Japanese castles may not hold the same “romantic” appeal as their crenallated European cousins, but the fortified donjons of the Japanese islands offer a fascinating glimpse at life in the samurai age. The following are a few of my favorites:
- Himeji Castle – There’s no denying the appeal of the “White Heron” and when its multi-year renovation project comes to a close in 2014, the castle will gleam like never before. The main keep is the most intriguing sight but the extensive grounds are perfect for a picnic.
- Matsumoto Castle – This charcoal-colored edifice is one of only a handful of black castles around the archipelago. The interior has been painstakingly cared for and volunteer tours in English are worthwile. Snap your best shots with the castle’s zig-zag red bridge in the foreground.
- Osaka Castle -The original structure might have been razed to the ground several centuries ago, but the post-war ferro-concrete castle in the center of Osaka is still an impressive sight. One of the only castles to boast an elevator (and handicap access), the castle holds a worthwhile history museum. Views from the top floor are stellar on a clear day.
- Kumamoto Castle – Another of Japan’s black castles, Kumamoto dominates the city center. Though today’s main keep is a reconstruction, Kumamoto was considered one of the most impregnable castles ever built. Hang around to see it beautifully illuminated at night.
- Shuri Castle – If you’re expecting a typical Japanese castle, then Shuri will come as quite the surprise. With more Chinese influence than anything else, this recently renovated red tile-roofed palace on the main island of Okinawa was the breezy home of the Ryukyu kings and a recognized UNESCO World Heritage site. Traditional Okinawan dances are performed daily in the courtyard.