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A Tour of Japanese Castles

Castles for Protection Against Enemies

Most of the Japanese castles that still stand today were built on stone foundations and rise up a number of stories. They have gates and guard towers, from which soldiers would watch for enemy assaults and fire weapons.

The castle tower was situated on the highest part of the grounds and made up of three to five stories. The tower served as both a lookout and a symbol of power and influence. The complex of buildings on the castle's grounds was surrounded by a broad, deep moat and set on high stone foundation, so it was nearly impossible for enemies to penetrate into it. Ninja - spies and assassins who are sometimes featured in movies today - were trained to overcome difficult obstacles like these and slip into an enemy position.

photo Himeji Castle, which is well suited to the role of fortress (Himeji City)

An era known as the Age of Civil Wars unfolded during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in Japan. The country was divided into numerous fiefs, and powerful warring lords fought to gain control of new territory. At the same time, retainers frequently deposed their masters and anointed themselves ruler. Wars and battles were waged constantly, and rulers needed residences that would protect them from their enemies. Castle construction entered a stage of unparalleled development at this time.

At the end of the warring states period, firearms began to be imported into Japan, and the design of castles changed as a result. Walls were made thicker, castles were changed to make it easier to shoot enemies outside, and stone foundation walls were built.

There were castles in Japan as far back as 2,000 years ago, but these took the form of moats and fortresses raised high above the ground. When samurai became active and required residences that also served as a defense, castles evolved into the form people imagine them as today.

There are three main types of castle. The first is the mountain castle, built at the top of a peak to provide panoramic views and make it easier to spot invading armies. The second is the plain castle built on low-lying land, which is surrounded by a moat and raised up on stone foundations like an island. The third is the mountain-plain castle, which combines features of both types.