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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 battles.

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.

photo of Castles in Japan

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.

Best Castles in Japan

photo of Matsumae Castle

Hokkaido | Matsumae

Matsumae Castle

Matsumae Castle is only Japanese style castle to have been established on Hokkaido.

photo of Hirosaki Castle

Tohoku | Aomori | Hirosaki

Hirosaki Castle

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.

photo of Tsuruga Castle

Tohoku | Fukushima | Aizu Wakamatsu

Tsuruga Castle

Tsuruga Castle was first built in 1384 and was an important stronghold in the Tohoku Region for the Tokugawa Shogunate.

photo of Matsumoto Castle

Chubu | Nagano | Matsumoto

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle, also known as Crow Castle, is one of the twelve original castles in Japan.

photo of Inuyama Castle

Chubu | Aichi | Inuyama

Inuyama Castle

Inuyama Castle is one of the original 12 remaining Castles of Japan located in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture.

photo of Hachiman Castle

Chubu | Gifu | Gujo Hachiman

Hachiman Castle

Hachiman Castle was built on a hilltop with fantastic views of the valley below and was reconstructed with wood.

photo of Nagoya Castle

Chubu | Aichi | Nagoya

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya Castle is a famous Japanese castle located in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Himeji Castle

Kansai | Hyogo | Himeji

Himeji Castle

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.

photo of Hikone Castle

Kansai | Shiga | Hikone

Hikone Castle

Hikone Castle is one of the twelve original castles in Japan and was constructed over a 20 year period.

photo of Nijo Castle

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu and was the imperial palace for a time before it was donated.

photo of Osaka Castle

Kansai | Osaka | Osaka City

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, but after being destroyed and rebuilt many times it was converted into a modern museum.

photo of Ueno Castle

Kansai | Mie | Iga Ueno

Ueno Castle

Ueno Castle has the highest stone walls in Japan and was originally constructed in the 16th century.

photo of Matsue Castle

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Matsue Castle

The Matsue Castle is renowned for being one of the twelve original standing castles in Japan, and for its elegant black exterior.

photo of Okayama Castle

Chugoku | Okayama | Okayama City

Okayama Castle

Okayama Castle, also known as “Crow Castle” (Ujo), was originally built in 1597 and gets its nickname for its black exterior.

photo of Hiroshima Castle

Chugoku | Hiroshima | Hiroshima City

Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle once stood as an important center of power in Western Japan, with Hiroshima developing and thriving as a castle town.

photo of Iwakuni Castle

Chugoku | Yamaguchi | Iwakuni

Iwakuni Castle

The landmark of Iwakuni City and one of the 100 great castles of Japan.

photo of Matsuyama Castle

Shikoku | Ehime | Matsuyama

Matsuyama Castle

The symbol of Matsuyama, standing as one of the twelve “original castles” of Japan located in Ehime Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Marugame Castle

Shikoku | Kagawa | Marugame

Marugame Castle

One of the twelve “original castles” of Japan surviving from the Edo period located in Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Kochi Castle

Shikoku | Kochi | Kochi City

Kochi Castle

An Important Cultural Property which stands as one of the twelve “original castles” of Japan located in Kochi Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Kumamoto Castle

Kyushu | Kumamoto | Kumamoto City

Kumamoto Castle

One of the three most famous castles in Japan along with Osaka Castle and Himeji Castle constructed in 1607 located in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Kokura Castle

Kyushu | Fukuoka | Kitakyushu

Kokura Castle

An Edo period castle built in 1602 by Hosokawa Tadaoki.

photo of Shimabara Castle

Kyushu | Nagasaki | Shimabara Peninsula

Shimabara Castle

A reconstructed castle with a deep history and association with the Shimabara Rebellion located in current day Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Shuri Castle

Okinawa Islands | Okinawa | Naha

Shuri Castle

A former residence and center of power for the Ryukyu Kingdom also designated as a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.