Castles of Japan: Once common in feudal towns, many castles were dismantled during the Tokugawa period after the declaration of “one castle per province” policy designed to limit the power of regional lords. More castles were dismantled during the Meiji restoration, as the new Japanese government, pressed for cash, sold timber and the iron fittings from the castle to raise funds. During World War II, more castles were destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Japanese cities. After the war, to develop the tourism industry locally, cities rebuilt castles out of concrete. A few of the castles have retained or restored their original wood construction: Matsumoto, Himeji, Hikone, Matsue, and Maruoka. Castle ruins in remote areas such as Taketa-Ota, Asago and Tsuwano have an aura of ancient times — unlike reconstructred castles, less crowded, with few or no shops and restaurants surrounding them.
Castles of Kansai (Region around Kyōto and Nara)
Azuchi Castle Ruins, Shiga. Summer 2012
Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi castle wascompleted in 1579. The castle was lavishly decorated, with a gold-leafed tea room and its standing screens, sliding doors, walls, and ceilings painted by Kanō Eitoku (1543-1590), one of the foremost artists of the period. It was also a fortress, with thick stonewalls and a eight-story tower from which to keep watch over the surrounding countryside. In 1582, in Kyotō, Nobunaga died in an attack on Honno temple, and Azuchi castle was looted and burned down. Today, only its stone stairways and walls remain.
A nearby museum houses a replica of the 7th and 8th floors:
Hikone Castle, Shiga. Spring 2008
Hikone Castle "traces its origin to 1603 when Ii Naokatsu, son of the former daimyo Ii Naomasa, ordered its construction. The keep was originally built in 1575, as part of Otsu Castle, and was moved to Hikone by the Ii clan. Other parts of the castle were moved from Nagahama Castle” (Wikipedia). From the keep, the visitor can take in a view of Hikone town and Lake Biwa to the west. The castle also overlooks Genkyu-en, a garden built in 1677 by Naooki Ii, the fourth lord of Hikone.
Takeda Castle Ruins, Asago, Hyōgo. Fall 2006
Takeda Castle was built between 1441 and 1443 by Otagaki Mitsukage (powerful retainer of Sozen) under the order of Yamana Sozen, the lord of the region. It was abandoned in 1600 after the defeat and suicide of its lord.
Himeji Castle, Hyōgo. Fall 2006
Himeji Castle, built in 1610 by lord Ikeda Terumasa, is the most impressive of the restored castles. It is also called Shirasagi-jo, White Heron Castle, because of its white walls. The castle was not damaged in WW II and has kept its original form for over 400 years” ("Guide to Japanese Castles").
Momoyama Castle, Ōsaka. Spring 2004
Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who succeeded in his master Oda Nobunaga’s undertaking to unify the country, began building Osaka Castle in 1583. The main tower was completed in 1585. The castle was captured by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1616, and renovated by Ieyasu's son, Hidetada, in the 1620s, with a new tower. The tower was destroyed by fire caused by lightning in 1665 and rebuilt; then destroyed by fire in 1868 during the civil conflicts that resulted in the Meiji restoration. The main tower was restored in 1928. It was damaged again by air raids in 1945, rebuilt 1953, then modernized in 1997.
Ueno Castle, Mie. Spring 2014
Castles of Chūbu (Central Honshu)
Gifu Castle. Spring 2008
Sitting atop Mt. Kinka, with a view of the Nagara river running east to west through Gifu City, Gifu Castle was originally built by Oda Nobunaga (1534 – 1582) and used as his headquarters before he moved to Azuchi, nearer the ancient capital of Kyoto. Gifu Castle was taken by the forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu, then abandoned. It was damaged during the World War II bombing of Gifu and rebuilt after the war.
Inuyama Castle, Aichi. Spring 2014
The castle, on a bluff above the Kiso River, in late afternoon rain.
Gujo-Hachiman Castle, Gifu. Summer 2015
Kanazawa Castle, Ishikawa. Winter 2008.
Matsumoto Castle, Nagano. Spring 2008
Matsumoto Castle is "an original construction, and one of the four castles in Japan to be listed as national treasures — the others being Himeji, Inuyama, and Hikone. Formerly called Fukashi Castle, it was a branch castle of the Ogasawara family during the long period of the warring states" ("Destinations...Japan Travel Guide, The Yamasa Institute"). It’s nicknamed Karasu or Crow Castle because of its black walls and roofs.
Maruoka Castle, Fukui. Winter 2008
Just off Route 8 near Fukui, Maruoka Castle was contructed “in 1576 by order of Shibata Katsutoyo. The castle is also known as Kasumi-ga-jo (Mist Castle) due to the legend that whenever an enemy approaches the castle, a thick mist appears and hides it. The keep was leveled by the Fukui earthquake of 1948, but was rebuilt using 80% of the original materials in 1955. The grounds are used by the local populace for festivals such as hanami (flower-viewing) and traditional parades” (Wikipedia).
Odawara Castle, Shizuoka. Spring 2008
“Odawara Castle was transformed into a large-scale structure in 1495 by the daimyo Hojo Soun. It was surrendered to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who ruled Japan in the latter half of the 16th century. It was demolished in the 19th century when political power changed from the Edo shogunate to the Meiji government. It was reconstructed in 1960. The moat and stone wall remain as they were in olden times” (Attractions/Tourist Facilities of Japan/Castles, Japan National Tourism Organization).
Castle of Tōhoku (Northern Honshu)
Hirosaki Castle, Aomori, Fall 2009
Taga Castle Ruins, Miyagi, Summer 2005
The site of Taga Castle today is a park with remains of the castle being excavated; there is an excellent archaeological and historical museum nearby. The castle, actually an administrative outpost, was built during the Nara period (710 to 794) to bring the northern frontier people called Ezo under the governance of the Imperial court.
Castles of Chūgoku (Western Honshu)
Tsuwano Castle Ruins, Yamaguchi. Summer 2009
Tsuwano Castle was originally built in 1325. The Kamei clan ruled the Tsuwano fiefdom from it from the 17th through mid 19th-centuries, when it was abandoned. A lift takes visitors from the road up to a ridge trail to the site. The hilltop ruins offer a view of Tsuwano town below.
Tsuyama Castle Ruins, Okayama. Spring 2011
Tsuyama Castle was once one of the most magnificent castle in all of Japan, rivaling even more Himeji Castle. It was built by Tadamasa Mori whom Tokugawa Ieyasu gave control of Mimasaka province on a hill overlooking Tsuyama city. Only a small turret remains today, but the castle is surrounded by more the 5000 sakura and is considered one of the best hanami (flower-viewing) sites in Chugoku (western Honshu).
Matsue Castle, Shimane. Fall 2006 and Summer 2009
“Nicknamed the ‘black castle’ or ‘plover castle,’ Matsue Castle is one of the few remaining medieval castles in Japan in their original wooden form, and not a modern reconstruction in concrete. The construction of Matsue Castle began in 1607 and finished in 1611, under the local lord Horio Yoshiharu. In 1638, the fief and castle passed to the Matsudaira clan, a junior branch of the ruling Tokugawa clan” (Wikipedia).
Castles of Shikoku
Matsuyama Castle, Ehime, Shikoku. Fall 2006
Matsuyama Castle "was originally built by Kato Yoshiaki in 1603. The current keep was built between 1820 and 1854. The castle survived the Meiji restoration, but parts of it were destroyed by bombing from American forces during World War II. Since 1966, the city of Matsuyama has been working to restore the castle" (Wikipedia). We walked up the steep hill at dawn.
Marugame Castle, Sakaide, Kagawa, Shikoku. Spring 2011
A small hilltop castle, Marugame is noted for its stone walls and its view of Mt. Iino (Sanuki Fuji). The current castle was built in 1641 by Yamazaki Ieharu, who was granted the small fiefdom of Western Sanuki. A thousand sakura trees make the castle a popular hanami spot during cherry blossom season.
Castles of Kyūshu
Taketa-Oka Castle Ruins, Taketa, Oita. Spring 2011
The most extensive castle ruins we visited was in the town of Taketa in southwestern Oita prefecture. Built in 1185 on a elongated hilltop, with steep cliffs descending into a ravine, Oka castle is one of the most dramatic sites in Japan. On the way down a winding trail goes past a shallow cave with a pool of water fed by a fresh water spring. The castle has 1500 sakura planted around it, one of them was barely in bloom when we got there in the third week of March.
Kumamoto Castle, Kyushu. Fall 2006
The original Kumamoto castle took seven years to construct and was completed in 1607 by Kiyomasa Kato. The main donjon and connected smaller donjon among other buildings were burned to the ground during the Satsuma rebellion of 1877, when Saigo Takamori rose up against the Meiji government. Most of the present castle buildings, including the large and small castle towers, are reconstructions, dating from the 1960s.