Sunday, July 2, 2023

Zeze Castle -Last water castle at west coast of Lake Biwako-

Zeze Castle

–Last water castle at west coast of Lake Biwako-


Name: Zeze castle (Zeze-jo)
Place: Honmaru-cho Otsu city, Shiga
Location: 34.99492395588524, 135.89530561400554
Type: Flat Castle
Built: 1601
Remaining remnants: Gates and stone walls 

Brief History

Zeze castle (膳所城) is located at Zeze area that is east part of current Otsu city central. It was originally small cape named Zeze-saki protruding the south edge of the lake where the width of water becomes narrow and changes to Seta-gawa river. The castle stands at a corridor between the lake and eastward mountain of Kyoto basin, and many roads and railroads pass through this narrow area.

As Tosando road and Tokaido road those are artery from Tokai region and Kanto region passed Seta-gawa river by Seta bridge at 2 kilomater south of this castle, then run along with the coast of lake, crossed the mountain and entered to the capital Kyoto city, Otsu area had been important east gate of Kyoto city. To control both of land transportation and water shipping, castles were built at lakeshore as water castles.

Water castles of Lake Biwako

During Oda government, Sakamoto castle and Seta castle were built at north and south edge of Otsu area. Sakamato castle was built to control Sakamoto town and Hieizan Enryakuji-temple, and also prepared for westbank road of the lake toward Hokuriku region. On the other hand, Seta castle that resided directly next of Seta bridge was used to control Seta bridge, and actually at the incident of Honnoji Yamaoka clan which was the lord of Seta castle burnt down Seta Bridge and it delayed move of Akechi army toward Omi province.

Toyotomi government merged these two castles and built Otsu castle at current Otsu port area. It was a magnificent castle that has an island like central area and three layer land area surrounded by water moats. Toyotomi government placed their trusted retainer at this castle, but at the battle of Sekigahara Kyogoku clan restraint large detached force of West army at this castle. Finally the castle opened but detached army could not participate in the main battle, then it contributed to the lose of West army lead to later extinction of Toyotomi clan.

Tokugawa clan won the battle of Sekigahara and became the ruler also had to keep Otsu area to protect capital Kyoto city with Imperial Household, and prepare for Toyotomi clan remaining at Osaka castle. But Otsu castle was severely damaged in the battle, had a image of former government, and was too close the backward mountain that enabled indirect attack by cannons. Considering these factors Tokugawa clan decided to build new castle at Zeze area that is closer to Seta bridge and has plenty space at front and backward.

Struture of castle

Due to similarity of geographic condition, the plan of Zeze castle is close to Otsu castle or Sakamoto castle those consist of island like central area and rectangular shaped land area separated by water moat. But central area of Zeze castle is larger than Otsu castle or Sakamoto castle and it could endure only by central area.

Central area is equivalent to current Zeze castle park and about 150 meter long square. It was originally separated into east half that was original central area and west half of secondary area but later it was connected to single enclosure. Four layer main tower and several turrets and gates are built at edge of the area.

Secondary area is a rectangular one of about 100 meter long and 50 meter width at south of central area, and third area existed at south of secondary area. Secondary area and third area are now connected and used for the ground water purification plant. In front of central area gate there was Umadashi buffer area, and outside that there was outer area of 300 meter long and 100 meter width enclosed by water moat used for residence of retainers.

Afterward of castle

As a east gate of Kyoto city, Edo Shogunate placed its hereditary retainers as lord of Zeze castle. After Meiji revolution this castle was abolished then buildings and stones were take away from castle site. Due to destruction and erosion central area became just a flat land but basement of stone walls slightly remain at lakeshore.

Original stone walls partially remains at outer wall of water purification plant of former secondary area and third area, and many gates are moved to neighbor shrines and still exist. Because of its flat shape water castle is easily disappear, but different from Sakamoto castle or Otsu castle completely disappeared, Zeze castle still has trace of former castle such as terrain or buildings.


15 minutes walk from Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto-sen line Zeze-Honmachi station. 15 minutes drive from Meihan Jidoshado Expressway Seta-Nishi interchange.

Related Castles


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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