Owning a castle in Japan? A possibility or a pipe dream?

Inuyama Castle Aichi Prefecture
Inuyama Castle, Aichi Prefecture. Japan’s last privately owned castle until 2004.

Europe is dotted with historic castles that can be bought and lived in, but what about Japan? Can you buy an authentic castle in Japan?

In short – probably not.

The overwhelming majority of castles in Japan are owned by either the national or local governments. Osaka Castle, for example, is owned by Osaka City while Himeji Castle is owned by the national government.

There were once as many as 25,000 castles and forts dotted across the country. There was even a castle near Shibuya Station that drew upon the Shibuya River for its moat. The castle was destroyed in the 1500s and a partial stone wall in the Konno Hachimangu Shrine is the only remnant left.

By the end of the Edo period in the 1800s, only about 200 castles were left standing.  In the following Meiji Restoration, castles were turned over to the government and were either dismantled, destroyed in civil conflicts or abandoned.

There are only 12 castles in existence today that were built before the Edo period and many of the castles you find today are replicas. Osaka Castle, for example, has been destroyed and rebuilt several times over its 430 year history. The current castle is reinforced concrete and features an elevator.

There have, however, been a handful of castles that were privately owned. One of those is Inuyama Castle in Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture (pictured above). In 2004, this was the only privately owned castle in Japan. The castle is now owned by a charitable organisation. With the exception of a brief period during the Meiji Restoration, the castle has been in the Naruse family from 1617 to 2004. The last owners were worried about future repair costs and decided to donate the property to the charity group. The running costs are covered by financial assistance from the city as well as donations from the public.

Nakatsu Castle
Nakatsu Castle

Another example is Nakatsu Castle in Nakatsu City, Oita Prefecture. The castle was owned by a company run by the descendants of the Okudaira clan. They put the castle and surrounding land up for sale in 2007 with an asking price of 300 million Yen (about 2.44 million USD at the time) but buyers were thin on the ground. They rejected Nakatsu City’s offer of 139 million Yen, and eventually sold the castle, but not the land, to a Saitama-based company in 2010 for 50 million Yen.

The original castle was destroyed by fire at the end of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, and the current castle was built in the 1960s. The reinforced-concrete structure is actually a replica of the former Hagi Castle in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

A foreclosed castle replica in Hokkaido

If you cannot find a real castle, you can buy or build a replica. In 2011, a replica castle in Hokkaido went up for public auction with a minimum bid of 16 million Yen. The 6-storey building was built in 1991 and had been used as a doll museum. It failed to sell and had been re-listed several times with the most recent court valuation set at 12.6 million Yen.

Morioka Castle
Morioka Castle, Miyazaki Prefecture

The president of Morioka Sangyo, an architecture, landscaping and rental management company based in Miyazaki Prefecture, started building his own castle in the 1970s. The property is often open to the public for festivals, and 500 Yen will get you a full tour inside the castle.

Building an exact replica might be a little expensive. Construction giant Obayashi Corporation estimated that it would cost 78 billion Yen (766 million USD) to replicate Osaka Castle, the grounds and moat using current construction methods.

If you want to live like a prince on a pauper’s budget, Kumamoto City will let you be a castle lord for a day. Those who make a donation of 10,000 Yen, which goes towards the restoration of Kumamoto Castle, will receive a complimentary ticket to the castle grounds, a certificate of thanks and will have their name displayed inside the castle tower. The castle keep is a replica from the 1960s but is being restored using traditional techniques. The donation idea has become so successful that Nagoya Castle and Kyoto’s Nijo Castle have introduced similar fund-raising activities.

Not content with building a Japanese-style castle, a Japanese actor and company president arranged for a 160-year old castle in Scotland to be relocated to Gunma Prefecture during the bubble economy. Lockheart Castle is set in a medieval-themed park with shops, cafes, wedding facilities and a Santa Claus museum.

Lockheart Castle Gunma Prefecture
Lockheart Castle in Gunma Prefecture

Source: Suumo Journal, November 14, 2013.

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