The best castles in Japan to visit at least once in a lifetime

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During the Sengoku Era of Japan’s “Warring States” (1467-1615), castles were built and fortified throughout the Japanese archipelago, resulting in approximately 5,000 individual fortresses.

Although many were razed at the behest of the Tokugawa Shogunate regime during the Edo period (1603-1868) and later after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when power was restored to the Emperor, more than 100 of them remain across the country today. .

Here are some of the best castles in Japan that you can still visit.

Hirosaki Castle

High on a hill in Aomori Prefecture, in the heart of northern Japan, is Hirosaki Castle; the main structure is built in layers and surrounded by yaruga (lesser towers) and fortified moats.

With construction completed in 1611, the castle was built as Japan was entering an extended period of peace under the Tokugawa Shogunate rule, and as such it never withstood siege or invasion.

The original five-story tenshu (fortified tower) was destroyed after being struck by lightning in 1627, being replaced in the early 19th century by the three-story structure visible today.

Along with the impressive feudal architecture, the sakura (cherry blossom) spring season is a big draw for travelers at Hirosaki Castle. More than 2,600 sakura trees surround the castle grounds, spreading their petals on the adjacent lawns and moats each spring.

Castelo de Shuri

Towering above the city of Naha and surrounded by fortified walls, Shuri Castle on the island of Okinawa is emblematic of the gusuku castle style of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa’s former name).

The construction defies the architectural design of castles seen elsewhere in Japan, with a royal citadel made of deep red wood, adorned with dragons and Chinese iconography – which suggest pre-Okinawan influences.

When Shuri was first built in the 14th century, it was the seat of power in the Ryukyu Kingdom until Japan annexed the islands of Okinawa in 1879. Before being neglected under imperial rule, it served as the center of diplomacy, governance and spirituality for the kingdom for centuries.

Although it was restored and eventually designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shuri Castle was tragically destroyed in a major fire in 2019. Reconstruction is underway with the aim of faithfully restoring the main buildings by 2026.

Edo Castle

Edo Castle, called by the old name Tokyo, has one of the longest lineages of all castles in Japan. A fortified palace was first erected on the site during the Heian period (794-1185). The samurai Ota Dokan then designed a fortress to replace the palace in 1457, before the influential daimyo (feudal lord) Tokugawa Ieyasu took control in the late 16th century.

This became the catalyst for sweeping architectural reforms and massive urban sprawl, transforming Edo from a small fortified village into the nation’s capital, incorporated by the grand castle at its center point.

Edo Castle was massive in its heyday, surrounded by a 15-kilometer outer moat spanned by over 30 gates and bridges.

Remnants of the original structures can be found in Tokyo, although the Imperial Palace, home to the current emperor, is the best place to get a sense of its former glory. Parts of the grounds are not accessible, but the pristine East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are open to the public.

Castelo de Matsumoto

Built in the 16th century at the behest of Japan’s “Great Unifier” Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the black-walled Matusmoto Castle juxtaposes the snow-crowned Northern Alps that surround the town of Matsumoto.

Also known as Karasu-jo (Crow Castle), it was largely spared from destruction and maintains one of the oldest fortresses in the country.

Matsumoto Castle showcases the architecture of war and peace, from its steep wooden stairs, hidden inner levels and archer sites to the moon observation room, added in 1630, which also offers the view to see carp and ducks. who reside in the castle moat.

On winter nights, the castle receives special lighting, casting its bright reflection on the surface of the moat.

Nagoya Castle

In Aichi’s thriving capital, Nagoya, you’ll find the eponymous Nagoya Castle, whose majestic towers overlook the gardens and moats below.

Under the Shogun’s instructions, Nagoya Castle was built as an administrative center during the early Edo period, after an era of nearly 150 years of interstate warfare. The conflict would come to the castle much later, when it was destroyed in bombing during World War II. But restoration efforts have captured the essence of its medieval heyday.

Nagoya Castle is known for the magnificent golden shachihoko (tiger-like fish) that juts out from its zenith – once earning the epithet Kin-jo (Golden Castle) – and its sloping green roofs.

It is currently not possible to enter the main fortress as it does not meet modern earthquake resistance standards, although ongoing renovations over the next few years aim to make it suitable by 2028.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, playing a key role in the height of the Sengoku era. Upon unifying Japan in 1590, samurai Toyotomi Hideyoshi sought to expand his stronghold in Osaka driven by a desire to surpass his former lord, Oda Nobunaga.

However, his efforts to create an unassailable defense were thwarted posthumously when the castle fell to the Tokugawa Clan in 1615.

The five-story Osaka Castle, a recreation of the original keep (which was destroyed on several occasions), is built on solid Cyclopean concrete foundations, with mint green tiles and golden fixtures that bear striking similarities to Nagoya Castle.

Inside, you’ll find a museum that details the political history of the region and the various samurai who claimed it as their home. The exhibition culminates in a 360-degree viewpoint on the top floor.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was the official residence of the Shogun during the Edo period – although the succession of military rulers spent most of their time ruling from the seat of power in Edo (now Tokyo).

After the Meiji Restoration, the castle became an imperial palace before being opened to the public as a historic site.

The stubby hirajiro (plain) castle has many of the trappings of Japanese feudal architecture: a wide perimeter moat, an imposing karamon (entrance gate), concentric sections separated by reinforced stone walls, and creaky floorboards to detect intruders.

You can currently stroll through most of the castle grounds, while audio guides in multiple languages ​​are available at the entrance.

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle is significant for having the oldest original tenshu (fortified tower) in Japan, dating back to 1580, and is one of only five castles to have National Treasure status.

It was also the first stronghold owned by the bloodthirsty tyrant who first tried to unify Japan, Oda Nobunaga.

Inuyama Castle’s strategic location at the top of the hill provided the resident samurai with expansive views of the surrounding plains and the turbulent Kiso River at its base. Today, visitors to the site benefit from this jaw-dropping viewpoint, which makes it possible to see over the surrounding cities and forests.

Hikone Castle

Although Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture is a comparatively unassuming structure, it is significant in that its main fortress (which has been designated a National Treasure) and many of the surrounding structures remain intact.

This is partly due to its completion in 1622, after the Tokugawa Shogunate had established peace across the country, and its location in a relatively obscure stretch of western Japan.

The hilltop castle’s viewpoints overlook Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest inland body of water, in the center of the prefecture. There is also a Hikone Castle Museum at the foot of the hill, showcasing artifacts and historical documentation from Clan II, who established the fortress some 400 years ago.

Castelo Bicchu Matsuyama

The 13th-century Bicchu Matsuyama Castle is situated above the tranquil town of Takahashi in Okayama Prefecture and is believed to be Japan’s original yamajiro (mountain castle). highest elevation for any castle in Japan – would-be invaders were forced to climb the hill through dense bushes and volley of projectiles just to reach the castle gates.

Walking today, more used than in the medieval era and free of arrows, is doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness. It’s certainly worth a sweat to see the undulating landscape of Okayama from the castle walls or the unkai (sea of ​​clouds) floating above the valley on spring and autumn mornings.

Castelo de Himeji

Himeji Castle’s nickname, “Castle of the White Crane,” hints at the poetic magnificence of its historic keep: the multi-tiered pearly white building towers above the lower town of Himeji.

Its origins date back to the early 1300s, after which it underwent several acquisitions and remodeling efforts at the hands of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and several other daimyo, respectively. It has also remained largely intact throughout its 700-year history, surviving several recent atrocities from aerial bombs in the 1940s to the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

These factors helped Himeji Castle become Japan’s first Unesco World Heritage Site.

Also, it is in the castle where the Well of Okiku is located, where the ghost of the servant of the same name is said to reside. The well owes its infamy to the folktale Bancho Sarayashiki, which later inspired the horror film “Ringu” (1998) and its Hollywood adaptation, “The Ring” (2002).

Castelo de Matsue

Built in the early 1600s near the shores of Lake Shinji, Matsue Castle is one of the only remaining fortresses on the west-central coast of Japan.

Its original purpose was to help the new shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, consolidate his power in the predominantly provincial region. Today, its towering black walls and tiered gray roofs stand sentinel over a dark green perimeter moat in the heart of Matsue’s old quarter.

Across the street from the castle, you will find Matsue’s most valuable cultural heritage: the Lafacadio Hearn Museum and his former residence. A 19th-century author of Greco-Irish heritage, Hearn rose to the pantheon of Japanese literary heritage as a cultural essayist and a master teller of local folktales.

Kumamoto Castle

Built by local daimyo Kato Kiyomasa in the early 1600s, Kumamoto Castle remains one of the most impressive feats of pre-modern architecture on the island of Kyushu (although most of its structures are now reinforced concrete reconstructions).

Unusual for Japanese castles, their wartime history extended beyond the Edo period and into the Meiji Restoration era, when local samurai rebelled against the new government, leading to a two-month siege in 1877.

After a major earthquake in 2016 and a subsequent five-year period of renovation, Kumamoto Castle’s main fortress reopened to the public in 2021, with 800 cherry trees painting its gardens pink each spring.

This content was originally created in English.

original version

Reference: CNN Brasil

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