There are hundreds of Japanese castles scattered throughout the country. These magnificent buildings, donjons, housed feudal lords and samurais and contain fascinating histories. Many of these castles have been restored, especially after damage in World War II, but there are some spectacular original castles to visit.
Many of the castles, Shiro in Japanese, as known by adding the kanji character of –jo to their name – Japan’s most famous castle, Himeji Castle, becomes Himeji-jo for instance. Many castles also have nicknames based on their appearance, with Himeji, becoming the White Heron Castle.
Here are Japan’s most stunning castles – how to visit the most spectacular castles in Japan, opening times and costs to enter these Japanese Castles and what special features you should look out for.
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History of Japanese Castles
Much of the building of Japanese castles took place during the 15th and 16th centuries, a time when much of Japan was at war, with itself. This time period in Japan was known as the Warring States period, which lasted from 1467 to 1615. This Japanese Warring States period, or Sengoku jidai , was a period of revolution – the common people against the traditional masters. Old estates with absentee landlords fell to local warlords, those who worked the land were controlled by the local samurai and newly politicized groups rallied the farmers against these samurai. Little wonder that castles were built for protection. The castles of Himeji, Matsumoto and Hikone were built during this time.
The samurai residents of the castles governed and protected their surrounding domains until 1871.
The architecture of Japanese Castles
Thick stone walls were a key element of Japanese castle architecture to protect from firearms and cannon arriving from Europe. Castles were built to protect the major routes that connected Japans primary cities – think of the Tokaido and Nakasendo. You can walk the Nakasendo Trail today, or perhaps just the most popular day hike – the Magome- Tsumago trail.
Primary Features of Japanese Castles
While the layout of individual castles in Japan differs, there are many similar elements to Japanese Castles. Key aspects of Japanese Castles include:
- A defensive moat
- Thick stone walls
- Shooting holes in walls
- Windows to drop stones
- Complicated internal layout to confuse intruders
Japanese Castle Building Materials
While the exterior walls may have been stone, many of the buildings inside a Japanese castle were made of wood. Fire was a big risk, and so plaster covered white walls aimed to protect against it. You’ll see the white plaster walls at Himeji Castle and Hikone Castle. Kumamoto, as an example of an earlier castle, has lacquered black wooden walls.
Layout and Design of Japanese Castles
A Japanese castle was designed in circles or compounds. An inner circle surrounded by a second circle and a third. The most central building of the castle, where it was ruled from in times of war is the tenshu. It is this part of the castle that usually has tiled roofs and multiple stories. The size and design of these “keeps” was often a way of demonstrating the visible power of their immense power.
Japan’s Most Stunning Castles to Visit
In this guide, we’ll cover Japan’s oldest castles and the most famous of Japan’s castles. You’ll find unique Japanese castles, as well as unique Japanese castles and the most remote of Japanese castles. We’ll start with the most famous Japanese castle.
Japanese Castles are a great place to see the Japanese Cherry Blossom, an incredible Spring activity to experience, as most castles are surrounded by Cherry Trees – which not find out which ones are the best for your Sakura spotting activities?
We’ll also cover how to get to these awesome Japanese Castles – taking the train around Japan is quite simply the easiest way to travel. If you haven’t bought a JR Pass yet, then do so and you’ll save a lot of money. If you want to read more about how the JR Pass saves money, then check this article out
Located in Hyogo Prefecture, Himeji Castle is the most famous of Japan’s castles. It was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in December 1993. It is known as the “White Heron Castle” – a tribute to its brilliant white colour and its elegant structure.
Why visit Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is not only Japan’s most famous castle, but it’s also one of the most beautiful and elegant. It is the most immaculate example of its type. The castle is stunning in cherry blossom season and also for the autumn foliage.
Special features of Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle is built on a hill, with 82 buildings inside the complex. The keep stands 46 metres tall and the castle was originally surrounded by three moats, of which two survive. Features of Himeji castle include triangular gun ports and rectangular arrow ports in walls.
Just outside the castle walls, the Koko-en Gardens comprise of 9 gardens modelled on traditional Edo Period gardens but actually built in 1993.
Himeji Castle History
Himeji Castle was originally built in 1333, by the samurai warrior Akamatsu Nomura as a fortress. However, it was rebuilt and remodelled extensively after that time. Himeji Castle has a defensive moat and a complex interior to confuse intruders. The castle survived World War II without damage. It is one of only 12 surviving original castles in Japan.
Himeji Castle Opening Times
Himeji Castle is open from 0900 – 1700 (last entry at 1600). From April to the end of August it is open until 1800, with last entry at 1700.
Himeji Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Himeji castle is 1000 Yen for adults and 300 Yen for Children. You can take a guided tour of Himeji Castle in English, enquire at the entrance.
How to get to Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle Address: Himeji Castle, 68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture 670-0012, Japan, +81 79 285 1146
Closest JR Station to Himeji Castle: Himeji Station – 15-minute walk, flat and easy.
Where to stay near Himeji Castle
The fabulous Yumoto Ueyama Ryokan is just 14 kilometres from Himeji Castle provides breakfast and dinner in a traditional Japanese Inn style and is in the most stunning of locations. It gets great reviews – check availability and book now.
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Located in Nagano Prefecture, Matsumoto Castle is seriously impressive with what appears to be five stories of the central keep. Inside, however, there is an additional concealed level. Matsumoto Castle is also known as the Crow Castle or Karasu-jo.
Why visit Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is exceedingly historic, its nickname of Crow Castle comes because of its black exterior. It’s located on the flat. It was built between 1593 and 1594 and has a fortress, a series of moats and a complicated set of gatehouses and walls.
Special features of Matsumoto Castle
The black painted keep or donjon is the oldest of its type and the wide moat is a defence in this flatland castle. To enter the keep you must remove your shoes to climb the wooden stairs inside.
There is commentary here in Japanese and English and a great series of exhibits of the defences of this castle that was never designed for residency, simply for military purpose.
Take a superbly rated guided tour of Matsumoto and the castle – this guide gets fantastic reviews and gives a fantastic overview of the city and the castle and excellent investment – check availability here
Matsumoto Castle History
Matsumoto Castle was sold at auction in the 1800s for redeveloped and was bought by a local fundraising effort to be restored. It is one of the only 12 surviving original castles in Japan. The black wooden keep is the oldest survivor of its type in Japan and it dates from 1595. The castle was restored in the early 1950s.
Matsumoto Castle Opening Times
Matsumoto Castle is open from 0830 – 1700 (last entry at 1600). During Obon and Golden Week Matsumoto Castle is open until 1800.
Matsumoto Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Matsumoto castle is 610 Yen for adults and 300 yen for children. The ticket also includes entrance to the Matsumoto City Museum which is located in the castle park.
How to get to Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle Address: Matsumoto Castle, 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture 390-0873, Japan, +81 263 32 2902
Closest JR Station to Matsumoto Castle: Matsumoto Station – 15-minute walk, flat and easy or take the 5-minute bus ride from the station.
Where to stay near Matsumoto Castle
The fabulously located ACE Inn, Matsumoto is right next to the JR Matsumoto Station, yet is very quiet. A great breakfast is included with your stay and the rooms are well-appointed. An easy 15-minute walk to Matsumoto Castle and also easy access for the JR Station – from where we took a day trip to Kamikochi National Park. Check availability and book a room now!
One of Japan’s most famous castles, Osaka Castle is 8 stories high, surrounded by a massive defensive wall and a large moat. It’s beginnings go back to the 15th-century warrior monks who came from Kyoto to set up a base here.
Why visit Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle today is a reproduction, rebuilt in 1931 after two earlier castles were demolished, the first by the Tokugawa government in 1615 and the second by lightning-induced fire in 1665. It remained a ruin for nearly 200 years.
Join a walking tour of Osaka Castle and also Dotonbori. Your private guide will take you round Osaka and you’ll get to experience some of Osaka’s favourite snack foods! Book Now!
Special features of Osaka Castle
While the exterior of the keep shows 5 stories, inside there are 8. There are endless panels and dioramas showing the history of the castle through the various floors. It’s fun for kids of all ages, as it’s possible, to try on reproductions of helmets and armour from the Warring States Period. There is an eighth-floor observation deck which gives stunning views of Osaka and around, but it is the gigantic stones that surround the castle that are unique here.
They were used to create masugata – large open spaces where troops gathered – created to prevent direct entry to the castle. The largest stone, is the taki ishi, just inside the Sakuramon Gate has a surface area of 60 square metres and weighs 108 tons.
Osaka Castle History
Osaka Castle is Japan’s most visited castle. It’s very close to the popular areas of Osaka and extremely easy to get to. It is a favourite spot for Cherry Blossom viewing in Japan and receives more than 2.5 million visitors a year. Built in 1583, ruined in 1615 and 1665, rebuilt in the 1800s and in 1931 it received much damage in World War II. The most recent renovations in 1997 have restored it to what it looked like in the Edo period.
Osaka Castle Opening Times
Osaka Castle is open from 0900 – 1700 (last entry at 1600).
Osaka Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Osaka main keep is 600 Yen for adults and children are free.
How to get to Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle Address: 1-1, Osaka-jo, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 540-0002, Tel: 06 6941 3044
The closest JR station to Osaka Castle is Osakajokoen Station on the JR Loop Line.
Where to stay near Osaka Castle
You can’t get a better location than the Intercontinental Hotel, Osaka. Great views over the city, less than half a kilometre from Osaka Castle and fantastic facilities. Check availability and book now.
Hiroshima Castle was completed in 1589 and designated a National Treasure in 1931, it was, however, destroyed by the Atomic Bomb in 1945. It is known as the Castle of Carps (fish). This is thought to be because there were many carp swimming in the moat.
Why visit Hiroshima Castle
From the top floor observatory of Hiroshima Castle its possible to get a panoramic view of Miyajima Island and the city of Hiroshima. (Check out our guide on what to do in Miyajima here) It is another good example of a castle that was built on the plains or flatlands. It is a popular castle to try out wearing samurai clothing and armour and learn more about samuris
Special features of Hiroshima Castle
The grounds of the castle contain the Hiroshima Gokoku Jinja – which is the concrete bunker from where the first radio broadcast out of Hiroshima came after the 1945 atomic bomb blast. The keep is five stories tall and Hiroshima Castle is surrounded by a moat. Also on the grounds of the castle are a eucalyptus tree and a willow tree, both of which survived the atomic bombing.
Photo Hiroshima Castle by Reggaeman [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
Visiting Hiroshima Castle is one of the essential things to do in Hiroshima – find others here.
Hiroshima Castle History
Hiroshima was developed as a castle town – the castle was the economic and physical centre of the town and was an important seat of power in the west of Japan.
Hiroshima Castle Opening Times
Hiroshima Castle is open from 0900 – 1700 (last entry at 1630) from December to February. Open until 1800 from March to November. During Obon and Golden Week Hiroshima Castle is open until 1900.
Hiroshima Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Hiroshima castle keep is 370 Yen entrance to the castle park grounds is free.
How to get to Hiroshima Castle
Hiroshima Castle Address: 21-1 Motomachi, Naka-Ku, 730-0011, Tel: 082 221 7512
Closest JR Station to Hiroshima Castle: Hiroshima Station. A 15-minute walk from the JR Hiroshima station. Hiroshima Castle is also a 10-minute walk from Kamiyacho-nishi or Kamiyacho-Higashi tram stops. It takes 12 minutes to go from JR Hiroshima station on the tram to these stops. Use lines 1,2 or 6.
15 minute walk from the Peace Park or take the Hiroshima Sightseeing bus from Hiroshima station.
Where to stay near Hiroshima Castle
We stayed at the fab Court Hotel in Hiroshima – great location, super rooms and easy to navigate the city from. Check prices and availability here.
Takeda Castle is just a ruin. Barely more than a few atmospheric walls near Asao City in Hyogo Prefecture. It’s also known as the Castle Floating in the Sky because of how it appears on foggy mornings. Takeda Castle is also sometimes known as Lying Tiger Mountain, as it also appears to resemble a tiger lying down.
Why visit Takeda Castle
Takeda Castle is worth visiting because of the atmosphere of the location. While there are no buildings that remain standing on the site, the foundations are still visible and it is possible to see the layout of the castle.
Special features of Takeda Castle
There is a one-way walking trail with stunning views of the town below and the surrounding mountains. The best time to view Takeda Castle is in the autumn months of October and November at sunrise (0600 to 0630) when the castle does appear to be floating. There is a visitor centre next to the railway station.
Photo Takeda Castle: By Norio NAKAYAMA – Flickr: takeda castle, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29861214
Takeda Castle History
Takeda Castle was first built in 1411 and abandoned in 1600 after being invaded in 1580 at which point it started to disintegrate. The ruins were restored somewhat in the 1970s and 80’s when it was opened as a tourist attraction.
Takeda Castle Opening Times
Takeda Castle is open from 0800 – 1800 from March to May, 0600 to 1800 from June to August, 0400 – 1700 September to November and 1000-1400 in December to January 3. Snow may close Takeda Castle in December and January. Closed January 4th until March.
Takeda Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Takeda castle keep is 500 Yen, under 16’s are free.
How to get to Takeda Castle
Takeda Castle Address: Wadayamacho Takeda, Asago-shi, Hyogo 669-5252, Tel: 079-674-2120
From the JR Station Takeda, either take a strenuous 40 minute climb up from the back of the station to the castle, or there is a bus from March through November between the JR Station and the bus stop for the castle. It takes 20 minutes and costs 260 yen one way, or 500 yen round trip. There’s one bus per hour. A taxi, available from the station will cost around 2,000 Yen.
Where to stay near Takeda Castle
Stay in the city of Asago at the Yuuhiken ryokan, for a lovely relaxed stay and a glorious garden. Check availability and book a room here
Hikone Castle was completed, after a 20 year construction period, in 1622. It is original, having survived the feudal period with reconstruction. It is an excellent example of a more or less complete Japanese Feudal Castle. Hikone Castle originally guarded the approach to Kyoto.
Why visit Hikone Castle
Hikone Castle is a National Japanese Treasure, it’s built on the top of Mount Hikone and overlooks Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. The 3 story donjon (keep) remains very similar to how it would have been in the Edo period.
Special features of Hikone Castle
Hikone Castle is a popular place to see the Cherry Blossoms in spring and the top of the keep has great views on a clear day. The castle is ornate and black and white in colour. Architectural features include huge wooden beams and defensive holes for firing arrows or guns. The keep might only be three floors, but it combines several architectural styles.
Hikone Castle By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53834657
The entrance to the castle includes a spiral ramp to a bridge made of wood – which could be destroyed if necessary. There is a well and a bell which is still rung several times a day to mark the time of day.
Take a walking tour of Hikone and the castle with an expert local guide – who will introduce you to the town and the castle as well as some of the local cuisine of the area! Check availability and book now!
The Hikone Castle Museum (separate entrance fee) contains a reconstruction of part of the old palace buildings and includes tatami flooring in rooms, gardens and corridors as well as arms, armour, kimono and family treasures.
The Genkyu-en garden at the northern side of the castle was built to recreate the right views of Omi – autumn is a particularly nice time to visit.
Hikone Castle History
Standing on the location of a previous castle, Hikone Castle took 20 years to build and was completed in 1622. It was known for its horse stables where riders, using the Tokaido trail to Tokyo would change horses en route.
Hikone Castle Opening Times
Hikone Castle is open from 0830 – 1700
Hikone Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Hikone Castle is 800 yen to visit the castle and garden. The cost to enter the castle, garden and museum is 1200 yen. It is 500 yen just to visit the castle museum.
How to get to Hikone Castle
Hikone Castle Address: 1-1 Konki-cho, Hikone-shi, Shiga, Tel: 0749 22 2742
It is a 15-minute easy walk along a straight road from JR Station Hikone.
Where to stay near Hikone Castle
Treat yourself and stay at the Hikone Castle Hotel and Spa – less than half a kilometre from Hikone Castle. Free bike hire and stunning rooms. Check availability and book now.
Nijo Castle was built for the first shogun who ruled the newly-united Japan from 1603-1616. It was meant to be a luxury castle for when he visited from Tokyo. However, Nijo Castle wasn’t completed until 10 years after his death in 1626.
Why visit Nijo Castle
Want to see where the Last Samurai (Tom Cruise) was filmed, head on over to Nijo Castle! Nijo Castle is very easy to visit from Kyoto and is a popular place to see cherry blossoms in the Spring.
Special features of Nijo Castle
There are lots of tree-lined paths within the gardens and grounds and the site s particular picturesque. The Ninomaru Palace is worth seeing, as it has survived in its original form – separate buildings are connected with corridors called “nightingale floors” as they squeak when stepped on as a security measure.
The palace contains tatami flooring and elegant décor.
Nijo Castle History
Unused after the third shogun until 1862 it was the temporary seat of the Japanese government in 1868, from where the edict abolishing the Shogunate was issued. It was then used as the Koyoto prefecture office. In 1939 it was donated to the city of Kyoto and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nijo Castle Opening Times
Nijo Castle is open from 0830 – 1700 from October to June, 0800 to 1800 in July and August and 0800 – 1700 in September.
Nijo Castle Entrance Fees
The cost to enter Nijo Castle is 600 yen. There is a further 400 Yen fee if you wish to enter the Ninomaru Palace. There are English audio guides available for 500 yen, or a twice-daily English language tour for 1000 yen.
How to get to Nijo Castle
Nijo Castle: Nijo-dori Horikawa, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto Prefecture, Tel: 075 841 0096
From Kyoto station take the subway to Nijo-Jo Mae Station. You can also take a bus from Kyoto station to Nijo Castle (number 9 or number 50)
Where to stay near Nijo Castle
The ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel is located in front of Nijo Castle and has a shuttle available from Kyoto JR Station. Stunning views and a great location with superb facilities. Check prices and book now.
Other Japanese Castles to Visit
There you have it our 7 most stunning Japanese Castles to vist on your trip to Japan. Which other ones do you place to check out? Let us know in the comments!