Japanese Castles as they are known today evolved from traditional fortifications. These fortresses were built for the main purpose of military defense. For this reason they were placed in very strategic locations. These fortifications were also built to serve as governing centers which meant they needed to be well protected.
By the Sengoku (1467 – 1603) period these fortifications became the homes of daimyo’s (feudal lords). The fortifications served as a way to not only show other lords their strength and power but also to impress them with the beauty and elegance of the interior. As these fortifications became more and more elaborate they became known as Japanese castles.
The first one of these castles was built in 1576 by Oda Nobunaga. This was the first fortification or castle to include a tower keep and it was the center of governance for Oda’s territories as well as being his lavish home. The location of the castle allowed him to keep track of the movement and communication of his enemies and it was only a short distance from Kyoto.
These castles were built to last and they had to be able to be defendable and strong, despite this they were still primarily constructed of wood. They did include more stone that other Japanese buildings but nowhere near the amount that is found in European castles.
Few of these castles remain today many of them were destroyed by conflict which they were built to guard against. While others were destroyed in a more modern era, such as the castle at Hiroshima which was destroyed by the atomic bomb, this castle was rebuilt as a museum. Castles that remain today include the castles at Matsue and Kochi which were built around 1611. Today more than 100 castles can be found throughout Japan, this number may seem large, until you realize that at one point there were over 5,000 castles scattered all over Japan.
A large number of these castles were deliberately destroyed by the Meiji Restoration in 1871 which sought to abolish the Han system. During this period 2,000 castles were either destroyed or dismantled. Many of the castles you may see in Japan are reconstructions that are made out of concrete and made to resemble the wood that they were originally built from.