Japan, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto Castle, low angle view

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Top choice in Kumamoto

Dominating the skyline, Kumamoto's robust castle is one of Japan's best, built in 1601–07 by daimyō Katō Kiyomasa, whose likeness is inescapable around the castle (look for the distinctive tall pointed hat). From 1632 it was the seat of the powerful Hosokawa clan. Unfortunately, the castle, many outbuildings and much of the grounds are closed indefinitely due to earthquake damage, but the site is still worth seeing from the street.

The castle's massive curved stone walls, 5.3km in circumference, are crammed with 13 photogenic buildings, turrets, keeps and the soaring black Tenshūkaku (main building, 29.5m tall).

Though it's a reconstruction, Kumamoto-jō is best known as the scene of the story of the last samurai. During the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, rebels against the new imperial order held out through a 50-day siege here before the castle was burned, leaving the Meiji government to rule unfettered.

Outside the main keep but still within the castle walls, several museums remain open, including the Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art, its postmodern Chibajo branch and a crafts centre.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Kumamoto attractions

1. Tenshūkaku

0.04 MILES

The castle's soaring black Tenshūkaku (main building, 29.5m tall) is today a historical museum with 6th-storey lookouts. The tower was closed at the time…

2. Honmaru Palace

0.06 MILES

The 2008 reconstruction of the Honmaru Palace fairly gleams with fresh wood and gold-leaf paintings, particularly in the Sho-kun-no-ma receiving room…

5. Wakuwaku-za

0.23 MILES

This family-friendly museum presents the history of Kumamoto and the castle from many angles, from the 10-minute video with English subtitles explaining…

6. Sakuranobaba Johsaien

0.23 MILES

This tourist complex at the foot of the castle grounds offers a one-stop opportunity to sample (and purchase) local foods, from fish cakes to tea to…

7. Kumamoto Prefectural Museum of Art

0.34 MILES

On the grounds of Ninomaru park, this art museum has ancient Buddhist sculptures, modern paintings and a recreation of an ancient burial mound.

8. Sōseki Memorial Hall

0.36 MILES

Meiji-era novelist Natsume Sōseki (1867–1916) is honoured at the pretty 1870s home where he lived during his four years teaching English in Kumamoto. The…