The 5 most Unique castles in Japan

Japan is the perfect mix of modern and traditional. You’ll be surrounded by buildings and parks when you’ll just happen upon a castle or a shrine or one of the many ancient attractions. We don’t know how – but they make it work! We love  oohing and aahing over Japan’s many modern attractions but we equally love a quiet day at a traditional one. So we decided to talk about one of the ancient attractions about Japan that we absolutely love – Castles! Though these castles are quite different from their western counterparts, they are just as beautiful. But the problem is that many of these castles were torn down and restored while some were converted into museums. There are still a few that remain as they did hundreds of years ago while few others were restored after being destroyed during WWII. We are going to tell you about the 5 Unique castles (according to us) that are a must visit in Japan  –

  1. Nagoya Castle :

IMG_0164We’re a little bit partial to this one since we lived in Nagoya for about a year – but it’s really beautiful –  specially during Hanami. It’s one of the greatest castles in Japan and was built on the orders of Tokugawa Iyeyasu. Many parts of the castle was destroyed by fire during the air raid of WWII. The flatland castle (hirajiro) was reconstructed in 1959 and has 5 levels and 7 stories. It is famous for the 2 golden Shachihoko (a carp with a tiger’s head) which has also become the symbol of Nagoya. The castle is also called Kinshachi-jo  – where ‘kin’ means golden and shachi is the above mentioned mythical creature.

Why Visit ? 

IMG_0168P

  • As we’ve already mentioned above – Hanami is the best time to visit Nagoya castle. The cherry blossom trees with the castle in the background is a truly beautiful site.
  • The Honmaru Palace which was destroyed in the WWII raids is being reconstructed.  A few rooms have been opened to the public. It is a definite treat to look at the paintings on the walls and the gold screens and also the other artifacts that survived the raids.
  • For history buffs  – this castle is said to be the place that Oda Nobunaga grew up in. And even if that’s not true, he was from Nagoya so that counts for something bigsmile
  • Nagoya Castle sometimes holds plays during the weekends about samurai’s and soldiers In Japanese. Sometimes they even interact the audience after the plays. Even if you don’t know Japanese its worth looking at the traditional Armour and costumes.
  1. Shuri Castle :

Shuri Castle - 09

This castle in Naha, Okinawa is quite unique in its appearance as compared to the typical Japanese castles. It is bright red with a huge courtyard.  Though it was built originally somewhere around the 14 century, it was rebuilt in 1992. Its design has been influenced by the Chinese architecture. It has also been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. This castle was the residence of the Ryukyu kings before they were ousted by the Meiji government. It is famous for the Shureimon or the Shurei gate which is the second of the castle gates. This gate has become one of the symbols of Okinawa.

Why Visit?

  • As mentioned above – the really unique architecture. The paintings are vibrant and beautiful.
  • The resting place of the royals – Tamaudun Mausoleum – is worth visiting.
  1. Matsumoto Castle :

Matsumoto Castle

The Matsumoto castle also known as the crow castle ( Karasu-jo) because of the way it has been painted, was originally known as Fukashi castle which was a fort built in 1504. In 1590, the other part of the current castle was added by Matsumoto Norimasa and his son Yasunaga.  During the late Meiji period, the castle started leaning to one side and was renovated in the early 1900’s. The renovation was not done on a large scale as compared to the other castles – and the original castle has survived the Meiji restoration and the WWII air raids. This flatland castle is surrounded by a moat and is pretty unique to other castles of its time.

Why Visit?

  • The paint job was really unique for its time. In winter time, the sight of this black castle against the the snow is truly beautiful.
  1. Nijo Castle :

Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle in Kyoto was originally built in 1626 as the residence of Tokugawa Iyeyasu. But what’s different with this one is that it has undergone its fair share of reconstructions. Its faced a lot of disasters – in 1750, the central keep was struck by lightning and burned to the ground and then in 1788 the inner palace was also destroyed because of the city wide fire. It remained vacant till 1893 when a prince moved in. The castle building, which is also known as Ninomaru palace for its 2 surrounding fortifications, is famous for its Nightingale floors ( uguisubari). These floors make a chirping noise when someone walks on them and might have worked like an alarm system back in the day to prevent any sneak attacks. There are even special doors that the shogun’s body guards could use to protect him.

Why Visit?

  • This palace is said to have some of the best gardens in Kyoto.
  • It’s a must visit right before the cherry blossom season. That’s the time when the plum blossoms bloom for a very short while – which is one of the things that this palace is famous for.
  • This palace really takes you back into the time of ninjas and samurai – what with its secret doors and special flooring. Ever imagined you were a ninja – well here’s your opportunity to be one – sort of!
  1. Himeji Castle :

姫路城の桜 (Cherry Blossoms at Himeji Castle)

This castle in the Hyogo prefecture was built in 1333 and has remained intact to this day because of which it is said to be the finest example of  surviving castle architecture in Japan. Its is currently undergoing some renovation and is expected to be open to the public by the end of March 2015. Like the Matsumoto castle,  this castle has also survived WWII raids and the Meiji restoration and many other natural disasters. It is also known as Shrasagi-jo or white heron castle because of its brilliant white exterior which is said to resemble a bird taking flight. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most visited castles in Japan.

Why Visit?

  •  If you love ghost stories – you have to visit Okiku’s well inside the castle grounds. Legend has it that Okiku, a female servant, was falsely accused of loosing some dishes which were family treasures. Because of this she was killed and thrown into the well. It is believed that she haunts the well.
  • It has many feudal defense mechanisms to protect the castle from enemy attack – loopholes to fire arrows through without being detected, mazes to confuse an approaching enemy forces etc.

Your Thoughts…

Do you like exploring castles in Japan? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below smile

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