See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Tuesday, August, 9th, 2011 at 11:17 pm
Once you hit the back streets of a town that few tourists get to see, you come across all manner of odd things. Just check out the handy-work in this picture. I wish I could say that it is a rare sight, but I’ve seen a few just like it.
People need lights, whether there’s a qualified electrician or not. It doesn’t matter how it might look, or that it becomes a potential fire hazard. What matters is that it works.
The building in the photo below is gate, a Yakui-style gate to be exact. It belongs to a shrine in the narrow streets of Yame city in Fukuoka Prefecture. It’s a miracle that the gate has managed to avoid a toasty finish. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Article posted on Friday, January, 7th, 2011 at 1:13 pm
Well, here’s another postcard, and it looks to have a bit of age to it. Most unusual is that it isn’t made of card, but of wood. A wooden postcard! Who’s ever heard of such a thing?
By no stretch of the imagination am I mad about postcards. If anything, I’m happy to steer well clear of them. In this case though, what interests me is that we are able to catch a glimpse of what once was, as it was.
Depicted is the Wadakura Gate (和田倉門) of Edo Castle, which was one of two gates that connected Daimyo alley (大名小路) to Nishi-no-Maru Shita (西の丸下). Put in simple terms, probably where I should’ve started, the bridge & gate connected two enclosures in the South-East corner of Edo castle.
Today, the area isn’t completely unrecognisable. The moat, a bridge & stonework remain. Clearly missing is the small Korai-style gate, its flanking, white walls & the large turret-topped gate. Also, the Wadakura Gate of today is sporting a lot more trees. Trees are good.
Article posted on Tuesday, January, 4th, 2011 at 12:22 pm
The title of this post includes the word revisited because it wasn’t so long ago that I talked about Matsumoto Castle‘s Taiko Gate and its unique features. And yet, here we are again. This time though, we can get a glimpse of the outer-most of the twin gates, the Ni-no Mon (二の門) .
I took this photo from my trip back in August 2010, but I’m sure there’s something about this photo that looks out of the ordinary. Yes, its pixels have been given the once over by Mr LaSpina of Japan Dave. Thanks Dave!
Edit: Just added the Show Me Japan badge over there on the right. Go ahead, click on it.
Article posted on Wednesday, December, 15th, 2010 at 7:48 pm
The samurai were never really big on siege weapons, at least not to the extent of their counterparts in Europe. Attacking & defending a castle in Japan was much more a game of cat-and-mouse. Sometimes the cat was happy to wait, and other times it would be forced to chance the maze-like corridors in an attempt to get a result.
The gate pictured below is the Tsutsui Gate (筒井門) and the small gate to the left is the Tonashi Gate (戸無門). From my own experience, the path is quite clear when entering the castle. You first pass through the Tonashi Gate, then through the Tsutsui Gate. And, just so you know that I’m not misrepresenting things here, the area out of frame is quite small and entry from the foot of the mountain is limited to the Tonashi Gate. Well, to this enclosure at least.
I think we can all agree that the way in doesn’t look all that hidden. So, what’s the catch?
The Kakure Gate
The missing piece to all this is the Kakure Gate (隠門). It may not surprise you to learn the Kakure means hidden. It’s only now that I realise any surprise was doomed from the start having named this post The hidden gate. Live and learn. Anyway, the castle’s designers always intended this tacked-on gate be overlooked, not so much by 99% of today’s tourists but by any attacking force intent on getting their mitts on the lord’s topknot.
The theory behind the twin-gate set-up was that the well-harassed attackers be focussed on the Tsutsui gate, when seemingly, out of nowhere, defenders would be spilling in from the side, out-flanking them.
A final explanation
The Tonashi Gate isn’t shown in the above picture but sits to the very left of the above two gates. The attackers would enter from the left & presumably focus their efforts on the Tsutsui Gate (the larger gate). Defenders would then counter-attack from the Kakure Gate on the right.
A side note
The three gates mentioned are a mixture of old & new. The Tonashi (door-less) Gate & the Kakure (hidden) Gate are designated as Important Cultural Properties and date from the Edo period. The larger Tsutsui (round well) Gate has been since rebuilt. The turret atop the Kakure Gate is also listed as an Important Cultural Property.
Article posted on Sunday, November, 14th, 2010 at 10:05 pm
The two-stage Taikō Masugata gate of Matsumoto castle was faithfully restored just over a decade ago, in 1999. The original gate was torn down in 1871, when so many other castles around Japan were being decommissioned & their materials being sold off. Luckily for us, Matsumoto’s main tower escaped a similar fate.
As mentioned, it is a Masugata gate. In basic terms, this is a box with two, offset gates. You can see in the picture that to pass through these gates you must alter your line to enter through the second gate. This wouldn’t so much present a bigger obstacle to any foe wishing to access the castle, but it is effective in obscuring the goings on within the castle. The first gate (which you can see the twin roofs of) is of the Kōrai Mon style (鷹麗門), and the larger gate is of the Yagura Mon style (櫓門). Confusingly, the first gate is the Ni-no Mon (二の門) and the second (larger) gate is the Ichi-no Mon (一の門).
There is a rather large (22.5 ton) upright stone in the centre-right of the picture. It is known as the Gemba stone (玄蕃石) and apparently the name is derived from the name of the lord of the castle at the time of its construction in the early 1600′s. Named stones such as this one can actually be found at many castles around Japan.
The first building that I entered during my visit to Matsumoto castle was this one. The staff there, an older gentleman, welcomed me in like I was a regular to his izake-ya. In I went, and was given a tour of every single feature of the turret-topped gate. And there were many! He was kind to the point where I felt obliged to hang around longer than I’d hoped to. After he got distracted with more visitors to the gate, I jumped up in the middle of the documentary on the gate I’d been watching & scuttled off.
But really, what a positive experience. He was just so happy to inform & help in any way he could. And when you are in a new place, that's exactly what you need. Whether you realise it or not.
Article posted on Saturday, April, 17th, 2010 at 6:12 pm
On the 14th of April 2010 an attempt at arson was made upon the Najima Gate of Fukuoka Castle. This is pretty big news in my world as it was one of the first castle-related buildings I’d ever seen. You may recall in a recent post titled Wooden buildings burn where I’d stated that at any time, any one of Japan’s historical buildings could go up in flames, how spooky that this almost came to pass and so soon. Whoever attempted to set the old gate ablaze should have their thumbs cut off then made to text message everyone in Japan apologizing.
At about 5:40 on Wednesday morning, two men attempted to torch the gate. Fortunately, all they succeeded in doing was to singe a 30cm square area on one of the doors before hot footing it. An early riser was able to raise the alarm by notifying the police. The investigation continues.
The gate was built along with Najima Castle back to 1587 by the Kobayakawa clan. I find it an odd looking gate, partly because of its black and white exterior & partly because there is just something odd about it. As to its structure, it’s a free-standing, turret-topped gate with roof tiles that appear to date from the modern era.
Article posted on Sunday, April, 4th, 2010 at 9:23 am
Everyone has heard of Kabuki, right? Even for people without a particular interest in Japan would know Kabuki is a type of traditional Japanese theatre where beautifully-costumed performers sing & dance to tell a story. Despite living in Japan for over nine years, I don’t know a great deal more than this. It’s just not my cup of cha.
What motivated me to at least check Wikipedia for some background information about Kabuki was the fact that there is a type of Japanese gate also called Kabuki. Let’s break it down.
- Kabuki (theatre) is written as 歌舞伎, with each Chinese character representing Sing, Dance & Skill respectively.
- Kabuki (gate) is written as 冠木. The first character means best or peerless, the second means wood.
As you can now see, the two Kabuki’s are unrelated. This now-obvious bombshell has left me somewhat disappointed. Anyway, moving right along. What does this Kabuki gate actually look like? A picture would quickly put us out of our misery but let me first try to explain. Let’s look at the word “little”, after writing e, you would go back & cross the two t‘s, which I believe is common practice to do in one stroke. That’s what the gate looks like – those two crossed t‘s.
more Japanese gates.