There are many castles in Japan, but how much do you know about them? Here are some interesting facts about Japanese castles to enhance your visits.
1. History of Japanese Castles
There are many castles all around Japan, such as Nagoya Castle, famous for its shachihoko (mythical carp with the head of a lion and the body of a fish); Osaka Castle, which is symbolic of Japan's second largest city, Osaka; and the white egret castle, Himeji Castle. Here is a brief history of Japanese castles.
Nagoya Castle, a symbol of Nagoya
Japanese Castles Date Back About 2000 Years
Castles are large structures built to prevent invasions. Their history in Japan dates back to the Yayoi Period that lasted from about 300 BCE to 300 CE. It is known that at Yoshinogari Site in Saga, listed as one of Japan's Top 100 Castles, there was a large structure that was surrounded by a V-shaped outer moat during the latter part of the Yayoi Period.
The Number of Castles Peaked During the Sengoku Period
The Warring States period (1467 - 1568), known as the Sengoku period, was a time of many battles as the name suggests. With many powerful sengoku daimyo (feudal lords with fiefdoms) vying for power, it is said that there were 25,000 castles, large and small, across the country.
The Demolition of Castles
In 1615, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who came to power after winning the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, issued the Ikkoku Ichijo ordinance proclaiming that each fiefdom may have one castle only, and that all other castles must be demolished. Numerous castles were torn down as a result. In addition, many of the remaining castles were dismantled by the Meiji government after the Edo shogunate fell.
2. Number of Castles
Many of the 25,000 castles across the country that existed during the Sengoku Period were demolished due to the Ikkoku Ichijo ordinance, fires, and abolition of the feudal system. Today, there are only 12 castles remaining with historic tenshukaku castle towers. In addition, there are several castles, such as Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle, with restored tenshukaku castle towers.
Osaka Castle - the symbol of Osaka - has a "fukko tenshu" (restored castle tower) that was modeled on other castles because details of the original tower could not be found.
3. Five National Treasure Castles that Retain Their Original Structure
The following five castles are designated as national treasures that retain the original castle towers. The dignity and architectural beauty of each of these castles are sure to move the visitor.
・Matsumoto Castle (Matsumoto, Nagano)
・Inuyama Castle (Inuyama, Aichi)
・Hikone Castle (Hikone, Shiga)
・Himeji Castle (Himeji, Hyogo)
・Matsue Castle (Matsue, Shimane)
Hikone Castle top left, Matsue Castle top right, Himeji Castle bottom.
Matsumoto Castle (left), Inuyama Castle (right)
4. Seven Important Cultural Property Castles that Retain Their Original Structures
The following seven castles are designated as important cultural properties that retain their original tenshukaku castle towers. Enjoy them together with the national treasures.
Important Cultural Properties
・Hirosaki Castle (Hirosaki, Aomori)
・Maruoka Castle (Sakai, Fukui)
・Bitchu Matsuyama Castle (Takahashi, Okayama)
・Marugame Castle (Marugame, Kagawa)
・Matsuyama Castle (Matsuyama, Ehime)
・Uwajima Castle (Uwajima, Ehime)
・Kochi Castle (Kochi, Kochi)
Hirosaki Castle top left, Maruoka Castle top right, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle bottom left, Matsuyama Castle bottom right. Each is an important cultural property.
Uwajima Castle top left, Marugame Castle top right, Kochi Castle bottom.
5. Castle Trivia
Tenshukaku Towers Were Storage Rooms?
Although it is widely thought that the lords lived in the tenshukaku towers, they actually lived in a dedicated single-story structure called gotens. When there were no battles going on, tenshukaku towers were often used as storage rooms for weapons and other items.
The Stairs at Kumamoto Castle are Hard to Climb?
The stairs in Kumamoto Castle are notoriously difficult to climb. The measurements are purposely unnatural, and each step has a different height so the climber has to keeping changing his stride. It is said that they were built this way to slow down the progress of invading foes.
Nagoya Castle has a Male and Female Shachihoko?
It is said that the golden shachihoko (mythical carp with the head of a lion and the body of a fish) on Nagoya Castle is male on the north side and female on the south side. Their sizes are slightly different, with the male being 2.621m high and the female 2.579m high, and the male having a weight of 1,272kg and the female of 1,215kg. They also have a different number of scales, with the male having 112 and the female, 126.
There are Giant Stones at Osaka Castle?
The stone walls at Osaka Castle are built with astonishingly large stones. They can be seen at the squares by Ote-mon, Kyobashi-guchi and Honmaru Sakura-mon. It may be fun to imagine where they came from, and how they were transported.
Tenshukaku Towers Were Adopted by Oda Nobunaga and Spread Throughout the Country
Castles and tenshukakus are often mistakenly thought to be one and the same. As mentioned earlier, castles are structures built for the purpose of protection. The tenshukaku is, put in simple terms, a high-rise building on the castle grounds. The tenshukaku were useful in battle to keep watch over the castle grounds and beyond, but also were symbolic displays of power. It is said that the first full-scale tenshukaku was constructed at Azuchi Castle, the huge five-story castle built on the east shore of Lake Biwa by the famous Azuchi Momoyama Period (1568 - 1603) lord, Oda Nobunaga, after which tenshukakus spread throughout the country.
A little knowledge can go a long way in enhancing your enjoyment of castles that are major tourist attractions.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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