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Japan Guide - Japanese Castles

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Japanese Castles

Castle Japanese Castles can be read in Japanese as ' Shiro, or ' -Jo when attached to the name of a castle. An example would be Hijemi Castle ? Himeji-Jo. Castles began as very simple structures. The fortifications of the first castles were nothing more than wooden or stone fences, earth embankments or moats. These where used to defend strategic positions, such as bridges, rivers, and important structures. Japanese Castle

Nara Period

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During the Nara period of 545-794, warlords began to engage in more combat and their castles, called Kinowa and Kinowasaku, developed into forts surrounded by moats. These were stronger then the earlier designs.
The feudal lords of Japanese history, called DAIMYO, built castles first and foremost for their own defense. If they were being attacked, they could retreat to their castles, and the DONJAN, or tower, of the castle would contain plenty of food and weapons. Also, the daimyo built castles to show their own wealth - the bigger the castle, the wealthier and more powerful the daimyo.

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Heian Period

During the Heian period (794-1185) there was a shift from the need to defend the entire state from invaders to that of lords defending individual mansions or territories from one another. Though battles were still continually fought in the north-east portion of Honsh? (the T?hoku region) against native peoples, the rise of the samurai warrior class towards the end of the period, and various disputes between noble families jostling for power and influence in the Imperial Court brought about further developments. The primary defensive concern in the archipelago was no longer native tribes or foreign invaders, but rather internal conflicts within Japan, between rival samurai clans or other increasingly large and powerful factions, and as a result, defensive strategies and attitudes were forced to change and adapt. As factions emerged and loyalties shifted, clans and factions which had been allies in the service of the Imperial Court became enemies, and defensive networks were broken, or altered through the shifting of alliances.

Sengoku Period

During the Sengoku period.Hundreds of castles were built. These were mountaintop castles, called yamajiro, and served as watchtowers. The castles were small, with no moats or turrets. Examples of such castles survive today, including Iwakuni and Gifu castles. The yamajiro soon were replaced by hirayamajiro, flatland-mountain castles. These castles were built on small hills and still provided a good view of the area. From the castles, battles were conducted, government administrated and large armies managed. A tall main keep provided a more extended view of the surroundings of the castle. The first hirayamajiro was Azuchi Castle, built by Oda Nobunga in 1579.


Edo Period

Japanese Castle

The Edo Period of Japanese history, 1603-1867, was a time of relative peace. However, a law known as ikkoku ichijoo required that each province have exactly one castle. The result was the building of almost useless castles in some areas and the tearing down of historic structures in others. The same law also said that the daimyo had to receive permission to build, rebuild or renovate their castles.


Restoration of Japanese Castles

With the Meiji Restoration of 1868, castles were no longer a necessity, and as such, the Meiji government passed the Castle Abolishment Law in 1873 to demolish all castles. To the Meiji rulers, castles were a reminder of the days of feudalism, which had ended with their seizure of power. Of the 170 Edo period castles, 2/3 were destroyed by 1875. In recent years, other castles have been lost to fire, earthquakes and World War II, and today only 12 original donjon castles remain. These include Matsumaro-jo, Inuyama-jo, Hikone-jo, Himeji-jo, Maruoka-jo, Matsue-jo, Marugame-jo, Uwajima-jo, Bitchu-Matsuyama-jo, Hirosaki-jo and Matsuyama-jo. Even these 12 have lost much of their original grounds and outer buildings, but all are now protected by Japanese laws. Pictures and more information on these castles can be seen here.

Modern Day

During the 1900's, many old Japanese castles have been reconstructed, the first being Osaka-jo in 1931 and the most recent being Kishiwasa-jo in 1954. These reconstructions are usually made of concrete and contain a local history museum of some sort and some contain certain elements of the original structures, such as the moat or gate.
Castle towns, or jokamachi, were also an important feature of castles. The jokamachi that grew up around Japanese castles were an extension of the defenses of the castles, with many winding, confusing streets and dead ends. Into these towns moved peasants, artisans and businessmen, and some of the jokamachi became Japan's largest cities of today. The Otemon, or main gate, of the jokamachi was very strong and the road leading from there to the castle was heavily fortified and lined with houses of the most loyal retainers. The daimyo of the jokamachi's castle highly regulated activities in the town and the samurai all had permanent homes in the samurai quarters. Like the castle itself, the size of the home of the samurai showed his rank and these were the only houses in the jokamachi allowed to have walls and gates.
Castles are generally referred to by the name of the city they are in, so that the Himeji Castle is located in Himeji. Also, the suffix "jo" that often appears on the end of the name(ex : Himeji-jo) literally means "castle." In English, however, the word castle is used by some in place of the suffix.

Castles in Japan you can visit


Aizu-wakamatsu city, Fukushima prefecture

Chiyoda-ku, Chuo-ku, Tokyo city

Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture

Hikone city, Shiga prefecture

Himeji city, Hyogo prefecture

Hirosaki city, Aomori prefecture

Hiroshima city, Hiroshima prefecture

Ueno city, Mie prefecture

Inuyama city, Aichi prefecture

Matsuyama city, Ehime prefecture

Karatsu city, Saga prefecture

Kiyosu city, Nishi-kasugai distict, Aichi prefecture

Kita-Kyushu city, Fukuoka prefecture

Kouchi city, Kouchi prefecture

Koufu city, Yamanashi prefecture

Kumamoto city, Kumamoto prefecture

Matsue city, Shimane prefecture

Matsumoto city, Nagano prefecture

Nagoya city, Aichi prefecture

Chukyo-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto-fu

Odawara city, Kanagawa prefecture

Okayama city, Okayama prefecture

Higashi-ku, Osaka city, Osaka-fu

Kanoashi-gun, Tsuwano city, Shimane prefecture

Uwajima city, Ehime Prefecture

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