It’s time to plan your sightseeing campaign across Japan!

When you think castles, you might be more inclined to think of the European kind, made of stone and fortified for defense as well as outfitted to be a luxurious home for the wealthy and royal. But Japan has its own castles, which are equally ancient and equally impressive, and which have played their own roles in the undulating history of the country.

 

Japan’s castles are wonderful spots to sightsee no matter part of the country you’re in, but if you’re on a limited budget or only have a short time to go on vacation, how do you know which ones to check out? That’s where this list comes in handy. Check out the top 10 castles in Japan, as ranked by ratings from TripAdvisor users.

10. Shuri Castle, Okinawa

Shuri Castle was the former residence of the Ryukyu Kingdom’s royalty. Though the current version was rebuilt in 1992, its history goes back almost 700 years. The beautiful, vibrant colors and countless artifacts also make this a great date spot as well as a must-see UNESCO World Heritage site in Japan, and of course it is one of the most iconic landmarks of Okinawa.

9. Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Okayama Prefecture

This castle is probably lesser known than most of the famous sites on this list, but it’s well worth visiting because it’s the oldest surviving castle in Japan. It’s also the highest, situated on top of a mountain overlooking the town of Bitchu. That makes visiting this castle somewhat of an adventure, because it’s so high up that visitors have to hike 20 minutes to get there. From a nearby mountaintop, the castle looks like it’s floating in the clouds on overcast days, which makes like a real life Castle in the Sky.

8. The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Located smack in the middle of Tokyo, this is the former site of Edo Castle, where the Tokugawa shoguns and the Emperor Meiji resided during their reigns. Though there are no castle buildings remaining on this spot today, the beautiful gardens of the Imperial Palace are still encircled by the walls and moats of the original fortification. Plus, visitors can enjoy lush lawns and an ornate Japanese garden, perfect for an afternoon stroll or a family picnic.

7. Uwajima Castle, Ehime Prefecture

This small but interesting castle is one of the oldest in Japan, standing intact since the beginning of the Edo period in the 17th century. It has three floors and is situated on top of a hill, so be prepared for a bit of climbing if you go! Inside is a collection of samurai armor and swords, so it makes for a pretty cool stop for history and samurai buffs.

6. Inuyama Castle, Aichi Prefecture

Built in the 16th century, Inuyama Castle also stands among Uwajima and Bitchu Matsuyama as one of the oldest standing castles in the country. It is located on top of a small hill, and a further climb up four flights of steep stairs will reward visitors with beautiful panoramic views of the city of Inuyama and of the Kiso River that it stands beside.

5. Matsue Castle, Shimane Prefecture

Matsue Castle, another of the only 12 original castles still standing in Japan, is unique on this list in that its exterior walls are painted black. That, coupled with its steep moat, gives it the imposing impression of a sturdy stronghold. Visitors can gaze upon a collection of weapons and artifacts from the Edo Period inside the castle, and boat tours of the moat are also available in good weather.

4. Matsuyama Castle, Ehime Prefecture

Ehime’s actually a pretty cool place to visit, especially since two of the top ten castles are there! Matsuyama Castle is another intact castle, originally built in the early 17th century, though the current three-story tower was built in the early 1800s. The castle is one of the biggest and most complex in Japan, and is a great example of feudal castles the Edo and Tokugawa Periods. It’s also on top of a mountain and surrounded by cherry blossoms, which makes the chairlift, ropeway, or 15-minute hike up absolutely beautiful. At the base of the mountain, there are also remains of the lords’ quarters, which haven been remade into a really beautiful garden called Ninomaru Garden. For history buffs, this is absolutely a must-see castle in Japan!

3. Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto Prefecture

This castle sits on impressive grounds that contain multiple buildings and hundreds of cherry blossom trees, so it’s certainly a sight worth seeing. Most of the 17th century buildings have been reconstructed over the years, and the interior may be modern, but the castle has a great museum exhibition on the history and construction of the original castle. There is also a reconstruction of the daimyo’s palace on the grounds, with beautiful painted sliding doors and opulent interiors befitting a lord’s residence. Unfortunately, since the 2016 earthquake in Kumamoto, the castle was severely damaged and is not yet open to the public, but you can still observe its imposing architecture from afar.

2. Matsumoto Castle, Nagano Prefecture

One of the only castles on this list not built on a hill or a mountain, Matsumoto Castle is one of the most splendid castles in Japan. It stands mostly intact since its original construction in the 17th century, and has a large, six-story main keep that’s worth climbing to see the built-in fortifications, as well as the view of the city of Matsumoto. The outside of the castle also hosts a lovely garden, which in spring becomes a very popular cherry blossom viewing spot.

1. Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture

Ranking at number one for the fourth year in a row is the truly impressive Himeji Castle in western Japan. This stunning, almost all-white castle is considered one of the most beautiful in Japan, and is both a national treasure and a World Heritage site. It also is almost entirely composed of its original 16th century construction, though it has been extensively renovated, which makes this castle a historical gem. It contains over eighty buildings, including the quarters of a princess and an impressive six-story main keep, which is mostly unfurnished except for explanations of architectural features. Of course, the grounds of this castle are also dotted with cherry blossom trees, making this a very popular spot in spring.

Some entries on this list cross over with the list of ten best castles as rated by experts and castle fans that we shared earlier this year, but there are some differences, so it’s interesting to see how certain castles are rated over others. Honestly, though, all of the castles in Japan are worth visiting; it just comes down to what you want to see the most!

Source: TripAdvisor via Japaaan
Top Image: Pakutaso
Reference: JapanGuide.com

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