Traditional Japanese Castles
Japanese castles, like their European counterparts, were used to guard important locations and were the central points around which many important economic centers grew. Today, most major cities in Japan, including Tokyo, are former castle towns. Although the castle structures themselves were commonly made of wood, the surrounding walls were often made of large stones. A large number of castles were built during the violent and war-torn Sengoku Period (15th to 17th centuries), but their numbers were reduced and their architecture was modified during the more peaceful Edo Period (17th to mid-19th centuries).
The most famous and spectacular castle remaining in Japan is Himeji Castle, which was originally constructed in the 14th century and expanded from a fortress into a great castle over the centuries. The current castle dates back to the early 17th century, and it is one of the few castles to avoid destruction by earthquake, fire or the aerial bombings of World War II. In 1993, Himeji Castle was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Matsue & Kochi Castles
Matsue Castle (located near the Sea of Japan in the Chugoku Region) and Kochi Castle (in Southern Shikoku) are two more of the few largely original, wooden castles still in existence (rather than concrete reconstructions, which is most common today). Matsue Castle was built in the 17th century, and it is painted black which adds to its strong, majestic appearance. Kochi castle was also built in the 17th century and underwent renovation in the mid-20th century. It never saw battle, and its original keep is still intact.
Completed in 1598, at the time one of the most spectacular in Japan, Osaka Castle was built when the warlord and famous unifier of Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, was in power. Even though it was burnt down during the fire bombings of World War II, its impressive stone walls (which don’t use mortar but are held together only by the weight of the stones themselves) and a few other structures still remain for the most part intact. The current incarnation of this fortress was built in the 1928 and refurbished in the 1990s, and it is still an important symbol of Osaka City and a popular tourist attraction.
Matsumoto Castle is also well worth a visit.