Things to do: visit Japan’s 20 best castles

 

Japanese castles (城 shiro) were fortresses constructed primarily of wood and stone. They evolved from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries, and came into their best-known form in the 16th century. Castles in Japan were built to guard important or strategic sites, such as ports, river crossings, or crossroads, and almost always incorporated the landscape into their defense.

Though they were built to last and used more stone in their construction than most Japanese buildings, castles were still constructed primarily ofwood, and many were destroyed over the years. This was especially true during the Sengoku (Warring States) period (1467–1603), when many of these castles were first built. However, many were rebuilt, either later in the Sengoku period, in the Edo period (1603–1867) that followed, or more recently, as national heritage sites or museums. Today there are more than one hundred castles extant, or partially extant, in Japan; it is estimated that once there were five thousand.[1] Some castles, such as the ones at Matsue and Kōchi, both built in 1611, remain extant in their original forms, not having suffered any damage from sieges or other threats. Hiroshima Castle, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was destroyed in the atomic bombing, and was rebuilt in 1958 as a museum.

The character for castle, ‘‘, read as shiro (its kun’yomi) by itself, is read as  (the Chinese-derived on’yomi) when attached to a word, such as in the name of a particular castle. Thus, for example, Osaka Castle is called Ōsaka-jō (大阪城) in Japanese.

Strap on your swords and do up your topknots as we go through the list of the 20 best castles to see while in Japan.

All four of Japan’s castles which are designated as national treasures made the cut, as well as eight of the 12 which still have their original keeps. In their judgments, travelers seemed to take into account the castle’s historic and cultural value, as well as the ambiance of the surrounding scenery, which explains the appearance of a few sets of castle ruins in the top 20.

1. Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto City, Kumamoto Prefecture)

Taking the top spot was Kumamoto Castle. Oddly enough, Kumamoto was the only member of the group traditionally referred to as “Japan’s Three Great Castles” in the top 20, as neither Osaka nor Nagoya Castle were chosen for the honor.

Visitors ranked Kumamoto highly for its watchtowers and sweeping stone foundation created by master castle designer Kato Kiyomasa. One visitor remarked that the building’s low ceilings and squeaking wooden nightingale floors, designed to alert guards to the presence of an intruder, made hum feel like he had slipped back in time to when the structure was first built, 400 years ago.

2. Inuyama Castle (Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture)

Located less than 40 minutes from Nagoya, tiny, unassuming Inuyama Castle jumped up to second place in this year’s list. Perched atop a riverside hill, Inuyama is one of Japan’s few remaining original castles, and is designated by the government as a national treasure. While lacking the flair of some of the more recently rebuilt entries on the list, Inuyama more than makes up for it with the palpable sense of history that comes from being an authentic fortress.

3. Matsue Castle (Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture)

Another original, Matsue Castle was constructed at the beginning of the 17th century, at the close of Japan’s warring states period, which along with its location in remote Shimane meant the castle was never attacked, allowing much of it to be preserved to this day.

4. Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture)

The second national treasure in the top 20, Matsumoto Castle is located in the center of its city, surrounded by a reflecting pond.

Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-jō), also known as the “Crow Castle” (烏城 Karasu-jo) because of its black exterior, is one ofJapan‘s premier historic castles. It is located in the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano Prefecture and is within easy reach of Tokyo by road or rail.

The keep (tenshukaku), which was completed in the late 16th century, maintains its original wooden interiors and external stonework. It is listed as a National Treasure of Japan.

Matsumoto Castle is a flatland castle (hirajiro) because it is not built on a hilltop or amid rivers, but on a plain. Its complete defences would have included an extensive system of inter-connecting wallsmoats and gatehouses.

5. Takeda Castle Ruins (Asago City, Hyogo Prefecture)

Although the castle itself no longer remains, the Takeda ruins were the highest ranked on the list, and are often referred to as the Machu Picchu of Japan.

This is a truly impressive castle. Despite being only ruins; the location, stone walls, design, and view easily make it worth 4 stars. It is amazing how they built such extensive stone walls on top of the mountain. I’m also very glad the town hasn’t ruined the atmosphere by putting fences or shrubs along the steep drop-offs along the edges of the stone walls like I’ve seen at other castles. There are few trains running to Takeda and you’ll want at least 90 minutes at the castle (depending on how much you take pictures) so plan accordingly. There is some historic atmosphere of the old castle town and temples near the station but I did not have time to explore them this time since I was going to Himeji in the afternoon. Next time, I think I could spend the whole day here. There are also nice views looking down on the castle from a nearby mountain.

6. Matsuyama Castle (Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture)

Another city center castle, Matsuyama Castle is serviced by a chairlift that spares visitors the walk to its hilltop perch while providing a view of Ehime’s prefectural capital. Matsuyama Castle (松山城 Matsuyama-jō) is a flatland-mountain castle that was built in 1603 on Mount Katsuyama, whose height is 132 meters, in Matsuyama city in Ehime Prefecture (the former Iyo Province). It is not to be confused with Bitchū Matsuyama Castle.

This castle was originally built by Kato Yoshiaki in 1603. It had a large five-story tenshu, or keep, which was moved to Aizu Castle when Kato was transferred there in 1627. The next lord, Tadachika Gamoh, died in 1635, shortly after completing the ninomaru. After Tadachika, Matsudaira Sadayuki became the new lord. He completed a new Castle Tower (tenshu) in 1642. His heirs continued to rule the castle after his death. However, on New Years Day, 1784, this Castle Tower (tenshu) was struck by lightning and burned down. The current Castle Tower (tenshu) was built between 1820 and 1854. The castle survived the Meiji restoration, but parts of it were destroyed by bombing from American forces during World War II. Since 1966, the city of Matsuyama has been working to restore the castle.

7. Nijo Castle (Kyoto)

Nijo Castle’s sprawling design reflects its peacetime construction and purpose to communicate its lord’s prestige rather than shield him from military attacks. Nijō Castle (二条城 Nijō-jō?) is a flatland castle located in KyotoJapan. The castle consists of two concentric rings of fortifications, the Ninomaru Palace, the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, various support buildings and several gardens. The surface area of the castle is 275,000 square meters, of which 8000 square meters is occupied by buildings.

In 1601, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, ordered all the feudal lords in Western Japan to contribute to the construction of Nijō Castle, which was completed during the reign of Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1626. Parts of Fushimi Castle, such as the main tower and the karamon, were moved here in 1625-26. It was built as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa Shoguns. The Tokugawa Shogunate used Edo as the capital city, but Kyoto continued to be the home of the Imperial CourtKyoto Imperial Palace is located north-east of Nijo Castle.

The central keep, or donjon, was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1750.

In 1788, the Inner Palace was destroyed by a city-wide fire. The site remained empty until it was replaced by a prince’s residence transferred from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1893.

In 1867, the Ninomaru Palace was the stage for the declaration by Tokugawa Yoshinobu, returning the authority to the Imperial Court. Next year the Imperial Cabinet was installed in the castle. The palace became imperial property and was declared a detached palace. During this time, the Tokugawa hollyhock crest was removed wherever possible and replaced with the imperial chrysanthemum.

In 1939, the palace was donated to the city of Kyoto and opened to the public the following year.

In the 21st century, typhoons have periodically caused sections of plaster to peel off the walls after exposure to rain and wind.

8. Takato Castle Ruins (Ina City, Nagano Prefecture)

Number eight on the list takes us back to Nagano where we find the ruins of Takato Castle and its accompanying park.

Takato Castle was located at the tip of a cliff created by the Mibu-gawa and Fujisawa-gawa rivers, and the back of the castle was surrounded by mountains. The clan of the feudal lord Naito controlled the castle town from the end of the 17th century to the end of the 19th century.

Although only the stone walls and fences of Naito’s castle remain today, the site was transformed into Takato Castle Ruin Park. There are over 1,500 ‘kohigan-zakura’ cherry trees in the park. Their blossoms are smaller and more reddish than typical cherry blossoms, and they are designated as a precious natural property of the prefecture. When they bloom, the blossoms are illuminated at night, and the park becomes crowded with people who visit to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms.

Inside Takato is the residence of the town’s oldest merchant, which is open to public as the Ikegami Residence Merchant Folk Material Museum. The Takato Local History Museum stands at the side of Lake Takato-ko, displaying the palanquins used in the Toro-matsuri Festival, or lantern festival, celebrated in autumn. Within the museum is a historic site called the Ejima Kakomi-yashiki (residence). Ejima was a high-ranking lady who served Gekkoin, the lover of the sixth shogun, Tokugawa Ietada. Ejima was however exiled because she did not fulfill her duty. She lived in this residence until she passed away at the age of 61. It has a restored living room, bathroom, lavatory and wooden fence from the Edo Period in the 18th century.

9. Katsuren Castle Ruins (Uruma City, Okinawa)

The remains of Katsuren Castle scored highly, bolstered by their seaside location in tropical Okinawa.Katsuren Castle (勝連城 Katsuren-gusuku), also Katsuren-jō, was a gusuku (Okinawan castle) in UrumaOkinawa PrefectureJapan. In the Okinawan language the castle is known as Kacchin Gusuku.

Katsuren Castle was built on a large hill of Ryukyuan limestone, 98 meters (322 ft) above sea level on the Katsuren Peninsula. With thePacific Ocean on two sides, it is also called the “Ocean Gusuku”. Its “golden age” was in the mid-15th century, under the powerful ajilord of Katsuren, Amawari.[1] Precious tile and Chinese porcelain of the era have been excavated from Katsuren. Such remains testify to the magnificence of the ancient structure and the robust entrepôt trade between Japan, Korea, China, and Southeast Asia. The castle also has an active shrine of the Ryukyuan religion within the first bailey dedicated to Kobazukasa. In the 2010 Okinawa Earthquake an outer wall at the northeast of the third bailey of Katsuren Castle was damaged.

10. Hirosaki Castle (Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture)

It’s worth the trip to the northernmost tip of Japan’s main island to visit Hirosaki Castle during cherry blossom season, especially if you get there before the street vendors run out of their signature apple ice cream. Hirosaki Castle (弘前城 Hirosaki-jō) is a hirayama-style Japanese castle constructed in 1611. It was the seat of the Tsugaru clan, a 47,000 koku tozama daimyō clan who ruled over Hirosaki DomainMutsu Province, in what is now central HirosakiAomori Prefecture,Japan. It was also referred to as Takaoka Castle (鷹岡城 or 高岡城 Takaoka-jō).

Hirosaki Castle measures 612 meters east-west and 947 meters north-south. Its grounds are divided into six concentric baileys, which were formerly walled and separated by moats. It is unusual in that its Edo period donjon and most of its outline remains intact. Noted historian and author Shiba Ryōtarō praised it as one of the “Seven Famous Castles of Japan” in his travel essay series Kaidō wo Yuku.

During the late Sengoku period, former Nambu retainer Ōura Tamenobu was awarded revenues of 45,000 koku by Toyotomi Hideyoshi for his role in the Battle of Odawara in 1590. He took the family name of Tsugaru at that time. At the Battle of Sekigahara, he sided withTokugawa Ieyasu and was subsequently confirmed as lord of Hirosaki Domain with revenues increased to 47,000 koku.

In 1603, he began work on a castle in Hirosaki; however, work was suspended with his death in Kyoto in 1604. Work was resumed by his successor, Tsugaru Nobuhira in 1609, who stripped Horikoshi Castle and Ōura Castle of buildings and materials in order to speed its completion. The new castle was completed in 1611. However, in 1627, the main keep, which was originally a 6-story, 5-roof structure was struck by lightning and exploded when the fire reached its gunpowder magazine. It was not rebuilt until 1810, when the present 3-story structure was erected by the 9th daimyō, Tsugaru Yasuchika.

With the Meiji Restoration and subsequent abolition of the han system, the Tsugaru clan surrendered the castle to the new Meiji government. In 1871, the castle was garrisoned by a detachment of the Imperial Japanese Army, and in 1873 the palace structures, martial arts school and most of the castle walls were pulled down. In 1894, the castle properties were donated by the Tsugaru clan to the government for use as a park, which opened to the general public the following year. In 1898, an armory was established in the former Third Bailey by the IJA 8th Division. In 1906, two of the remaining yagura burned down. In 1909, a four-meter tall bronze statue of Tsugaru Tamenobu was erected on the site of the donjon. In 1937, eight structures of the castle received protection from the government as “national treasures”. However, in 1944, during the height of World War II, all of the bronze in the castle, including roof tiles and decorations, were stripped away for use in the war effort.

In 1950, under the new cultural properties protection system, all surviving structures in the castle (with the exception of the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey) were named National Important Cultural Properties. In 1952, the grounds received further protection with their nomination as a National Historic Site. In 1953, after reconstruction, the East Gate of the 3rd Bailey also gained ICP status, giving a total of nine structures within the castle with such protection.

Extensive archaeological excavations from 1999-2000 revealed the foundations of the former palace structures and a Shinto shrine. In 2006, Hirosaki Castle was listed as one of the 100 Fine Castles of Japan by the Japan Castle Foundation.

11. Himeji Castle (Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture)

One hour by train from Kobe, national treasure Himeji routinely tops lists as the castle to see in Japan. However, the last year has seen it undergo extensive renovations and repairs, which knocked it down all the way to the number 10 spot. Still, one TripAdvisor commentator mentioned that being able to see craftsmen working on the building gives visitors a special insight into its construction, and urges others to go before the remaining work is completed.

Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-jō) is a hilltop Japanese castle complex located in Himeji, in Hyōgo PrefectureJapan. The castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. The castle is frequently known as Hakuro-jō (“White Egret Castle”) or Shirasagi-jō (“White Heron Castle”) because of its brilliant white exterior and supposed resemblance to a bird taking flight.

Himeji Castle dates to 1333, when Akamatsu Norimura built a fort on top of Himeyama hill. The fort was dismantled and rebuilt as Himeyama Castle in 1346, and then remodeled into Himeji Castle two centuries later. Himeji Castle was then significantly remodeled in 1581 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who added a three-story castle keep. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Ikeda completely rebuilt the castle from 1601 to 1609, expanding it into a large castle complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618. For over 400 years, Himeji Castle has remained intact, even throughout the extensive bombing of Himeji in World War II, and natural disasters such as the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake.

Himeji Castle is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and it was registered in 1993 as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. The area within the middle moat of the castle complex is a designated Special Historic Site and five structures of the castle are also designated National Treasures. Along with Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto Castle, Himeji Castle is considered one of Japan’s three premier castles. In order to preserve the castle buildings, it is currently undergoing restoration work that is expected to continue for several years.

12. Fukuoka Castle Ruins (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture)

The largest city on the island of Kyushu has also lost its castle to time, but the remaining structures and accompanying park make for a pleasant stroll for tourists making their way through the heart of town.

The ruins of Fukuoka Castle (福岡城, Fukuokajō) are located in the middle of the city in Maizuru Park, named after the castle’s alias, Maizuru Castle. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Fukuoka Castle used to be the largest castle on Kyushu, but it was almost completely torn down after the Meiji Restoration as an unwanted symbol of the feudal past. Nowadays only ruined walls and a few turrets remain, and the park attracts visitors with walking trails and a few lookout points.

Fukuoka Castle was built in the beginning of the 17th century by Kuroda Nagamasa, who was appointed lord of the surrounding Chikuzen feudal domain (part of today’s Fukuoka Prefecture) for his support of Tokugawa Ieyasuduring the battle of Sekigahara. The Kuroda clan ruled from the castle for more than two centuries until the abolition of the feudal system in 1870.

13. Nakagusuku Castle Ruins Castle Ruins (Kitanakagusa Village, Okinawa)

Okinawa’s second appearance on the list comes courtesy of the Nakagusukuj ruins.

Nakagusuku Castle is one of several castles, which were built across Okinawa during the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had been in existence for several centuries before Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879. Only ruins remain of the castle today, but these are well preserved, and the castle’s division into multiple citadels can still clearly be recognized. There are also nice views of the surrounding area and Nakagusuku Bay from the castle ruins.

Nakagusuku Castle is among the Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu, which were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the year 2000. It is recommended to combine a visit to Nakagusuku Castle with a visit to nearby Nakamurake, a beautiful, traditional Okinawan style residence from the 18th century.

 

 

 

 14. Matsumae Castle 松前城(Hakodate, Hokkaido)

The youngest castle in the top 20 is Goyokaku, built in 1855.

In 1849 the The Tokugawa government commanded Matsumae Takahiro to build a castle to enhance the defenses of the area. It was completed in 1854. The location of Matsumae Castle on the Southwesternmost tip of Hokkaido was a vital point for controlling the passage between Hokkaido and Honshu. At the time, the Matsumae did not have the funds to build a new castle at Mt. Hakodate, the recommended site, so they decided to fortify the home of Matsumae Takahiro at Fukuyama instead.

During the Boshin War in 1868, the remnants of the Tokugawa Government that took control of Goryokaku in Hakodate also attacked and defeated Matsumae Castle.

In 1941, the main keep was designated a National Treasure, but it burned down in a fire that spread from the town hall in 1949. It was rebuilt in 1959. Matsumae Castle is considered to be the last of the traditional Japanese castles.

15. Kochi Castle (Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture)

The second fortress representing the island of Shikoku, KōchiKōchi Prefecture, Japan. Kōchi Castle (高知城 Kōchi-jō) is a short walk from the city’s bustling fish market.

Following the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Kōchi Castle was constructed in what was then the province of Tosa. It was built byYamanouchi Kazutoyo, who took control of the province after the Tokugawa victory. The castle was constructed as part of the move fromUrado to the more defensible Otakasa (alt. Odakasa) area.

Construction was begun in 1601 and was completed in 1611. Much of the original fortress burned down in 1727; it was reconstructed between 1729 and 1753 in the original style. The castle underwent major restoration from 1948 to 1959. Though no battles were fought at the castle, it is noteworthy because the castle is the original structure, and not a post-war replica. It is also the only castle in Japan to retain both its original tenshu, or keep, and its palace. In fact, it is the only castle to have all the original buildings in the honmaru, or innermost ring of defense, still standing.

16. Ueda Castle (Ueda City, Nagano Prefecture) 

Nagano shows up again at number 16 with Ueda Castle, home of charismatic and fabled crimson-armored samurai Sanada Yukimura.

Ueda Castle (上田城 Ueda-jō) was the original home of the Sanada clan, built by Sanada Masayuki.

It was this castle that the Sanada defended twice from the Tokugawa, first in 1583 and again in 1600, putting up a very impressive defense both of those times.

When Sanada Masayuki refused to hand over the Numata Castle to Tokugawa Ieyasu, it led to The Battle at Kami River. During the battle, Ieyasu charged into the Ueda Castle with a very large army. But Masayuki was ready, having an ambush party ready to attack. This effectively threw the Tokugawa army into great confusion, causing them great losses in numbers.

Masayuki and his son Sanada Yukimura both faced off against the Tokugawa once again at the Battle of Sekigahara. The Sanada announced their surrender, but this surrender was all part of Masayuki’s plan. He wanted to make them think he was truly surrendering, but instead Masayuki was really in preparation for the defense of the Ueda Castle.

When Tokugawa Hidetada was alerted of the Sanada clan’s plot, Hidetada began to mobilize his troops. But Masayuki was already prepared for an attack, so he had another ambush party ready, but this time he sent them into the enemy’s main camp. In the end the battle had devastating effects. Hidetada failed to seize the Ueda Castle, and he was also kept from joining the field at Sekigahara.

17. Edo Castle / Imperial Palace (Tokyo)

Japan’s capital city manages to wrangle a slot in the list through a slight technicality, as Edo Castle was long ago absorbed into the Imperial Palace. Tokyo Imperial Palace (皇居 Kōkyo; literally, “Imperial Residence”) is the main residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo close to Tokyo Station and contains several buildings including the main palace (Kyūden (宮殿), the private residences of the imperial family, an archive, museum and administrative offices. It is built on the site of the old Edo castle. The total area including the gardens is 3.41 square kilometres (1.32 sq mi). During the height of the 1980s Japanese property bubble, the palace grounds were valued by some as more than the value of all the real estate in the state of California.

After the capitulation of the Shogunate and the Meiji Restoration, the inhabitants, including the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, were required to vacate the premises of the Edo Castle. Leaving Kyoto Imperial Palace, on 26 November 1868 the emperor arrived at Edo castle, made it to his new residence and renamed it to Tōkei Castle (東京城 Tōkei-jō). At this time Tōkyō had also been called Tōkei. He left for Kyōto again, and after coming back on 9 May 1869 it was renamed to Imperial Castle (皇城 Kōjō).

Previous fires already destroyed the Honmaru area containing the old donjon (which itself burned in the 1657 Meireki fire). On the night of 5 May 1873, a fire consumed the Nishinomaru Palace (formerly the shogun’s residence), and the new imperial Palace Castle (宮城 Kyūjō) was constructed on the site in 1888.

A non-profit “Rebuilding Edo-jo Association” (NPO江戸城再建) was founded in 2004 with the aim of a historically correct reconstruction of at least the main donjon. In March 2013 Naotaka Kotake, head of the group, said that “The capital city needs a symbolic building,” and that the group planned to collect donations and signatures on a petition in the hope of having the tower rebuilt. A reconstruction blueprint had been made based on old documents. The Imperial Household Agency had not indicated whether it would support the project.

In the Meiji era, most structures from Edo Castle disappeared. Some were cleared to make way for other buildings while others were destroyed by earthquakes and fire. For example, the wooden double bridges (二重橋 Nijūbashi?) over the moat were replaced with stone and iron bridges. The buildings of the Imperial Palace constructed in the Meiji era were constructed of wood. Their design employed traditional Japanese architecture in their exterior appearance while the interiors were an eclectic mixture of Japanese and European elements fashionable in the 19th century. The ceilings of the grand chambers were coffered with Japanese elements; however, Western chairs, tables, and heavy curtains furnished the spaces. The floors of the public rooms had parquets or carpets while the residential spaces used the traditional tatami mats.

The main audience hall was the central part of the palace. It was the largest building in the compound and was where guests were received for public events. The floor space was more than 223 tsubo or approximately 737.25 m2 (7,935.7 sq ft). In the interior, the coffered ceiling was traditional Japanese-style, while the floor was parquetry. The roof was styled similarly to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, but was covered with copper plates (to make it fireproof) rather than Japanese cypress shingles.

In the late Taisho and early Showa eras, more buildings constructed of concrete were added, such as the headquarters of the Imperial Household Ministry and the Privy Council. These structures had a more modern appearance with only token Japanese elements.

From 1888 to 1948, the compound was called Palace Castle (宮城 Kyūjō). On the night of 25 May 1945 most structures of the Imperial Palace were destroyed in the Allied fire-bombing raid. It was from the basement of the concrete library that Emperor Showa (Hirohito) declared the capitulation of Japan on 15 August 1945, ending World War II. Due to the large-scale destruction of the Meiji-era palace, a new main palace hall (Kyūden (宮殿)) and residences were constructed on the western portion of the site in the 1960s. The area was renamed Imperial Residence (皇居 Kōkyo) in 1948 while the eastern part was renamed East Garden (東御苑 Higashi-Gyoen) and became a public park in 1968.

18. Hikone Castle (Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture)

The final national treasure in the top 20 is Hikone Castle, situated near Like Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. Hikone Castle (彦根城 Hikone-jō) is an Edo period castle in the city of Hikone, in Shiga PrefectureJapan. It is considered the most significant historical building in Shiga. Hikone is one of only 12 Japanese castles with the original keep, and one of only four castles listed as a national treasure.

19. Aizuwakamatsu Castle (Aizuwakamtasu City, Fukushima Prefecture)

Also known as Tsuruga Castle, Aizuwakamatsu may be enjoying a boost in popularity due to its connection with local hero Nijima Yae and the currently-airing NHK historical drama based on her life.

Hikone Castle traces its origin to 1603 when Ii Naokatsu, son of the former daimyo Ii Naomasa, ordered its construction. The keep was originally built in 1575, as part of Ōtsu Castle, and was moved to Hikone by the Ii clan. Other parts of the castle were moved from Nagahama Castle. Hikone Castle was completed in 1622. Naokatsu’s lands had been taken from him in the interval by the Tokugawa shogunate, and when his brother Naotake assumed control of the area around Ōmi Province, he was able to complete the castle by collecting stones from the formerSawayama Castle.

When the Meiji era began in 1868, many castles were scheduled to be dismantled, and only a request from the emperor himself, touring the area, kept Hikone Castle intact. Today it remains one of the oldest original-construction castles in Japan. The main keep of Hikone Castle was designated a National Treasure by the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture in 1952. Hikone Castle also has several parts which are designated Important National Cultural Assets: Umaya (Stable), Tenbin Yagura (Balance Scale Turret), Taikomon Yagura (Drum Gate Turret) and Nishinomaru Sanju Yagura (West Bailey Three-story Turret).

20. Kakegawa Castle (Kakegawa City, Shizuoka)

And rounding out the list is Kakegawa, a somewhat lesser-known castle that we’d still like to visit and admire while drinking a cup of Shizuoka’s renowned green tea while admiring.

Imagawa Yoshitada had his retainer Asahina Yasuhiro build Kakegawa Castle about 0.5km to the northeast of the present castle to help control this vital point of the Tokaido road. In 1569, his descendent, Asahina Yasutomo, lost the castle to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s forces. In 1590, the area was absorbed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who stationed Yamanouchi Kazutoyo here when Tokugawa moved to Edo (Tokyo).

Yamanouchi built the main keep on the current site and renovated the castle and town into a more modern castle. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Yamanouchi was moved to Kochi. Yamanouchi’s main keep was destroyed in an earthquake in 1604 but was soon rebuilt. The new keep lasted until 1854 when it destroyed by another earthquake. It was not rebuilt and the castle was dismantled in 1869.

The museum in the main keep does not have many artifacts but the displays are very well done. The combination of a nicely reconstructed main keep, an original palace and a few other gates and buildings really make this castle a must see for castle fans.

Categories: Daytrips, history of Japan, Must see, Stories about Japan, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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