Walk in the footsteps of samurai at the best castles in Japan

Matsumoto Castle, one of the best preserved castles in Japan

Japan has some of the most beautiful castles in the world.  You should definitely make time to see at least one or two Japanese castles if you’re visiting Japan.  Luckily, Japanese castles tend to be pretty centrally located – often right in the middle of a city – so they’re easy to find.

While I’ve been lucky enough to visit several castles in Japan, I asked some other travel bloggers about their favourite Japanese castles.  Read on to find out about the best castles in Japan!

The best castles in Japan

Although many of Japan’s castles have been destroyed, either by natural disaster, war or even deliberately pulled down, there are several that are almost original.  The castles that have been completely rebuilt, such as Osaka castle, have been meticulously constructed and are still impressive buildings.

Depending on which castle you choose to visit, the experience can be pretty different.  Osaka Castle is a modern reconstruction and its interior is set out as a museum.  Matsumoto castle is almost original and its floors are laid out as they would have been centuries ago.

Nearly all of these castles have wonderful gardens surrounding them and are especially beautiful when visited during cherry blossom season, or in the autumn when the maples and acers are ablaze with colour.

Hikone Castle, Shiga Prefecture

Kavita from Kavey Eats

Hikone was a late addition into our 4 week sakura season itinerary to Japan. I picked it initially because of its handy location, a good spot along the shores of Lake Biwa for us to pick up a rental car for the next segment of our journey.

When I found out that Hikone Castle is one of only four in Japan designated as a National Treasure, it felt like serendipity, especially as I’d been a little disappointed that some of the castles we visited on previous were modern-day reconstructions. The originals were destroyed, often more than once, in fires or earthquakes and rebuilt afresh each time.

In contrast, Hikone Castle was built in 1622 and the majority of what you see today is original and very striking. It’s located on a hill, so be prepared for lots of stairs, if you want to explore the full site.

Exploring the castle gives a great insight into the Japanese feudal era, the castle having served as the seat for the region’s local lord until 1868. The three-storey castle keep, inner moats, walls, guard houses and gates are all original, with the Hikone Castle Museum at the base of the hill providing reconstructions of additional palace buildings, to complete the picture.

If you can time your visit to coincide with the cherry blossom season, Hikone Castle is a particularly picturesque place to appreciate them, with pretty pink flowers cascading along the moat, lining the walkway to the castle, and throughout the castle grounds.

Himeji Castle, Hyōgo Prefecture

Himeji Castle, one of the best castles in Japan

James from Travel Collecting

Himeji castle is one of only 12 castles in Japan that are original and it is perfectly preserved. It is over 400 years old and survived the destruction that befell most of Japan’s castles.   It is nicknamed the “White Egret” or “White Heron” because of its graceful beauty. If you see only one castle in Japan, see this one, if you can.  It is considered of the top three castles in the country.

Himeji Castle is especially heavenly in spring and it is one of the prime places to view cherry blossoms in the Osaka region.  Usually in early April (though this can vary from year to year), the hundreds of cherry blossom trees surrounding the castle make it look like it is floating on puffy cloud of pink flowers.  However, it is well worth a visit any time of the year, and the lawn in front of the castle makes a great spot for a picnic with an obento lunch box.

The five floors made of wood darkened with hundreds of years of use as a military facility, and exploring the rooms of the castle, with its narrow stairs and slots for arrows really brings this home.  It is a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s history.

Himeji is easily accessed by JR train from Osaka on the Kobe line.  The trip from Osaka on the express train takes about an hour, and the castle is about a 15-minute walk from the station.  Tickets cost 1,000 yen for the castle or 1,040 yen for the castle and the adjacent kokoen garden.

Hiroshima Castle, Hiroshima Prefecture

Hiroshima Castle, one of the best castles in Japan

Vanessa from Wanderlust Crew

When most people think of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, they instinctively think of the Atomic bomb, and rightfully so. It’s a city full of history and devastation. Despite this, there is more to the city than the International Peace Park, Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome.

In the tragically destroyed and rebuilt city in the south of the country, lies the beautiful Hiroshima Castle. The original ancient castle was constructed in 1590, but along with everything else in Hiroshima, was destroyed during the atomic bombing of the city on August 6, 1945, during the Second World War.

An exquisite replica of the castle, rebuilt in 1958, now stands as a museum and a tribute to what Hiroshima was like before the bombing. The castle is now a national historic site and is built right in the city center with five stories and a moat surrounding it. It is spectacularly beautiful, especially in the spring and fall when the trees are at their most colorful. If you visit Hiroshima, don’t skip this hidden gem!

Inuyama Castle, Aichi Prefecture

Inuyama Castle, one of the best castles in Japan

Lena from Nagoya Foodie

Inuyama Castle is one of the oldest and smallest castles in Japan. It is one of only 12 original castles that remain today, without any modern additions such as elevators. The castle is made all from stone and wood and has a beautifully preserved interior.

Inuyama Castle stands on the top of a small hill overlooking Kiso River and the view from the top of the castle is definitely worth the climb up the steep stairs. After your visit to Inuyama Castle, you can enjoy some delicious Japanese shaved ice called Kakigori in the castle courtyard before making the climb back down the small hill with its beautiful shrine along the way.

Admission to Inuyama Castle costs 550 yen per person, and you can visit every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m except for the new year (December 29. to 31.).

Inuyama Castle is located in Inuyama which is in Aichi prefecture. From Nagoya, it is easily accessible using the Meitetsu Inuyama Line which takes about 40 minutes and costs 550 yen one way. You cannot use the Japan Rail Pass on Meitetsu trains.

Kanazawa Castle, Ishikawa Prefecture

Kanazawa Castle in Japan; one of the best Japanese Castles

Danila from Traveling Dany

Kanazawa is a little town in the Ishikawa prefecture, also known as “little Kyoto”. It is worth adding it to your Japan itinerary if you love history: walking through the ancient districts feels like stepping into another era!

During the Edo Period, Kanazawa was in fact the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan, the second most important in Japan. The samurai are still fondly remembered at Nagamachi, the former samurai district. Yet one of the main attractions in town is the beautiful castle overlooking Kanazawa, often under siege due to the forces trying to win over the Maeda.

Kanazawa Castle is slowly being reconstructed, as it was burnt down several times over the centuries. It is possible to visit the Ishikawa-mon Gate, which dates back to 1788, two turrets (Hishi and Tsuzuki Yagura), and a long storehouse (Gojukken Nagaya) if you buy a ticket for 310 yen. The money will be used for the reconstruction of all the main buildings at Kanazawa Castle.

If you don’t want to contribute, you can still visit Kanazawa Castle gardens for free: they are a pretty popular “hanami” spot in spring! From the castle you can then walk to Kenroku-en gardens, the most celebrated landscape garden in Japan. Admission will cost you 310 yen and inside you’ll find a lovely teahouse where you can rest for a while. They make a delicious matcha tea!

Matsumoto Castle, Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto Castle, one of the best preserved castles in Japan

Matsumoto Castle is one of Japan’s most famous and best preserved castles, and dates from 1592. Nicknamed Crow Castle due to its ebony colouring, it’s a little unusual in the fact that it was built on a plain rather than on a hilltop.  Matsumoto’s structure is also different from typical Japanese castles – in addition to its main keep it has a turret and secondary donjon.

Matsumoto Castle is one of the few Japanese castles that still has its original layout (or as close as you can get to the original).  The castle has been heavily restored but there’s not much concrete on display here; inside you get to scramble up steep wooden ladders and see how the castle would have been used in the days of samurai.

There are a few little exhibits about Matsumoto Castle’s history inside, but you’ll be much better entertained just by walking through and experiencing the castle for yourself.  Make sure you get right to the top of the main donjon (keep) and take a look out over the city.

Matsumoto Castle is a 15 minute walk from Matsumoto train station.  Opening hours are 8.30am – 5pm, and the castle is closed over New Year.  Trains run direct from Tokyo to Matsumoto and a visit to the castle is an easy day trip from Tokyo.

Read more about fun things to do in Japan here.

Nagoya Castle, Aichi Prefecture

Nagoya Castle in Japan, one of the best castles to visit in Japan

Thais from World Trip Diaries

Nagoya Castle is a great Japanese castle in the centre of Nagoya.

It’s pretty much like many other Japanese castles, to be really honest, but what we really love about this one are the miniatures. There are miniatures of Japanese rooms, explaining the architecture, how the rooms used to be furnished, and even tiny replicas of the peasant homes.

Another thing we really enjoyed there is the city replica. With replicas of little shops that used to be around the castle in the Edo period, it was really cool to see and to learn along with the kids a little about the life in olden times Japan.

It’s a lot less crowded than major other castles, such as Osaka castle, which makes Nagoya Castle a great option for families! And after you’ve done all that learning, head out to the gardens and let the kids run around a bit and let off some steam. The Japanese castle gardens are always so unique and full of fun!

Being right in the centre of Nagoya, it’s easy to get to it – just exit the subway on Shiyakusho station.  Entry costs ¥500 per adult and it’s free for kids under 16 (do bring proof of age, like a passport).

It’s a must for those visiting Nagoya with kids.

Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture

Nijo-jo Kyoto, one of the best castles in Japan

Lyn and Steve from A Hole In My Shoe

If you’ve been fascinated with Japanese history and the Shogunate era you simply must put a visit to Nijo Castle high on your list. The UNESCO World Heritage site was completed in 1626 and was home to Tokugawa Ieyasu, once the most powerful man in Japan. Despite being built as a residence, the protect the shogun from enemy assassins, when installed, the corridor floors squeaked like birds when walked on. This striking feature became known as Nightingale Floors.

The original castle and palace were destroyed in separate fires and were never rebuilt, but the elaborate and imposing gates open to reveal massive stone walls surrounding two moats. There are gates to the inner and outer walls and remaining foundations of the five story keep destroyed in the fire in 1750, can still be seen inside the inner wall. The Guard House in the largest building on the complex and there is also a Reception Room, Grand Chamber, the Shogun’s personal chamber and an Audience chamber.

Gold leaf and elaborate wood carvings decorate the structures and inside the main chamber screens are painted in rich colours, gilded to depict flowers, trees, birds and tigers.

The large grounds are impressive, and contain two Tea Houses, several lovely gardens with Cherry groves and Japanese plum trees, large ponds and topiary pine trees.

Nijo Castle is a truly must see spot in Kyoto and beautiful to visit in any season and whilst the spring blooms and autumn colours are impressive, even a rainy day didn’t put us off.

Okayama Castle, Okayama Prefecture

Anwar from Beyond My Front Door

Overlooked often for some of its more famous castle neighbors, Okayama Castle (a black Japanese Castle) is one of the most beautiful in the region. Sadly much of the castle has been reconstructed after it was destroyed during World War 2. Fortunately, two of the original watch towers did in fact survive the bombings and have been preserved for their historical significance.

The original castle was constructed in the 16th century by Ukita Naoie. However his son had sided against Tokugawa and he was captured during the battle of Sekigahara (which was one of the foundational battles of the Tokugawa Shogunate).

The current castle has several displays of the various aspects of the history of the castle and the area. Much of the reason to visit the castle is the beautiful architecture as well as the incredible manicured gardens, Ujo park and Kōraku-en that adjoin the castle’s exterior. Okayama Castle is open daily from 9am – 5.30pm (last admission 5pm).

Osaka Castle, Osaka Prefecture

Osaka Castle, one of the best Japanese castles

Liza from Tripsget

Some people say that Osaka is not the most desirable tourist destination if you want to experience the history of Japan and see how it looked in the past. Of course, Osaka is in the shadow of its famous neighbour, Kyoto. However, Osaka has its charm and some amazing landmarks as well (not mentioning the great food scene and fabulous shopping). 

One of the best things to do in Osaka is visiting Osaka Castle or, if you prefer, admiring it from outside while walking around in the park surrounding the castle. Osaka castle looks much prettier in real life compared to most photos I checked in advance, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it so stunning. While Osaka castle is not as famous in the international press, it is very important for Japanese people, as it played a crucial role in the battles in the beginning of the 17th century.

Osaka castle was built in 1583, however, the castle you see now is fairly modern, as the historical building fell in a battle and burned down at the end of the 19th century. Nonetheless, the castle looks beautiful. The entrance fee is 600 Yen for adults and given the fact that the exposition inside it not very big, many people decide to skip the visiting part and go for a walk in the park or the river cruise instead. There are a couple of nice places to eat near the castle, including a famous Japanese fluffy pancakes place, so you won’t leave the area hungry for sure.

Osaka Castle is easy to reach on the JR Loop Line around Osaka city centre.  The castle is open from 9am to 5pm except  over New Year.

Which other Japanese castles would you add to this list?  Let us know in the comments!

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Japanese castles are beautiful and each one has a long and varied history. But which are the best castles in Japan to visit? Travel bloggers pick their favourite castles in Japan. Japanese Castles | Travel Japan | Traditional Japan | Best Castles in Japan | Most Popular Castles in Japan | Sightseeing in Japan | Traditional Architecture | Feudal Japan | #japantravel #japan #kyoto #osaka #kanazawa #travel #japanesecastles

Japanese castles are beautiful and each one has a long and varied history. But which are the best castles in Japan to visit? Travel bloggers pick their favourite castles in Japan. Japanese Castles | Travel Japan | Traditional Japan | Best Castles in Japan | Most Popular Castles in Japan | Sightseeing in Japan | Traditional Architecture | Feudal Japan | #japantravel #japan #kyoto #osaka #kanazawa #travel #japanesecastles

Japanese castles are beautiful and each one has a long and varied history. But which are the best castles in Japan to visit? Travel bloggers pick their favourite castles in Japan. Japanese Castles | Travel Japan | Traditional Japan | Best Castles in Japan | Most Popular Castles in Japan | Sightseeing in Japan | Traditional Architecture | Feudal Japan | #japantravel #japan #kyoto #osaka #kanazawa #travel #japanesecastles

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