Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle – One of the Oldest & Highest Castles in Japan

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A fortress in the heavens. A stronghold in the sky. Japan’s Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle is a vision from a distance and a time capsule up close. With roots back to 1240, this one of Japan’s oldest castles. It’s also the highest castle in Japan out of the original twelve that have survived. While not a large structure, this Japanese castle’s positioning, location, and views make it an incredible place to visit in Okayama Prefecture.

COVER Japanese Castle in the Clouds Bitchu Matsuyama Okayama

Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle in Okayama

There are many fantastic things to do in Okayama, and for anyone interested in Japanese history and architecture, this castle should be on your list. This strategic lookout point was once almost impossible to see up close. After all, mountain perches like this were chosen because of how difficult they were to access. Yet today, centuries after construction and countless forgotten battles, you can stand in the same place where soldiers kept watch for encroaching forces.

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The Highest Original Japanese Castle

Japanese Castle in Okayama Bitchu Matsuyama

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Japan

Crouching atop a mountain 430 meters above sea level, the Bitchuu-Matsuyama Castle was a strategic lookout point for various armies. Construction began in the 13th century, but over the years various leaders expanded or rebuilt it to suit their needs. By 1683, over 400 years later, it began to resemble what we see today.

Many castles were destroyed in the Meiji Era of modernization, but Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle was spared. Its impenetrable location is one reason why it remains intact, although for years it lay empty and in disrepair. In the years leading up to WWII, restoration began. Many of the roofs we see today are the result, but much of the castle is still original wood. Inside you can see the stove they used to warm themselves and the shrine they used to pray to their ancestors. You can run your hands along fortress walls still with circular and rectangular slits where archers took aim at their enemies. 

Tips for Visiting Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle Observation Deck Japan

There are hundreds of castles in Japan that are in various states of refurbishment and authenticity. Out of the four major castles in Okayama Prefecture, the most famous is the eponymously named Okayama Castle. Near the center of town, Okayama Castle is close to the prefecture’s main train station and a short walk from other attractions such as Korakuen Garden. Many of the most famous Japanese castles are easy to reach: Osaka Castle, Kyoto’s Nijo Castle and Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture are all an easy stroll from public transportation.

In contrast, Bitchu-Matsuyama is a little trickier to access, but now it’s easier than ever. Once an impregnable fortress, now it offers beautiful views and a unique look back at feudal Japan. Here’s how to get the most out of a visit. 

Best Time to Visit Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle

closeup Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama Prefecture Japan

If you want to see Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in its cloud-shrouded glory, the best months are November and December in the wee hours after dawn. The temperature and climate play a large role in cloud placement, and historically the castle looks almost like an island in a sea of clouds during the last months of the year. The picture you see here I took at the beginning of February, so you can see the difference in cloud altitude.

Opening Hours and Admission

Tickets for Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle are ¥300 for adults and ¥150 for Primary and Junior High Students. Opening hours are as follows:

  • 09:00 – 17:30 from April to September
  • 09:00 – 16:30 from October to March
  • Closed during the Shōgatsu Holidays (December 29th to January 3rd)

How to Visit Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle

There are two main ways to see the castle: up close and from a viewpoint half a kilometer away. My recommendation is to go to the viewpoint first and arrive early in the morning when the clouds are still low. That way you end up driving through the clouds on the way. I arranged for a taxi to bring me to the observation deck around 7:30 AM. After seeing it from this distance, I went back to my hotel for breakfast, washed up, and then jumped in a taxi to go to the castle itself.

  • You can book the taxis here for ¥2,000. (They’re working on an English web page…I’ll update when it’s ready). That’s for taxi only. You’ll still need to pay admission.

Plan for a 20-Minute Hike

how to get to Bitchu Matsuyama Castle Okayama Prefecture Japan

There is no parking lot in front of Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle. The closest you can get on wheels is about a 20-minute walk away. The steps and incline are fairly steep, but the views of the valley below are worth the climb. The path is concrete and stone but it is not wheelchair or stroller-friendly. Similarly, there are many stretches with no guardrail, so be careful with little kids. They can easily climb the path but should be careful near steep drop-offs. 

It’s a beautiful walk. For instance, I went in the middle of winter and it was still green and sunny. In the warmer months, it’s even nicer. After all, the castle sits in a national forest, with over 1,000 different species of plants surrounding it. You might see some wildlife, as well: birds mostly, but also monkeys. Just be careful around them, as  Japanese macaques are territorial. 

Where to Stay to Visit Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle

Breakfast at Takahashi International Hotel Okayama Prefecture Japan

When I last visited, I stayed at the Takahashi International Hotel. It’s only two minutes on foot from Bitchu-Takahashi Station. The hotel is also about 20 minutes by car to the castle observatory platform and 15 minutes by car from the walking path to the castle itself. They have a fantastic Japanese breakfast (see above). Western breakfasts also available but I didn’t try them. 

Have You Been to a Japanese Castle?

Bitchu-Matsuyama is one of many amazing castles in Japan. You have the Okayama Castle and Himeji Castle nearby, but there are many amazing historical buildings in Japan. Where would you want to see? 

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Disclosure: Some of my Okayama activities have been sponsored by JTB, a Japanese tourism agency. However, my opinions are my own and I only recommend things to do in Japan that I think you will enjoy. This post may contain affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel using those links. 

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