Top Eight Japanese Castles

LJC (Tokyo) — Japan’s historical temples and shrines are often ranked at the top for visitors to Japan. Indeed, the foundations of many Japanese customs come from these tranquil and old religious sites. Nevertheless, castles too are an important and spectacular legacy of the nation’s pre-modern past.

Here we provide our assessment of which of these structures is most worth your time to visit, and the reasons why.

Number 8: Kagoshima Castle

Yoshihiro Shimazu of the Satsuma Han built this castle in 1601 after Satsuma lost the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. History says the castle was quite small and poor in design so as not to incur the wrath of Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Although the castle did avoid the wrath of Ieyasu, it did not escape conflict altogether. Large earthquakes, fires, and even termites destroyed it several times.

Most recently, it was seriously damaged in the Kagoshima earthquakes of early 2016, but after years of pain-staking reconstruction, it has reopened to the public.

Number 7: Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle, also known as the Black Castle, is in Shimane Prefecture. Constructed in 1611, and built to withstand many battles, it has never seen war. It is one of the twelve castles in Japan to still be standing on its original foundation.

One special feature for visitors is that you can take a boat cruise around the moat with a tour guide.

Number 6: Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture is another of the twelve Japanese castles sitting on its original foundation. While many castles were demolished during the Meiji Era, the Emperor himself asked that Hikone Castle be spared.

The spiral zig-zag path on the approach to the castle reflects the military design meant to foil attackers.

This castle is also quite close to Kyoto, and in spring it becomes a very popular spot to view the cherry blossoms.

Number 5: Okayama Castle

Located in Okayama Prefecture, Okayama Castle is not an original but a replica, because unfortunately the original structure, with the exception of one turret, was destroyed by US bombing during the Pacific War.

Nevertheless, the castle is quite beautiful and boasts a brilliant view of the surrounding landscape.

It was first built in 1597 in the Azuchi-Momoyama style. The original owner was Hideie Ukita, a loyalist to Hideyoshi Toyotomi, but his rights were lost after the Battle of Sekigahara. The castle was then inherited by the Ikeda Clan, who later added the very famous Korakuen gardens.

Number 4: Odawara Castle

Odawara Castle has become the symbol of Odawara city, not far from Japan’s metropolitan area. The Hojo Clan built the castle in the mid-15th century. They used it as a fortress to control the surrounding region.

Later, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his forces attacked and took control of the castle by force. The current structure is not that original, as it was rebuilt several times. An earthquake destroyed the first iteration in 1703, and in 1890 the castle was dismantled and sold. However, the Japanese government rebuilt the castle in the Olympic year of 1964, using drawings of the castle from the Edo period.

Many visitors come and enjoy this castle during the cherry blossom season.

Number 3: Goryokaku Castle

Goryokaku Castle in Hakodate, Hokkaido, was the first Japanese castle built with Western fortifications in mind. As a result, the shape of the castle is star-like, or a pentagon-like shape.

The masterminds behind this development were Ayasaburo Takeda and the French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban.

The castle saw battle when the remnants of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the famous Shinsengumi challenged the Imperial armies at the end of the Boshin War.

Number 2: Osaka Castle

Hideyoshi Toyotomi began constructing this castle in 1583, and it would serve as the main stronghold for his unified Japan for some years. At the time, it was the largest castle Japan had ever seen.

However, in 1615 Ieyasu Tokugawa’s forces destroyed the castle. It was later rebuilt, only to be destroyed once again in 1665 by a lightning strike. Later versions of the castle were badly damaged in both the Meiji Restoration and the US bombings of 1945.

In 1995, Osaka’s government approved yet another restoration project, and it opened to the public a couple years later as a concrete reproduction complete with elevators and an internal museum.

It hosts many events, such as the annual Osaka Castle Festival in the summer.

Number 1: Himeji Castle

Built in 1601, this hill castle consists of 83 buildings connected by a complex series of stairs, staircases, halls, corridors, and other structures.

This stunning fortress is also called “White Heron Castle” because its white-plastered towers resemble snow-capped little egrets.

The main tower is a six-storey structure visible from almost any location within Himeji city.

It is widely considered to be the best preserved original castle in Japan.

Do you agree with our castle ranking? Let us know why or why not!

This article was originally developed by Link Japan Careers.

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