Castles Overview

Japan's Castles/Castle Ruins

A castle is a building or facility built solidly of earth or stone to protect against would-be attackers.
It is primarily a pre-modern type of military defense facility, a place used as a base of operations, and also a storehouse for food, weapons, and money, as well as a residence for officials and commanders, and a base for politics and information.

Castle ruins, on the other hand, are where a castle used to be located.
In Japan, there are some examples of castles that have been designated as cultural assets, and regardless of whether they are extant, restored, reconstructed, or simulated, the term "castle ruins" is used, even if the castle has a castle tower.

The History of Japan's Castles

The history of Japanese castles dates back to ancient times, and by the end of the Edo period, castles were mainly built on flat land, hills, and mountains.
The engineering and construction techniques used to build castles differed from period to period, and the appearance of each castle was very different.

Castles as we know them today were built from the Middle Ages to the Meiji period (1868-1912) and were used by samurai and castle owners to defend themselves against rival groups in times of domestic conflict.
As time went on and the weapons used changed, so too did the structure of castles, and by the time firearms were introduced, the interior of castles used "taiko walls" filled with stones and rubble to withstand bombardment, roof tiles (mainly used in temples), and stone walls.

In the early Warring States Period, in order to gain an advantage in battle, different factions created curved rice field-like structures on the hills and mountains, built simple huts and watchtowers with temporary gates, built moats on flat land, built earthen walls on the inner sides of moats, built temporary walls with turrets on top of them, and also built gates at the entrances and exits of cities.

By the middle of the Warring States period, castles were increasingly being built on flat land or on hillsides close to plains for convenience, and were used not only as a defense facility but also as residential areas.

This led to the construction of castles, where the pursuit of convenience and the permanence of buildings were emphasized, and the construction of towers, including the "tenshu," (a type of keep) which was unique to Japanese castles, emerged, incorporating many features of temples and residential buildings.

Castle towns, one of Japan's urban forms of castles, began popping up one after another, and the exterior of castles became extravagant, as if to show the authority of the lord of the castle to everyone around them, and this is the form of the castle that still exists today.

Castles on the Amami Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture and in Japan's Okinawa region are called "Gusuku" or "Suk," which is a different name from other castles, and were the residence of kings and chieftains during the Sanzan period.

Later, in order to prevent rebellion and conflict caused by the many daimyos having castles, the Edo shogunate issued the "One Domain One Castle Decree" (一国一城令) on August 7, 1615, ordering the destruction of all castles excluding those were feudal lords lived, and more than 400 castles were destroyed in just a few days.

A List of Japan's Castles/Castle Ruins

Here are some of the castles and castle ruins that still exist throughout Japan.

・Maruoka Castle (丸岡城)
This Japanese castle is located in Kasumi, Maruoka, Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture, and only the tenshu remains today.
It is presumed to have been built in the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1600), and the stone walls and the tenshu are still standing. The tenshu has been designated an important cultural asset.
The castle is also known as Kasumigajo.

・Inuyama Castle (犬山城)
This Japanese castle is located in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture, on the border between Owari and Mino Provinces.
It is one of the 12 existing castles built in the Edo period (1603-1868), of which the tenshu is still standing.
The tenshu has been designated a national treasure and the ruins of Inuyama Castle have been designated a national historic site.

・Matsumoto Castle (松本城)
This Japanese castle is located in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.
Before Matsumoto Castle, it was called Fukashi Castle or, in one theory, Karasu-jo (Crow Castle) by the citizens.
The castle was built between Azuchi-Momoyama and the early Edo period, and the remaining tenshu has been designated a national treasure, and the ruins of the castle have been designated a national historic site.
As the only existing jet-black castle tower, it is incredibly famous and always ranks high in the popularity rankings of castles and castle ruins.

・Hikone Castle (彦根城)
Hikone Castle is located in Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture.
In the early Edo period, the castle was called "Konki Castle" because it was built on a mountain called "Mt. Konki."
The tenshu and other parts of the castle have been designated a special historical and it is also a special area in Lake Biwa National Park.

・Matsue Castle (松江城)
Matsue Castle was built in the Edo period in Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture.
The existing tenshu is a national treasure and the ruins of the castle have been designated a national historic site.
The tenshu stands on Mt. Kameda, 29 meters above sea level, and is famous for its beautiful view of Lake Anadori.
It is also known as "Chidori Castle."

・Takahashi Castle (Bitchu Matsuyama Castle) 高梁城 (備中松山城)
This Japanese mountain castle is located in the Yamashita area of Takahashi City in Okayama Prefecture.
To avoid confusion with the Matsuyama Castles located in other parts of Japan, it is commonly referred to as Bitchu Matsuyama Castle.
It is one of the 100 most famous castles in Japan and one of the 12 remaining castles with a tenshu and of those 12 it is the only one built atop a mountain.

・Marugame Castle (丸亀城)
This Japanese castle is located in Marugame City, Kagawa Prefecture.
The entire area of the castle ruins have been designated a national historic site and is now Kameyama Park.
In addition to the tenshu, there are Ote Ichino Gate, Ote Nino Gate, the gate used by the daimyo, the guardhouse, and more, several of which have been designated important cultural properties.
In terms of height, it is the tallest castle in Japan.

・Himeji Castle (姫路城)
Himeji Castle is located in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture.
The tenshu, which was built in the early Edo period, still has major buildings such as turrets, and most of them have been designated national treasures and important cultural properties.
The inner part of the central moat, including the inner citadel, has been designated a special national historic site as the "Ruins of Himeji Castle."
It has also been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, selected as one of the Top 100 Castles of Japan, and is so famous that it ranks first or second on the list of most popular Japanese castles to visit.
It is also known as Shirasagi Castle.

・Matsuyama Castle (松山城)
Matsuyama Castle is a castle located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture.
It is sometimes called "Iyo Matsuyama Castle" to distinguish it from the other Matsuyama castles around Japan, but in general, if you hear Matsuyama Castle this is usually the one being referred to.
The main part of the castle ruins has been transformed into a park, and 21 of the existing buildings, including the large tenshu, one of the 12 remaining tenshu in Japan, have been designated important cultural properties and the remains of the castle has been designated a national historic site.
It is also known as Katsuyama Castle.

・Kochi Castle (高知城)
Kochi Castle is located in Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture.
The castle's tenshu, honmaru-goten (inner-most palace), and Ote-mon gate, built in the Edo period, are still standing today.
Kochi Castle is the only castle with both the castle tower and the honmaru-goten still standing.
The ruins of the castle have been designated a national historic site and has been selected as one of the Top 100 Castles of Japan.
It is also known as "Taka Castle."

・Uwajima Castle (宇和島城)
Uwajima Castle is located in Marunouchi, Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture.
The pentagonal moat that surrounded the castle was refilled and most of the buildings were removed, and the castle walls were converted to a park.
The tenshu, gate, and the stone walls are still standing and have been designated important cultural assets by the city.

・Hirosaki Castle (弘前城)
This Japanese castle is located in Shimoshirogane, Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture.
The castle tower and turrets built in the Edo period have been designated Important Cultural Properties of Japan, and the ruins of the castle have been designated a national historic site.
In the Edo period, the Tsugaru clan lived here and the Hirosaki clan's government office was located here.
It is also known as "Takaoka Castle," not to be confused with the former castle in Takaoka, Toyama.

Japan's Top 3 ~ Castles

Here, we'll introduce the top 3 castles throughout Japan in various categories.
(Please note that these castles vary by period and definition, so it may already be different as you read this page. Thank you for your understanding.)

①Japan's Three Famous Castles
It's important to understand that while these castles are labeled as "top 3's," Edo Castle in Kanto, which was the residence of the Tokugawa family, stands out among all other castles, and as such is not counted in these rankings.
That being said, there is no official list of top three castles in Japan yet, generally because it is a hotly debated topic.
The following are the four castles that are currently nominated.

・Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto Prefecure (熊本城)
・Nagoya Castle, Aichi Prefecture (名古屋城)
・Himeji Castle, Hyogo Prefecture (姫路城)
・Osaka Castle, Osaka (大阪城)

②Japan's Three Great Mountain Castles
The following castles are built on steep mountains and the following three are considered Japan's Three Great Mountain Castles.

・Takahashi Castle (Bitchu Matsuyama Castle) 高梁城 (備中松山城) (Okayama Prefecture)
・Iwamura Castle (岩村城) (Gifu Prefecture)
・Takatori Castle (高取城) (Nara Prefecture)

Iwamura Castle is the tallest mountain castle in Japan at 721 meters above sea level. Comparatively, Takatori Castle stands at 390 meters above sea level, and Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is the only one with a tenshu still remaining.

③Japan's Three Great Flatland Mountain Castles
The following three castles are Japan's most famous castles built on a hill in the middle of a plain.

・Tsuyama Castle (津山城) (Okayama Prefecture)
・Matsuyama Castle (松山城) (Ehime Prefecture)
・Himeji Castle (姫路城) (Hyogo Prefecture)

Of the three, Matsuyama Castle and Himeji Castle are the only two that still have a remaining tenshu.

④Japan's Top Three Castles on Water
This refers to those with seawater flowing into the moat from their location near the sea.
The top 3 is as follows:

・Takamatsu Castle (高松城) (Kagawa Prefecture)
・Imabari Castle (今治城) (Ehime Prefecture)
・Nakatsu Castle (中津城) (Oita Prefecture)
⑤Japan's Top Three Lake Castles
These castles were built from the Warring States period to the Edo period, when the defensive strength of castles was paramount, using lakes as dugouts for transporting goods and people across the lake.

・Matsue Castle (松江城) (Shimane Prefecture)
・Zeze Castle (膳所城) (Shiga Prefecture)
・Takashima Castle (高島城) (Nagano Prefecture)

Ranking of the Most Popular Castles Based on a Survey of 10,000 People

Here, we'll show you the top 10 most popular castles, including simplified information, which shown on a televised survey of 10,000 people on TV.
Reference: https://shirobito.jp/article/733  

No. 1 Himeji Castle (Hyogo Prefecture)
This castle is one of the 12 castles with an existing tenshu and 74 of its buildings have been designated national important cultural properties.

No. 2 Osaka Castle (Osaka)
This castle is one of the 100 most famous castles in Japan, famous for its huge grounds (22 times the size of the Tokyo Dome) and the tallest stone walls in Japan.

No. 3 Matsumoto Castle (Nagano Prefecture)
This castle is one of the 12 castles with an existing tenshu and was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to monitor the movements of Tokugawa Ieyasu after the unification of the country.

No. 4 Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto Prefecture)
One of the 100 most famous castles in Japan, the castle is under reconstruction after being severely damaged by the Kumamoto earthquake.

No. 5 Shuri Castle (Okinawa)
Shuri Castle is a World Heritage Site located in Okinawa.
It is famous for being the residence of King Sho Hashi, who is believed to have unified Ryukyu.

No. 6 Nagoya Castle (Aichi Prefecture)
One of Japan's 100 most famous castles, famous for the honmaru goten which was restored to it's original 400-year old form in 2018 at a total cost of 13 billion yen.

No. 7 Takeda Castle (Hyogo Prefecture)
From an earthen castle to one with stone-walls, this castle was abandoned in the Edo period and fell into decay.
The castle is famous for its fantastic scenery, and is called the "Castle in the Sky."

No. 8 Goryokaku (Hokkaido)
Goryokaku was built as a northern stronghold to protect Japan from foreign countries.
It was modeled on a castle city using European military technology, which was considered the most advanced at the time.

No. 9 Nijo Castle (Kyoto)
The castle is also a World Cultural Heritage Site and the site where the restoration of imperial rule took place.
It is also one of the 100 most famous castles in Japan, famous for its outer-citadel palace, a national treasure.

No. 10 Hirosaki Castle (Aomori Prefecture)
Also home to one of the 12 surviving tenshu, this castle is one of the most famous cherry blossom sites in Japan.
It is unique in that the view from the front and back is different.

Experience the History of Japan Through Castles!

The history of Japan remains strong in the castles that dot the country, and in the ruins of castles that have been razed leaving only a few structures remaining.
Nowadays, castle tours for sightseeing purposes and plastic models of castles as they existed in the past are very popular among enthusiasts.

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