Four National Treasure Castles
Throughout Japanese history, between 20,000 to 50,000 castles were built. Today, only 12 remain that have enough of their original materials to be considered “original”. These are the only castles that have existed for hundreds of years without seeing drastic changes. Other remaining castles were mostly reconstructed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and many of their interiors resemble modern museums more than they reflect their original 17th-century structures.
Of the 12 original castles, 5 have been designated National Treasures. This month, we at Eighty Days are presenting a list of our four favorites! (Sorry, Matsumoto. You’re majestic and beautiful, but we only have four contributors, so you’ll have to wait for a different list.)
Located on a hilltop with a phenomenal 360 degree balcony wrapped around the fourth tier, Inuyama Castle has stood watch over the Nagara River, lower castle town, and surrounding area for centuries.
Inuyama Castle has the distinction of being the last castle in Japan to be privately owned, and in a room at the very top of the castle, one can peruse the photographs of its previous owners before it was given over to the Japanese government for its continued maintenance.
At the bottom of the castle, one can enter the complex through a beautiful shrine with many red gates reminiscent of a smaller Fushimi Inari (Kyoto). Inside the shrine, you’ll find a little pond which is said to double your money if you wash your coins in the water. This place is well-known for its resident deity who will help you find your life partner if you request it. You
can also write a wish on a heart-shaped wooden board (ema, 絵馬) and hang it on one of the terraces filled with similar wishes.
After you finish exploring the castle, descend back to ground level and stroll around an Edo-style town. You can spend hours exploring the carefully maintained shops. Our personal recommendations are either Temari Sushi or the local deep-fried soba tempura lunch!
Three hours north of Hiroshima by bus is Shimane, one of the least populated prefectures in the country and one of the most peaceful, with an abundance of scenic nature views, seaside destinations, the historic Izumo Shrine, and the beautiful hilltop complex of Matsue Castle.
Built in 1611, Matsue Castle bears the auspicious nickname Plover Castle (Chidori-jō). The plover is a symbol of longevity in Japan, and according to onomatopoeia, the plover’s call “chiyo!” sounds like the word 千代 (chiyo), which means “1000 generations”.
The castle’s six storeys feature an abundance of artifacts and detail the history
of the castle. On the top floor, make sure to read about the process of how Matsue Castle became a National Treasure. Afterward, head over to the balcony window and enjoy the view of Matsue City with Lake Shinji stretching into the distance.
Since Matsue Castle has earned its place as one of the five National Treasure castles, the Matsue local government has now committed itself to rebuilding the main gate to further expand on the glamor of this precious location. The gathering of funds is well underway so that the construction process can begin.
In addition to the castle, the surrounding complex features plenty of areas to take photos with cherry blossoms and maple leaves, so be sure to visit in spring and autumn if you can! For more active travelers, rent a bicycle at Matsue Station and take tour of the city including a bike ride along the sparkling Lake Shinji.
Situated a short train journey from central Kyoto in neighboring Shiga Prefecture, Hikone Castle makes the perfect day trip for visitors to Japan seeking out a unique historical property.
With its hilltop location, it makes it a beautiful location to view Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. Completed in 1622, the castle was an important seat for the feudal daimyo lords until the end of the period in 1868.
Structurally, Hikone Castle has some distinctive features that separates it from other castles in Japan, such as its spiral walkway to the castle that passes under an elegant bridge. This bridge was constructed in order to be destroyed in the event of an attack, effectively slowing enemy forces from breaching the castle’s inner
walls. Other interesting features include a large bell situated outside the castle and is rung several times a day for visitors.
While there, you may even meet the mascot of the castle and the Hikone area, Hiko-nyan, a white cat wearing a red samurai helmet. Hiko-nyan who has gained popularity over the whole of Japan for its adorable features, and many souvenirs feature the beloved mascot.
Not only the castle, but the surrounding area has some great locations to include in your day trip as well. At the base of the castle sits Genkyuen, a stunning landscaped garden with a teahouse for visitors to relax with some green tea. A little further south of the castle lies Yume Kyobashi Castle Road, a shopping street designed to match the castle’s exterior that offers a variety of shops to peruse, such restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops selling craft works and confectionaries from the region.
As a perfect day trip from Kyoto, make sure to take a visit to this fantastic cultural site!
A flat-ground, twenty-minute walk from JR Himeji Station, stands Himeji Castle. Its nickname, the White Heron Castle (Shirasagi-jo), stems from its resemblance to a bird taking flight and for its brilliant white plaster exteriors, Himeji Castle was originally built as a military fort in the early 1300s on a strategic hilltop position overlooking the city. It was then refurbished many times until reaching its final complex shape after the renovations undergone between 1617 and 1618, requested by Honda Tadamasa, the local daimyo who inherited the castle and ruled the Himeji Domain.
Thanks to the fact that no major battles were fought in the area, the castle never faced serious damage and has thus survived mainly intact for centuries. It even shockingly su
rvived the heavy bombing of Himeji City during World War II through use of dark nets to camouflage it from the pilots above.
Like many European castles, Himeji is surrounded by a series of concentric compounds, some of which even extend beyond the castle itself, with the aim of encircle and protect parts of the city as well. The Castle is five stories high, housing six floors and a basement level that was mainly used for food and armaments storage. The fortress homes are adorned by the finest craftwork and ornamentations, while the whole structure is surrounded by picturesque cherry trees, making the castle the perfect spot for iconic photographs.
Himeji Castle is not only a National Treasure, but the first Japanese site to be included on the list of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Sites. It is also widely regarded as the most spectacular castle in Japan as well as one of the finest surviving examples of Japanese architecture.
The castle has undergone two major renovations, the first one during the Showa era (lasted from 1956 until 1964) and a more recent one completed in 2015.
The Selection Committee:
Eighty Days 株式会社
Ciara Blount / ブラント•キラ
Travel Designer & Tour Guide
Eighty Days 株式会社
Jennifer Gregory / グレゴリー•ジェニファー
Eighty Days 株式会社
Giovanna Aversa / アヴェルサ ジョヴァンナ
Senior Travel Designer
Eighty Days 株式会社
Nanami Granger / グランジェ 七海
Founder & CEO