Friday, February 28, 2014

Explanation on three types of Japanese castles

Explanation on three types of Japanese castles

As describe in explanation on each castle, Japanese castles are roughly classified into the following three types:

1.    Mountain Castles

Mountain castles are usually built on the mountains 200 meter to 500 meter high from the foot. In Kamakura era, soldiers usually build their fort on plains, but in the time of disturbance among Nanbokucho and beginning of Muromachi era (14th century), local lords built or transformed mountain temples into castles on steep mountains for defense. At first they only shaped the terrain and just made fences, but subsequently structure of castles became more secured by digging moats and building sand walls.

The advantage of mountain castles is its suitability for defense. The path of offence force is usually limited to narrow roads or ridges, and difference of height was a disadvantage for attackers using arrows and spears.
On the other hand, disadvantage of mountain castles is its inconvenience. It was too hard to live on the mountain long time, thus usually dwelling houses were built at the food of the mountain. Also, the distance between castle and town was not suitable for administration in peace time.

In addition to this, the matter of space became a problem later. Due to a limitation of terrain, mountain castles usually had only narrow areas. Butt in the latter half of Sengoku era, warlords became more organized and siege castles with numerous soldiers. In such situation, with the limited soldiers and foods kept in castle, it became significantly difficult to defend mountain castles long time.

For example, Gifu castle which was said as a secure castle rejected many attacks, just before the battle of Sekigahara at 1600, could not stand one day against large force of Tokugawa army. Moreover, owing to spread of matchlock gun, difference of height became not important disadvantage for attackers any more.

Due to such reasons, mountain castles were abolished toward the end of Sengoku era. Only several castles were absurdly reformed in modern castle with stone walls and used until the end of Edo era.


Gifu castle (Gifu prefecture), Iwamura castle (Gifu prefecture), Takatori castle (Nara pefecture), Bicchu Matsuyama castle (Okayama prececture), Tottori castle (Tottori prefecture), Odani castle (Shiga prefecture) etc.

2.    Hill castles

Located on the small hill, usually within 100 meters high from foot. Hill castle have advantages of both mountain castle and plain castle, it means secure defense and usability. Additionally, hill castles can clearly show the order of social standing, between lords, samurais and townspeople. Because of this, hill castles had been built throughout Medieval and Sengoku era.

But once cannons were brought to Japan in the late of 16th century, buildings on a small hill became a good target for cannons. Because Japan became peace before critical spread of cannons, this problem did not come to surface.

Himeji castle (Hyogo prefecture), Sendai castle (Miyagi prefecture), Fukuoka castle (Fukuoka prefecture), Wakayama castle (Wakayama prefecture), Matsuyama castle (Ehime prefecture), Hikone castle (Shiga prefecture) etc. 

3.    Plain castles

As above, dwelling place of lords in Kamakura era was built on plain surrounded by single moat. After that, of course in plain area castles continued to build on flat land.

In the final period of Sengoku era, it was possible for large and organized warlords to perform a large scale engineering such as digging moats and building stone walls (At last, it became difficult to distinguish hill castle located on low hill from plain castle with high stonewalls). Even if located on flat land, castles surrounded by multiple water moats and tall stone walls had sufficient ability of defense, and it was easy to expand plain castles to store large number of soldiers and supplies in case of war. 

In addition to this, plain and wide shape had cannons difficult to aim the buildings in central areas, same as western fortress. Due to this, plain castles became major among the new castles build on and after 1590’s, especially for Tokugawa clan.
Edo castle (Tokyo metropolis), Osaka castle (Osaka prefecture), Nagoya castle (Aichi prefecture), Nijo castle (Kyoto prefecture), Aizu Wakamatsu castle (Fukushima prefecture) etc.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Takane Castle -Completely restored medieval fort-

Takane Castle

-Completely restored medieval fort-



Name: Takane castle (Takane-jyo)
Place: Misakubocho Tenryuku, Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka
Type: Mountain castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Moats (Buildings, fences and gates are restored)

Brief History

Takane castle (高根城) is located in Misakubo town, the northest area of Hamamatsu city. The town is located on midst of Akiba Kaido, the historical way from Totomi country (western Shizuoka prefecture) to southern Shinano country (Nagano prefecture). Takane castle was built a hill looking down on the town, as a watching place of the valley and road.

Originally built by local small lord Okuraya clan, but around the period when Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), a warlord of Kai country (Yamanashi prefecture) advanced to Totomi country and occupied Futamata castle, this castle was reformed as a basis of watching and guarding Akiba kaido. After the fall of Takeda clan at 1582, the necessity of this castle was disappeared and might be abandoned. This small castle is one of the nameless small forts built everywhere in Japan.

Takane castle consist of three areas placed along with the ridge over 100 meter. Central area is the north part of the castle, and southward of central area continues to connecting ridge is securely guarded by secondary area and third area. Castle area is separated by two deep dry moats from outside, and road from outside to central area passes below each area to enable guard soldiers attack the enemy from upper side.

In 1990's, the site of this castle was excavated by local government, and restored based on the result of investigation. Surrounded by wooden fences, there might be watching tower and small barrack in the central area. The building was too small thus castle soldiers might lodge outside or in town under the mountain.

Pictures (click to enlarge)

Utsunomiya Castle -Castle with long history of disturbance-

Utsunomiya Castle

-Castle with long history of disturbance-



Name: Utsunomiya castle (Utsunomiya-jyo)
Alias: Kamegaoka-jyo (Turtle hill castle)
Place: Honmarucho Utsunomiya city, Tochigi
Type: Plain castle
Built: Originally 11th century, expanded in 17th century
Remaining remnants: None (Corner turrets, clay walls, and moats are reconstructed)

Brief History

Utsunomiya castle (宇都宮城) is located in Utsunomiya city, center of Shimotsuke province (Tochigi prefecture). This castle was build on a small hill, south of Futarasan shrine, a traditional and famous shrine of this area. Utsunomiya city was a diverging point of Oushu Kaido way and Nikko Kaido way, and an important place of communication throughout the history.

Utsunomiya castle under Utsunomiya clan

From the time of Heian era (8th to 11th century), this area was governed by Utsunomiya clan. The origin of Utsunomiya clan is said as Souen Fujiwara (1033-1111), who played active part in Campaign of Zenkunen during 1051 to 1062. Later Utsunomiya clan was evaluated by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of Kamakura shogunate, and continued being a prestigious family of this area over 400 years. Utsunomiya castle was at first a residencial palace of Utsunomiya clan, but gradually expanded and finally said as one of the seven excellent castle in Kanto region along with Maebashi castle, Kanayama castle, Kawagoe castle, Oshi castle, Tage castle and Karasawayama castle.

But in Sengoku era of 16th century, Utsunomiya clan was weakened because of an internal conflict, and Hojo clan, a warlord of Sagami country (Kanagawa prefecture), continued to expand their territory to north Kanto area. Corresponding to this, Utsunomiya clan resisted to Hojo clan under an alliance with Satake clan of Hitachi country (Ibaraki prefecture), but Utsunomiya castle located at plain area was often attacked by Hojo army thus Utsunomiya clan renovated Tage castle and moved there. Finally Hojo clan was extincted by a campaign of current ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) in 1592, but several years later Utsunomiya clan was also confiscated their land by order of Hideyoshi.

Castle on and after Edo era

In 1619, Masazumi Honda (1565-1637) was appointed by Tokugawa shogunate as a commander of this castle. He was son of Masanobu Honda (1538-1616), an old retainer of first Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) and supported him by talent of stratagem. Masazumi was also a brilliant administrative staff, and exercised his power in early stage of shogunate. But in 1622, he was accused by building a trap of falling ceiling in the room where Shogun stays during his trip to Nikko, and expelled to Dewa country (Akita prefecture). This accuse was totally a fiction and result of political conflict with rivalries.

Throughout Edo era Utsunomiya castle worked as a base of protecting Kitakanto area. During the Meiji revolution war, Utsunomiya castle was once surrendered to Meiji government, but attacked by Shogunate army lead by Keisuke Otori (1833-1911), a brilliant commander of Shogunate and Toshizo Hijikata (1835-1869), a former vice leader of Shinsengumi, a famous swordsman group of Shogunate side. They occupied this castle by combination of gun firing and close combat, but due to limited number of soldiers they abandoned the castle, and moved toward Tohoku region. During this battle the castle was totally destroyed.

After Meiji revolution the site of castle was developed and almost all ruins were lost. But recently partial central area including corner turrets, gates, clay walls and moats were restored partially as a symbol of the city.


20 minutes walk from JR East Tohoku Shinkansen line / Tohoku-Honsen line Utsunomiya station.  15 minutes walk from Tobu-Utsunomiya line Tobu-Utsunomiya station. 20 minutes drive from Tohoku-Jidoshado Expressway Kanuma interchange.

Related Castles

Tage Castle -Lethal weapon of Utsunomiya clan-

Pictures (click to enlarge)