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Japan's Captivating Castles

Throughout Japan many ancient castles still survive, proudly holding their ground. They are marvelous structures dating back hundreds of years, mostly composed of wood and stone, and represent unique and spectacularly built structures, some occupied in succession, some abandoned. Many, having been ravaged by wars, natural disasters, or just the passing of time, have been totally or partially reconstructed, but many retain sections of the original buildings that composed the castle grounds. A few have beautiful adjoining parks or gardens.

Too numerous to list them all, we will just introduce a few of the better known castles here.

Hirosaki Castle (Aomori Prefecture)
Situated in what is considered one of the best cherry blossom viewing locations in Japan, with over 2500 trees in the surrounding Hirosaki Park and around the castle grounds as well, the castle is truly a breathtaking sight come cherry blossom season. The castle itself is quite unusual because its keep, rebuilt in the Edo period, remains as is, not having been rebuilt in the modern era. Most of the castle structures have been named National Important Cultural Properties.
Inuyama Castle (Aichi Prefecture)
One of the four castles in Japan to be designated a National Treasure (the others are Himeji, Matsumoto and Hikone castles), this structure has what is perhaps the oldest donjon in Japan. Sitting on a hill, it overlooks the Kiso River, considered the Rhine River of Japan, and where the annual summer ukai festival (fishing for smelts with cormorants) takes place. Inuyama City preserves the ancient castle town feel, and the castle and grounds are in an excellent state of preservation.
Himeji Castle (Hyogo Prefecture) Known for its distinctive 5-tiered keep (donjon), or fortified tower that resembles a white heron posed for flight, this castle, affectionately called White Heron Castle, was designated a World Cultural Heritage site in 1993, and it is the castle that most foreign tourists call to mind when they think of a Japanese castle. It is currently undergoing a 5-year restoration project due to be completed Spring 2015.
Takeda Castle Ruins (Hyogo Prefecture) Built on the summit of a mountain that is about 1,000 feet higher than the surrounding land, the ruins of this ancient castle retain a grand appearance. Only stone walls and foundations remain. Depending on the time of year, the mountain top hovers above a sea of clouds and the ruins seem to shine with a majestic glow. Not as convenient to get to as some of the other castles, these ruins are justly named the "Macchu Picchu" of Japan, and they are certainly worth the effort it takes to visit.
Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto Prefecture) Considered on a par with the Himeji and Nagoya castles, this castle has been ranked #1 of almost 40 attractions in Kumamoto by TripAdvisor, and includes several buildings which have been designated Important Cultural Properties. Many buildings retain their original form, and they are known for their striking and complex, yet sturdy construction. The signature curved stone walls are particularly highly regarded.
Shuri Castle (Okinawa) Shuri is the name of the former capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which is now called Okinawa, and whose capital is Naha. The castle, completely reconstructed after being destroyed in WWII, has magnificent vermilion tiles on two-layer roofs which are set in white lime. Shuri's color patterns and architectural design, as well as the garden landscapes, bespeak the Okinawan aesthetic, and set it distinctly apart from castles on the mainland. The entire site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For more information about Japanese castles, please visit here.

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