Today, a theme that I really like, the twelve Japanese castles that have kept the original building materials: you probably know a few, although they’re an unusual destination for tourists, that prefer castles in the most popular cities, like the beautiful Osaka Castle.
I had developed this theme during the last year of high school because I wanted to create original covers for every subject, which also needed to be combined in the essay. They did not serve anything at all, but somehow they gave me a lead. I have to say that this was a good idea, since no one objected, indeed, some professors were very interested.
Let’s begin with the castles in the island of Honshu, from North to South.
Hirosaki Castle, Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture
Hirosaki Castle is one of the most famous among tourists. Built in 1611, it’s the castle located to the very North. You may have seen photographs of the park surrounding the castle, especially in the spring, when cherry blossoms bloom in choreographic pink waterfalls. During the Golden Week the Sakura Matsuri is held, with dedicated activities: the site of the botanical garden will tell you which varieties are present and when they are about to blossom.
Although Sakura Matsuri is the best-known and advertised, Hirosaki Castle hosts several festivals throughout the year, so if you have planned a trip nearby in another season, check if there’s a festival on those days. For example, the largest fireworks show in the prefecture in summer, or you can admire the soft lights at the festival of lanterns in winter.
Official sites talk about a restoring that began in 2003, which should last for ten years.
Check out the tourism sites for information on dates and reconstruction.
Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture
Built in 1504, Matsumoto Castle is the oldest still standing.
Here you can also admire the cherry blossoms in spring, with the peculiarity that, if you go to the castle park during the evening, you will see the cherry trees lit, and maybe sip a nice cup of tea. Relaxing, right?
photo credit: かがみ～ 松本城 Matsumoto Castle via photopin (license)
During the last weekend of July, Matsumoto hosts the Taiko drum festival: groups of musicians from every part of Japan gather to play in the scenic location offered by the castle, starting from late afternoon, when light begins to change shades and evening is approaching. If you are interested in traditional Japanese music, Matsumoto has the fame of city of music, hosting several festivals throughout the year. Check out the tourist sites for more information.
One last curiosity: for its particular color, the castle is also called Karasu-jo, or the castle of the crow.
Inuyama Castle, Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture
Built in 1537, Inuyama Castle has seen several landowners, until, at the end of the eighteenth century, and after the earthquake, the then-owner family was able to carry out a complete restoration. Even today, Inuyama castle is a private property, the only one among the castles.
Particularly recommended is the visit up to the top floor, where you can admire stunning views of the river below and surrounding towns and mountains.
In the spring, with cherry blossoms and therefore only for a limited time, you can climb on boats, crossing the river in its path around the castle and admiring the buds.
Maruoka Castle, Maruoka, Fukui Prefecture
Another castle passed through several owners, Maruoka castle was built in 1576. Although it was damaged by an earthquake in the 1950s, it was decided to rebuild it using, for the most part, the original materials.
Even here, in the spring, there are festivals for cherry celebrations, with the particularity of hanging lanterns to the branches of the trees.
The town of Maruoka is also known as the Town of Fog, so the castle is called Kasumiga-jo, which is the word for fog, which should appear every time an enemy approaches.
Maruoka Castle is one of the many examples of hitobashira (人 柱), along with the Matsue Castle.
Hikone Castle, Hikone, Shiga Prefecture
Built in 1622 using materials from Sawayama Castle, in Hikone, and surrounded by cherry trees, Hikone Castle offers magnificent views of the city and Lake Biwa.
photo credit: jpellgen Hikone-jo 彦根城 via photopin (license)
However, cherries aren’t the only attraction. Inside the castle area, there is a traditional Japanese garden, the Genkyuuen (玄 宮 園). There is a small building near the pond, where you can relax while sipping a nice cup of tea.
If you like mascots, don’t miss Hikonyan (ひ こ に ゃ ん), created for the fiftieth anniversary of the castle, based on a story about one of the lord of the castle.
Himeji Castle, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture
Himeji Castle is perhaps the most well known. Originally known as Himeyama Castle, it had a tormented history: it was restored twice, first before and then after the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), during the Meiji period, after its occupants were expelled, was auctioned, during the Second World War was bombed, fortunately without substantial damage, and later restored two more times, post-war and more recently.
photo credit: reggiepen Himeji Castle via photopin (license)
For its grace and architectural elegance and color, Himeji Castle is also known as Shirasagi-jo, or the White Heron Castle.
Matsuyama Castle (Bitchuu), Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture
Also known as Takahashi Castle, not to be confused with the Matsuyama Castle in Ehime Prefecture, is the castle built in the highest area above sea level; for the same reason, it is also the lowest building.
Although the original castle dates back to 1331, most of the buildings date back to 1683. Matsuyama Castle, like the others, saw a succession of owners until the Meiji period. Subsequently, it was partially destroyed and restored in the 1930s.
If you decide to visit it, it is advisable to bring comfortable shoes and everything you need for a real hike, given the location of the castle.
Matsue Castle, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture
Built in 1611, the Matsue Castle stands out for being on a number of charts: it is the second largest castle, the third tallest and the sixth by elevation from the sea level. For more than two hundred years, it has also been owned by the same family.
Between March and April, the Oshiro Matsuri is held, a festival dedicated to the castle, with several attractions and activities: from cherry blossoms, to concerts, to tea ceremony with tasting of typical Japanese desserts.
Matsue Castle is also known as Chidori-jo, or the castle of the plover, and black castle, for its particular colors.