The 7 best castles in Japan

Hirosaki Castle

Japan is a land rife with history and relics of the past. In nearly every city and town, you will find landmarks, museums, and historic sites that display the country’s culturally rich past. In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared more World Heritage Sites in Japan than in any other country.

One of the most interesting and breathtaking elements of Japan’s history is its castles. Unique architecture and fascinating family stories accompany each site. Consider the following list of Japan’s most visited castles.

Accessing each location is easy when using your Japan Rail Pass. Why not include a castle tour on your next Japanese vacation?

Osaka Castle 

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle was originally constructed in the 1580s. At the time, it was the largest castle in Japan. An observation platform overlooks the surrounding city. Not to be missed is the castle’s history museum, which includes three-dimensional pictures, holograms, and other advanced technologies in its exhibits. During the 1500s, the surrounding park was home to the wife of a Japanese ruler. Today, Osaka Castle and its Castle Park are a favorite cherry blossom viewing location in Osaka.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo-ku, Osaka 540-0002, Osaka Prefecture
  • How to get there: Osaka Castle is located less than five kilometers from Osaka Station. If you prefer not to walk this distance, city buses are available.

Himeji Castle

Himeji castle during the cherry blossom season

Also called the Hakuro-jo, or White Heron Castle, for its bright, pristine appearance, Himeji Castle was built early in the 1600s. In 1951, it received the designation of National Treasure, and in 1993, it became the first Japanese castle to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Address: 68 Hommachi, Jimeji 670-0012, Hyogo Prefecture
  • How to get there: Use your JR Pass to access Himeji Station. Use the station’s north exit. Then, walk one kilometer down Otemae-Dori Street.

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle

Located in the heart of Kyoto, this World Heritage Site was originally constructed by a powerful shogun or chief military commander. A unique aspect of this castle is the intentional installation of creaky floorboards to warn residents of hostile trespassers.

  • Hours: 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Address: 541 Nijiji-cho, Horikawa-nishiiru, Kyoto 604-8301, Kyoto Prefecture
  • How to get there: From Kyoto Station, the castle can be reached by bus or subway. Use City Bus numbers 101, 50, or 9, or take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station, transferring to the Tozai Line to reach Nijojo-mae Station.

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle

Matsumoto Castle, in the Nagano prefecture, features impressive exterior architecture, and the gardens are a coveted photo opportunity, especially when the cherry trees blossom in spring.

  • Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, 390-0873, Nagano Prefecture
  • How to Get There: The castle is a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station.

Nagoya Castle

Nagoya castle

Originally of the Edo period but rebuilt after World War II, Nagoya Castle is six stories high, affording panoramic views of its surroundings. This castle features up to 10 individuals in period attire, acting as genuine historical figures from the area’s past. It is also a favorite spot for viewing cherry blossoms in spring.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Address: 1-1 Hommaru, Naka-ku, Nagoya 460-0031, Aichi Prefecture
  • How to Get There: From Nagoya Station, take the Meguru tourist loop bus to the castle.

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle
Kanazawa Castle by @lensonjapan (Flickr)

Built in 1583, Kanazawa Castle was home to powerful rulers, the seat of the second most powerful feudal lords in Japan. The castle’s gate faces the Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s three most beautiful landscape gardens.

  • Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Address: 1-1 Marunouchi, Kanazawa 920-0937, Ishikawa Prefecture
  • How to Get There: From Kanazawa Station, take either the Kanazawa Loop Bus to stops LL9 or RL8, or the Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus to stop S8.

Edo Castle 

Tokyo Imperial Palace
Photo by Miner8.com

The flatland Edo Castle was the home castle of the Tokugawa shoguns during the 17th century until 1867, and is nowadays part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace. While the Palace itself is not open to tours, it can be viewed from its illustrious gardens, which also feature ruins of Edo period castle structures.

Informative signs highlight areas of historical relevance and special plantings, such as trees gifted to the royal family by foreign dignitaries.

The surrounding East Gardens have been open to the public since 1968, and currently, over one million people visit each year. According to one recent visitor, during your peaceful garden stroll, you might just forget that you are in the middle of the Tokyo megalopolis.

  • Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., depending on the season. Closed most Mondays and Fridays.
  • Address: 1-1 Chiyoda, Chiyoda 100-0001, Tokyo Prefecture.
  • Admission fee: Free.
  • How to Get There: From Tokyo Station, walk 7 minutes to the nearby Otemachi Station. Take the Tozai Line to Takebashi Station. From this station, the Imperial Palace is only a nine-minute walk.

When you explore Japan’s historic castles, you might even feel like royalty yourself. Check out our additional travel guides and plan your next trip today!

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