Humanities › History & Culture Castles of Japan Share Flipboard Email Print History & Culture Asian History East Asia Basics Figures & Events Southeast Asia South Asia Middle East Central Asia Asian Wars and Battles American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Kallie Szczepanski History Expert Ph.D., History, Boston University J.D., University of Washington School of Law B.A., History, Western Washington University Dr. Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. our editorial process Kallie Szczepanski Updated March 08, 2017 01 of 20 Himeji Castle on a Sunny Winter Day Photo of Himeji Castle in Japan on a sunny winter day. Andy Stoll on Flickr.com The daimyo, or samurai lords, of feudal Japan built magnificent castles both for prestige and for more practical reasons. Given the near-constant state of warfare that prevailed during much of shogunate Japan, the daimyo needed fortresses. Shogunate Japan was a very violent place. From 1190 to 1868, samurai lords ruled the country and warfare was nearly constant - so every daimyo had a castle. The Japanese daimyo Akamatsu Sadanori built the first iteration of Himeji Castle (originally called "Himeyama Castle") in 1346, just west of the city of Kobe. At that time, Japan was suffering from civil strife, as happened so often during feudal Japanese history. This was the era of the Northern and Southern Courts, or Nanboku-cho, and the Akamatsu family needed a strong fortress for protection against neighboring daimyo. Despite the moats, walls and high tower of Himeji Castle, the Akamatsu daimyo was defeated during the 1441 Kakitsu Incident (in which the shogun Yoshimori was assassinated), and the Yamana clan took control of the castle. However, the Akamatsu clan was able to reclaim their home during the Onin War (1467-1477) which touched off the Sengoku era or "Warring States Period." In 1580, one of Japan's "Great Unifiers," Toyotomi Hideyoshi, assumed control of Himeji Castle (which had been damaged in the fighting) and had it repaired. The castle passed to the daimyo Ikeda Terumasa after the Battle of Sekigahara, courtesy of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa dynasty that ruled Japan until 1868. Terumasa again rebuilt and expanded the castle, which had been almost completely destroyed. He completed renovations in 1618. A succession of noble families held Himeji Castle after the Terumasas, including the Honda, Okudaira, Matsudaira, Sakakibara, and Sakai clans. The Sakai controlled Himeji in 1868, when the Meiji Restoration returned political power to the Emperor and broke the samurai class for good. Himeji was one of the shogunate forces' last strongholds against the imperial troops; ironically, the Emperor sent a descendant of restorer Ikeda Terumasa to shell the castle in the final days of the war. In 1871, Himeji Castle was auctioned off for 23 yen. Its grounds were bombed and burned during World War II, but miraculously the castle itself was almost entirely undamaged by the bombing and fires. 02 of 20 Himeji Castle in Spring Featuring Japan's Famous Cherry Blossoms Himeji Castle in the spring, with cherry blossoms. It was built between 1333 and 1346, in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. Kaz Chiba / Getty Images Due to its beauty and its extraordinarily good preservation, Himeji Castle was the first UNESCO World Heritage Site listed in Japan, in 1993. That same year, the government of Japan declared Himeji Castle a Japanese National Cultural Treasure. The five-story structure actually is just one of 83 different wooden buildings on the site. Its white color and flying rooflines lend Himeji its nickname, "The White Heron Castle." Tens of thousands of tourists from Japan and abroad visit Himeji Castle each year. They come to admire the grounds and keep, including maze-like paths winding through the gardens, as well as the lovely white castle itself. Other popular features include a haunted well and the Cosmetic Tower where the daimyos' ladies used to apply their makeup. 03 of 20 A Museum Diorama in Himeji Castle A diorama of daily life in feudal Japan, at Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture. Aleksander Dragnes on Flickr.com Mannequins of a princess and her lady's maid demonstrate daily life at Himeji Castle. The ladies wear silk robes; the princess has several layers of silk to denote her status, while the maid wears only a green and yellow wrap. They are playing kaiawase, in which you have to match the shells. It is similar to the card game "concentration." The little model cat is a nice touch, isn't it? 04 of 20 Fushimi Castle Blood-stained Luxury Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle, was built in 1592-1594 in Kyoto, Japan. MShades on Flickr.com Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle, was originally built in 1592-94 as a luxurious retirement home for warlord and unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Some 20,000 to 30,000 workers contributed to the construction effort. Hideyoshi planned to meet with Ming Dynasty diplomats at Fushimi to negotiate the end of his disastrous seven-year invasion of Korea. Two years after the castle was completed, an earthquake leveled the building. Hideyoshi had it rebuilt, and plum trees were planted all around the castle, giving it the name Momoyama ("Plum Mountain"). The castle is more of a warlord's luxury resort than a defensive fortification. The tea ceremony room, which was completely covered in gold leaf, is particularly well-known. In 1600, the castle was destroyed after an eleven-day-long siege by the 40,000-strong army of Ishida Mitsunari, one of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's generals. The samurai Torii Mototada, who served Tokugawa Ieyasu, refused to surrender the castle. He finally committed seppuku with the castle burning all around him. Torii's sacrifice allowed his master enough time to escape. Thus, his defense of Fushimi Castle changed Japanese history. Ieyasu would go on to found the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. What was left of the castle was dismantled in 1623. Different parts were incorporated in other buildings; for example, Nishi Honganji Temple's Karamon Gate originally was part of Fushimi Castle. The blood-stained floor where Torii Mototada committed suicide became a ceiling panel at Yogen-in Temple in Kyoto. When the Meiji Emperor died in 1912, he was buried at the original site of Fushimi Castle. In 1964, a replica of the building was constructed out of concrete at a site close to the tomb. It was called a "Castle Entertainment Park," and contained a museum of Toyotomi Hideyoshi's life. The concrete replica/museum was closed to the public in 2003. Tourists can still walk through the grounds, however, and take pictures of the authentic-looking exterior. 05 of 20 Fushimi Castle Bridge Bridge in the gardens of Fushimi Castle, also known as Momoyama Castle, in Kyoto, Japan. MShades on Flickr.com Late autumn colors on the grounds of the Fushimi Castle in Kyoto, Japan. The "castle" is actually a concrete replica, which was constructed as an amusement park in 1964. 06 of 20 Nagoya Castle Nagoya Castle, built c. 1525 by Imagawa Ujichika in Aichi Prefecture, later was home to Oda Nobuhide and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Oda Nobunaga was born there in 1534. Akira Kaede / Getty Images Like the Matsumoto Castle in Nagano, the Nagoya Castle is a flatland castle. That is, it was built on a plain, rather than on a more defensible mountain-top or riverbank. The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu chose the site because it lay along the Tokaido highway which linked Edo (Tokyo) with Kyoto. In fact, Nagoya Castle was not the first fortification built there. Shiba Takatsune built the first fort there in the late 1300s. The first castle was built on the site c. 1525 by the Imagawa family. In 1532 the Oda clan daimyo, Oda Nobuhide, defeated Imagawa Ujitoyo and captured the castle. His son, Oda Nobunaga (aka "Demon King") was born there in 1534. The castle was abandoned shortly thereafter and fell into ruin. In 1610, Tokugawa Ieyasu started a two-year long construction project to create the modern version of Nagoya Castle. He built the castle for his seventh son, Tokugawa Yoshinao. The shogun used pieces of the demolished Kiyosu Castle for building material and weakened local daimyo by making them pay for the construction. As many as 200,000 workers spent 6 months building the stone fortifications. The donjon (main tower) was completed in 1612, and construction of the secondary buildings continued for several more years. Nagoya Castle remained a stronghold of the most powerful of the three branches of the Tokugawa family, the Owari Tokugawa, until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In 1868, imperial forces seized the castle and used it as an Imperial Army barracks. Many of the treasures inside were damaged or destroyed by the soldiers. The Imperial family took over the castle in 1895 and used it as a palace. In 1930, the Emperor gave the castle to the city of Nagoya. During World War II, the castle was used as a POW camp. On May 14, 1945, an American fire-bombing raid scored a direct hit on the castle, burning the majority of it to the ground. Only a gateway and three corner towers survived. Between 1957 and 1959, a concrete reproduction of the destroyed portions was constructed on the site. It looks perfect from the outside, but the interior receives less-than-rave reviews. The replica includes two of the famous kinshachi (or tiger-faced dolphins) made of gold-plated copper, each more than eight feet long. The shachi are thought to ward off fire, a somewhat dubious claim given the molten fate of the originals, and cost $120,000 to create. Today, the castle serves as a museum. 07 of 20 Gujo Hachiman Castle Gujo Hachiman Castle, originally built in 1559 on a mountaintop in Gujo, Gifu Prefecture, Japan. Akira Kaede / Getty Images The Gujo Hachiman Castle in the central Japanese prefecture of Gifu is a mountaintop fortress castle on Hachiman Mountain, overlooking Gujo town. Daimyo Endo Morikazu started construction on it in 1559 but had only finished the stonework when he died. His young son, Endo Yoshitaka, inherited the incomplete castle. Yoshitaka went to war as a retainer of Oda Nobunaga. Meanwhile, Inaba Sadamichi took control of the castle site and finished construction on the donjon and other wooden parts of the structure. When Yoshitaka returned to Gifu in 1600 after the Battle of Sekigahara, he assumed control of Gujo Hachiman once more. In 1646, Endo Tsunetomo became daimyo and inherited the castle, which he renovated extensively. Tsunetomo also fortified Gujo, the town that sits below the castle. He must have been expecting trouble. In fact, trouble only came to Hachiman Castle in 1868, with the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Emperor had the castle completely dismantled down to the stone walls and foundations in 1870. Fortunately, a new wooden castle was built on the site in 1933. It survived World War II intact and serves today as a museum. Tourists can access the castle via cable car. While most Japanese castles have cherry or plum trees planted around them, Gujo Hachiman is surrounded by maple trees, making autumn the best time to visit. The white wooden structure is set off beautifully by fiery red foliage. 08 of 20 Danjiri Festival at Kishiwada Castle The annual Danjiri Festival makes its way past Kishiwada Castle, also known as Chikiri Castle, built in 1597. Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images Kishiwada Castle is a flatland fortification near Osaka. The original structure near the site was built in 1334, a bit east of the current castle site, by Takaie Nigita. The roofline of this castle resembles a loom's warp beam, or chikiri, so the castle is also called the Chikiri Castle. In 1585, Toyotomi Hideyoshi conquered the region around Osaka after the Siege of Negoroji Temple. He awarded Kishiwada Castle to his retainer, Koide Hidemasa, who completed major renovations on the building, including increasing the donjon to five stories in height. The Koide clan lost the castle to the Matsudaira in 1619, who in turn gave way to the Okabe clan in 1640. The Okabes retained ownership of Kishiwada until the Meiji Reformation in 1868. Tragically, though, in 1827 the donjon was struck by lightning and burned down to its stone foundation. In 1954, Kishiwada Castle was rebuilt as a three-story building, which houses a museum. The Danjiri Festival Since 1703, the people of Kishiwada have held a Danjiri Festival each year in September or October. Danjiri are large wooden carts, with a portable Shinto shrine inside each one. The townspeople parade through town pulling the danjiri at high speed, while guild leaders dance atop the elaborately carved structures. The daimyo Okabe Nagayasu initiated the tradition of Kishiwada's Danjiri Matsuri in 1703, as a way to pray to the Shinto gods for a good harvest. 09 of 20 Matsumoto Castle Matsumoto Castle, also called Fukashi Castle, was built in 1504 in Nagano, Japan. Ken@Okinawa on Flickr.com Matsumoto Castle, originally called Fukashi Castle, is unusual among Japanese fortresses in that it is built on flat land beside a swamp, rather than being on a mountain or between rivers. The lack of natural defenses meant that this castle had to be extremely well-constructed in order to protect the people living inside. For that reason, the castle was surrounded by a triple moat and extraordinarily high, strong stone walls. The fortress included three different rings of fortifications; an outer earthen wall almost 2 miles around that was designed to deaden cannon fire, an inner ring of residences for the samurai, and then the main castle itself. Shimadachi Sadanaga of the Ogasawara clan built Fukashi Castle on this site between 1504 and 1508, during the late Sengoku or "Warring States" period. The original fortress was taken by the Takeda clan in 1550, and then by Tokugawa Ieyasu (the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate). After Japan's reunification, Toyotomi Hideyoshi transferred Tokugawa Ieyasu to the Kanto area and awarded the Fukashi Castle to the Ishikawa family, who began construction on the present castle in 1580. Ishikawa Yasunaga, the second daimyo, built the primary donjon (central building and towers) of Matsumoto Castle in 1593-94. During the Tokugawa Period (1603-1868), several different daimyo families controlled the castle, including the Matsudaira, Mizuno, and more. 10 of 20 Matsumoto Castle Roof Details Detail of Matsumoto Castle, also known as Fukashi Castle, built in 1504. Ken@Okinawa on Flickr.com The Meiji Restoration of 1868 nearly spelled the doom of Matsumoto Castle. The new imperial government was desperately short of cash, so it decided to tear down the former daimyos' castles and sell off the lumber and fittings. Fortunately, a local preservationist called Ichikawa Ryozo saved the castle from the wreckers, and the local community purchased Matsumoto in 1878. Sadly, the region did not have enough money to properly maintain the building. The main donjon began to tilt dangerously in the early twentieth century, so a local school master, Kobayashi Unari, raised funds to restore it. Despite the fact that the castle was used as an aircraft factory by the Mitsubishi Corporation during World War II, it miraculously escaped Allied bombing. Matsumoto was declared a national treasure in 1952. 11 of 20 Nakatsu Castle Nakatsu Castle was built by the daimyo Kuroda Yoshitaka in 1587 in Oita Prefecture. Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images The daimyo Kuroda Yoshitaka started to build Nakatsu Castle, a flatland castle on the border of Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, in 1587. Warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi originally stationed Kuroda Yoshitaka in the area but awarded Kuroda a larger domain after his exploits in the Battle of Sekigahara of 1600. Evidently not the quickest builder, Kuroda left the castle incomplete. He was replaced at Nakatsu by Hosokawa Tadaoki, who completed both Nakatsu and the nearby Kokura Castle. After several generations, the Hosokawa clan was displaced by the Ogasawaras, who held the area until 1717. The final samurai clan to own Nakatsu Castle was the Okudaira family, who lived there from 1717 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. During the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, which was the last gasp of the samurai class, the five-story castle was burned to the ground. The current incarnation of Nakatsu Castle was built in 1964. It houses a large collection of samurai armor, weapons, and other artifacts, and is open to the public. 12 of 20 Daimyo Armor at Nakatsu Castle A display of the resident daimyos' armor in Nakatsu Castle, in Japan's Oita region. Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images A display of the armor and weapons used by the Yoshitaka clan daimyos and their samurai warriors at Nakatsu Castle. The Yoshitaka family began construction of the castle in 1587. Today, the castle museum houses a number of interesting artifacts from shogunate Japan. 13 of 20 Okayama Castle Okayama Castle, built between 1346 and 1369 in Okayama Prefecture, Japan, by the Nawa Clan. Paul Nicols / Getty Images The first castle that went up on the site of the current Okayama Castle in Okayama Prefecture was built by the Nawa clan, between 1346 and 1369. At some point, that castle was destroyed, and the daimyo Ukita Naoie began construction on a new five-story wooden structure in 1573. His son Ukita Hideie completed the work in 1597. Ukita Hideie was adopted by the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi after his own father's death and became a rival of Ikeda Terumasa, the son-in-law of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Since Ikeda Terumasa held the "White Heron" Himeji Castle, some 40 kilometers to the east, Utika Hideie painted his own castle at Okayama black and named it the "Crow Castle." He had the roof tiles coated in gold. Unfortunately for the Ukita clan, they lost control of the newly-built castle after the Battle of Sekigahara just three years later. The Kobayakawas took control for two years until daimyo Kabayakawa Hideaki died suddenly at the age of 21. He may have been murdered by local farmers or assassinated for political reasons. In any case, control of Okayama Castle passed to the Ikeda clan in 1602. Daimyo Ikeda Tadatsugu was the grandson Tokugawa Ieyasu. Although later shoguns became alarmed at the wealth and power of their Ikeda cousins and reduced their landholdings accordingly, the family held Okayama Castle through the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Continued on next page 14 of 20 Okayama Castle Facade Closer shot of Okayama Castle in Okayama Prefecture, Japan, which was inhabited from 1346-1869. MShades on Flickr.com The Meiji Emperor's government took control of the castle in 1869 but did not have it dismantled. In 1945, however, the original building was destroyed by Allied bombing. The modern Okayama Castle is a concrete reconstruction dating from 1966. 15 of 20 Tsuruga Castle Also known as Aizu Wakamatsu Castle Tsurugajo Castle in Fukushima Prefecture was originally built in 1384 by Ashina Naomori. James Fischer on Flickr.com In 1384, the daimyo Ashina Naomori began to build Kurokawa Castle in the northern mountain spine of Honshu, Japan's main island. The Ashina clan was able to hold on to this fortress until 1589 when it was captured from Ashina Yoshihiro by the rival warlord Date Masamune. Just one year later, however, the unifier Toyotomi Hideyoshi confiscated the castle from Date. He awarded it to Gamo Ujisato in 1592. Gamo undertook massive renovations of the castle and renamed it Tsurunga. Local people continued to call it either Aizu Castle (after the region it was located in) or Wakamatsu Castle, however. In 1603, Tsurunga passed to the Matsudaira clan, a branch of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate. The first Matsudaira daimyo was Hoshina Masayuki, the grandson of first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, and son of the second shogun Tokugawa Hidetada. The Matsudairas held Tsurunga throughout the Tokugawa era, none too surprisingly. When the Tokugawa shogunate fell to the Meiji Emperor's forces in the Boshin War of 1868, Tsurunga Castle was one of the last strongholds of the shogun's allies. In fact, the castle held out against an overwhelming force for a month after all of the other shogunate forces had been defeated. The last defense featured mass suicides and desperate charges by the castle's young defenders, including women warriors like Nakano Takeko. In 1874, the Meiji government demolished Tsurunga Castle and razed the surrounding city. A concrete replica of the castle was built in 1965; it houses a museum. 16 of 20 Osaka Castle Osaka Castle, which was built in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. D. Falconer / Getty Images Between 1496 and 1533, a large temple called Ishiyama Hongan-ji grew up in central Osaka. Given the widespread unrest of that time, not even monks were safe, so Ishiyama Hongan-ji was heavily fortified. The people of the surrounding region looked to the temple for safety whenever warlords and their armies threatened the Osaka area. This arrangement continued until 1576 when the temple was besieged by warlord Oda Nobunaga's forces. The temple siege turned out to be the longest in the history of Japan, as the monks held out for five years. Finally, the abbot surrendered in 1580; the monks burned down their temple as they left, to prevent it falling into Nobunaga's hands. Three years later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi began building a castle on the site, modeled on his patron Nobunaga's Azuchi Castle. Osaka Castle would be five stories tall, with three levels of basement underground, and flashy gold-leaf trim. 17 of 20 Gilded Detail, Osaka Castle Gilded detail from Osaka Castle in downtown Osaka, Japan. MShades on Flickr.com In 1598, Hideyoshi finished the construction of Osaka Castle and then died. His son, Toyotomi Hideyori, inherited the new stronghold. Hideyori's rival for power, Tokugawa Ieyasu, prevailed in the Battle of Sekigahara and began to consolidate his hold on much of Japan. In order to truly win control of the country, however, Tokugawa had to get rid of Hideyori. Thus, in 1614, Tokugawa launched an attack against the castle using 200,000 samurai. Hideyori had nearly 100,000 troops of his own within the castle, and they were able to hold off the attackers. Tokugawa's troops settled in for the Siege of Osaka. They whiled away the time by filling in Hideyori's moat, greatly weakening the castle's defenses. During the summer of 1615, the Toyotomi defenders began to dig out the moat again. Tokugawa renewed his attack and took the castle on June 4. Hideyori and the rest of the Toyotomi family died defending the burning castle. 18 of 20 Osaka Castle by Night Osaka Castle by night; the city skyscrapers nearly disappear. Hyougushi on Flickr.com Five years after the siege ended in fire, in 1620, second shogun Tokugawa Hidetada began to rebuild Osaka Castle. The new castle had to exceed the Toyotomi's efforts in every way - no mean feat, considering that the original Osaka Castle had been the largest and most ostentatious in the country. Hidetada ordered 64 of the samurai clans to contribute to the construction; their family crests can still be seen carved into the rocks of the new castle's walls. The reconstruction of the Main Tower finished in 1626. It had five stories above ground and three below. Between 1629 and 1868, Osaka Castle saw no further warfare. The Tokugawa Era was a time of peace and prosperity for Japan. However, the castle still had its share of troubles, as it was struck by lightning three times. In 1660, lightning hit the gunpowder storage warehouse, resulting in a massive explosion and fire. Five years later, lightning hit one of the shachi, or metal tiger-dolphins, setting fire to the roof of the main tower. The entire donjon burned down just 39 years after it had been rebuilt; it would not be restored until the twentieth century. In 1783, a third lightning strike took out the Tamon turret at the Otemon, the castle's main gate. By this time, the once-majestic castle must have looked pretty well ruined. 19 of 20 Osaka City Skyline The modern setting of Osaka Castle, right in downtown Osaka City, Japan. Tim Notari on Flickr.com Osaka Castle saw its first military deployment in centuries in 1837, when local schoolmaster Oshio Heihachiro led his students out in revolt against the government. Troops stationed at the castle soon quashed the student uprising. In 1843, perhaps partly as a punishment for the revolt, the Tokugawa government taxed people from Osaka and neighboring regions to pay for renovations to the badly damaged Osaka Castle. It was all rebuilt except for the main tower. The last shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, used Osaka Castle as a meeting hall for dealing with foreign diplomats. When the shogunate fell to the Meiji Emperor's forces in the 1868 Boshin War, Yoshinobu was at Osaka Castle; he fled to Edo (Tokyo), and later resigned and retired quietly to Shizuoka. The castle itself was burned yet again, nearly to the ground. What was left of Osaka Castle became an imperial army barracks. In 1928, Osaka mayor Hajime Seki organized a fund drive to restore the main tower of the castle. He raised 1.5 million yen in just 6 months. The construction was finished in November of 1931; the new building housed a local history museum dedicated to Osaka Prefecture. This version of the castle was not long for the world, however. During World War II, the U.S. Air Force bombed it back to rubble. To add insult to injury, Typhoon Jane came through in 1950 and caused enormous damage to what remained of the castle. The most recent series of renovations to Osaka Castle began in 1995 and finished in 1997. This time the building is made of less-flammable concrete, complete with elevators. The exterior looks authentic, but the interior (unfortunately) is thoroughly modern. 20 of 20 One of Japan's Most Famous Castles One of the most popular castles in Japan: Cinderella's Castle, at Tokyo Disneyland. Built in 1983. Junko Kimura / Getty Images The Cinderella Castle is a flatland castle built by the heirs of cartooning lord Walt Disney in 1983, at Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, near the modern Japanese capital city of Tokyo (formerly Edo). The design is based on several European castles, notably Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. The fortification looks like it is made of stone and brick, but in fact, it is constructed primarily of reinforced concrete. The gold leaf on the roofline, however, is real. For protection, the castle is surrounded by a moat. Unfortunately, the draw-bridge cannot be raised - a potentially deadly design oversight. The inhabitants may be relying on pure bluster for defense since the castle is designed with "forced perspective" to make it appear about twice as tall as it actually is. In 2007, approximately 13.9 million people shelled out plenty of yen to tour the castle.