Editor’s note: I’ve had the great opportunity to visit Japan twice in the last five years, first in 2016 and again in 2018 and with the start of the Olympic Games in Tokyo I wanted to revisit those trips and share some of the pictures that I may or may not have already.
Not all castles are made of stone. In Japan, while rocks are used for walls, ramparts and foundations for keeps, or lookout towers, most of the structures within the grounds are made from wood, making it remarkable some of them are still standing after centuries.
Edo Castle was first built in 1457. Walls and moats expanded over the years to contain an expansive and elaborate grounds. The Fuji-yagura, third picture, is an example of a keep. It was built in 1659 and is said to have once offered views of Mt. Fuji.
Various fires damaged or destroyed different parts of the castle. A blaze in 1657 burned a large keep, which later became the site of the new imperial palace castle, built in 1888. The Edo complex now is part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace.
In Kyoto, Nijo Castle which includes the Ninomaru Palace and the ruins of the Honmaru Palace, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle was built in 1626 and while Edo was used as the capital city, Nijo was home to the Imperial Court, the ruling government of Japan from 794 until the Meiji Period began in 1868.
The palace suffered multiple fires over the centuries. The central keep was struck by lightning in 1750 and burned to the ground. A fire in 1788 destroyed much of the palace’s Honmaru, or inner ward.
The Kanazawa Castle contains mostly reconstructed structures from what it would have looked like in the 1850s. The buildings were meticulously rebuilt using traditional construction methods. The roof is made from wood then covered in lead. Some say the metal was used because it was abundant in the region and others believe it is because in times of war the tiles could be removed and melted to make bullets.