Much like Europe, Japan is a land littered with castles. The Japanese feudal period was full of lords and emperors who wanted to make their mark on the land. They did so by building great castles, many of which were used as fortresses.

Matsumoto Castle and the snowy mountain tops in the background.

Now, of course, these castles are historical monuments and tourist attractions. Many of them are museums. They have all played a major role in local history and culture. Visiting one of these original Japanese castles is an amazing lesson in the history of the local region, as well as a great chance to get a view of the landscape since they are often perched prominently on higher ground. While there are castles that primarily consist of reconstructions, there are several that have most if not all of their original buildings.

Original castles (oldest castles that survived war, fire, and earthquake) in Japan are not as well-known as many other attractions in Japan, but here is a list of seven great ones that still consist of their original buildings, as well as their locations and what you can expect when you visit them. Take a look and see if they fit into your vacation plans! Please note that there are twelve designated original castles can be found in Japan, and here we are going to feature only seven that are wroth visiting.

1) Himeji Castle, Hyogo

What an incredible view of Himeji Castle! Photo Credit: LH Wong at Flickr.

This 400-year-old castle is a registered World Heritage Site. Its central building is graceful and white, causing it to be occasionally referred to as the “white heron castle”. If you visit, you can see a number of amazing features and attractions.

The original architecture is still present throughout the castle, from its gate to its main building. The castle sits on a high rise above the city and every inch of it was designed to give protection to Tadatoki Honda, who had the castle built, and Princess Sen, his wife. Their garden is still there and still quite beautiful. There are also groups of performers who pose as armored warriors and even ninjas on weekends. The castle is quite elaborate and you should block out an entire day to see all of it.

A lot of tourists and locals alike visit the castle complex in the spring to see beautiful cherry blossoms. This without questions one of Japan’s top cherry blossom spots.

The fee to enter is 1,000 yen for adults and 300 yen for children, with younger children getting in for free.

2) Matsumoto Castle, Nagano

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture. Photo Credit: m-louis .® at Flickr.

Unlike many other castles, this one was built on the plains instead of a mountain. It looks grand and dignified. It is the oldest castle in Japan and is known as “crow castle” because of its black exterior.

Explore the castle’s step wooden stairs and visit the elaborate defensive measure integrated into its architecture. If you visit in mid-April, you can see the hundreds of cherry trees along the castle’s outer moat in full bloom. Admission costs 610 yen. It is briefly closed from December 29th to December 31st.

3) Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Okayama

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is located in Takahashi City, Okayama. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This castle sits on a steep mountain north of the town center of Takahashi. It is the only mountaintop castle that has survived intact. It is also the highest, with an elevation of 430 meters. It was originally constructed in 1240.

Getting to this castle is a bit of a hike from the parking lot. It should take you about 20 minutes. Inside, it is relatively small, consisting of only two stories.  Admission to the castle costs 300 yen. It is closed from December 28th to January 3rd.

4) Matsue Castle, Shimane

Matsue Castle in Shimane. Photo Credit: cocona28 at Flickr.

This castle dates back to 1611. It is sometimes referred to as the “black castle” because of its austere and dark exterior. It was built to withstand war, though because of when it was built, it never saw a single battle, which helped preserve it over the centuries. It is currently a museum displaying artifacts from the period. It has undergone many renovations to preserve it, though all the buildings are original.

Besides getting a tour of the castle and its grounds, you can also take a short cruise on the castle moat. Boats leave every 15 to 20 minutes from several points around the castle. The boatmen also speak about the history of the area, though this is all in Japanese. Admission costs 560 yen, though this is half off foreign tourists. The castle most boat cruises cost 830 yen, though again this is half off for foreign tourists. It is open year-round, including the castle moat boat cruises.

5) Inuyama Castle, Aichi

Inuyama Castle in Aichi Prefecture. Photo Credit: bryan at Flick.

Inuyama castle was completed in 1440. It has been designated as a national treasure. It sits on a small hill near the Kiso River. The main structure is composed almost entirely of wood and rocks. There are no modern additions, allowing visitors to get a feel for what one of these castles was really like when it was in use centuries ago.

If you walk to the lookout, you will get a spectacular view of the surrounding area. Admission to the castle costs 550 yen. It is closed briefly from December 29th to 31st.

6) Matsuyama Castle, Ehime

Sakura & Matsuyama Castle in the spring. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This is considered one of the most interesting and complex castles in the nation. It sits on Mount Katsuyama in the city center. While in the castle grounds, you can get an excellent view of Matsuyama and the Seto Inland Sea. There are over 200 cherry trees on the castle grounds. It is an excellent place to view cherry blossoms around late March to early April.

There are a ropeway and a chairlift that help make this castle much more accessible even with its high steep location. Taking the time to explore this castle is an amazing experience, full of history and beauty. Admission costs 510 yen. The only time this castle is closed is on the third Wednesday of December.

7) Hikone Castle, Shiga

Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture, Japan.

Hikone castle’s main draw is its three-storied castle keep, which has a unique designed derived from multiple architectural styles. This is the primary reason that the castle has been designated as a national treasure.

As you tour the castle, you’ll notice many defensive structures and features. The bridge to the castle is easy to destroy in case of attack. The step stairs make it hard to for intruders to climb and exhausts them.

Like many other castles, there are many cherry trees on the rounds, making this an excellent place to see cherry blossoms in the spring. Admission costs 600 yen, while if you want to visit the museum on the grounds it costs 100 yen. It is open year round.