The 13 must see castles in Japan

*The Meiji Restoration was an event that restored practical imperial rule to the Empire Of Japan. It began in 1868 AD under Emperor Meiji, with the then government declaring Samurai era castles archaic and unnecessary. From this date most of the original castles of Japan were scheduled to be dismantled. Because of this destruction of history, most of the countries castles are post-war restorations, with only twelve considered to be original.


Built in 1440 AD, overlooking the Kiso River to the north of the city of Nagoya in central Japan is the Inuyama Castle, claimed to be the oldest castle in the country. Standing 19 metres (62 ft) high to the top of it's tenshu or donjon, meaning tower, the castle was the centre of power for the Naruse Clan, the rulers of the Inuyama Domain. One of only twelve original castles in Japan, the castle along with it's early 17th century donjon have been declared a National Treasure Of Japan.

13. Inuyama-jō


First constructed in 1611 AD, north of the city of Kōchi in Kōchi Prefecture is the aptly named Kōchi Castle. Much of the original fortress was burned to the ground in 1727, with what stands there today re-built in 1753 in it's original style. Noteworthy as an original 18th century structure, it is the only castle in Japan to retain both it's original donjon or tenshu, meaning tower, and it's palace along with all the original buildings within it's honmaru or innermost ring. Kōchi Castle is one of the twelve original castles of Japan.

12. Kōchi-jō


Built in the early part of the 17th century in the Shiga Prefecture in the centre of the country, between Kyoto and Nagoya, is the Hikone Castle, the most significant historical building in Shiga. In 1868 it was scheduled to be dismantled as part of the Meiji Restoration, but on request from the emperor himself, Hikone Castle was spared and kept intact. Today it is one of the oldest original castles in the country, designated an important national cultural asset, one of the twelve original castles of Japan, and one of only five castles in the country to be listed as a national treasure.

11. Hikone-jō


Built in 1624 AD in what is now the Nagasaki Prefecture near the city of Nagasaki in the extreme west of the country, is the Shimabara Castle, sometimes referred to as Moritake or Takaki Castle. This huge five storey white building stands 33 metres (108 ft) high, making it a significant landmark on relatively flat lands. In 1868 it was scheduled to be demolished under the Meiji Restoration process, and in 1876 it was indeed pulled down. Today with only the original moat and stone walls, the rest of this enormous castle was re-built in 1964 and now operates as a museum.

10. Shimabara-jō


Completed in 1597 AD in Okayama City is the large Okayama Castle, a modern reconstruction of an ancient fortification. In 1868 it was scheduled to be demolished under the Meiji Restoration process. In that year the moats were filled in and the castle was left to ruin. Then in 1945 further damage was caused when allied bombers burnt the castle to the ground. Reconstruction work was completed in 1966, making the castle today a full scale replica of the original structure. With it's dark exterior the castle holds the nickname, 'Crow Castle'. 

9. Okayama-jō


Built in 1603 AD in Matsuyama City, directly south of the city of Hiroshima, on Mount Katsuyama at a height of 132 metres (433 ft) above sea level is Matsuyama Castle. The original five storey tenshu or donjon, meaning tower, was moved in 1627, with a new one built in 1642. Struck by lightning in 1784 today's three storey tower was re-built and completed in 1854. Having survived the Meiji Restoration, some parts of the castle were destroyed by American bombing in World War II. Visible from almost anywhere in the city, offering amazing views from its vantage point at the top of Mount Katsuyama, Matsuyama Castle has remained largely intact, and counts as one of the twelve original castles of Japan.

8. Matsuyama-jō


Completed in 1611 AD in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture, directly north of Hiroshima, is the medieval Matsue Castle, one of the few remaining original wooden medieval castles in Japan. Built in a complex watch tower style, from the outside it appears to have five levels, but actually has six on the inside. The only remaining castle of the Sanin Region, at 30 metres (98 ft) high it is the third tallest, the second largest and the sixth oldest in Japan. Painted black, this majestic castle was given the simple nicknamed the 'Black Castle'. Most Japanese castles have been damaged by war, earthquakes or human activity, and since the early castles were made of wood most were prone to fires. Built after the last great war of feudal Japan it never saw battle and remains largely intact to this day. Standing on the shores of the Shinji Lake, it is regarded to be one of Japan's three great lake castles, one of the twelve original castles of Japan and a national treasure.

7. Matsue-jō


First built in 1619 AD to the south of the city of Nagoya in the centre of the country, is the aptly named Nagoya Castle. Used as an army headquarters and prisoner of war camp during World War II, allied bombing by the United States Air Force destroyed more of the castle than in it's previous 300 year history. In 1959 reconstruction of the two donjons or tenchus, meaning towers, was completed and the buildings were opened to the public. The next few decades saw further renovation work, culminating in this beautiful castle being returned to it's former glory.

6. Nagoya-jō


Originally built in 1467 AD in Kumamoto City, is the 30 metre (98 ft) tall hilltop Kumamoto Castle. Besieged in 1877 during the Satsuma Rebellion, much of the castle along with the keep were burned down. Thirteen buildings in the complex have survived undamaged and have been designated important cultural properties of Japan. In 1960 the keep was fully rebuilt in concrete, restoring the castle to it's former 17th century glory. Though the main tower of this enormous castle is a post war construction, Kumamoto is considered one of the three premier castles in Japan.

5. Kumamoto-jō


Built in 1583 AD in the city of Osaka is one of Japan's most famous castles, Osaka Castle. It's main tower appears on the outside to be five storeys, but is in fact eight storeys high on the inside. Having been besieged in the early 17th century, struck by lightning and burnt down twice within five years in the late 17th century, it was neglected up until 1843 when a small reconstruction re-built a few of the castles turrets. In 1928 the main tower was then restored. During World War II it became one of the countries largest armouries, and in 1945 bombing raids on the castle destroyed the newest main tower and much of the rest of the building. Modern restoration was completed in 1997, restoring the castle to it's Edo-era splendour. Today this concrete reproduction operates as a museum, still containing thirteen structures that have been designated important cultural assets of Japan. Having played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century, it today remains one of the countries most famous landmarks.

4. Ōsaka-jō


Built in 1611 AD in a hirayama style in the far north west of the country within Aomori Prefecture, is the ancient Hirosaki Castle. In 1627 the five storey donjon or tenshu, meaning tower, was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. Nearly 200 years later in 1810 the three storey tower that stands today was built. The castle was surrendered to the new government in 1871 under the Meiji Restoration process. It was then that the palace structure, the martial arts school and most of the castle walls were pulled down. In 1950 under the new cultural properties protection system, the surviving structures were named national important cultural properties and a Japanese historic site. Today, the three storey Edo period donjon and most of it's outline remain intact, a rarity for Japanese castles. The surrounding Hirosaki Park is one of the countries most famous cherry blossom spots. During the Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) at the end of April and beginning of May during the 'Golden Week' when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, over one million people visit the picturesque Hirosaki Castle, one of the twelve original castles of Japan.

3. Hirosaki-jō


First constructed in 1504 AD in the city of Matsumoto, to the north west of the capital, Tokyo, is the hugely wonderful structure of Matsumoto Castle. From it's first construction up until the abolition of the feudal system, the castle was ruled by 23 lords of Matsumoto, who used it to control the large Matsumoto Domain. In 1872 following the Meiji Restoration, the castle like many others around the country was sold for redevelopment. With news of it's potential demolition imminent, influential figures stepped in and the castle was spared. With it's original wooden interiors and external stonework, Matsumoto Castle is one of the twelve original castles of Japan, relatively untouched since the 16th century. Listed as a national treasure of Japan, it is considered one of the three premier castles in the country.

2. Matsumoto-jō


Dating back to 1333 AD, in the city of Himeji to the west of Osaka, is the majestic hilltop Himeji Castle. Comprising of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the period, it is regarded the single finest surviving example of Japanese castle architecture. Expanding throughout the centuries, being dismantled and rebuilt, remodeled and redeveloped, surviving the Meiji Restoration process, World War II bombing and the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, this amazing structure is largely untouched since the early 17th century. In 1871 it would have been demolished had it not cost too much to tear down, and in 1945 when a bomb dropped onto the 1st floor and failed to explode it was once again spared destruction. The most visited castle in Japan, standing at a whopping 46 metres (152 ft) high it is also the largest in the country. One of the twelve original castles of Japan, one of the three premier castles along with Matsumoto and Kumamoto, a special historic site and a national treasure of Japan, it has also been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1. Himeji-jō

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