Today I want to share some awesome Japanese castles in the Chubu region of Japan! Because Japan has dope castles.
If you are unfamiliar with Japanese geography, the Chubu region consists of Nagoya, Gifu, Fukui, Ishikawa, Nagano, Shizuoka, Ishikawa, Toyama, and Yamanashi prefectures. And if those names mean nothing to you, it’s okay. Just know Chubu region means Central Japan. I’ve lived and travelled in the Chubu region for a combined total of over seven years. Wowzers.
Japan has a lot of castles, yo. Like, over 5000 Japanese castles have existed, dating as far back as the seventh century.
Today there are over one hundred castles or partial castles remaining. Some of them are larger than others, and some are more beautiful than others. But they are all different – some are huge World Heritage Sites, and others are small, discrete fortresses. They are white, black, green, wood, and have their own unique designs and details. They’re built on top of large stones, and its probably safe to say most of them have been burned down and rebuilt at some point.
Japanese castles were built in strategic locations, like along rivers or atop mountains. They were places of governance and the houses of the feudal lords, daimyos. And to showcase wealth, extravagance, and intimidation. They should not be confused with Japanese Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines.
Now, onto the cool castles in the Chubu region. There are a lot of castles in these nine prefectures, so obviously I have not been to all of them. Though I am going to tell you about seven that I have been to. In addition to a general overview of each castle, I’ll mention a fun fact about each castle, and rank them based on my own personal opinions. The Japanese castles I’ll go over in this post are:
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- Nagoya Castle (Aichi)
- Inuyama Castle (Aichi)
- Kiyosu Castle (Aichi)
- Gujo Hachiman Castle (Gifu)
- Gifu Castle (Gifu)
- Matsumoto Castle (Nagano)
- Kanazawa Castle (Ishikawa)
Nagoya Castle (Aichi)
I simply must start with Nagoya Castle. Because I live in Nagoya, and because it’s one of the best, and I love it. Nagoya Castle is seriously huge and one of the prettiest castles in Japan. Subjective, I know. Biased? Yeah, maybe a little. By the way, see the cover photo on the top of my blog? That’s Nagoya Castle. 🙂
This Japanese castle is from the 17th century, and was the home of the powerful Tokugawa family. Most of the main building was burned down during WWII , but it has been rebuilt since then. Nagoya Castle is known for its golden dolphins which sit on top of the roof. Though when you see them, you will see they don’t look much like a dolphin. I’ve also seen the golden dolphins on other castles, so I’m not sure how they came to be associated with Nagoya Castle…
There is also the Honmaru Palace at Nagoya Castle, which was the residence for the son of the Tokugawa shogun (a military dictator). It was actually just rebuilt about five years ago, so the wood is still very new and shiny. The construction is all done in traditional Japanese way, so the wood is cut to fit together perfectly – no use for nails.
›› More Nagoya Castle Summer Nights At Nagoya Castle Bon Festival
*Fun fact: There is a moat around this Japanese castle. It’s overgrown with grass now, and there are deer living in it!
Nagoya Castle is right in the middle of Nagoya city in Aichi prefecture. You can get there from Shiyakusho station on the Meiji Subway Line.
›› For rainy day photos of Nagoya Castle, check this post
›› Read more fun things to do in Nagoya!
Inuyama Castle (Aichi)
This is another famous Japanese castle in Nagoya. It’s quite a bit smaller than Nagoya castle – both the castle and the grounds, but it’s a National Treasure Japanese castle.
Inuyama is on a small hill on the south side of the Kiso river, which on the other side is Gifu prefecture. I won’t go over the history of the castle because there are a lot of confusing names and titles, but if you’re interested you can read more here.
The interior of some Japanese castles have been turned into a sort of museum. Inuyama is cool because the interior is still original wood. The interior wood still looks like logs instead of regular flooring, and the stairs are super steep and scary to walk up. More like a ladder than stairs.
The road toward the castle is also nice because it is lined with little shops and buildings that still look like old Japanese buildings. Sort of like a 15-minute walk through a mini Kyoto.
*Fun fact: Inuyama is claimed to be the oldest original castle in Japan, with construction finished in 1440. Wow! Also, the name Inuyama means “dog mountain.”
Inuyama castle is at Meitetsu Inuyama Yuen station, and takes around around 35 minutes from Nagoya.
Kiyosu Castle (Aichi)
Somehow I didn’t know about this castle for the first five and half years of living in Nagoya. Which is sad because it’s really pretty. I’m not sure how it managed to hide itself from me for so long. But I found it.
This is a smaller Japanese castle, and it is a completely new construction than the original. It was rebuilt in 1989 in a lightly different location than the original on the other side of the river. Again, there’s a long and rich history here with lots of confusing names and titles.
I went to Kiyosu Castle in October 2017 one weekend, and by unfortunate coincidence there happened to be a festival going on at that time. It was kind of a bummer because there were a lot of people. But I could buy festival snacks, so it wasn’t all bad.
I really liked this one of the Chubu region Japanese castles. The colours were plain, but there was a red fence along the top balcony. There are also red poles and lanterns on the bridge leading to it, and it looks nice. Also the rock garden in the front yard! Though because of all the people from the festival, everyone was walking through the rock garden. #rude.
*Fun fact: There were no plans or illustrations of the original Kiyosu Castle, so the recent construction is based off the Inuyama structure.
Kiyosu Castle is a 15-minute train ride and a 15-minute walk from Nagoya.
Gujo Hachiman (Gifu)
This is another of the Chubu region Japanese castles I didn’t know about until recently. It’s in Gifu prefecture just north of Aichi. This Japanese castle was previously unknown to me but instantly became one of my favourites. The autumn leaves probably helped make a good impression.
My husband and I visited Gujo Hachiman Castle in November 2017 one weekend when we had a rental car. We planned to go to autumn leaf hunting in Korankei, but it was too early in the season. So instead we drove into the mountains and found a new castle and canal town, Gujo. And also red maple leaves.
Gujo Hachiman is on a mountain and looks over the city of Gujo. This Japanese castle is bit small. It’s all white and sparkles against a blue sky or red leaves. There was also a display of paper umbrellas, which I’m not sure is a regular thing or not. The interior is “original” wood, and it seems there are also drum performances. Oh, and it lights up at night! The river and canal streets are also cute to walk through.
*Fun fact: Near the back of the castle is a small shed and covered well. There is a sign, written in Japanese, but my husband told me it is called the “neck washing station” and is where the samurai would wash the necks of their beheaded victims. Talk about heeby jeebies.
The easiest way to get to Gujo Hachiman is by car in about 2 hours from Nagoya, but there are also highway buses from Nagoya and Gifu.
Gifu Castle (Gifu)
Gifu Castle was alright, but it didn’t really impress me.
I can’t even find any photos on my computer…
This castle is on the top of Mount Kinka, and to get to it you can take a cable car or hike. Crazy person that I am, I decided to run up the hiking trail. So I got all dressed in my sporting clothes and took the train to Gifu. And I made my husband do it with me. It did feel good to get to the top, but it didn’t leave me with much motivation to see the castle. I don’t think I even went inside.
*Fun fact: At the bottom of the hill is the Nawa Insect Museum.
To get to Gifu Castle, take one of three buses from Gifu station headed for “Gifu Park/GIfu City Museum of History.” Website here.
Matsumoto Castle (Nagano)
This is one of the famous and historic Japanese castles. This one is also a National Treasure, and it is a large castle. Similar to two others on this list, the interior looks more original rather than modern museum style.
Matsumoto Castle is famous as the black and white castle, and the red bridge in front makes for stunning scenery. Not to mention the mountains in the background.
The number of people allowed inside at any one time must be limited, because you have to wait in line to get inside. You might end up waiting an hour or two, but I think it is worth it. One interesting thing about being inside Japanese castles is seeing the different ways people would protect the castle from intruders. For example, there are often holes in the ground, directly over staircases, where people would drop boulders on anyone who dared infiltrate the castle.
*Fun fact: Because Matsumoto Castle is black, it is sometimes referred to as the “crow castle.” I like that.
Kanazawa Castle (Ishikawa)
Kanazawa Castle is different than the other Japanese castles in this post because there’s not the same huge, main castle structure. Instead, it’s more of a castle complex with castle walls and watch towers.
The grounds are large and interesting to walk around. There are bridges, moats, and gardens outside and inside the castle. And the white and grey buildings look nice against the green lawn. It also looks purdy when the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
*Fun fact: The main castle keep burned down in 1602 and has not been rebuilt.
I visited Kanazawa Castle by rental car, but it can also be accessed via the Kanazawa Loop Bus or the Kenrokuen Shuttle Bus from Kanazawa station. Website here.
My rankings of these Japanese castles
The following ranking is based on my own opinions and estimations of size.
|Biggest (based on my own eyeballs)||Most Unique (My opinion)||My Favs!|
|First Place||Nagoya Castle||Matsumoto Castle||Kiyosu Castle
|Second Place||Matsumoto Castle||Inuyama Castle||Inuyama Castle|
|Third Place||Kanazawa Castle?||Kiyosu Castle||Kanazawa Castle
|Fourth||Inuyama Castle?||Nagoya Castle|
It might not be fair to choose four as my favourites, but I really can’t decide which I like best. They are all so cool!
7 Cool Japanese castles in the Chubu region
I hope you enjoyed this post about these seven awesome Japanese castles in the Chubu region. Another fun fact: If you base yourself in Nagoya you can easily see Nagoya Castle, Inuyama, Kiyosu Castle, Gifu Castle, and Gujo Castle as individual day trips. That’s five great reasons to spend time in Nagoya. I think you could even do Nagoya Castle and Kiyosu Castle in one day if you wanted.
If you are traveling to Japan soon and are planning on taking photos of these or any other cool castles, sign up for the free 5-day iPhone travel photography email course:
Japan has so many castles it can be hard to keep track of them. If you have the time and money, you can even make it a mission to see them all. There are people who go castle hunting in Japan with the goal to see them all. That does sound like fun. But for now, I’ll have to limit myself to those that are closest to me.
Once again, I hope you enjoyed this post and learned a lot about Japanese castles in the Chubu region. Did you enjoy my fun facts? If you are planning to spend time in the Chubu region, let me know which of these castles you will visit. And if you are reading about them all for the first time, let me know which one you like the best.
Which one of these is your favourite Japanese castle?