Castle (shiro)


Castle (shiro 城)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


Japanese castles (城, shiro) were fortresses composed primarily of wood and stone. They evolved from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries, and came into their most well-known form in the 16th century. Like European castles, the castles of Japan were built to guard important or strategic sites, such as ports, river crossings, or crossroads, and almost always incorporated the landscape into their defense.

Though they were built to last, and used more stone in their construction than most Japanese buildings, castles were still constructed primarily of wood, and many were destroyed over the years. This was especially true during the Sengoku ('Warring States') period (1467-1603), when many of these castles were first built. However, many were rebuilt, either later in the Sengoku period, in the Edo period (1603-1867) which followed, or more recently, as national heritage sites or museums.

Today, there are around fifty castles extant, or partially extant, in Japan; it is estimated that once there were five thousand. Some castles, such as the ones at Matsue and Kōchi, both built in 1611, remain extant in their original forms, not having suffered any damage from siege or other threats. Hiroshima Castle, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was destroyed in the atomic bombing, and was rebuilt in 1958 as a museum.

Originally conceived of purely as fortresses, their primary purpose being military defense, Japanese castles were originally placed in strategic locations, along trade routes, roads and rivers. Though castles continued to be built with these considerations in mind, for centuries fortresses were also built to serve as centers of governance.

By the Sengoku period, they had come to serve as the homes of daimyo (feudal lords), and served to impress and intimidate rivals not only with their defenses, but with their size and elegant interiors, architecture and decorations. Oda Nobunaga was one of the first to build one of these palace-like castles, at Azuchi Castle in 1576; this was Japan's first castle to have a tower keep (天守閣, tenshukaku), and it inspired both Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Osaka Castle and Tokugawa Ieyasu's Edo Castle.

Azuchi served as the governing center of Oda's territories, and as his lavish home, but it was also very keenly strategically placed. A short distance away from the capital of Kyoto, which had long been a target of violence, Azuchi's carefully chosen location allowed it a great degree of control over the transportation and communication routes of Oda's enemies.

Read the details HERE

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Famous folding screen about the construction of a castle from the Momoyama period.
築城図屏風 / ちくじょうずびょうぶ

Click on the thumbnail to see the details, in Japanese.


Fukuyama Castle


Tsuyama Castle 津山城

It took lot of people to built a castle. The technical groundwork, water ways and stone walls were in the supervision of the fushin bugyoo 普請奉行, whereas the architectural works, buildings, watchtowers (yagura) and parks (goten) were in the supervision of the sakuji bugyoo 作事奉行.

It took Lord Moori 13 years to have the castle constructed, and it was finally finished in 1616. But in 1874 it was destroyed. Now we can still enjoy the stonewalls with 1000 cherry blossoms in spring. A new white watchtower was finished two years ago.

Take a walk in Tsuyama Castle with the Cherry Blossoms, 2007 !


 Edo Castle 江戸城 Edo joo
Das Schloss von Edo


Nagoya Castle 名古屋城 Nagoya joo

The Glory of Four Centuries Past, Revived
September 19, 2009 – November 23, 2009
Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Nagoya Castle is the preeminent symbol of Nagoya. To bring back the vibrant colors of 400-year-old artworks on the partitions that adorned the interior of the Hommaru (Castle Keep)Palace, the full-scale restorative reproduction project was commenced in 1992 (Heisei 4). This exhibition will captivate visitors with not only the artworks, but also the restorative reproduction process itself. In commemorative of the restorative construction of Hommaru (Castle Keep) Palace from January 2009, we will exhibit major works such as those in the entrance, the Omote-shoin (main drawing room) and the Taimen-jo (reception hall).

source : www.nagoya-boston.or.jp

Worldwide use

Die Drei berühmten Schlösser Japans

Japanische Burgen
Shachihoko - der "Giebelkarpfen"

Things found on the way

道の駅 そばの城
Highway Service Area "Soba Castle"

This dish served with a little castle tower is called
TONOSAMA 殿様, Lord of the Castle.

There is also the possibility to make your own buckwheat noodles there.

Roadside stations (michi no eki 道の駅)

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信州そば三城 "Three Castles" Soba Shop

Castles and famous food

Himeji 姫路名物『お城やき』O-Shiro-Yaki

Hirosaki, Oden 弘前城名物
Kumamoto, Ikinari Dango 熊本城名物 いきなりだんご
Nagoya, Kishimen 名古屋城名物
Nagoya, Shachi 名古屋城(金シャチ焼本体)
Okayama, kohi senbei 岡山城名物
Osaka, soft cream 大阪城名物
. . . CLICK here for more Photos !


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tenshu, tenshukaku 天守 / 天守閣
the main castle tower


This site is a Guide to the 136 castles in Japan.
also in 日本語.
My aim is to make this the most authoritative and comprehensive site available in English on Japanese castles.
Eric Obershaw
Corporate Librarian, Tokyo, Japan
source : www.jcastle.info


yûdachi ya tojô no nanushi kumigashira

a cloudburst--
running to the castle
village headman and sergeant

asa-gasumi tenshu no amado kikoe keri

morning mist--
the castle's shutters
bang open

Issa, Tr. David Lanoue

kumigashira くみがしら【組頭/与頭】
The leaders of a group of soldiers, for example foot soldiers 徒組, soldiers with bows 弓組 or soldiers with rifles 鉄砲組.
The system of "five are a group", goningumi 五人組 had a leader for each group.
The headman of a village was also called this way, or 長(おさ)百姓.
There are many books about these officials in the Edo period.


tenshu yori tsuki ni nagetaru ezara kana

from the castle tower
towart the moon I throw
a plate with a picture

Oya Tatsuji (Ooya) 大屋達治 (1952 - )

ezara, plates with colorful paintings
. . . CLICK here for Photos !


looking up
at the castle tower -
I am the ANT

Look with me ! Gabi Greve

Related words

***** Samurai, Warrior

***** Kiken Castle (kikenjoo 善見城)
kigo for late spring



Gabi Greve said...

the castle in Toky


Gabi Greve - PMJS said...

Discussion about Japanese castles at the PMJS google group


Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho at Yamashiro and Ide (south of Kyoto)

Yamashiro e Ide no kago karu shigure kana

to Yamashiro
I had to use a sedan chair from Ide
because of the winter sleet . . .

Yamashiro, lit. Mountain Castle

Gabi Greve - Masaoka Shiki said...

Masaoka Shiki

Matsuyama ya aki yori takaki tenshukaku

"Oh Matsuyama,
the castle tower looks higher than the autumn sky."

Gabi Greve - Masaoka Shiki said...

Masaoka Shiki

Matsuyama no shiro o miorosu samusa kana

this coldness
looking down from the castle
of Matsuyama

His hometown, Matsuyama

Gabi Greve - Masaoka Shiki said...

Masaoka Shiki

harukaze ya shiro arawaruru matsu no ue

spring breeze -
the castle shows
above the pines

Gabi Greve - Masaoka Shiki said...

Masaoka Shiki

o-shiro kara miru ya tanemaku sanjuu ri

from the castle
I see them sowing seeds -
for 30 ri

Masaoka Shiki 正岡子規

one RI is about 4 km.
Here Shiki is taling about the castle of Matsuyama and the surrounding fertile plains.
seeds in spring

Gabi Greve - Basho archives said...

Matsuo Basho

shiro-ato ya furu-i no shimizu mazu towan

about the ruins of Inabayama castle 稲葉山城.