If you are a fan of Japanese architecture and looking for some exciting castles to explore, this article is for you.
In Japan, there are a lot of castles built on mountains, plains, lakes, hills, etc. The kings and lords built these castles depending on their personal interests, military strategy, and location. A lake castle is one which is built specifically near a lake to prevent access to intruders. A water castle is basically a castle with sea or river waters acting as a strategic shield. Most of the castles have moats to prevent any attacks. Some castles like Goryokaku (五稜郭) are built in the shape of a star with water-filled moats as a defense mechanism. Some castles also use urban planning as a shield to hide from enemies. The towns or cities that are built around castles are referred to as “Jokamachi (城下町)” in Japanese.
Let’s have a look at these spectacular Japanese lake and water castles you need to visit.
There are many lakes in Japan such as Lake Biwa (琵琶湖), Lake Suwa (諏訪湖), and others. The following are the list of castles which are located near a lake. These castles guarantee plentiful of awesome views for you to see.
1. Takashima Castle (高島城)
Takashima Castle is built on one of the famous lakes of Japan, Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture (長野県). Originally built on a small island in the middle of the lake that is connected by a small strip of land, this castle was sometimes referred to as “the floating castle” as it seemed floating on the water. However, the lake has lost some of its land under reclamation process.
Takashima Castle used to be impregnable due to its strategic location; even cannons could not attack it during wars. The castle was built in 1598 by Hineno Takayoshi (日根野高吉), a daimyo of Suwa Domain. The Suwa clan has ruled the area for a long period of time. After standing as a mighty fort for hundreds of years, it has been dismantled during the Meiji Restoration period. However, the Japanese government took the effort of restoring some parts of the castle to boost tourism.
Currently, one can see a three-story main keep (donjon) that has been reconstructed. There are also a turret and a gate in the premises of the castle. There is a public park called the Takashima Park (高島公園) which is a famous cherry blossom viewing spot in the region. Many locals gather here during the cherry blossom season to see the beauty of it.
In the winter, the moat gets frozen; and on a clear day, one can even see Mt. Fuji from a distance. This is one of the most beautiful castles in Japan with its three-story light brown donjon which you wouldn’t see in other castles. The famous Matsumoto Castle nearby Takashima Castle is also a must-visit.
2. Zeze Castle (膳所城)
Zeze Castle a.k.a. Sekiroku Castle (石鹿城) is located on the shores of Lake Biwa in Otsu (大津), Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県). It was constructed after the historic battle of Sekigahara by the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康) around 1601 A.D. It is one of the most beautiful flatland castles with a lakeside view. This castle is now in ruins as it has been destroyed along with the Takashima Castle during the Meiji Restoration period.
Currently, only the main gates together with a two-story turret are in good shape. The rest of the castle area has been turned into a park which locals adore. It is said that the castle looked like as if it was floating on top of the lake, and hence it was called as “Sekiroku (Stone Deer) Castle.” Although there is not much to see apart from the scenic shores of Lake Biwa, this castle is still worth visiting with your family. The Zeze Castle Ruins Park is a favorite spot for locals to chill out during evenings or on weekends.
3. Matsue Castle (松江城)
Matsue Castle is one of the dozen oldest surviving original castles in Japan that was not affected by either war or earthquake. It is located on the shores of Lake Shinji (宍道湖) in Shimane Prefecture (島根県). It is also referred to as “Black Castle” because of its strikingly black exteriors. It is surrounded by water-filled moats and canals that make it impregnable from enemies.
The castle is truly a water fort as it is surrounded by not just the waters of Lake Shinji, but also the waters of the nearby Lake Nakaumi (中海). The rivers of Ohashi (大橋川) that cuts the Matsue City in half and Horikawa (堀川) where the moats of the castle meet give a tactical location advantage to the castle. Built in 1611, the castle still remains intact without major renovations. It is one of the most popular castles in Japan with more and more foreigners from around the world visiting it.
Many visitors capture the majestic views of the castle on a boat cruise around the moat. There is also a museum inside the castle displaying some of the feudal era artifacts. There are also guided tours to places in and around the castle such as the Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and the former samurai mansions available for visitors. These places were where the nobles, warriors, and the clergy lived during the old times. The outer Matsue area have parks, onsens, shrines, beaches, gardens, and harbors for you to stroll around during your visit to the castle.
The aforementioned three are usually considered as the most exotic lake castles in Japan. However, there are a few other lake castles that are equally beautiful and worth visiting like the one as follows:
4. Azuchi Castle (安土城)
Azuchi Castle was built by one of the famous warlords in Japanese history, Oda Nobunaga (織田信長), on the banks of Lake Biwa. The castle was so majestic that it inspired the architecture of later built castles in Japan. Built over a vast area, the castle was the first of its kind with high stone walls and a keep having seven stories. Its majesty used to glorify Oda Nobunaga’s royalty and impress even his bitter enemies. Located in proximity to Kyoto (京都), the castle has given an advantage for Oda to gain access to transportation and trade routes. He is the first ruler to ever construct a palace-styled castle in a vast area.
The castle was destroyed after Nobunaga’s death and it has not been completely restored yet. The Nobunaga no Yakata Museum (信長の館) and the Archaeological Museum have displays of replicas and items of the castle. If you are a history buff, a visit to this vast castle ruins can teach you many important aspects of Japanese medieval history. If you want to see the exact reproduction of this castle, you may want to visit the Ise Azuchi Momoyama Culture Village (伊勢戦国時代村) Theme Park in Mie Prefecture (三重県).
Water castles, also known as “mizujiro” in Japanese, are those castles that have either sea or river (or both) as the strategic moat of defense from enemies or intruders.
There are mainly three big water castles in Japan located between the cities of Osaka (大阪) and Hakata (博多). One of the reasons for the construction of these castles in these particular areas is due to the trade and defense plan set by the Toyotomi (豊臣) clan during the 16th century. The booming trade between Osaka and Hakata has led to safety concerns with spies and intruders holding control of the region in the name of merchants. The then ruler Hideyoshi (秀吉) carved out an effective policy by appointing his family members as heads in different regions of Kinki where he ruled. Those retainers, namely Yoshitaka Kuroda (黒田孝高), Takatora Todo (藤堂高虎), and Chikamasa Ikoma (生駒親正), have built the Nakatsu (中津), Imabari (今治), and Takamatsu (高松) water castles respectively with architectural brilliance and advanced defenses around the end of the 16th century A.D.
1. Nakatsu Castle (中津城)
The Nakatsu River (中津川) and the Sea of Suonada (周防灘) act as natural frontiers to this magnificent castle located in Nakatsu City (中津市) of Oita Prefecture (大分県). The Nakatsu Castle is exactly located at the mouth of the Nakatsu River making it difficult to access for enemies. Despite its strategic location, the castle has been just left with the moat and the foundation as it saw destruction due to repeated wars over a period of time.
Started in 1587 by Yoshitaka, the castle has stood high until it got completely burnt in the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. With a castle ground of 78,000 square meters, this place is huge and in the shape of an open fan. The Okudaira (奥平) clan that took control over the castle started reconstructing a five-story keep (donjon) in 1964. The clan has sold the property to a private company in 2011. Now, there is an exhibition of heirlooms inside the reconstructed keep together with an observation unit on the top floor.
The Okudaira clan has been regarded as the longest clan to ever keep a castle. You can reach the castle through a 15-minute walk from Nakatsu Station (中津駅) of the Nippo-Honsen Line. There is also a famous Buddhist temple nearby, namely the Rakanji Temple (羅漢寺), for you to visit when you are in Nakatsu City.
2. Takamatsu Castle (高松城)
Takamatsu City (高松市) is a major economic center present in the Kagawa Prefecture (香川県) of Japan that is famous for its Takamatsu Castle. The castle is also in ruins with just a few stone walls, moats, turrets, and gates remaining. There is a garden inside the castle for you to relax at. It is easily accessible on foot from the JR Takamatsu Station (高松駅).
Built in 1590, the Takamatsu Castle a.k.a. Tamamo Castle (玉藻城) has been ruled by the Ikoma clan and the Matsudaira (松平) clan until it got finally demolished during the Meiji Restoration. The moats surrounding the castle walls draw salt water from the nearby Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海). Now located amidst modern buildings, the castle is a great hangout place for the locals. It is a famous gathering spot during the tea ceremony and flower blooming seasons.
The castle space has an exhibition center and a community hall for people to visit. It has gone through some reconstruction work, especially the tower foundation, in the recent years. Plans to reconstruct the entire castle are also underway to restore its legacy and to attract more visitors.
3. Imabari Castle (今治城)
Imabari Castle is situated in the Imabari City (今治市) of Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県). Located on the shores of the Seto Inland Sea, Imabari Castle is considered as one of the most beautiful castles in Japan with magnificent towers. Built by Takatora, one of the retainers appointed by Hideyoshi, Imabari Castle was the main center of administration throughout the Edo Period.
History says that Takatora built this castle after abandoning another castle, namely the Kokufu Castle (国分山城), on Mt. Karako (唐子山). The water moats of the castle link to the sea where a ship deck or an anchorage point is present. Although the castle was destroyed due to the orders of the Meiji Government, it has been rebuilt in the year 1980 with the support of the city government. With the newly constructed five-story main tower as the center of attraction, this castle faces the seashore with restored royalty.
Imabari Castle also tells us a lot of things about the defense strategy used in those days. The moat has a length of 60 meters to prevent arrows from coming through and the castle walls are high enough to stop any invasion. The main gate is made of iron and it used to be guarded by soldiers all the time.
There is also a museum with displays of various arms and tools belonging to the Edo Period. If you are looking for a nice museum with a good collection of armors, this is one of the best castle museums you can visit. There is a huge collection of suits worn by soldiers and warlords, too, and you can also try an old samurai helmet for photos. Additionally, there is an Inari shrine nearby for you to visit.
Overall, Imabari Castle is a scenic castle with a lot of awesome views to offer. You can point your camera in any direction and you would have a wonderful picture of this castle. The night views of the castle can also leave an unforgettable memory in your mind.
These castles are big tourist attractions due to their magnificent beauty and history. Every day, hundreds of visitors, both local and foreign, visit them. They are also mentioned in the list of the 100 best Japanese castles released by the Japanese government. Some of the areas of these castles are under scaffolding as restoration works continue every day.
Usually, all the aforementioned castles are open to the public all year round except on the end days of December and on some rare special occasions. There is an admission fee to enter these places, however, the prices are very low. The best times to visit most of these castles are during spring or in winter where they usually get covered in snow. Do pay a visit to these awesome places when you are in Japan with your family.
If you are an adventurer, you may find these castles even more interesting. There are also a lot of other castles depending on the classification or category such as hilltop, plain, forest castles, and so on. However, these lake and water castles guarantee awesome views due to their picturesque locations.
So what are you waiting for? Do arrange your trips to these places and witness the Japanese architectural brilliance while relaxing near the waters or taking a boat trip around.