When you think of castles, which countries spring to mind? England? Ireland? France? Germany? Of course, these countries do all have plenty of picturesque, historic, and culturally significant castles, but Europe isn’t the only continent with fantastic castles.
Asia, for example, has ancient castles that stand tall to this day, many of which can still be visited. And, if you’re in Asia and fancy exploring some of the best-preserved and most stunning castles on the continent, you simply must head to Japan.
The vast majority of Japanese castles were built from the core materials of stone and wood. The stereotypical European castle, with its sheer rock walls and severe-looking crenelations, is a far cry from what a traditional Japanese castle looks like.
While designed with defense very much in mind, they were also created to be works of art. The majority of them had – and those that survive still have – sloped wooden roofs, ornate paintings and mosaics on their facades, and tended to be surrounded by trees, gardens and numerous other types of artistic sculptures. They were not only there to do a job, but they were also there to promote Japanese culture and showcase the very best of art and design that the country had to offer.
Though built to last in terms of robustness, they were also created to stand the test of time in regard to aesthetics.
Top Castles to Visit in Japan
So, you know that Japan’s castles are a must-see, but which locations should you visit? Japan is a huge country and with so many stunning buildings to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Osaka Castle is probably the most famous castle in Japan, and it’s well worth a visit, of course, but here we decided to focus on some less well-known examples that are just as spectacular:
Himeji really does epitomise the traditional Japanese castle design. It simultaneously dominates the landscape while also being incredibly alluring. Attackers would fear it, but any tourist will undoubtedly be drawn in by its majesty.
The complex itself has 83 different buildings and somehow managed to survive without a scratch despite the area being bombed heavily during WW2. You will not regret a trip to Himeji, but prepare to be surrounded by plenty of other visitors while you’re there!
Matsumoto has many of the traditional elements you’d expect from a castle – a drawbridge, a moat, walls of vertical stone – but it simply looks far more elegant than anything you would find anywhere else in the world.
Considered by many to be a national treasure, Matsumoto is not too far from Tokyo – about two and a half hours by train – and it makes for a wonderful day trip if you want to step away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.
This castle, which was finished in 1611, is one of just a handful of Japanese castles that is still in its original wooden state. It has been able to retain its structure over such an extended period of time because, quite simply, it has never actually seen battle.
However, despite having very little in the way of military history, it is still most certainly worth visiting, largely because it could be argued that it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the entire country.
It probably isn’t as pretty as the other castles we’ve listed here, but that doesn’t make it any less valid! It is bright crimson, which makes it unique in itself, and is also very old, dating back to the early 1400s.
Located on the island of Okinawa, and surrounded by incredible beaches and seas that almost beg to be swum in, Shuri castle is definitely worth including in your itinerary, even if your holiday is mostly dedicated to sunbathing and drinking cocktails.
How about you? What are your top castles to visit in Japan?