Survey results stretch all the way from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, with several awesome stops in between.

If you’re travelling in Japan, and you like castles, you’re in luck. According to broadcaster TV Asahi, there are no fewer than 4,000 castles and castles ruins dotting the Japanese landscape.

Actually, maybe that means that if you like castles you’re not in luck, since that’s far too many to cram into one, or even a dozen, trips. Thankfully TV Asahi also asked 10,000 castle fans and experts to rate which is the best in Japan, and the top 10, listed below, are a great place to start before you start working through the remaining 3,990.

10. Hirosaki Castle (Aomori Prefecture)

One of Japan’s northernmost fortresses, Hirosaki Castle is worth a visit even if you don’t go inside the keep or through the gates. The moat is lined with cherry blossom trees, and in spring it becomes one of the most beautiful places in the country for sakura viewing

9. Nijo Castle (Kyoto)

Unlike just about every other famous castle in Japan, Nijo Castle was constructed after the end of Japan’s centuries-long civil war, known as the Sengoku Period. Completed in 1679, Nijo Castle was more of a residence for the shogun when he was visiting Kyoto from Edo (present-day Tokyo), and so it has a sprawling villa-like layout and spacious gardens, in stark contrast to the heavily fortified towers and deliberately disorienting pathways of castles built during wartime.

8. Goryokaku (Hokkaido)

Built in 1855, Goryokaku just slides in at the tail-end of Japan’s feudal era, which ended in 1868. While that might technically make it a castle, it’s far more modern in design than the other entries on the list. What it lacks in samurai-era historical cachet, though, it makes up for with a distinctly beautiful star-shaped moat.

7. Takeda Castle (Hyogo Prefecture)

There’s very little left of Takeda Castle, but that’s part of what makes it so worth visiting. Locate high in the mountains midway between Japan’s northern and southern coasts, the castle ruins take on an otherworldly quality when they’re wrapped in the mists and fog of early morning.

6. Nagoya Castle (Aichi Prefecture)

Nagoya Castle has always been a bit of dichotomy. While just about everyone likes its majestic exterior, the completely modern interior sours the experience for travelers wanting a more direct look at what like was life for the castle’s former inhabitants. Lucky for them, they’ll get that soon enough, as Nagoya Castle, which was reconstructed in concrete following World War II, is set to be rebuilt in wood, just like it was originally.

5. Shuri Castle (Okinawa Prefecture)

Okinawan’s Ryukyu culture is a mixture of indigenous traditions and influences on the formerly independent kingdom through its dealings with mainland Japan, China, and other Asian cultures. That extends to Shuri Castle, which is one of the few strongholds in Japan to have a stone courtyard at its center.

4. Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto Prefecture)

Kumamoto Castle hasn’t had an easy life. A substantial portion of the fortress was burned down in the Satsuma Rebellion, one of the armed uprisings that broke out as power was taken back from the shogun and restored to the emperor in the late 1800s. The castle has also been damaged by multiple earthquakes, most recently in 2016 when one of its stately steep walls collapsed. Nevertheless, it remains a symbol of the community, and one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island of Kyushu.

3. Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Prefecture)

Though it’s been renovated multiple times, Matsumoto Castle’s keep has been standing since the early 1500s, and its especially impressive when viewed along with its reflection in the surrounding moat.

2. Osaka Castle (Osaka Prefecture)

With an array of skyscrapers visible in the skyline behind it, Osaka Castle is arguably the best visual example of how Japan weaves its traditional past into modern life.

1. Himeji Castle (Hyogo Prefecture)

And finally, we take one last trip to Hyogo. Whereas the prefecture’s other entry, Takeda, is largely in ruins, Himeji Castle is widely considered to be the best-preserved castle in all of Japan. That’s partially thanks to the fact that it’s suffered remarkably little damage in the many centuries since it was built. The castle was never besieged during the feudal period and survived the bombing of the city during World War II.

The caste’s pristine condition makes it a popular filming location for both Japanese and foreign productions, and its location, straight down the street and in walkable distance from the Shinkansen stop at Himeji Station, makes it a must-visit not just for travelers staying in the area, but even for those who’re zipping across the country but want to spend a few hours visiting one of the most beautiful remnants of Japan’s samurai era.

Source: Livedoor News/Narinari via Jin
Top image: Wikipedia/Mc681
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