Castles in the air

By on October 1, 2009

Photo © Elena Derevstova


Nothing fuels a child’s imagination more than a castle. Whether it’s storming the keep as a fearless knight or samurai, or overseeing one’s domain from the battlements high above, castles play a pivotal role in childhood play. Luckily, Japan boasts a number of castles guaranteed to intrigue any young lord or lady.


Himeji Castle

One of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Japan, the “White Heron Castle” towers above the city of Himeji. Kids will have a ball peeking out of the numerous arrow slits and attempting to track down the castle’s hidden entrance. In the spring, a thousand blooming cherry trees make the surrounding park a perfect picnic spot.


Matsumoto Castle

One of Japan’s few remaining black castles, the dark donjon of Matsumoto’s fortress makes a striking contrast against the azure sky. Learn the secret of Matsumoto Castle’s hidden fourth floor or spy on peasants and passersby from high up in the tower. In the autumn, the extensive castle grounds play host to a tasty soba festival – get in on the action and chow down on the region’s signature dish, available from over two dozen vendors.


Osaka Castle

The imposing silhouette of Osaka Castle stands tall over Japan’s third-largest city. The only castle in Japan to sport an elevator (great for strollers!), there are informative exhibits on the castle’s role in the Tokugawa era and stellar views from the top floor observation deck.


Odawara Castle

Accessible by local train from Tokyo, Odawara’s castle makes for an easy day trip from the city. Though the modernized interior of the castle doesn’t boast much, the surrounding grounds house a small zoo and a miniature train.


Tsuwano Castle

Nothing will make your kids feel more like medieval adventurers than a hike up to the ruins of Tsuwano Castle in western Honshu. It’s easy to imagine you’re a daimyo (feudal lord) surveying your land from the old stone ruins on the crest of the hill. Back down in the town, follow thousands of colorful koi as they swim in the waterways lining the city streets.


Shuri Castle

This crimson-colored UNESCO World Heritage Site overlooks the landscape of Japan’s remote Ryukyu Islands. Kids can collect stamps as they wander from room to room in the sprawling building, while parents will be intrigued by the unique blend of Asian architectural styles. On weekends, traditional Ryukyu dances are often showcased in the castle courtyard.

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