Big in Japan: Japan’s best medieval castles

Modern Japan may be an über peaceful place of happy shiny people, but it certainly wasn’t always like this…

On the contrary, medieval Japan was at times a conflict-stricken land of warring clans and spirit-breaking feudalism, which gave rise to some truly monolithic castles.

Sadly, most of Japan’s medieval structures were either burnt to the ground during the Meiji era of ‘enlightenment,’ or destroyed during WWII by Allied bombing.

However, there are still a few places in Japan where you can stand in awe before imposing castles that look as if they’ve jumped straight out of a Miyazaki anime.

On that note today’s post is all about Japan’s best medieval castles. While our list certainly isn’t comprehensive – and may in fact leave out some of your favorites – keep reading to check out which ones made the cut.

In no particularly order, here are some of Japan’s best feudal castles:

Osaka-jou (大阪城) Reigning over the megalopolis of Osaka, this regal castle has seen its fair share of bloodshed over the centuries. In 1614, Lord Tokugawa sieged Osaka-jou with a 200,000-man army in an attempt to oust Lord Toyotomi. Although he and his men were outnumbered 2 to 1, Toyotomi managed to keep the advancing army outside the outer walls. In the end however, the castle was rendered defenseless when Toyotomi literally filled in the castle’s outer moat with dirt!

Himeji-jou (姫路城) A UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of Japan’s ‘Three Famous Castles,’ Himeji-jou is the epitome of Japanese feudal architecture. An hour outside of Osaka by train, Himeji-jou has the bad ass distinction of being Tiger Tanaka’s secret ninja training school and rocket weapons development center in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. Although it’s not nearly as good of a flick, Himeji Castle was also the film location of Tom Cruise’s historically flagrant The Last Samurai.

Kumamoto-jou (熊本城) You’ll have to head all the way south to the city of Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu, though it’s worth the bullet train trip to see one of Japan’s most impenetrable castles. Kumamoto-jou pioneered several military advancements including its signature-curved walls and wooden overhands, which easily repelled would-be attackers. As an added deterrent, defenders of Kumamoto-jou could also drop piles of rocks on anyone who attempted to scale the keep – not a pretty way to go…

Matsumoto-jou (松本城) Nicknamed the ‘Crow Castle’ because of its black walls and spreading wings, Matsumoto-jou is arguably Japan’s most magnificent feudal building. The centerpiece of Matsumoto, a small city in the heart of the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto Castle was built specifically for war. Although it appears to have five floors from the outside, there is actually a hidden and completely unexposed floor for stockpiling munitions. The castle is also lined with lethal trapdoor windows that were designed to accommodate both crossbows and muskets.

Did we forget any castles? Most Definitely.

With that said, please feel free to chime in with your own favorites, and be thankful you don’t live in an era of warring city-states…

** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media project **