【Japan's Famous Castle Series】Japan's Three Great Mountain Castles with Japan's Best

Mountain castles (山城 / Sanjo or Yamajiro), which skillfully utilize the natural rugged topography, are castles that carve, excavate, and harden a natural mountain to create moats (堀 / hori), earthworks (土塁 / dorui - levees for division and defense) and enclosures (曲輪 / kuruwa - divided flat land). In addition, almost all of the components were built with soil or earth, and the buildings were simple wooden structures, so there are almost nothing remains. Among them, Iwamura Castle in Gifu Prefecture, Takatori Castle in Nara Prefecture, and Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama Prefecture are called "Japan's Three Great Mountain Castles". All of them have a unique personality that is "Japan's No.1"! Therefore, this time we will introduce these three castles!

Main enclosure with the highest elevation in Japan - "Iwamura Castle"

Main enclosure with the highest elevation in Japan - Iwamura Castle

The main enclosure (本丸 / Honmaru) of "Iwamura Castle" (岩村城 / Iwamura-jo) in Ena City, Gifu Prefecture was built at an altitude of 717 meters, the highest in Japan. It is also called "kirigajo" (霧ヶ城 - the castle of mist) because the weather that makes it easy for mist to form is also used in the construction of the castle. Additionally, it is also known as the "castle of the female castle lord". This is because the aunt of Oda Nobunaga, a warlord who played important roles in Japanese history, was the lord of the castle. Today, the ishigaki stone walls remain in the castle ruins, and you may be able to feel the remnants of those days.

Spot Information

  • Spot name: Iwamura Castle (岩村城 / Iwamura-jo)
  • Address: Shiroyama, Iwamura-cho, Ena City, Gifu Prefecture
  • Hours: Can be explored freely
  • Access: Get off at Iwamura Station on the Akechi Railway and walk about 20 minutes to the Iwamura Historical Museum (additional 20 minutes to the main enclosure 'Honmaru')

The highest relative elevation in Japan from the foot of the mountain to the main enclosure - "Takatori Castle"

The highest relative elevation in Japan from the foot of the mountain to the main enclosure - Takatori Castle

Takatori Castle (高取城 / Takatori-jo), located in Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture, was built on the summit of Mt. Takatori at an altitude of about 583 meters between the Nara Basin and the Yoshino River. The height difference from the foot of the castle to the Honmaru main enclosure is 390 meters, the highest among Japanese castles. Almost no buildings remain in Takatori Castle, but the stone walls are still well preserved, and you can learn about the structure of the castle. It is estimated that the circumference within the castle precinct is about 30 km, and the circumference of the area inside the walls (area within the ishigaki stone walls) is about 20 km, which is equivalent to Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture.

Spot Information

  • Spot name: Takatori Castle (高取城 / Takatori-jo)
  • Address: Takatori, Takatori-cho, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture
  • Hours: Free to visit (at any time)
  • Access: From Kintetsu Yoshino Line "Tsubosakayama" Station, take the Nara Kotsu Bus bound for "Tsubosakadera" and get off at "Tsubosakadera-mae" and walk for about 40 minutes.

The castle tower with the highest elevation in Japan - "Bitchu Matsuyama Castle"

The castle tower with the highest elevation in Japan - Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
©Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle (備中松山城 / Bitchu Matsuyama-jo), located near the summit of Mt. Gagyu in Takahashi City, Okayama Prefecture, is the only mountain castle in Japan that still has a castle tower. The castle tower is located at an altitude of 430 meters, making it the highest one in Japan. It is also known as Takahashi Castle from the name of the place where it is located. It is also one of the 12 surviving castle towers (still existing original castle towers since the ancient time).

The castle tower with the highest elevation in Japan - Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
©Okayama Prefectural Tourism Federation

In the early morning from autumn to spring, the morning mist 'sea of clouds' spreads all over the area. Depending on the conditions, you can see Bitchu Matsuyama Castle floating on the sea of clouds. In recent years, it has become a popular photo spot as a “Mountain Castle in the Sky” floating above the sea of clouds. During the season when you can see the fantastic scenery of the mountain castle, many fans visit from the early morning.

Spot Information

  • Spot name: Bitchu Matsuyama Castle (備中松山城 / Bitchu Matsuyama-jo)
  • Address: 1 Uchisange, Takahashi City, Okayama Prefecture
  • Opening time:
    9:00-17:30 (April-September) / Last entry at 17:00
    9:00-16:30 (October-March) / Last entry at 16:00
  • Closed: December 29th to January 3rd
  • Entrance fee: 500 yen for adults, 200 yen for elementary and junior high school students
  • Access: Bitchu-Takahashi Station (Takahashi Bus Center) → [Takahashi City Loop Bus] about 10 minutes → Matsuyama Castle trailhead ... about 50 minutes on foot

More about Bitchu Matsuyama Castle: Japan's Sole Mountain Castle, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle!