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I’m an Ecuadorian-American living in Kyoto, Japan. With my multilingual skills, I hope to reach all different kinds of people from around the world with my blog :)

Soy una Ecuatoriana-Americana viviendo en Kioto, Japón. Con mis habilidades multilingües, espero alcanzar a todos diferentes tipos de gente en el mundo con mi blog :)

Visiting 3 Castles in 1 Week

Visiting 3 Castles in 1 Week

One thing that the US doesn’t really have is…castles! Without kings and queens, emperors and empresses, or lords and ladies, the US has pretty severe lack of royal palaces and castles. Probably for the better. However in the case of Japan, there are castles all throughout the country. It seems like there is one in every major city. In Tokyo, there’s the Imperial Palace in the middle of the city with Tokyo Station close by. There is Nijo Castle in Kyoto, one of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto. There is Osaka Castle, standing as one of the biggest and most beautiful castles I have seen in Japan.

Castles are part of the long history of Japan. In the Warring States Period of the 15th century, Japan had yet to be a unified country, so smaller independent states built castles on top of mountains while there was fighting between states as a means of defense (Game of Thrones, anyone?). Later on, after the unification of Japan in the 16th century, castles were built as the city’s headquarters for the military and maintaining order. Nowadays, few castles have keeps that are older than the end of the feudal age in 1868. Many were destroyed during and after World War Two, so to see reconstructions of them still standing is special. Sprawling cities like Osaka and Tokyo boast castles of their own, tucked into picturesque parks and give us foreigners a small glance at what used to be an important aspect of old towns in Japan.

There are enough castles you can visit in Japan, that I got the chance to visit three in one week. During the cherry blossom season, castles tend to host special events or even festivals to enjoy the sights of the pink cherry blossoms around a majestic castle ground. These castles usually entail a moat, several gates, watchtowers, and the castle itself. Walking through these castles feels like walking through time, and I wondered what the lives of the people who used to walk in these castles were like.

The three castles I visited in one week were Himeji Castle, Nijo Castle, and Matsumoto Castle. Here’s some information and pictures of them!

Nijo Castle, I believe, is the only castle in the central Kyoto area. I did not see all of the castle grounds, but I have done that before in the daylight.

Nijo Castle, I believe, is the only castle in the central Kyoto area. I did not see all of the castle grounds, but I have done that before in the daylight.

Nijo Castle is a sprawling castle complex complete with moat and several gates and gardens to pass through. You can make the most of the ¥600 ticket price just walking through the castle grounds, but every time I have visited there have been other events happening at the same time. Many high school and college dance groups have competitions around the main entrance, there seems to always be some market for souvenirs and goods around the exit, and of course, different illumination events sprinkled throughout the year. During cherry blossom season, I went to a night illumination at Nijo Castle. I didn’t get to see the inside of the castle grounds, which I have seen before, but I got to walk around the gardens with cherry blossoms and different colored lights illuminating them.

One of the main gates had this illumination of cherry blossoms that were a nice introduction to the rest of the real cherry blossom gardens.

One of the main gates had this illumination of cherry blossoms that were a nice introduction to the rest of the real cherry blossom gardens.

Spotlights were placed at the bottom of the trees to illuminate them at night. It was something special to see when everything around me was dark and the only light was set on the flowers.

Spotlights were placed at the bottom of the trees to illuminate them at night. It was something special to see when everything around me was dark and the only light was set on the flowers.

The further you go in, you see the lights on the trees change colors. This changes the whole vibe of the rest of the castle grounds, and it feels like just you’re in a forest, not a castle!

The further you go in, you see the lights on the trees change colors. This changes the whole vibe of the rest of the castle grounds, and it feels like just you’re in a forest, not a castle!

One final look of the cherry blossoms up close. I know that this post is about castles, but if the people who used to live and work here also got to see all of these flowers, then in some way I am walking through where they used to walk through too.

One final look of the cherry blossoms up close. I know that this post is about castles, but if the people who used to live and work here also got to see all of these flowers, then in some way I am walking through where they used to walk through too.

Secondly, I visited Matsumoto Castle in Matsumoto near Nagano. This castle is the smallest of the castles that I visited, but equally beautiful with the cherry blossoms. The entrance ticket is ¥610, and that includes being able to go inside the castle. Since there was a long line to enter, however, my friend and I decided to not go inside. The castle was built on a plain, not a hill like most castles. It is considered an original castle, and mostly complete!

It was great to see the castle during cherry blossom season.

It was great to see the castle during cherry blossom season.

Before entering the castle grounds there is a park that you can walk around, and there is a big moat with a (unwalkable) red bridge that looks quite picturesque. I saw a swan there too, which was amazing!

Before entering the castle grounds there is a park that you can walk around, and there is a big moat with a (unwalkable) red bridge that looks quite picturesque. I saw a swan there too, which was amazing!

A closer look at the castle, with its beautiful navy blue walls.

A closer look at the castle, with its beautiful navy blue walls.

There were a whole lot of cherry blossoms surrounding the grasses of the main keep. It was nice to stand under the shade of the trees to see Matsumoto Castle on a very sunny day.

There were a whole lot of cherry blossoms surrounding the grasses of the main keep. It was nice to stand under the shade of the trees to see Matsumoto Castle on a very sunny day.

Last but not least, I went to see Himeji Castle, which is a very popular spot to visit during cherry blossoms. Himeji Castle is considered to a Japanese national treasure as it is one of the only castles from before the feudal period that did not get destroyed by war, fires, or earthquakes. It felt like the largest of the three castles I visited. And the only one that I went inside to explore the castle grounds. Since the ticket price to see all of the castles ground was ¥1000 ($9 USD), I made sure to make the most of my time exploring the castle.

I had heard that Himeji Castle was a great castle to visit during the cherry blossom season, so I made sure to go on a Monday when I was sure it would not be too crowded. The wait to enter the top floor of the main keep of Himeji Castle was not too long of a wait, but while inside, I had heard an announcement saying that there was a 50 minute wait to explore inside. Getting to the castle before noon turned out to be the best time to go without having to wait too long.

Himeji Castle in Himeji, close to cities like Kobe and Osaka.

Himeji Castle in Himeji, close to cities like Kobe and Osaka.

After walking throughout the main castle tower, I got to see it up close and without any tourists blocking the way!

After walking throughout the main castle tower, I got to see it up close and without any tourists blocking the way!

The view of the castle grounds and the city of Himeji. The roof’s “gargoyles” are actually white herons, which is also the nickname of Himeji Castle: White Heron Castle.

The view of the castle grounds and the city of Himeji. The roof’s “gargoyles” are actually white herons, which is also the nickname of Himeji Castle: White Heron Castle.

There is a lovely park full of cherry blossoms next to Himeji Castles and I was able to snap a ton of lovely shots of the castle with the flowers on the foreground.

There is a lovely park full of cherry blossoms next to Himeji Castles and I was able to snap a ton of lovely shots of the castle with the flowers on the foreground.

It’s definitely unique to be able to visit so many castles in a short period of time. There is no way to visit all of the castles in Japan in one trip, but every major city has got one! Whether in Nagoya or Hiroshima, you should add castle to your list of places to visit in Japan! It’s a great way to get away from the cities….but maybe not the crowds. There will always be crowds in Japan.


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