Throughout Japan’s Warring States Period (1467â€“1603), many of the country’s magnificent feudal fortresses were destroyed. Numerous others that survived into the 20th century were strategically bombed by World War II air raids.
Thankfully however, four castles remain remarkably intact and have been declared National Treasures of Japan.
Matsumoto Castle – The “Crow Castle”, replete with a brilliant ebony exterior, is one of the most venerable landmarks in Japan. The second floor of this Nagano Prefecture point of interest contains a truly exception weapons museum.
The narrow windows of Matsumoto Castle allow visitors to admire fabulous views of the Japanese Alps and Matsumoto City. The immediate scenery is idyllic as well, as koi fish and swans swim in the moat below.
Local city government bought the castle after the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th century and still own, maintain and cherish the landmark. Summer time in Matsumoto Castle brings a Taiko (drum) Festival as well as a Takigi Noh, a classical musical drama performed by torch light. Winter visitors enjoy the snow as it falls on the castle roofs.
Matsumoto Castle is a short walk from JR Matsumoto train station. Superb Nagano hotels are less than two hours away.
Hikone Castle – Built on the shores of Biwako in Shiga Prefecture, the country’s largest lake, Hikone Castle still has its feudal-area wooden stables,. The castle is also known for the Genkyu Gardens, a strolling garden designed around an ornamental pond. A good time to visit Hikone Castle is during the Castle Festival Parade on Culture Day (November 3), where a drum and fife band, samurai-costumed kids and an historical procession walk along the main streets of Hikone City.
To get to Hikone Castle, takea 15-minute walk along the main road from Hikone station.
Inuyama Castle – Called Hakutei (White Emperor) Castle for its regal splendor, the donjon, or central tower of Inuyama Castle is Japan’s oldest, having never been destroyed since its construction over 500 years ago. The landmark is the only privately-owned castle in the country and sits on a small hill looking over the Kiso River in Aichi Prefecture. The Naruse family continues to maintain this heritage site, but allows access to the general public.
Inuyama Castle is easily accessible from Inuyama Station.
Himeji Castle â€“ located in Himeji within Hyogo Prefecture, this castle was the first landmark in Japan inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992.
The â€œWhite Heron Castleâ€ contains thick brick walls and mazes of halls and passageways meant to repel enemy intruders. Himeji Castle is undergoing major renovations from 2010 to 2014, so visitors will have to wait a few years to explore the interior once more.
To get to Himeji Castle, simply take a short walk from JR Himeji Station.
The best time to visit any of these castles is in the springtime, during hanami (cherry blossom season). The castle grounds are generally surrounded by hundreds of cherry trees that attract domestic tourists as well as international travelers.