NIPPONIA No.17 June 15, 2001


Special Feature*

Castle Builders and Admirers

There are castles in many parts of Japan, and tourists and history lovers come to see them year after year. What makes people want to go and see old defense works built hundreds of years ago? This article looks at castles in Japanese history, and the attraction they still possess today.

Written by Owada Tetsuo

Professor at Shizuoka University

The foundation of Edo Castle's main tower, located on the grounds of the Imperial Palace. The main tower burned in 1657 and was never rebuilt. (Photo by Ito Chiharu)

Castles as History and Beauty

Century after century, people have built castles to protect themselves from enemies beyond their borders. In prehistoric Japan, people protected their villages with moats and earthworks, and these were remarkable "castles" in their own right. After the establishment of a government based on legal codes (late 7th century to the 10th century), the state erected a number of national defense works. These included Taga-jo, a military outpost established to carry out raids in northern Honshu, and Mizuki-jo and Ito-jo, fortifications built in Kyushu to ward off possible attacks from Tang China or the Silla Kingdom in Korea. We can consider these defense works to be castles as well.
During the medieval age and the time of the samurai, castles assumed even greater importance in Japan, and they became larger and more numerous.In the Warring States period (mid-1400s to the second half of the 1500s), each local lord built a castle in his own part of the country.These military bases were hard to attack and easy to defend, and the lords used them to control their domains.Two immense and magnificent castles erected during this time, Azuchi Castle (built by Oda Nobunaga, 1534-1582) and Osaka Castle (built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 1536-1598), became prototypes for castles constructed later in the Edo period.
The period from 1568 to 1603, when the country felt the influence of Oda Nobunaga and then Toyotomi Hideyoshi, is sometimes called the Shokuho era.Cultural historians call it the Azuchi-Momoyama period, borrowing the names of Nobunaga's residential castle in Azuchi and Hideyoshi's other castle in Fushimi Momoyama.Both castles were near Kyoto, and both had a stupendous and awesome design that helped define castle architecture.
Castles built at this time and during the Edo period generally had a multi-storied main tower (tenshukaku).In the early days the towers were lookouts and command posts to be used in battle, but later they became more important as symbols indicating the castle lord's prestige.That is why both the exterior and the interior were designed and decorated in a very elaborate manner.
The exterior walls of the towers were covered in white plaster to protect them from fire.The plaster served another purpose as well, creating a beautiful and intriguing contrast with the dark roof tiles and the boards of the black wooden walls.
The walls had small openings that could be round, triangular, square or rectangular.These holes were used for defensive purposes, such as shooting muskets at attackers.In addition to having a strategic purpose, they added beauty to the structure.


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