Top 3 Castles in Japan: Matsumoto, Kumamoto, Himeji

Castles in Japan may not fit the western concept of an ancient defensive citadel, but nonetheless they still are truly great works of art. Appearing in the country during the 15th century when Japan was dissolving into warring states, today there are only around 100 left, with about a dozen surviving from the feudal era. These structures of wood and stone offer visitors a rare glimpse of Japan’s feudal past and is definitely well worth a visit for any travelers. Here are 3 of the best castles I’ve visited in Japan

Matsumoto Castle 松本城

Must-see Matsumoto castle is Japan’s oldest wooden castle and one of four castles in the country to be designated National Treasures. The striking black-and-white three-turreted keep was completed around 1595, earning the castle it’s nickname Karasu-jō (Crow Castle). You can climb steep steps all the way to the top, with impressive views and historical displays on each level

Admission and Opening Times

Regular admission to the castle is ¥610 for adults and ¥310 for children. The castle is open 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM daily (closed 29 Dec – 3 Jan). Tickets include admission to the Matsumoto City Museum which houses many artifacts documenting the city’s history

Kumamoto Castle 熊本城

Dominating the skyline, Kumamoto’s robust castle is one of Japan’s best, built in 1601–07. Unfortunately, the castle and its buildings is currently closed indefinitely due to earthquake damage, but is still worth seeing from the street

An interesting note is that Kumamoto-jō is best known as the scene of the story of the last samurai (Based on Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, made famous by the Hollywood movie starring Tom Cruise),  where rebels against the new imperial order held out for a 50-day siege here before the castle was burned

Admission and Opening Times

Kumamoto Castle suffered serious damage in the earthquakes of April 2016, when entire structures collapsed. The inner grounds will be closed to the public indefinitely, although it is still possible to look at the massive fortress from the outside. The main keep is scheduled to be covered up for renovation works from May 2017 to January 2019

Himeji Castle 姬路城

Himeji castle

Japan’s most magnificent castle, Himeji-jō, is a Unesco World Heritage Site, national treasure and one of only a handful of original castles remaining. It’s nicknamed Shirasagi-jō (‘White Egret Castle’) for its lustrous white plaster exterior and stately form on a hill rising from the plain. There’s a five-storey main keep and three smaller keeps, all surrounded by moats and defensive walls punctuated with rectangular, circular and triangular openings for firing guns and shooting arrows

Although there have been fortifications in Himeji since 1333, today’s castle was built in 1580 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and enlarged some 30 years later. More recently, the castle reopened in 2014 after a five-year renovation. Please note that it takes about 1½ hours to follow the arrow-marked route around the castle. Plan your visit accordingly

Admission and Opening Times

Regular admission to Himeji castle is ¥1000 for adults and ¥300 for students. The castle is open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily (last entry 16:00, closed 29/30 Dec). A combined ticket for Himeji Castle and nearby Kokoen Garden is available at ¥1040 for adults and ¥360 for students

* Traveled 2016

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