Japanese Castles



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- Japanes Castles

Here is an article on Japanese Castles.

Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture, a National Treasure
Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture often substitutes for Edo Castle Japanes Castles in film and television jidaigeki.
Shimabara Castle Japanees Castles in Nagasaki Prefecture shows the whitewash that is typical of many Japanese castles.
The steep stone walls Japnese Castles beneath Kumamoto Castle are known as musha-gaeshi, meaning Jappanese Castles that they resist infiltration by samurai.
Osaka Castle was destroyed by cannon. This reproduction Japannese Castles towers above the surroundings.

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

Though they were built to last, and used Japnaese Castles more Jpanese Castles 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 later Sengoku, or 'Warring States' period, when many of these castles were first built. However, many were rebuilt, either during the Sengoku or Edo periods, or more recently, as national heritage sites or museums. Matsue Castle is probably the only castle in Japan to have never been attacked or suffer any damage, and what remains today is of the original structure, built in 1611[1]. Hiroshima Castle, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was destroyed in the atomic bombing, and was rebuilt in 1958 as a museum[2].

The character '城', normally read as shiro, is read as when it is attached to a word, such as in the name of a particular castle. Thus, for example, Osaka Castle is called ōsaka-jō in Japanese.


  • 1 History
  • 2 Architecture & Defenses
  • 3 Japanese castles in Korea
  • 4 Famous Castles
    • 4.1 National Treasures of Japan
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References


Originally conceived of purely as fortresses, their primary purpose being military defense, Japanese castles came to be 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, and it inspired both Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Osaka Castle and Tokugawa Ieyasu's Edo Castle[3].

Prior to the Sengoku period (roughly, the 16th century), most castles were called yamashiro, or 'mountain castles'. Though most later castles were built atop mountains or hills, these were built from the mountains[4]. Trees and the like were cleared, and the stone and dirt of the mountain itself was carved into rough fortifications. Ditches were dug, to present obstacles to attackers, as well as to roll rocks down. Moats were created by diverting mountain streams. Buildings were made primarily of wattle and daub, using thatched roofs, or, occasionally, wooden shingles. Small ports in the walls or planks could be used to deploy bows or fire guns from. The main weakness of this style was its general instability. Thatch caught fire even more easily than wood, and weather and soil erosion prevented structures from being particularly large or heavy. Eventually, stone bases began to be used, encasing the hilltop in a layer of fine pebbles, and then a layer of larger rocks over that, with no mortar. This support allowed larger, heavier, and more permanent buildings, and led to the development of the castles this article focuses on, and which most would picture when thinking of 'Japanese castles'.

Unlike in Europe, where the advent of cannon spelled the end of the age of castles, Japanese castle-building was spurred, ironically, by the introduction of firearms. The Japanese used cannon very infrequently, due to the expense of obtaining cannon from foreigners, and the difficulty in casting such weapons themselves. A few castles boasted 'wall guns', but these are presumed to be little more than glorified arquebuses, lacking the power of a true cannon. When siege weapons were used in Japan, they were most often trebuchets or catapults in the Chinese style, and they were used as anti-personnel weapons[4].

Architecture & Defenses

Japanese castles were almost always built atop a hill or mound, and often an artificial mound would be created for this purpose. This not only aided greatly in the defense of the castle, but also allowed it a greater view over the surrounding land, and made the castle look more impressive and intimidating. In some ways, the use of stone, and the development of the architectural style of the castle, was a natural step up from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries. The hills gave Japanese castles sloping walls, which many argue helped (incidentally) to defend them from Japan's frequent earthquakes. However, this also made their walls easier to scale[4]. Unlike in European castles, which had walkways built into the walls, in Japanese castles, the walls' timbers would be left sticking inwards, and planks would simply be placed over them to provide a surface for archers or gunners to stand on. This standing space was often called the ishi uchi tana or "stone throwing shelf." Other tactics to hinder attackers' approaches to the walls included caltrops, bamboo spikes planted into the ground at a diagonal, or the use of felled trees, their branches facing outwards and presenting an obstacle to an approaching army. Many castles also had trapdoors built into their towers, and some even suspended logs from ropes, to be dropped on attackers.

The Anou family from Ōmi Province were the foremost castle architects in the late 16th century, and were renowned for building the 45-degree stone bases, which began to be used for keeps, gatehouses, and corner towers, not just for the castle mound as a whole.

Japanese castles, like their European cousins, featured massive stone walls and large moats. However, within the walls, a very different architectural style and philosophy applied. A number of wooden buildings lay within the walls, and in later castles, some of these structures would be placed atop smaller stone-covered mounds. These wooden structures were surprisingly fireproof, as a result of the plaster used on the walls. The primary method of defense lay in the arrangement of the baileys, called maru (丸). Maru, meaning 'round' or 'circle' in most contexts, here refers to sections of the castle, separated by courtyards. Some castles were arranged in concentric circles, each maru lying within the last, while others lay their maru in a row; most used some combination of these two layouts. Since most Japanese castles were built atop a mountain or hill, the topography of the location determined the layout of the maru.

The most central bailey, containing the keep, was called honmaru(本丸), and the second and third were called ni-no-maru (二の丸) and san-no-maru (三の丸) respectively. These areas contained the main tower and residence of the daimyō, the storerooms (kura), and the living quarters of the garrison. Larger castles would have additional encircling sections, called not maru but kuruwa. At many castles still standing today in Japan, only the honmaru remains. Nijo Castle in Kyoto is an interesting exception, in that the ni-no-maru still stands, while all that remains of the honmaru is the stone base.

Japanese castles in Korea

Main article: Waeseong

During the Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea between 1593 and 1598, many Japanese castles (called Wajō 倭城 in Japanese and Waeseong in Korean) were built in southern shores of Korea. All that remains of the castle today is the stone base.

Famous Castles

  • Nagoya Castle in Aichi Prefecture
  • Osaka Castle in Osaka Prefecture
  • Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto Prefecture

National Treasures of Japan

Four castles are national treasures of Japan. They are Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture, Matsumoto Castle in Nagano Prefecture, and Inuyama Castle in Aichi Prefecture.

See also

  • List of castles in Japan
  • Gusuku - the castles of Okinawa


  1. ^ "Fodor's Exploring Japan." London: New York. Fourth Edition, 2003.
  2. ^ "DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: JAPAN." London: DK Publishing Inc., 2002.
  3. ^ Paine, Robert Treat and Alexander Soper (1955). "The Art and Architecture of Japan." New Haven: Yale University Press.
  4. ^ a b c Turnbull, Stephen (2003). "Japanese Castles 1540-1640." Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (1979). "Samurai Armies 1550-1615." Oxford: Osprey Publishing, Ltd.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2002). "War in Japan 1467-1615." Oxford: Osprey Publishing, Ltd.
  • Guide of Japanese Castles
  • Castles of Japan
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