We're going to take a wild guess and say that not many people were aware that Japan is home to some pretty stunning castles. Now, these aren't castles in the traditional sense; in the 15th century, it became obvious that the need for a solid structure, what was referred to as a 'fortress' was desperately needed. This gave rise to the brilliant structures we can still visit today, many of which held the role of defense for the city they reside in. The lord of the region would reside in the castle while his samurai would reside in the outer-lying circle, as it was their honor to protect both royalty and citizens. The ten castles below are the most famous in Japan and definitely worth a trip to this enchanting country.
10 Osaka Castle And Castle Park
Built in 1580, Osaka once held the title of being the largest in the country. While the castle's garden grounds were once home to royalty, they're now open for anyone to visit. Osaka is most popular during cherry blossom season, otherwise known as Sakura season in Japan. Those visiting the castle during this season will be delighted to find that they need not even leave the garden in order to see the breathtaking sight of these trees in bloom. Additionally, the castle is home to a history museum, complete with full exhibits that tell the tale of the castle in all its glory.
9 Himeji Castle In Hyōgo Prefecture
Himeji Castle is a bit newer than Osaka and is considered one of the most flawless examples of Japan's architectural style. This castle is important to Japan not only because of its structural integrity, but because of the fact that it survived the second world war despite the destruction that occurred around it. It was built by Akamatsu Norimura, a samurai, in 1333, giving it quite an extensive history. The sight is protected and was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's often called the 'White Heron Castle' due to its stark white appearance and tower heights.
8 Matsumoto Castle In Nagano Prefecture
Also known as Japan's national treasure, Matsumoto is popular for more than just its reputation. This black castle is often referred to as 'Crow Castle' which is in stark contrast to many others on this list. The architecture of this castle is often something that's commented on as well; rather than having been built on higher ground or near a river for protection, this castle was constructed on flat land. However, Matsumoto would have looked completely different in its era -- there would have been plenty of moats, gatehouses, and various walls used for defense against any who try to enter unknowingly.
7 Nagoya Castle
This castle is a popular one to visit because it is located in central Japan, however, it's not as pristine as others on this list. The structure was damaged in the second world war and has had a long, turbulent history. It was originally given as a gift from father to son in the 1520s by Imagawa Ujichika but was soon seized by a stronger power.
This is when it became known as Nagoya Castle and its story doesn't end there. The castle was also home to a POW camp when it was used as a military base, further excelling its rate of deterioration. Despite all that, this castle still stands, and it's the history of the structure that draws visitors.
6 Nijo Castle In Kyoto's Center
Nijo Castle is intriguing not just for its appearance, but for its methods for keeping unwanted visitors out. Not only does it look slightly menacing from its sharp-looking exterior, but the architect of this castle actually had intentionally squeaky floorboards installed to warn of incoming guests. While not the fiercest of military protection, there's no denying that any visitor could count on not getting in undetected. This castle is also a World Heritage Site, making it one of the more visited castles in Japan. It's also located right in the heart of Kyoto, setting it against a stunning backdrop.
5 Kanazawa Castle In Ishikawa Prefecture
Part of the allure that is Kanazawa Castle is in its grounds, which are home to one of the most stunning gardens in all of Japan. This garden is called the Kenrokuen and attracts many visitors from all over the country. The castle itself was once the dwelling of one of the most powerful feudal lords in the country, making its history just as rich as its architectural status. It's also an older castle, built in 1583, and has been maintained for visitors to this day. On a sunny, warm day, tourists can truly get a feel for how a feudal family lived.
4 Edo Castle In Tokyo
Unlike the other castles, Edo Castle is actually not open to visits for tours. The reasoning behind this is that it's currently part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace - but that doesn't mean those interested can't visit the grounds it resides on.
The castle itself can be viewed from many locations around its surrounding land, which also holds plenty of history relative to the castle's past. The gardens hold historical timepieces and visitors will be absolutely enchanted by the East Gardens, which have been open to the public for over four decades.
3 Matsue Castle In Tokyo Prefecture
Matsue Castle is unique from its structure to its placement and it's easy to see why it draws so much attention. The castle has maintained its original wooden construction which is the same material it was built out of in 1611. Luckily, the castle was never exposed to battle, which is why it's still in such excellent condition to this day. The castle itself was ruled by one family, that of Naomasa Matsudaira, which is remarkable considering the war-stained history of many other castles in Japan. Matsue is also called the 'Plover Castle' because of its bird-like appearance, a common theme in many architectural castle styles in Japan.
2 Hirosaki Castle In Aomori Prefecture
Hirosaki Castle has quite an impressive story, as it did face destruction once after its construction was completed. The heartbreaking loss of this castle came after the Tsugaru clan put a tremendous amount of effort forth to gain the resources and money to build it in the early 1600s. It was then, thankfully, rebuilt a couple of centuries later in its original glory. This resilience paid off because it's now one of the most popular spots to view cherry blossoms in bloom during the season. The castle is also host to a popular festival in Japan, the Hirosaki Castle Snow Lantern Festival, which draws attendees from all over.
1 Shimabara Castle In Nagasaki Prefecture
Yet another flatland castle, Shimabara is a popular tourist attraction. The castle contains a museum that educates visitors on the feudal history of the castle as well as the surrounding culture in Japan. This castle holds a bit of a dark past, though, which attracts viewers as well. In its prime, the castle was home to a band of oppressive leaders who persecuted Christians in the area and abused taxes in order to pay for the castle. Later, it was used for schooling and farming before eventually being turned into the museum that it is today. Visitors will also be surprised to learn that the moats surrounding the castle, which are still very much functional, are up to 49-feet-deep in some locations.