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12 Exceptional and omo-shiro Japanese castles

12 Exceptional and omo-shiro Japanese castles

Japan is filled with spectacular castles (お城 oshiro), which are testaments to the nation’s extraordinarily rich history spanning many centuries. When you think of castles, perhaps the first image that comes to mind is a Disney-like European castle with tall stone towers. But did you know that in Japan, main castle structures have traditionally been made of wood?

 

For this reason, over the years many Japanese castles were burned to the ground during the Meiji Era (1868­–1912) with the abolition of the feudal domain system, or destroyed by bombs during World War II, so many of the castles we see today are post–World War II reconstructions. Some reconstructions use reinforced concrete, while others use traditional construction techniques that remain faithful to the Edo Period.

 

Japan’s 12 remaining original castles. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh (top row), photoAC (middle and bottom rows)

 

As a result, Japan only has 12 remaining original castles (現存天守 genson tenshu): castles which have a main keep (天守 tenshu) that was built in the Edo Period (1603–1868) or earlier, that remains intact since its original construction—i.e., it was not rebuilt or reconstructed.

 

While original castles are brilliant and have stood the test of time, we can’t dismiss the importance of reconstructed castles as well, for they provide significant historical reminders and insight into a region’s past, and have become symbols of their respective cities. 

 

Map of this article’s 12 castles. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

In this article, we will explore 12 of Japan’s exceptional castles (both original and reconstructions) that are worth a visit on your next trip. I’ve visited 10 on this list, and have included at least one castle in every major region of Japan (except Hokkaido, but hey you go there for nature, not castles right?), so hopefully there’s a castle near the area you’re interested in. All of these castles are part of Japan's Top 100 Castles (日本100名城 Nihon Hyaku Meijō)—a list of 100 castles curated by the Japan Castle Foundation—which were chosen for their significance in the history and culture of their regions. Ready to discover some castles? Here we go!

 

But first, fun fact: although not a holiday, Japan has a day dedicated to castles—April 6th is Castle Day (城の日 Shiro-no-hi). Four can be pronounced as “shi” and six can be pronounced as “ro”, and together, “shiro” means “castle” in Japanese!

 

1) My personal favourite: Matsumoto Castle

National Treasure, Original castle keep

Matsumoto Castle in early spring. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

The first castle on this list is the stunning black Matsumoto Castle (松本城 Matsumoto-) in Nagano Prefecture, my personal favourite castle in Japan. Built atop a stone foundation and surrounded by a moat, this stunning castle houses the oldest five-tiered donjon in Japan, and was built during the Bunroku Era (1592–1596). From the outside, the castle looks like it has five floors, but there actually six, as there is a “hidden” floor. 

 

Matsumoto Castle is the only castle in Japan where all walls of main donjon are coated with black lacquer, a feature which has earned it the nickname of “Crow Castle” (烏城 karasu-jо̄). It is said that the shape of the black castle resembles a crow spreading its wings.

 

Various views of Matsumoto Castle in different seasons. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Of Japan’s 12 remaining original castles, only five have the privilege of being National Treasures (国宝 kokuhо̄), and Matsumoto Castle is one of these five castles. Five structures in Matsumoto Castle are designated as National Treasures, including the main donjon, the secondary donjon, and three turrets (櫓 yagura); all of which are original structures from the late 1500s.

 

Going inside the castle, you can see its wooden interiors, and you will be surprised at how steep the steps are! Climb up to the top of the sixth floor and be rewarded with a view of Matsumoto City below. On clear days, especially in autumn and winter, you can see the Northern Alps in the distance, which make a stunning backdrop.

 

Matsumoto Castle in four seasons. (Image credit: 松本市)

 

Matsumoto Castle is only a 15-minute walk from Matsumoto Station, so I always make it a point to visit whenever I am around. Although the castle is beautiful all year round, I would love to visit after a snowy day, as the sight of the castle blanketed in snow, reflected in the waters of the moat seems like it would be amazing. Matsumoto does not experience a lot of snowfall, so you’d have to be really lucky as this view can only be seen for less than 10 days a year!

 

Matsumoto Castle (松本城)
Address: 4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto-shi, Nagano 390-0873
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Matsumoto Station (松本駅)
Opening hours: 8:30–17:00
Admission fee: ¥700/adult

 

2) Japan’s favourite: Himeji Castle

UNESCO World Heritage Site, National Treasure, Original castle keep

Himeji Castle. (Image credit: Hyogo Tourism Bureau)

 

The second castle on this list is a crowd favourite: the lovely white Himeji Castle (姫路城 Himeji-) in Hyogo Prefecture. If Matsumoto Castle dazzles visitors with its black-lacquered exterior, then Himeji Castle captivates visitors with its beautiful white façade, which is gentle yet imposing. Many guidebooks will tell you that if you can only visit one castle in Japan, their recommendation would be Himeji Castle.

 

Completed in 1609, this gigantic castle complex is made up of over 80 structures, many of which have been preserved astonishingly well. Serving as a prime example of classic Japanese castle architecture, 74 of the castle’s structures are designated as Important Cultural Properties (重要文化財 jūyо̄ bunkazai), while eight structures are designated as National Treasures. Not only is Himeji Castle a National Treasure, it is also the only Japanese castle that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, registered in 1993 as one of Japan’s first sites.

 

Himeji Castle during spring. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Due to these distinctions, Himeji Castle also boasts the highest number of visitors out of all castles in Japan (slightly over 1.5 million in 2019), especially during the cherry blossom season when the castle grounds are blanketed in pink. I was fortunate enough to have my visit coincide with the blooming period, so while I couldn’t enter the castle due to the large crowds, I very much enjoyed walking around the premises and enjoying the flowers.

 

Interestingly, there seems to be a fascination with castles and birds: Matsumoto Castle is known as the “Crow Castle”, while Himeji Castle is known as the “White Egret Castle” (白鷺城 hakuro-jо̄) or “White Heron Castle” (白鷺城 shirasagi-jо̄), as the castle’s dazzling white exterior is said to resemble a bird taking flight.

 

Himeji Castle (姫路城)
Address: 68 Honmachi, Himeji-shi, Hyogo 670-0012
Access: 20-minute walk from JR Himeji Station (姫路駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00
Admission fee: ¥1,000/adult

 

3) The moving miracle: Hirosaki Castle

Original castle keep

Hirosaki Castle atop the stone foundation. (Image credit: Hirosaki City / JNTO)

 

From here on, I’ll be introducing the remaining castles from north to south. Tucked away in mainland Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Aomori is the Tohoku region’s sole original castle—Hirosaki Castle (弘前城 Hirosaki-jō)—which is well-known for two things.

 

Firstly, its beauty as a cherry blossom viewing spot is incomparable. Other than dynamic views in day and night, techniques taken from apple cultivation (which Hirosaki is renowned for) have been adapted to grow denser and more beautiful cherry blossom trees, which number at around 2,600 at the castle park. Hirosaki Castle Park is truly splendid and fantasy-like during the cherry blossom season, and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in Tohoku!

 

The stone foundation and castle in their current states and positions. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Secondly, something pretty amazing about Hirosaki Castle is how the castle keep has been moved in its entirety to 70m away from its original location above the stone foundation. Imagine that, the entire castle!

 

As a castle originally built over 400 years ago in 1611, it’s understandable that some parts of the castle have experienced wear and tear over the years. In particular, the dry stone foundation (石垣 ishigaki) of Hirosaki Castle was in need of repair. In order to fix the stone foundation without damaging the castle keep, the entire 400-ton castle keep was moved 70m away, using hydraulic jacks and a dolly system.

 

Time lapse of the castle’s move. (Video credit: Hirosaki City)

 

It’s a pretty amazing feat of engineering, and you can learn more about this process when paying a visit to the castle tower. The move took place over three months in 2015, but currently it is estimated that the tower will be moved back to its original position earliest in 2025.

 

Hirosaki Castle (弘前城)
Address: 1 Shimoshiroganecho, Hirosaki-shi, Aomori 036-8356
Access: From JR Hirosaki Station (弘前駅), take the Dotemachi Loop bus to Shiyakushomae Bus Stop, and walk 5 minutes to the castle.
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00
Admission fee: ¥310/adult

 

4) Red roof tiles: Tsuruga Castle

Reconstructed castle keep

Tsuruga Castle in spring. (Image credit: 福島県観光物産交流協会)

 

Also in the Tohoku region, nestled in western Fukushima Prefecture is Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城 Tsuruga-jō), the icon and city centre of Aizu-Wakamatsu, a former castle town with a rich samurai history. Built on a stone foundation, the mighty Tsuruga Castle features red roof tiles, and is the only castle in Japan to do so.

 

Originally built in 1384, the castle was torn down in 1874 after the Boshin War, after the Aizu clan surrendered to the Meiji government. The only original structures that remained were the stone walls. With donations from many people, the castle tower was beautifully reconstructed and opened in 1965.

 

Exterior of Tsuruga Castle. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Since then, there have been additions like a museum and observation gallery. For a fee, you can climb to the top of the castle tower to get a sweeping view of the city and its surrounding mountains.

 

Tsuruga Castle is located inside Tsuruga Castle Park, which is home to around 1,000 cherry blossom trees, which usually bloom from mid to late April. The castle is also known for its night-time illuminations, which can be enjoyed in spring during the cherry blossom period and in autumn during the autumn leaves period.

 

Tsuruga Castle (鶴ヶ城)
Address: 1-1 Otemachi, Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima 965-0873
Access: From JR Aizu-Wakamatsu Station (会津若松駅), visitors can take the loop bus (Haikara-san bus or Akabe bus) to Tsurugajo Kitaguchi bus stop or Tsurugajo Iriguchi bus stop, and walk 5 minutes to the park.
Opening hours: 08:30­–17:00
Admission fee: ¥410/adult

 

5) Sitting by the border: Inuyama Castle

National Treasure, Original castle keep

Inuyama Castle from different angles. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Located in central Japan in the northern part of Aichi Prefecture close to the border with Gifu Prefecture, Inuyama Castle (犬山城 Inuyama-jō) stands by the Kiso River, which acts as a natural boundary between the two prefectures. Made almost entirely of wood and rocks, the donjon’s interior is especially well-preserved, and comprises of four floors and two basement levels. Although the castle was originally built in 1537, the actual year of construction for the donjon varies, with the Agency for Cultural Affairs listing it as 1601.

 

View of the Kiso River from Inuyama Castle. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Two storeys were first built, followed by the addition of upper floors and a watch tower in later years until the donjon became its current form. Like Matsumoto Castle and Himeji Castle, Inuyama Castle’s donjon is also a National Treasure. Climb to donjon’s fourth floor and be rewarded with a view of the Kiso River and the surrounding landscape.

 

Inuyama Castle (犬山城)
Address: 65-2 Inuyama Kitakoken, Inuyama-shi, Aichi
Access: 20-minute walk from Meitetsu Inuyama Station (犬山駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00 (Closed from 29 December to 31 December)
Admission fee: ¥550/adult

 

6) Japan’s oldest castle: Maruoka Castle

Original castle keep 

Maruoka Castle in different seasons. (Image credit: 公益社団法人福井県観光連盟)

 

Over in the Hokuriku region's Fukui Prefecture, we have Maruoka Castle (丸岡城 Maruoka-jо̄). which is said to be Japan's oldest remaining castle, and is the only original castle in the Hokuriku region. Built on a small hill in the town of Maruoka, the castle is thought to be constructed in 1576, and is also referred to as "Mist Castle" (霞ヶ城 Kasumiga-jō), as legend has it that a mist will descend to hide and protect the castle in times of battle.

 

Maruoka Castle is said to be the oldest in Japan. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

During the Meiji Era, castles all over Japan were being destroyed as the feudal domain system was abolished, and castles were deemed unnecessary. With the exception of the castle keep, the rest of Maruoka Castle (stone walls, gates) was destroyed. The castle keep was spared demolition as the town of Maruoka purchased the castle keep the grounds, turning it into a park—Kasumigajo Park. Maruoka Castle's castle keep was formerly designated a National Treasure, and also escaped destruction during World War II, but was unfortunately damaged during an earthquake in 1948. Now, it is an Important Cultural Property.

 

One unique feature about Maruoka Castle is that instead of using ceramic tiles for its roof like most castles do, it uses stone tiles. Stone tiles are much heavier than ceramic tiles, but it is thought that they provided better thermal insulation, something useful for Fukui's bitterly cold winters.

 

Maruoka Castle (丸岡城)
Address: 1-59 Kasumicho, Maruokacho, Sakai-shi, Fukui 910-0231 
Access: 40-minute bus ride from JR Fukui Station (福井駅). 20-minute bus ride from JR Awaraonsen Station (芦原温泉駅).
Opening hours: 08:30–17:00
Admission fee: ¥450/adult

 

7) Next to Japan’s largest lake: Hikone Castle

National Treasure, Original castle keep

Hikone Castle’s main keep. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Located in the landlocked Shiga Prefecture, Hikone Castle (彦根城 Hikone-jо̄) overlooks Japan’s largest lake, the 670km2 Lake Biwa (for comparison, Singapore is 728km2). Hikone Castle’s three-storey main keep was completed in 1606, and although it is relatively small when compared to other castles, its design combines a variety of architectural styles and has many unique features.

 

In addition to the castle keep, many of the gates, walls, and turrets remain intact, which is why Hikone Castle is being recommended for UNESCO World Heritage Site registration. Including the castle keep, Hikone Castle has two structures that are National Treasures.

 

Views around Hikone Castle and from the top of the castle keep. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

For a small fee, you can enter the castle keep and marvel at some of the details that make Hikone Castle a castle for fighting wars—the walls have hidden holes for guns, which cannot be seen from the outside, and staircases are steep, so that enemies can be kicked down if they followed you into the castle. From the top of the castle keep, you can get a panoramic view of Hikone City and the expansive Lake Biwa, which seems to blend in with the sky.

 

Taking a pleasure boat around the moat. (Image credit: JNTO)

 

Hikone Castle is a “water castle” that draws water from Lake Biwa into its moats. During the Edo Period, Hikone Castle utilized its moat and Lake Biwa to transport a variety of goods. One unique experience you can try is riding a special pleasure boat (屋形舟 yakatabune) that is built like a replica of boats used in the past.

 

When I visited during winter, the boats were only running on weekends and holidays, so unfortunately, I was not able to try it. The boat ride does look fun, and you can experience viewing the castle from a different angle, so why not give it a go if it’s available when you visit? Hikone is only a 50-minute train ride away from Kyoto, or 80 minutes from Osaka, making it an easy day trip.

 

Hikone Castle (彦根城)
Address: 1-1 Konki-cho, Hikone, Shiga 522-0061
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Hikone Station (彦根駅)
Opening hours: 08:30–17:00
Admission fee: ¥800/adult

 

8) Japan’s Machu Picchu: Takeda Castle Ruins

Castle ruins

Takeda Castle Ruins floating in the clouds. (Image credit: Hyogo Tourism Bureau)

 

Next up, we have a castle that is an incredible sight to behold if you encounter the right conditions. Often referred to as Japan’s Machu Picchu or “castle in the sky” (天空の城 tenkū no shiro), the Takeda Castle Ruins (竹田城跡 Takeda-jо̄-seki) are located atop the 353.7m-high Mount Kojо̄ in Hyogo Prefecture. In early autumn and winter mornings when the mountain is shrouded in clouds, the castle appears to float in a sea of clouds...wow!

 

Due to its elevation, the Takeda Castle Ruins are a little bit harder to reach than most other castles, but the climb is worth it. Although no buildings remain, much of the stone foundations are intact, so you can clearly see the castle layout, which spans a whopping 400m by 100m.

 

Takeda Castle Ruins. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Originally built in 1431, the castle was abandoned in 1600 during the Battle of Sekigahara. Over the centuries the castle gradually disintegrated, until the ruins were restored and reopened as a tourist site in the late 20th century. From 33,000 visitors in 2005, numbers peaked to 580,000 in 2014 when the castle ruins were featured in a Google commercial. In 2019, visitors numbered 170,000, of which 12,000 were foreign tourists.

 

Other than experiencing walking around the castle ruins, you can also head to the viewpoints at Ritsuunkyо̄ (立雲峡) to get a view of the castle floating in the clouds. Takeda Castle Ruins has been on my to-go list for a while now, and I hope to visit the next time I’m in the Kansai region!

 

Takeda Castle Ruins (竹田城跡)
Address: 169 Takeda, Wadayama-cho, Asago-shi, Hyogo 669-5252
Access: 40-minute walk from JR Takeda Station (竹田駅). Alternatively, you can take the Tenku Bus from JR Takeda Station to the Takeda Joseki Bus Stop and walk 20 minutes to the castle ruins (bus only operates from March to November). (English map here)
Opening hours: 08:00–18:00 (March–May) / 06:00–18:00 (June–August) / 04:00–17:00 (September–November) / 10:00–14:00 (December–03 January) / Closed 04 January to end-February
Admission fee: ¥500/adult

 

9) Boat ride around the moat: Matsue Castle

National Treasure, Original castle keep

Matsue Castle in four seasons. (Image credit: 島根県観光連盟)

 

Heading west from Kansai to the region of Chugoku, we have Matsue Castle (松江城 Matsue-jо̄) in Shimane Prefecture. Built in 1611, the castle’s main keep still retains its original wooden structure, and was designated a National Treasure in 2015, making it the fifth and most recent castle to join the ranks.

 

The tale of the castle's survival is a touching one: in the Meiji Era, when castles were being destroyed, Matsue Castle was spared this fate when a strong-willed local citizen invested his own fortune to save the castle. Since then, repair works to the castle have been carried out due to donations from Matsue residents, and even today, Matsue Castle continues to exist due to support from the locals.

 

Another interesting piece of information: again, there is a curious linking of castles to birds. Joining “Crow Castle” Matsumoto Castle and “White Heron/Egret Castle” Himeji Castle, Matsue Castle is also known as “Plover Castle” (千鳥城 Chidori-jо̄), as the winged gables on the third storey are said to resemble a plover taking flight. Do you see a resemblance?

 

Take a boat ride around the castle moat. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Other than the castle, many of the protective moats built around the castle also remain mostly unchanged from when they were first constructed over 400 years ago. On the moat, you can take a pleasure boat ride (堀川めぐり Horikawa-meguri) to cruise around the castle. Not just a leisurely boat ride, you can also use the boat to go around Matsue City, as the boat makes three stops around the moat. Throughout the ride, boatman will introduce the best views of Matsue Castle, and if you’re lucky, he might even sing a folksong!

 

Matsue Castle (松江城)
Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887
Access: 30-minute walk from JR Matsue Station (松江駅). Alternatively, take a 10-minute bus ride from JR Matsue Station to Kokuho-Matsuejo-Kenchomae Bus Stop, and walk 3 minutes to reach the castle.
Opening hours: 08:30–18:30 (April–September) / 08:30–17:00 (October–March)
Admission fee: ¥470/adult (discounted price for foreigners)

 

10) Chair lift up: Matsuyama Castle

Original castle keep

Matsuyama Castle from various sides. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Over on the island of Shikoku is Matsuyama Castle (松山城 Matsuyama-jо̄) in Ehime Prefecture, another one of the 12 remaining original castles. Well-known as a symbol of Matsuyama City, Matsuyama Castle was originally built in the 1600s, but the current three-storey castle keep was constructed in 1820 after the former five-storey castle keep was destroyed by lightning.

 

Matsuyama Castle is an excellent example of a renritsu-shiki (連立式) style castle, an architectural style where the main keep is in the centre, with multiple smaller turrets surrounding it, which are connected with corridors. These give Matsuyama Castle a grand and commanding exterior. The castle’s main keep was used for battle, and inside, you can see exhibits of weapons and armour. You can even try on the armour and take photos in them!

 

Ropeway up to Matsuyama Castle, and view from the top. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Matsuyama Castle is located atop the 132m-high Mount Katsuyama, and to get there, visitors have the choice to walk up (15 minutes), take the ropeway (3 minutes), or a rather novel option: take the chair lift (6 minutes). I took the chair lift both on the way up and down, and it was really a fun and refreshing way to go up the hill, as you can enjoy the gentle breeze and the view.

 

Once you reach the top, you can get a clear view of Matsuyama City below, as well as of the surrounding mountains in the distance. The castle complex is pretty spacious, and there are various walking courses to explore the grounds. Including the main keep, 21 of the castle’s structures are Important Cultural Properties, and many of the stone walls and gates remain intact from centuries ago.

 

Matsuyama Castle (松山城)
Address: 1 Marunouchi, Matsuyama, Ehime 790-0008
Access: From JR Matsuyama Station (松山駅), take tram line 5 to Okaido Station (10 minutes), and walk 5 minutes to the lower ropeway/chair lift station.
Opening hours: 09:00–17:00 (February–July, September­–November) / 09:00­–16:30 (December–January) / 09:00­–17:30 (August) / Closed on the third Wednesday of December
Admission fee: ¥520/adult

 

11) Recovering from an earthquake: Kumamoto Castle

Reconstructed castle keep

Kumamato Castle in 2014 and the view from the top. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Heading over to Kumamoto Prefecture in the southern island of Kyushu, we have Kumamoto Castle (熊本城 Kumamoto-), an impressive castle originally built in 1607. The main castle tower was burned down in 1877, so what we enjoy in present times is a modern reconstruction that recreated the castle’s exterior, while the interior was reconstructed in a modern manner.

 

Despite the main castle tower being a reconstruction, the castle is made up of extensive structures, with 13 of them being Important Cultural Properties. Some structures, like the Udo Turret (宇土櫓 Udo yagura), survive in their original conditions even today.

 

Kumamoto Castle being reconstructed. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

In 2016, a strong earthquake hit the city of Kumamoto, and Kumamoto Castle suffered heavy damage. Stone walls collapsed and roof tiles fell, and currently, the castle is undergoing reconstruction works. The good news is that the interior of the main castle tower is scheduled to reopen to the public from 26 April 2021, so do drop by if you can!

 

Kumamoto Castle (熊本城)
Address: 1-1 Honmaru, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto, 860-0002
Access: From JR Kumamoto Station (熊本駅), take the tram (17 minutes) to Kumamoto Castle Station and walk 10 minutes to the castle.
The interior of the main castle tower is scheduled to reopen to the public on April 26, 2021.

 

12) Remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom: Shuri Castle

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Reconstructed castle

Shuri Castle in 2018. Clockwise from left: Zuisenmon gate, the main hall, miniature model. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Last but not least, in the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa we have Shuri Castle (首里城 Shuri-jō). The striking crimson Shuri Castle was a palace that used to house the kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429–1879, and symbolises the unique culture and history of Okinawa.

 

Previously designated a National Treasure in 1925, much of Shuri Castle, including the main hall (正殿 Seiden), was destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Reconstruction began in 1992, and in 2000, the ruins of Shuri Castle were registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu. Great care was taken to respect authentic reconstruction methods and to remain as true-to-form as possible, a move that was recognised and noted in its World Heritage inscription.

 

Ongoing reconstruction works to Shuri Castle’s damaged structures. (Image credii: photoAC)

 

Unfortunately, a devastating fire completely burned down the main hall and seven other structures in 2019. Efforts are currently underway to rebuild the damaged structures, but this will take some time and it will be many years before they are restored. In the meantime, you can still visit other parts of the castle, as around 80% of the castle site is open to visitors. Visitors are also encouraged to come and have a look at the reconstruction works, so do drop by Shuri Castle if you’re in Okinawa!

 

Shuri Castle (首里城)
Address: 1-2 Shurikinjocho, Naha-shi, Okinawa 903-0815
Access: 15-minute walk or 5-minute bus ride from Yui Rail Shuri Station (首里駅)
Opening hours: 08:30–18:00 (Free areas: Kankaimon, Kobikimon, Kyukeimon) / 09:00­–17:30 (Paid areas: Houshinmon, Yohokoriden, Agari-no-Azana)
Admission fee: ¥400/adult

 

Getting there

Castles embody an important part of Japan’s history and culture, but other than these aspects, many offer fantastic views and experiences. No two castles are the same; each has their own unique appearance and story to tell. So, the next time you’re in Japan, why not check out a castle?

 

All the castles on this list are pretty accessible from their nearest train stations, and public transport is definitely the best way to go. Most railway companies have discounted rail passes for foreign tourists, so go make use of them when travelling around Japan. For the Eastern Japan region, check out the JR EAST PASS:

 

JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area)

JEP (Nagano Niigata Area).jpg (462 KB)

JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are coming from Tokyo and thinking of visiting Matsumoto Castle and the rest of Nagano Prefecture, check out the JR EAST PASS (Nagano, Niigata area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for any 5 days of your choice within a 14-day period. At only ¥17,310 when purchased overseas, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Matsumoto (~¥20,000), and the 5 days do not have to be consecutive. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to 1 month in advance, here.

 

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area)

JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area) and usage area. (Image credit: JR East)

 

If you are thinking of visiting Hirosaki Castle and Tsuruga Castle in the Tohoku region, check out the JR EAST PASS (Tohoku area), an affordable pass offering unlimited rail travel on JR East lines (including bullet trains) in the valid area for any 5 days of your choice within a 14-day period. At only ¥19,350 when purchased overseas, it costs less than a round-trip between Tokyo and Hirosaki (~¥35,000), and the 5 days do not have to be consecutive. You can also make seat reservations for bullet trains, some limited express trains and Joyful Trains online for free, up to one month in advance, here.

 

Header image credit: 松本市

 

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