"The Three Great Heroes" refers to Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa, three daimyos born in the provinces of Owari and Mikawa (modern-day Aichi Prefecture) who led Japan out an era of war and toward unification. They built several notable castles in the process of unifying Japan, and these are considered to mark a turning point from "fighting castles" to "charming castles". In other words, the magnificence and beauty of the castles we see today originate from this era. Why not take a walk around some of these precious structures yourself, and enjoy these fusions of history and beauty which have come down to us under the name of "castle".
Portrait of Nobunaga Oda (part)
(The original is preserved in Choko-ji, Toyota-shi)
Portrait of Hideyoshi Toyotomi (part)
(Preserved in Kodai-ji Temple)
Portrait of Ieyasu Tokugawa (part)
(Preserved in Mt. Kuno Toshogu Shrine Museum)
From military stronghold to place of political and cultural expression
When you first hear about Japanese castles, you may imagine places with grand towers and impressive stone walls. However, most of these magnificent castles were built during the Edo period. Prior to that era, the lord and his family would live in a mansion located at a vantage point, and "castle" could mean any one of the several fortresses constructed all over the mansion estate in case of war, such as forts for relaying communications and strongholds overlooking borders and highways.
- It was Nobunaga Oda who drastically changed the role of castles. Nobunaga took the approach of transferring his headquarters to a castle near to his next military objective, and thus transferred his base from Nagoya Castle to Kiyosu Castle, and then to Komakiyama Castle. In 1567, Nobunaga captured Inabayama Castle in the province of Mino (in modern Gifu Prefecture) and took up residence there, renaming it Gifu Castle in the process. Up to this point castles had merely been fortifications to hole up in and fight, but for his next residence, Azuchi Castle, Nobunaga placed more emphasis on political and cultural aspects than on uses as a military stronghold. The symbol of this shift in emphasis is the castle tower. The castle tower was built to display power, and could be seen from anywhere in the castle town.
Osaka Castle Golden Tea Room (Preserved in Osaka Castle Tower）
- The subsequent era of Hideyoshi Toyotomi saw the building of a castle as an administrative seat of the kanpaku (chief imperial adviser and effective ruler of Japan), and this led to a style of castle architecture representative of Momoyama culture. Osaka Castle and Jurakudai are good examples. The single-story building where the daimyo lived was called the Goten, and was built in the so-called shoin style around a central parlor. The walls and fusuma or shoji (sliding doors) of the great meeting room where the daimyo held audience with his subjects were decorated with shoheki-ga by the Kano school of artists and featured strong colors, particularly mineral pigments such as ultramarine and copper green, applied thickly to a background of gold or silver foil. Another very famous feature is the "Golden Tea Room". It is said that the walls, ceiling, pillars and shoji skirting boards were all covered with gold, and that there was a golden tea set.
- In the era of Ieyasu Tokugawa, castles began to function entirely as a places of "politics". Castles also maintained a graceful architectural style. In particular, the Honmaru Goten that Ieyasu built for his ninth son at Nagoya Castle was described as a masterpiece of the early-modern era, and was referred to as one of the "twin jewels" of the samurai shoin style, the other jewel being the Ninomaru Goten of Nijo Castle in Kyoto. Later, Ieyasu transferred his base to Edo Castle, and after that the Tokugawa shogunate government continued for over 250 years.
Nagoya Castle Honmaru Goten
The endless pleasure of strolling around a castle
A typical castle was constructed on a multi-layer pattern consisting of a Honmaru (first citadel) which housed living quarters, studies and meeting rooms, a Ninomaru (second citadel) which functioned as a Han Yakusho (clan administration building) and Buguko (armory), and a Sannomaru (third citadel), where residences, storehouses and stables were located. Surrounding all was a moat. Strolling through the maze-like structure can be a breathtaking experience.
Of course, since castles had a function as military strongholds, they have various defensive features. For example, walls and towers are furnished with small windows called "sama". Depending on the weapon in mind, these are further divided into ya-sama (arrow-slits), teppo-sama (musket loopholes), taiho-sama (for firing cannon from) and ishi-sama (for hurling stones out of). The entrance of a castle is called the "koguchi" (which literally means "tiger's mouth"), and here are also to be found various design elements for defense against attack. Enemies approaching the koguchi and walls had to survive the yokoya (literally, "side arrow"), an architectural bend which enabled defenders to shoot arrows into their flank.
Sunpu Castle Moat
Kakegawa Castle Machicolation
Osaka Castle Sama (Preserved in Osaka Castle Tower)
Most castle towers today act as resource centers enabling visitors to understand and experience their history and structure through panels describing the lives of successive daimyos, miniatures showing the castle town in former days, displays of armor, weapons and other equipment used in battle and an observation deck on the top floor affording panoramic views. What a waste just to admire castles from afar, when you could go inside and experience their history and "beautility".
Inuyama Castle Hakutei Bunko Nagashino Castle Byobu
Nagoya Castle Kinshachi (Golden dolphin)
Gifu Castle View from the castle tower
updated on Mar 11, 2015
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