Many of the castles currently remaining in Japan were built during the Sengoku Period (1467-1590), when samurai played an active part in the battles taking place around the country, or were built in the Edo period (1603-1868) after the upheaval was stabilized. Few castles have kept their originally built appearance and many have undergone renovation and restoration work. While they are all called “castle,” the scale and structure can vary. While there are castles that rise very high, there are also castles which look like ordinary homes.

Looking at castles

Now, most of the castles in Japan have become sightseeing spots and can be toured. Admission is usually about 1000 yen and many castles are equipped with museums and treasure halls.

There are points of interest such as the “jomon,” or castle gate, the entrance to the castle, the “yagura,” or turret, used as a watchtower or store house, the “ishigaki,” the wall of piled up stones to prevent enemy invasion, and the “hori,” or moat, dug around the castle and filled with water.

Then, the most important building that symbolizes the castle, is the “tenshu,” or castle tower, and was built mainly to look at the surrounding area. Because the “tenshu” is located in a high place on the site of the castle, you can see it from every part of the city.

12 Present-day Tenshu

Among the "tenshu" mentioned above, the 12 "tenshu" which currently remain since the Edo Period are called "12 Existing Castle Towers" and they are honored by people for their value as cultural treasures and the beauty of their appearances.

Castle Towers">
Area Name
Hirosaki, Aomori Prefecture Hirosaki Castle
Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture Matsumoto Castle
Maruoka, Fukui Prefecture Maruoka Castle
Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture Inuyama Castle
Hikone, Shiga Prefecture Hikone Castle
Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture Himeji Castle
Matsue, Shimane Prefecture Matsue Castle
Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture Marugame Castle
Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture Matsuyama Castle
Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture Uwajima Castle
Kochi, Kochi Prefecture Kochi Castle

Castle Town

In the area around the castle, a town was maintained to surround it. This kind of town was called “jokamachi,” or castle town, which thrived with the gathering of samurai, merchants and travelers. Thus in many castle towns, areas where samurai lived, areas where merchants lived, areas with temples were each maintained. Samurai homes are called “buke yashiki,” or samurai residence.

Because there are many castle towns that maintain the historical scenery along with the preservation of the castle, why not stroll around the city while experiencing the feeling of the time. Representative castle towns include Hirosaki (Aomori Prefecture), Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture), Gujohachiman (Gifu Prefecture) and Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture).