Castles in Japan, like elsewhere, were built as defensive structures. Feudal
lords, known as daimyo, constructed these all over the country to retreat to
during an attack. The castle and the grounds surrounding it were invigorated
with numerous defenses. They also stored food and weapons in case of long
A daimyo's wealth and power could be displayed through a castle and be guarded at the same time. The grander the castle, the stronger and wealthier the daimyo.
Japan’s history is closely meshed with the history of castles. Japan was previously divided into many small regions ruled by different warlords for nearly two centuries, until the rise of Nobunaga. The need for bigger and stronger fortifications arose as warlords fought with one another and gained more land. Once Nobunaga started to unify and rule over larger sections of the country, the magnificent castles we think of today began to emerge. After the country was unified in peace under the Tokugawa, the practicalness of castles declined and they became relics of a time passed.
Mainly constructed with wood and stone, castles evolved from the wooden fortress of earlier centuries to their best-known form in the 16th century.
Castles in Japan were built to guard significant or strategic sites, such as ports, river crossings, or crossroads. They almost always incorporated the
landscape into their defenses as well.
Although they were built to endure and used more stone in their construction than most Japanese buildings, many were destroyed over the years, especially during the Sengoku (Warring States) period (1467–1603). However, many were rebuilt later during the Sengoku period and the following Edo period (1603–1867).
More than one hundred castles remain today, or partially remain, in Japan. It is estimated that there were once five thousand of them. Some castles, such as the ones at Matsue and Kōchi (both built in 1611) exist in their original forms, not having suffered any damage from blockades or other threats. In contrast, the Hiroshima Castle was destroyed in the atomic bombing and was rebuilt in 1958 as a museum.
The National Castle Administration Council generally refers castles by the city they are located in. Hence the castle in the city of Himeji is called Himeji Castle.
In Japanese, the suffix -jo in the name of a castle translates to "castle." For instance, in English it is Himeji Castle, but the Japanese name is Himeji-jo. However, it is natural and appropriate to name castles in the Japanese way. In fact, the official Library of Congress Subject Headings lists Japanese castles with the suffix -jo, opposed to writing out “castle” in English.
Tohoku | Aomori | Hirosaki
Hirosaki Castle is one of the twelve original castles in Japan and is a place famous for its botanical gardens as well as the cherry blossom trees.
Chubu | Nagano | Matsumoto
Matsumoto Castle, also known as Crow Castle, is one of the twelve original castles in Japan.
Chubu | Aichi | Inuyama
Inuyama Castle is one of the original 12 remaining Castles of Japan located in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.
Kansai | Hyogo | Himeji
Himeji Castle is one of the twelve original castles in Japan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the best examples of a preserved castle ground.
Kansai | Shiga | Hikone
Hikone Castle is one of the twelve original castles in Japan and was constructed over a 20 year period.
Kansai | Osaka | Osaka City
Osaka Castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but after being destroyed and rebuilt many times it was converted into a modern museum.
Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue
The Matsue Castle is renowned for being one of the twelve original standing castles in Japan, and for its elegant black exterior.
Chugoku | Okayama | Okayama City
Okayama Castle, also known as “Crow Castle” (Ujo), was originally built in 1597 and gets its nickname for its black exterior.
Shikoku | Ehime | Matsuyama
The symbol of Matsuyama, standing as one of the twelve “original castles” of Japan located in Ehime Prefecture, Japan.
Shikoku | Kagawa | Marugame
One of the twelve “original castles” of Japan surviving from the Edo period located in Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Kyushu | Kumamoto | Kumamoto City
One of the three most famous castles in Japan along with Osaka Castle and Himeji Castle constructed in 1607 located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.