The most beautiful castles in Japan

Himeji Castle, photo by tiseb on Flickr

Feudal Japan was definitely not the coziest, nicest place to live for most of the population, but if you happened to be a powerful feudal lord, then you lived in glory and luxury, even if you often didn’t live long. As for the rest of the people, they could console themselves with the magnificent displays of wealth of the their social superiors. Japanese castles, many of which date back to the Middle Ages, are the pinnacle of Japanese architecture, style and taste. Most of them have luckily been preserved or rebuilt to reflect their original structure, and of course they have become immensely popular tourist attractions for the Japanese and foreigners alike. Here are some of the most beautiful castles in Japan.

Himeji Castle, Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture

If you’ve ever seen a postcard or a stock photo of a Japanese castle, chances are that is was a picture of Himeji. This stunning structure is the most visited and famous castle in Japan, and the finest example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture. The castle went through several remodelings during its history, but the initial structure dates back to the 14th century. The current castle looks pretty much like it did 400 years ago, and by some miracle it escaped unscathed the bombings of WWII, or the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

Matsumoto Castle, Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture

Matsumoto Castle, photo by neepster on Flickr

Matsumoto Castle is nicknamed the Crow Castle because it is almost entirely black, and it is one of the most important feudal castles in Japan (it is on Japan’s National Treasure List). The keep was finished in the 16th century, and it is one of the 12 original castles of Japan. In the Meiji period, the castle was in danger of being demolished and some believed it was under the curse of Tada Kasuke, an executed farmer. Luckily, the castle was renovated and draws thousands of visitors today.

Osaka Castle, Osaka

Osaka Castle is not only one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, but it has also played a major role in Japanese history, in the unification of Japan by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In the 19th century, much of the castle was burned down during the Meiji Restoration civil unrest, but in 1997 the restoration of the castle was completed. Although the current structure is mostly a concrete replica of the old building, it was created in the spirit of the original Osaka Castle.

Nijō Castle, Kyoto, Japan

Nijo Castle, photo by jimg944 on Flickr

Nijō Castle is one of the most unique and striking castles in Japan, covering an areas of 275,000. The castle complex is arranged in two concentric fortified rings, the Ninomaru Palace and part of the relocated Honmaru Palace. There are several interesting gardens and other structure scattered between the palaces. The interior decorations of the palaces are simply stunning.

Kumamoto Castle, Kumamoto, Kumamoto Prefecture

Kumamoto Castle was one of the largest and most fortified castles in the Middle Ages, and today it is one of the three most important castles in Japan, along with Himeji and Matsumoto. The main keep of the castle is a concrete replica built in the 60’s, but there are plenty of ancillary wooden structures that survived the flow of time untouched.

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