A treasure trove of history! 18 famous castles in The Tokai and Hokuriku Shin’etsu Regions
Many great castles were built in The Tokai and Hokuriku Shin’etsu regions by warlords during the sengoku (warring states) period. Castles were made in various styles according to the topography, role, and taste of the lord.
ANA carried out a project in collaboration with “Tastes of JAPAN by ANA -Explore the Regions-,” which works to discover the most charming locations all over the country, and TripAdvisor, to introduce popular castles from 9 prefectures (Aichi Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Gifu Prefecture, Shizuoka Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Toyama Prefecture, Ishikawa Prefecture, Fukui Prefecture, Nagano Prefecture) in The Tokai and Hokuriku Shin’etsu regions.
This is a castle that was built in 1598 and burned down in a large fire in 1668. The rebuilt castle is characterized by the kirikomihagi technique (where individual stones are carefully chiseled in straight lines and laid in courses so that each stone fits tightly with the others to form an even, smooth facing surface) used on its stone walls and its namako-kabe walls that is unique to the castle.
The castle is built on flat ground for convenience of transportation, and is surrounded by moats and stone walls. In the past, there were 11 turrets and 5 gates. The three-tiered turret, which is regarded as a substitute for the castle tower, is unique and it is the only place in the country with three shachihoko.
This was a hill castle (yamajiro), known as the residence castle for the sengoku period warlord, Uesugi Kenshin. Its fortification utilized the complex nature of the terrain and was said to be a “famously impregnable castle”. Even now, the features of the hill castle remain, such as the dorui (earthwork fortifications) and large well.
The honmaru (inner citadel) ruins, located at an altitude of 180m, offers panoramic views of the Japan Sea and mountains. In the middle of the mountain, there is a bronze statue of Uesugi Kenshin and the Kasugayama Shrine.
This castle was built during the sengoku period and saw repeated battles between powerful military commanders. Stone walls remain as they were at that time but the castle tower was newly built in 1954. Inside the castle there is a history museum which displays models and pictures of the castle’s over 400-year history. The 140cm tall kabuto (feudal lord helmet), is a must-see.
The castle ruins are maintained as a lush green park. It is full of cherry blossoms in full bloom in spring and is also popular as a cherry blossom viewing spot. The view of the castle over the moat is exceptional.
This is a castle built by Maeda Toshinaga, who was the first lord of the Kaga clan. It became a ruined castle in 1615, but after the Meiji era it was opened as a vast castle ruin park that spans approximately 21㎡. A third of the entire area of the park is occupied by the three remaining mizubori (water moats), which have been left almost intact since the castle’s construction.
There are many trees, such as cherry blossoms and maples, in the park and carp and crucian carp in the pond. It is particularly popular with the public as a cherry blossom viewing spot.
The beginnings of this castle can be traced back to when the sengoku daimyo, Maeda Toshiie made residence here and built it up into a full-fledged castle. The castles three gates, the Ishikawa gate, Kahoku gate, and Hashizume gate, are considered particularly important. The Kahoku gate and the Hashizume gate were restored in recent years, and the Ishikawa gate that is still standing was rebuilt in 1788.
Inside the castle, a warehouse for storing weapons etc. and a two-story building that functioned as a castle wall have been reproduced, and you can see their wooden beams and timberwork. Instead of iron nails, wooden kusabi (wedges) were used and the timberwork was carefully designed in a way to prevent the wood from coming apart.
Nanao Castle is a castle that was built and occupied by the Hatakeyama clan, the guardians of Noto Province during the sengoku period. Taking advantage of the natural topography, from the top of the mountain to the foot of the mountain, a row of buildings were centered around the seven mountain ridges that were the origin of the name Nanao (7 tails), and a castle town was formed at the foot of the mountain.
The castle area is about 2.5km north to south, about 1km east to west, and about 252.6ha in area. From the honmaru (inner citadel) ruins, which are at an altitude of 305 meters, you can overlook Nanao Bay and the Noto Peninsula.
In the Hokuriku region, this is the only castle with a castle tower. Oda Nobunaga ordered the construction this castle in response to the Ikkō-ikki (a resistance movement of Buddhist believers against the rule of the daimyo) that took place during the sengoku period.
The interior is three stories, and you can climb up the steep stairs while holding onto a rope. Since it was built during the war, you can see war devices, such as the ishiotoshi (bretèche) for attacking the enemy right below the stonewall of the castle tower with stones, and small windows for shooting arrows or bullets through.
This is a castle built on Kameyama hill at an altitude of 249m. It is also famously known as the “Castle of the Sky”, as when the castle town that spreads out around the foothills is surrounded by a sea of clouds, only Kameyama can be seen floating above. It is said that the sea of clouds is likely to occur from dawn to 9am at the end of October to the end of April (the incidence rate is highest in November).
This castle was built in 1575 by Kanamori Nagachika, who served as the first castle lord. Since then, the prestigious Edo period families, the Matsudaira clan and Doi clans, became the castle owners. Inside the castle the artifacts of these successive castle owners are on display.
The upper part of this castle’s wall is covered with white plaster, and the lower part is covered with black lacquer-coated clapboard, creating a beautiful contrast between white and black. When the sengoku period settled down, the tsukimi yagura (a tower for viewing the moon) with its vermillion handrails was added.
This is the oldest surviving castle tower in Japan that has an external appearance of five stories and an interior of 6 stories and is designated as a national treasure. Inside the stone wall there are 16 pillars that support the foundation, and from the first floor to the third floor there are numerous other pillars, creating a firmly framed lower layer.
This castle was built in 1583 by the sengoku military commander, Sanada Masayuki. It is known as an impregnable castle, which repulsed the Tokugawa army twice. After the Battle of Sekigahara, the castle was demolished, but was rebuilt by the Sengoku clan in the early Edo period.
The castle is currently being maintained as a castle park, and there are other attractions such as the Nishiyagura (west turret), which has been in existence since the Edo period, the legendary megalith, the Sanada stone, with a height of about 2.5m and a width of about 3m, and the Sanada well, which was said to be a secret passage.
Iwamura Castle, built in 1185, had a long, 700-year history until it was demolished in 1873. This castle was built on the top of a small mountain, 717 meters above sea level, said to be the highest in the Edo period.
This castle’s ancient stone walls remain and are fascinating due to the unique use of the terrain that has undulations with differences up to 180m, that were strong against enemy attacks. It is also known as “Kirigajo” (fog castle) as it took advantage of the terrain’s frequent fog.
Gifu Castle, which stands on the summit of Kinkazan, was once called Inabayama Castle. It was the castle of Saito Dosan, who reigned over this region during the Sengoku period, and Oda Nobunaga seized the castle and made it a base for the reunification of the country.
The present castle was restored in 1956, the castle’s interior has an exhibition room and the tower has an observation deck. From the observation deck, you can overlook the Nagara River flowing around the city and the surrounding mountains. You can reach the summit by a ropeway.
Construction of Kakegawa Castle began when the Imagawa clan ordered a vassal to build it during the Sengoku period. After that, Yamauchi Kazutoyo moved into the castle and made large-scale renovations such as constructing a castle tower and a gate, and it became known as “the famous castle of Tokai.”
In the turmoil that ensued at the end of the Edo period, the castle was demolished, but in 1994 the wooden castle tower was restored. The castle consists of four floors, and suits of armor, etc. are on display. Many cherry trees are planted in the area, and in spring you can see the cherry blossoms from the castle tower.
This castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who began the Edo Shogunate, in order to defeat the sengoku daimyo, Takeda Shingen. It was called Shussejo (“the castle of the great rise”) due to the fact that Ieyasu spent 17 years in this castle, and after that the most powerful daimyo of the Shogunate became its lords and then went on to hold key positions.
The huge castle gate located to the east of the castle tower is a distinctive feature of Hamamatsu Castle. Weapons and food were stored in the tower above the gate, and from there the enemy was attacked with bows-and-arrows and guns.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, who became shōgun during the sengoku period, ordered this castle to be built as an important base for establishing his rule over Osaka’s Toyotomi clan. In order to show the power of the Tokugawa family the castle incorporates various extravagances such as the luxurious Honmaru (inner citadel) residence, the vast Ninomaru Garden, and tall stone walls.
The golden shachi that sits atop the castle tower is famous. The origin of the shachihoko is the Chinese legendary kaiju (sea beast), which was placed on buildings and believed to protect against fire by expelling water. The paintings and ceiling panels of the Honmaru palace were painted by artists from the Kano school, one of the largest painter schools in Japan, and are a sight to behold.
※ The castle tower is closed as of May 2019.
Built in 1537, this castle is one of the 5 castles considered National Treasures in Japan. As it was built on a precipice and located at a strategically important location, the three warlords （Oda Nobunaga,Toyotomi Hideyosi,Tokugawa Ieyasu）who led Japan to unity during the sengoku period fought over possession of it. The castle is wooden and has the oldest wooden tower in Japan.
It is built on a hill 80 meters above the south shore of the Kiso River, and the top floor of the castle tower offers spectacular views. There are many attractions around the castle, and it is fun to walk around the castle town.
This castle was created by Todo Takatora, who was called “the master of castles,” and is also called “Hakuho Castle” (“White Phoenix Castle”) due to its beautiful three-story white structure. The current castle tower was built in 1935, but the atmosphere of the sengoku period remains in the castle.
The stone wall of the uchibori (inner moat), which is about 30 meters high, was built in 1585. It is said to be the tallest in Japan and it is also used as a location for numerous films.
In 1588, the sengoku military commander, Gamo Ujisato, who built the foundation of Matsusaka, built this castle, and there used to be a three-storied tower. The castle tower and turret were destroyed by typhoons and other incidents, but there is still a magnificent stone wall made of stacked natural stones that remain almost as they were when it was built.
It now exists as Joshi (castle ruins) Park and is known as a famous place for cherry blossoms and wisterias. Inside the park are the former home of Edo period national scholar, Motoori Norinaga, Japan’s largest samurai residence, and the Museum of History and Folklore.
The Tokai and Hokuriku Shin’etsu region was home to many sengoku warlords, including the San’eiketsu (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the three venerated daimyo who unified Japan during the sengoku period), and many other places related to the sengoku period. Why not come visit the castles that were the setting of this turbulent time and get in touch with this historical drama.