Friday, June 6, 2014

Minakuchi Castle -Lodging castles of rulers at posting towns of major roads (2)-

Minakuchi Castle

-Lodging castles of rulers at posting towns of major roads (2)-



Name: Minakuchi Castle (Minakuchi-jo)
Place: Minakuchicho Koga city, Shiga
Type: Plain Castle
Built: 1634
Remaining remnants: Turret, stone walls and moats

Brief History

Minakuchi castle (水口城) is located at the center of Minakuchi town, Koga city, south of old Tokaido road crossing the town. Minakuchi area is an important place of communication as it is the place where Tokaido way, most important road of Japan connecting Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, overcome Suzuka path from Ise country (Mie prefecture) to Omi province (Shiga prefecture).

Originally this area was goverened by Minakuchi Okayama castle built under Toyotomi government, but after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Edo shogunate abolished Minakuchi Okayama castle, as there became no risk of attack to Kinki region through Tokaido way which was totally managed by hereditary retainers of Tokugawa clan.

Necessity of lodge and construction

However, even if not a genuine castle,there still existed of necessity of official lodge for Shogun on this area. The source of authority of Edo shogunate is the degree of Seii Taisyogun, which was regarded as a highest rank of samurai and a certain autonomy.

 It was different from former Toyotomi government which relied on the status of Kanpaku (Senior Regent), that was a rank of nobles. But the rank of Seii Taisyogun itself was given by the Emperor, thus Shoguns of early Edo shogunate had to keep intimate relationship with Emperor stayed at Kyoto city, including visiting Kyoto city from Edo city (Tokyo).

When Shogun traveled, they usually stayed castles of hereditary retainers. However, as Minakuchi Okayama castle was abolished, there was no suicable castle for the stay of Shogun. Locating beside of steep Suzuka Toge path and distant from large castle such as Hikone castle or Zeze castle, lodging place was necessary on this area. 

Besides, it was impossible for Shogun to stay ordinary hotels or temples considering its authority or security. Owing to this, Iemitsu Tokugwa (1604-1651), the third Shogun of Edo shogunate, ordered to built a new castle in this area as a lodge in 1634. Enshu Kobori (1579-1647), famous castle and garden planner at that time, designed this castle.

Structure of Minakuchi castle

The shape of the castle was quite simple. Central area is a 150 meter square, and before the main gate built at middle of the east side, there was a 20 meter square small attached area consisted composite gate. Inside the central area, there was a palace like Nijo castle (Kyoto prefecture) built for the stay of Shogun.

This combination of large square central area and attached gate area is common shape to the residence of high class samurais in the era. Especially this was seen in the castles built in Toyoromi period such as Jurakudai castle (Kyoto prefecture) or Hiroshima castle (Hiroshima prefecture), but Tokugawa clan which ruined Toyotomi clan did not mind and used same shape.

All walls of central area were covered by stone walls, and there stood corner turrets at each corner. Turret at northwest corner facing Tokaido road was large one of two story, and other three were small and single floor. Its north east corner between east side main gate and north side back gate was securely protected by the line of barrack turret.

Usage of castle

This castle was actually used as a lodge of Iemitsu’s visit to Kyoto in 1634, but never used after that. Once the authority of Shogun was estabilished there was no need to visit Kyoto to gain prestige from Emperor. For half decade Minakuchi castle had been kept as a lodge of Shogunate, but considering possibility of use and costs, finally Minakuchi castle was transferred to Kato clan in 1582.

Kato clan was a former large feudal lord governed Matsuyama castle (Ehime prefecture) or Aizu Wakamatsu castle (Fukushima prefecture), but after many twist and turns it lost most territories and fall into small lord. Being afraid of using Shogunate’s palace, Kato clan built secondary area at the northwest of the castle and resided there. By the end of Edo era, Kato clan had kept this castle and Minakuchi town.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, all buildings and most stone walls were destructed and sold. Now the site of the castle was used as a training ground of local school, but east side of the castle was restored, and two story corner turret which was once moved was restored as a local museum at attached area, even if different from original location.


5 minutes walk from Omi Tetsudo Honsen line Minakuchi Jonan station. 20 minutes drive from Shintomei Expressway Koka-Tsuchiyama interchange.

Related Castles

Minakuchi Okayama Castle -Potential enemy and necessity of castle-
Tsuchiyama Castle -Lodging castles of rulers at posting towns of major roads (1)-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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