeji Castle (White Heron Castle)
Himeji Castle in Japan is one of the most famous castles and most likely the most photographed. It’s also easy to reach on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto as it’s not that far, being just past Kobe by the coast.
It’s the best-preserved feudal castle in Japan having survived the ravages of time unscathed from human conflict or natural disaster. It’s one of the few original castles left in Japan. The final construction of the castle was completed in 1609.
I would say that if you only had one castle to visit in Japan and especially if you are in the Osaka/Kyoto area then go see Himeji. I’ll be honest and say that during my several months travelling in Japan I didn’t get to see Himeji as it was undergoing renovations and was closed, but I can’t make this list and not include it as after seeing pictures, hearing from others who have visited, and reading the history of Himeji Castle, it is definitely the castle to see. It is now open to the public again.
More info on Himeji Castle from their official website here.
Matsumoto Castle (Crow Castle)
Matsumoto Castle ‘Crow Castle’ (called that due to its dark exterior) is located in Nagano prefecture and is one of Japan’s original castles still left (along with some others in this article) and is designated a ‘national treasure of Japan’.
The main castle keep area was finished in 1614 and the castle is not built on a hill but on flat land. It has the oldest five-tiered, six-story castle tower in Japan.
It’s a beautiful castle definitely worth visiting if you are in the Nagano area and the Japanese alps, although it doesn’t compare in size and grandeur as Himeji.
Osaka Castle is easy to see as it’s right in the centre of Osaka city and you can reach there no problem whether if you are staying in Osaka or day-tripping from Kyoto.
It is one of the most famous castles in Japan due to its history although what you see today is mostly reconstruction, even to the point of an elevator built into the centre that takes you all the way to the top.
It’s more of a museum than a castle these days. Still, due to its location and history it’s definitely worth seeing.
Matsue Castle (Black Castle)
Matsue Castle (known as ‘Black Castle’, again due to its dark exterior) is a small wooden castle in the city of Matsue and makes a good day trip from Hiroshima if you are around there as it’s not so far.
Construction of Matsue Castle was completed in 1611 and is also one of the original castles of Japan. It’s perched on top of a hill and by the shores of Lake Shinji.
Useful Links For Visiting Castles in Japan
On any visit to Japan, you should try and see at least one Japanese castle. If you’re in Kyoto or Osaka then Osaka Castle makes a great choice or a day trip to Himeji Castle from there.
For an overview of travel and life in Japan take a look at my Japan guide.
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