Experience Japanese history through castles both intact and…not intact.

Castles – Japan has got them, and lots of them. They’ve been in use for centuries for the same reason many castles around the world were built: to guard important sites or people against enemies as they battled for power. Most of the castles you see in Japan are not the original (some of them aren’t even in their original location), but there are a few that are considered original.

So, castle junkies, we’re going to break it down for you. Here is a list of the top 20 castles to visit in Japan in 2017, courtesy of TripAdvisor Japan.

20. Uwajima Castle

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by tnaoto (@redvetty) on

Uwajima Castle, located in Ehime prefecture, is considered to be one of the twelve original castles remaining in Japan. It was originally built in 1595! It experienced some major revamps in 1671 and sustained some damage in World War II, but it remains mostly intact today.

19. Osaka Castle

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Isra إسراء. (@isragilani) on

Osaka Castle is considered to be the symbol of Osaka. It’s a great spot to learn about the rich history of Osaka, and it makes for a pretty good walking spot, too.

18. Oka Castle Ruins

This is one of the castles that hasn’t been restored in Japan. Located in Taketa in Oita prefecture, the castle was originally built in 1185 for an important historical figure in Japan, Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Though it changed hands a few times, it was mostly intact until earthquakes and fires destroyed most of it in the late 1700s. There’s not much to look at now, but there’s a lot of history to learn about, and a lot of nature to see.

17. Marugame Castle

View this post on Instagram

#marugamecastle #kagawa

A post shared by UCO\(*^^*)/ (@uco07450) on

This one is located in Kagawa prefecture on Japan’s southern Shikoku island. It is preserved in Kameyama park. Not many of the buildings are intact today, but it’s pretty impressive to look at from up close and far away.

16. Ozu Castle

Ozu Castle marks the second castle on the list located in Ehime prefecture. This one is worth a visit because it still has its original scaffolding from the 16th century. Many other parts of the castle suffered major damage in World War II.

15. Kochi Castle

View this post on Instagram

Замок #kochicastle

A post shared by Ternovskiy Dmitry (@ternovskiy) on

Kochi Castle is one of the more elaborate castles on the list. It has a pretty impressive stone gate, beautiful interior gardens, and an impressive view of Kochi city.

14. Shuri Castle

If you’ve done a little research on Japanese castles before, Shuri Castle is probably one of the castles you’ve already heard of. It’s located in Naha, Okinawa, and is a popular tourist spot. Okinawa has historically had a different culture far different from other parts of Japan, so Shuri Castle also has an appearance far different from other castles in Japan. It also has a vivid red exterior.

13. Gujo Hachiman Castle

View this post on Instagram

#観光 #旅行 #郡上八幡 🇯🇵 . #郡上八幡城 別称 積翠城 郡上城 #日本最古 の#木造 再建城です🏯 . 明治4年(1871)の廃藩置県で廃城となり、翌年に石垣を残してすべて取り壊されました。 昭和8年(1933)、当時の大垣城を参考に再建、木造4層5階建の天守閣等は郡上市重要文化財に、石垣等の城跡は県史跡に指定されています。 . こちらで発行されている登閣記念の御朱印は全額熊本城の復旧支援に寄付されているそうです✨🏯 . #gujohachimancastle #gujo #山城 #重要文化財 #史跡 #遺構 #歴史 #history #御朱印 #travel #wooden #japanese #importantculturalproperty #oldest #石垣 #historicsite#remains #ruins #城 #castle #岐阜 #日本 #japan#japan_daytime_view#japanese

A post shared by @ tamakiti1017 on

You can find Gujo Hachiman Castle in Gifu prefecture. It stands on Hachiman Castle. It was built in 1559 and demolished in 1871 during the Meiji Restoration, so this is not the original castle. Still, it’s a great place to experience history, and it makes for a beautiful hike.

12. The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace (Edo Castle Ruins)

Finally, a castle located in Tokyo! Well, there isn’t much to look at, but it’s the history that matters, right? This is where Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Tokugawa shogunate, a pivotal point in Japanese history. So while you’re visiting the current Imperial Palace, pay a visit to this landmark as a nod to the some of the events that led Japan to where it is today.

11. Nagoya Castle Ruins

No, this isn’t the Nagoya you’re thinking of. These Nagoya Castle ruins are located in Saga Prefecture in Japan’s southern Kyushu region. There isn’t much left standing, but it’s also popular as a spot to view cherry blossoms in spring.

10. Nakagusuku Castle Ruins

Try saying this one five times fast. The Nakagusuku Castle Ruins stand in Kitanakagusuku village in Okinawa. Its history spans back to the 14th century, and today it stands as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

9. Kumamoto Castle

Kumamoto Castle has been up there in the list of popular Japanese castles for quite a while now. It has a rich history and a striking appearance with its black exterior. It sustained major damage in the recent 2016 earthquake, but efforts are already under way to restore the castle. As a result, parts of the castle are currently closed for viewing. But don’t cross it off your list just yet!

8. Nakajin Castle Ruins

Okinawa has managed to snag three spots on this list so far! The Nakajin Castle ruins are in Nakajin village on the main Okinawa island. Though only a few walls remain standing, the ones that are still around are downright picturesque.

7. Katsuren Castle Ruins

Here’s the last one on the list from Okinawa. The Katsuren Castle ruins are impressive in that the walls that remain are still fairly intact. It also made news recently when Roman coins were excavated in 2016; the first instance for such Roman relics to be discovered in Japan.

6. Matsue Castle

Matsue Castle is located in Shimane prefecture. It is one of the twelve original castles left in Japan, and one of the few black ones as well. This makes for a particularly interesting visit because you have the option to view it by boat, which runs around the perimeter of the castle, and you can board and get off the vessel as you like.

5. Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle, located in Kyoto, is unique in that the castle itself is not raised off the ground like many other castles in Japan. It does have some fortifying walls and a moat, however. The gardens are worth as much of a look as the castle itself.

4. Bitchu Matsuyama Castle

Don’t be fooled by its unfortunate Romanized name; this Okayama castle is anything but laughable. It is one of the twelve original castles in Japan, originally built in the year 1240. Fun fact: it’s also known as the castle located at the highest elevation above sea level in Japan.

3. Matsuyama Castle

That’s right, it’s another Ehime castle. Grabbing the number three spot is Matsuyama Castle, a castle you can ascend to by ropeway. It was originally built in 1603, but almost all of the original structure burned down after it was struck by lightning in 1784.

2. Matsumoto Castle

Only a hop and a skip away from Tokyo, you’ll find the second most popular Japanese castle of 2017 in Nagano prefecture. It’s Instagram-worthy from pretty much every angle, and its pitch black exterior gives it the nickname “Crow Castle.”

1. Himeji Castle

View this post on Instagram

過去picです😚 ・ 姫路城‪☺︎‬ (#himejicastle) ・ location:Hyogo,Japan ・ 天守閣保存修理工事の後に訪れました🤗 ・ 初めて見た時は白すぎてビックリしました😳‼️笑 「白すぎ城」と呼ばれるほど白さについて話題になったみたいですね😅笑 ・ でも、この白さ(漆喰)は重要な役割をしていてカビ防止になるそうです💡 今回の修理ではカビ防止剤が強化され、これまで1年ほどしかもたなかったのが3~5年ほど保てるらしいです!! 当時、会社の朝礼ネタで姫路城について色々調べた時の情報です😁笑 *** #photography #fujifilm #fujifilm_xseries #今日もX日和 #nico_photo📷 ・ #japan_of_insta #art_of_japan_ #special_spot_ #bestphoto_japan #photo_shorttrip #kf_gallery #super_japan_channel #splendidjapan #ptk_japan. #retrip_nippon #lovers_amazing_group #s_shot #bd_pro #hello_worldpics #special_shots #wonderful_place #top_hdr_photo #kings_hdr #広がり同盟 #team_jp_skyart #loves_skyandsunset #best_skyview #gf_skies #explorejapan

A post shared by nico( ¨̮ )♥ (@nico__0205) on

The number one spot this year is held by Himeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s beautiful. Its elaborate exterior would make any architect geek salivate, and its original design remains mostly intact, boasting a total of 83 rooms. Pretty different from my tiny Tokyo apartment!

There you have it: the 20 castles to visit for 2017. Whether you’re just in it for the scenery or you’re a Japanese history buff, you’ve got more than enough suggestions to see castles both intact and, well, not intact.

The best part? Almost all of these castles are Pokémon Go gyms or Pokéstops. (Oh, maybe I’m the only one that cares about that…)

Sources: TripAdvisor, Wikipedia
Featured image: Wikimedia Commons/Niko Kitsakis