See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Thursday, March, 17th, 2011 at 12:23 pm
Happening right now at Himeji castle is a major restoration that will see every square inch of its external surface renewed. This means 80,000 roof tiles will be replaced and seven square kilometres of its white-plastered walls will have its plaster reapplied. This mountain of work is slated for completion in around three years. That’ll be March 2014.
This… event is known in Japanese as Heisei no Daishuri (平成の大修理), which translates to the Heisei great repairs. Heisei, being the name of the current period (1990 – ). These actually aren’t the castle’s first great repairs of the modern era. Way back in the Shōwa period (1926 – 1989) there was another, and it was even greater.
Thirty years hard labour
Several turrets & the stone foundations they stood upon collapsed; heavy rain had brought the mighty fortress of Himeji to its knees. A budget & a complete repair plan was speedily put in place.
It all began in 1934 with work commencing on the Hishi Gate (菱の門), the I-no Gate (イの門) and the Taikaku Turret (帯廓櫓). Work on these outer building continued on for many, many years, only being interrupted during the final stages of World War II. 1956 would see the Shōwa great repairs begin proper when surveys began on the central building complex.
Scaffolding was slowly built up and eventually enveloped the main tower, the two lesser main towers and their connecting turrets. It was designed from the outset to withstand typhoons. Always a good idea in land prone to natural disasters as Japan is. A 200-metre-long ramp was also set up which linked the central tower to the third enclosure, the San-no-maru (三の丸). The large third enclosure would be ideal for the storage of materials both old & new and the ramp provided a direct path to transport them.
In February 1957, the tent-like scaffolding was completed. It had required the efforts of 11,350 people & came at a cost of ¥35,000,000. To help put this in perspective, a starting salary for a university graduate at that time was ¥12,000 per year.
Un-building the towers
Disassembly of the main buildings started in April 1957. As you may well easily imagine, each & every item was numbered, measured, photographed and their positions recorded. A very important judgement was also made, if it could be reused. New materials could have been used for the eventual putting-back-together, but whatever could be salvaged would be salvaged.
The removal of each pillar & crossbeam was a long & tricky process. With each one removed, an imbalance was introduced to the remaining structure. Such was the level of caution, only two beams per day were being removed. This work was finally completed on the 31st of January, 1958.
A great deal of investigation went into the now, load-lightened stone foundations. What was determined was that it couldn’t reliably carry the weight of the building it was built to bear. Well, didn’t that cause a fuss. The solution was found in modern engineering techniques, which is to say in the use of concrete.
Something of great historical importance came out of all this. Sections of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Himeji castle were unearthed. These remnants dated from the 1580′s. But even these were built atop fortifications from centuries earlier. Setting to one side this amazing discovery, concrete was poured into the base to ensure a steady footing. Ahh… the sweet smell of progress.
Hunt for a new pillar
Examination of the disassembled framework found that one of the two central pillars was rotten and wouldn’t be able to be re-used. The hunt was on for a replacement. A deadline of July 1959 was set. Forests in Shikoku, Kyūshū, Gifu, Nagano, Mie, Wakayama and the castle’s home prefecture of Hyōgo were scoured for a 25-metre replacement. A tall order indeed.
In the heart of Hyōgo Prefecture, a candidate Shinbashira (心柱) was discovered, the vital statistics: 650 years old, 27 metres tall, a basal diameter of 1.26 metres. Hello ladies. The majestic tree was brought down, but its core was found to be rotten at its base. They searched on.
The pristine forests of Ise was home to the next candidate. The idea of removing a centuries-old tree from the precincts of the sacred shrines of Ise was not-at-all welcomed by those in charge. Permission was given though, and it was repaid with disaster. Miscalculations caused the tree to fall awkwardly, the fall rendering it unusable.
Yet again, in Gifu, a tree was successfully felled but then broke in half while it was being transported out of the forest. That happened on the 7th of June, 1959 and time had all but run out.
A suitable specimen had proved impossible to acquire. So, in the end it was decided to have a join in the West pillar. This thought really should have occurred earlier as there always was a join. Well, since the time of Ikeda Terumasa (池田輝政) in the early 1600′s there was.
Everything then proceeded without delay. Reassembly of the main tower’s frame was completed in April, 1960. The lessor main towers’ frames were completed in September, 1961. The final tasks were the laying of the roof tiles & the application of the fire-resistant, white-plaster walls. Oh, there was one more thing that needed doing, the removal of the skeletal shroud that hung over the central buildings.
June 1st, 1964
A fresh-faced & rejuvenated Himeji castle was presented to the world. There were of course celebrations all round. One of the no-doubt countless items produced to commemorate the efforts of the workers & engineers of the Shōwa no Daishuri was this first-day-of-issue stamp.
It is a fine momento, but I wonder if it really encapsulates the sweat and tears involved.
Article posted on Thursday, April, 22nd, 2010 at 5:54 pm
The plumbing of Japanese castles isn’t exactly a commonly talked about topic. Given that there are a great many and more agreeable things to talk about, this probably comes as no surprise. If you keep reading, perhaps you’ll come to agree that there are points worthy of your interest & discussion.
Lifting the lid
On a recent visit to Kokura castle I was somewhat surprised to see a traditional squater on display. Some people refer to this type as the bobsled. It features a “T” handle to keep your balance in the event of the big one striking or even an earthquake. There is also a lid (which I presume was left up.)
Well, perhaps the lid wasn’t left up. A gaping hole in the floor is a potentially dangerous thing. It’s not that hard to imagine a drunken samurai putting his foot through or even losing hold of his mobile phone or keys down there.
Dark brown bowls
… could be used to describe Bizen-yaki, a popular regional style of pottery. But this wouldn’t be a fair description because they’ve also produced vases, cups and even, would you believe, the toilet bowls of Japan’s most celebrated castle, that of Himeji. The waste was delivered courtesy of gravity where it decelerated rapidly about a foot (300mm) from one’s bottom, even less if no-one got around to emptying it.
Article posted on Saturday, October, 17th, 2009 at 6:25 pm
It was 9 a.m. on the 9th of October that the first steps were taken toward the restortation of Himeji castle’s main tower. The five-and-a-half year project is known in Japanese as the Heisei no Daishuri (平成の大修理) which translates in to the Heisei great repairs. The work being undertaken won’t be as in depth as the Showa great repairs (1956 – 1964), which made many structural repairs including replacing one of the central pillars and the rebuilding & concrete re-enforcement of the base of the main tower.
Currently, only the surveying for a special structure that will cover the main tower is taking place. Upon completion in 2014 though, about 80,000 roof tiles will have been replaced in addition to the replastering of seven square kilometres of the tower’s external walls. Within the special structure a visitor’s room will be built allowing people to see the restoration process up close.
Read more on the previous major restoration here.