Exit Search

Five of the Best: Japanese castles

March 19, 2024

For history or architecture buffs, Japanese castles are unmissable 


While Japanese fortresses and defensive buildings have been around for centuries, the 16th and 17th centuries were a banner time for feudal-era castles, which formed the defensive heart of many towns, including Tokyo. Many of the remaining Japanese castles have been classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The hundred-odd that stand today are enduring examples of the classic Japanese castle shape—one unique factor in constructing these huge complexes is achieving a sense of balance with the surrounding landscape. As a result, there is an air of elegance to Japanese castles that is best exemplified in old yamajiro or mountain castles, which were built into the mountains themselves.

 

A visit to one of the most well-known Japanese castle: Osaka Castle
A visit to one of the most well-known Japanese castle: Osaka Castle

 

While Japanese castle foundations were usually made with sturdy stone, wooden roof structures and other less-resilient structural details were heavily damaged in subsequent wars, bombings, and natural disasters, including a disturbing number of lightning strikes. This resulted in intensive modern-day restoration efforts. Visiting castles in Japan usually involves a lot of walking, stair-climbing, and even some shoes-off experiences, so be prepared!

EXPLORE OUR INSPIRING JAPAN SMALL GROUP TOURS HERE

Here, some of the best castles in Japan to visit.  


Himeji Castle

Arguably Japan’s biggest and most famous castle, Himeji Castle, also known as White Heron Castle, is a striking symbol of beauty in Hyogo prefecture. It no longer resembles its humble origins as a hilltop fort—after years of reconstruction efforts, it achieved its ultimate form in the 1600s, where it has sat untouched by World War II bombings and earthquakes. Five of its structures are considered national treasures of Japan.

Japanese castles don't get prettier than Himeji Castle during cherry blossom season
Japanese castles don't get prettier than Himeji Castle during cherry blossom season


Osaka Castle

Originally built in 1583, Osaka Castle was an ambitious project for Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a daimyo (feudal lord) who wished to outdo his rival, Oda Nobunaga. Perched atop a stone-fortified landfill in Osaka's Chūō-ku, the castle’s location originally housed a temple, and endured many interior conflicts, civil wars, and natural disasters. Today, the castle has been beautifully reconstructed and includes some of Japan’s most beautiful parks and gardens, such as the sakura-filled Nishinomaru Garden.

Built in 1583, Japanese castle, Osaka Castle used to be a temple
Built in 1583, Japanese castle, Osaka Castle used to be a temple


Nijō Castle

Located in Kyoto, Nijō was the home of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first in a line of powerful Tokugawa shogun who ruled for over 200 years. It is comprised of traditional architectural elements and two palaces: Ninomaru and Honmaru. Ninomaru is still standing, and features some fascinating design elements, such as squeaky, 'chirping' uguisubari floors (nightingale floors) to prevent assassins and spies from sneaking around. Today, Nijō Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also has a renowned Japanese landscape garden, the Ninomaru Palace Garden.

Japanese castle, Nijō, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Japanese castle, Nijō, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


Matsuyama Castle

Named after a hot spring in Ehime prefecture, Matsuyama Castle has exhibits of feudal-era history, along with samurai-era armour and other relics. It is one of the most intact historic castles of Japan which largely escaped major damage. There’s even a gondola (Matsuyamajo Ropeway) to get to the castle as it’s located on a painfully steep hill—on the upside, it has some incredible views of the Seto Inland Sea.

Japanese castle, Matsuyama Castle, is one of Japan's twelve original castles
Japanese castle, Matsuyama Castle, is one of Japan's twelve original castles


Matsumoto Castle

Along with Himeji, this is one of Japan’s three iconic 'premier castles' and its main keep or donjon, is a national treasure. Built in the 1500s, this impressive black structure is also known as the 'Crow Castle' (karasu-jo) for its black roof 'wings' and walls. Like many other Japanese castles, Matsumoto is a popular spot during cherry blossom season in April.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japans original castles in Matsumoto, Japan.
Matsumoto Castle is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japans original castles in Matsumoto, Japan.

Subscribe Now!

To receive our free printable eBook "Inspiring Japan"

book
RELATED TOURS
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Dec 2025
Japan
Fully Escorted
Lively Pace
Typically $3,465
Now
$1,899 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Dec 2025
Japan
Fully Escorted
Lively Pace
Group Tour - Classic
Typically $3,465
From
$1,899 AUD
pp twin share
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
Lively Pace
Fully Escorted
Typically $11,925
Now
$3,999 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
Lively Pace
Fully Escorted
7 Days
Typically $11,925
From
$3,999 AUD
pp twin share
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Sep 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Partially Escorted
Moderate Pace
Typically $13,361
Now
$6,999 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Sep 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Partially Escorted
Moderate Pace
7 Days
Typically $13,361
From
$6,999 AUD
pp twin share
Autumn Dates
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Leisurely Pace
Fully Escorted
Typically $11,436
Now
$8,999 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Leisurely Pace
Fully Escorted
7 Days
Typically $11,436
From
$8,999 AUD
pp twin share
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace

Fully Escorted

Typically $5,395
Now
$3,899 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
7 Days
Typically $5,395
From
$3,899 AUD
pp twin share
$1399 Flight Offer
Travel from:Mar 2025
Travel until:Apr 2025
Japan
Moderate Pace
Fully Escorted
Typically $7,381
Now
$3,999 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Mar 2025
Travel until:Apr 2025
Japan
Moderate Pace
Fully Escorted
Typically $7,381
From
$3,999 AUD
pp twin share
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Sep 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Lively Pace
Fully Escorted
Typically $13,428
Now
$7,799 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Sep 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Lively Pace
Fully Escorted
7 Days
Typically $13,428
From
$7,799 AUD
pp twin share
Autumn Dates
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Aug 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
Typically $13,560
Now
$5,499 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Aug 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
7 Days
Typically $13,560
From
$5,499 AUD
pp twin share
$1099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Nov 2024
Travel until:Dec 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Local Guides
Moderate Pace
Typically $9,202
Now
$6,799 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Nov 2024
Travel until:Dec 2024
Japan
$99pp deposit
Local Guides
Moderate Pace
Small Group
Typically $9,202
From
$6,799 AUD
pp twin share
$1,099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Lively Pace
Partially Escorted
Typically $13,821
Now
$7,499 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Jul 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Lively Pace
Partially Escorted
Typically $13,821
From
$7,499 AUD
pp twin share
$1,099 Flight Offer
Travel from:Nov 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
Typically $11,900
Now
$6,999 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Nov 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
Group Tour - Classic
Typically $11,900
From
$6,999 AUD
pp twin share
Flights Included
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Flight Inclusive
Fully Escorted

Flight Inclusive

Typically $9,579
Now
$7,899 pp twin share
AUD
Travel from:Aug 2024
Travel until:Nov 2025
Japan
$99pp deposit
Flight Inclusive
Fully Escorted
Moderate Pace
Typically $9,579
From
$7,899 AUD
pp twin share
Processing...