See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Saturday, July, 2nd, 2011 at 7:34 pm
It’s not often I buy books on Japanese castles anymore. I mean, the ones that I have on the shelves do a pretty good job, and it’s not like new discoveries are being made about centuries-old castles. Well, not too regularly at least.
Despite my stance on book purchases, the shelves still manage to fill up. It’s those damn magazines or Mooks (magazine books) that get me spending my yen when I really should be hanging on to it.
The “Mook” represents great value and are, without fail, choc-o-block full of fantastic photos, CG re-imaginings, maps and diagrams. Anyway, Sengoku Bushō no Jō is no different and is the latest to see me part with my cash.
Cover to cover
If you can’t be bothered reading any further, BUY IT! It’s awesome, it’s cheap. Get it here: 戦国武将の城 (Amazon Japan).
In the first section of the book, sorry, Mook, the creators have had their CGI minions slaving away to re-animate the corpses of three of Japan’s greatest Tenshu (main towers). The three are Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi castle, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Ōsaka castle & Tokugawa Ieyasu’s Edo castle. A worthy undertaking, as no photographic records exist. They were long-gone by the time cameras arrived in Japan.
Putting aside any “Pixar” expectations, the CG work does a fine job of conveying the likely appearance of all three castles (and any subsequent incarnations. Yes, I’m looking at you Edo castle.) Supporting these representations are any and seemingly all images, art works and extant artifacts of the towers.
This small section on Japanese castles from top to bottom, inside & out, is GOLD; absolute gold, pure & simple. The photographic & illustrative examples are as clear as they could possibly be. There’s really nothing more to say.
Chapters 3 ~ 5
These sections represent the generously-proportioned Wagyu patty in the hamburger that is Sengoku-Bushō-no-Jō. And boy, is there plenty to feast on.
Many of the greatest castles of the Sengoku period’s greatest commanders are lusciously described, both in text and pictorially. The full array of available images are put to excellent use making it easy to visualise the strength that these castles possessed. The real eye-opener is Sendai castle though. Date Masamune built it purposely weak, and its weaknesses are readily apparent.
Further sections cover some of the more famous castle-centric battles of the Warring states period. Of course, Odawara & Bitchū Takamatsu castles get great coverage.
The rest of the Mook
- Chapter 6 would have to be the best guide of Japan’s truly-ruined castles. Again, visual as all get out, and the maps that depict their original layouts are great.
- Chapter 7, a guide to the nationally treasured castles. Yep, Himeji, Matsumoto, Inuyama and Hikone.
- Chapter 8 attempts to rank the Best 5 or Best 10 across many different categories (best stonework, best turrets, etc…) and across two eras, the Sengoku period and the castles of the Golden age.
- Chapter 9 closes out the book. It does a pretty fair job covering the remaining, extant Tenshu, i.e. not the national Treasures.
If I could have just one…
… Japanese language book on Japanese castles, this would be it. Book, Mook, whatever, it’s the best ￥680 I’ve ever spent. So, like I said, buy it: 戦国武将の城 (Amazon Japan).
Article posted on Friday, June, 17th, 2011 at 10:15 pm
People looking for technical diagrams of Japanese castles would be pretty disappointed with the Japanese Castle Explorer website. Sure, there are plenty of images (almost a thousand!) but I am certain there isn’t even one that specifies the heights, lengths, curves and angles of any Japanese castle.
Now might be a good time to remind everyone that the term Japanese castle does in fact refer to the whole lot, from the layout of the earthworks to each & every building standing atop it. So, if you did come across the blueprints of a Japanese castle, what you’d have in your hands would be quite a weighty collection of documents. If such a thing were available, which to my knowledge, there ain’t.
So where does that leave the artists and game/level designers out there wishing to get creative with accurately-proportioned Japanese castles? Well, I guess for the more creative of you, it won’t be a problem, you’ll just find a way. But for everyone else, I hope the following can be used as some sort of guide.
Sites like Google, Yahoo & Bing are the first places we go to find answers. And, why shouldn’t we? That’s where answers are nowadays. I’m certainly not suggesting that you steal images, but if they are just being used as a reference, I see no harm in that.
Okay, so a search for “Japanese castle blueprints” yields… not a lot. Well, a lot, but nothing relevant. Replacing blueprints with floor-plans, doesn’t really help either.
Perhaps the big flaw in our plan (See what I did there?), is that we are using English. If we want useful results, and lots of them, Japanese would surely be the way to go.
A couple of handy terms we can use in conjunction with the name of a specific castle are:
- 青写真 (Aojashin) – Blueprint. As it literally translates to blue photograph, you may end up seeing lots of blue photographs.
- 図面 (Zumen) – Plans, drawings, diagrams, blueprints. The one we’ll use.
You can now see that doing an image search for a term like “姫路城 図面” (which is Himeji castle and Zumen), gets us much closer to where we want to be. Still though, the image sizes are inconsistent and there may not even be diagrams for the particular castle you are looking for.
We could blame search engines for the lack of information but that hardly seem fair. They can only draw results from data that actually exists. Still, it’s a little disappointing, isn’t it?
I think we’ll have much better luck if we hit the books, but not English ones, they’re no good. The big, big, big problem here though, will be their availability. I picked up all mine from Book off (Japan’s premier secondhand bookstore chain) But, do you live near one? There is of course Amazon Japan.
There are a number of books on individual castles that contain technical diagrams of its main buildings. A truly excellent example is 甦れ!幻の福岡城天守閣, which contains page after page of plans & cross-sections of Fukuoka castle’s buildings. Included are speculative schematics of what the main tower may have looked like (still unsure if there was one though).
A series of books that I can wholeheartedly recommend is in the table below. There are eight books in all with each book containing excellent diagrams on at least a few castles from that region. The first half of the book contains modern, color photos plus the odd, vintage map. The back half of the book contains vintage, black & white photos, maps and the technical drawings that we are looking for.
|1||吹雪舞うみちのくの堅城||Hokkaidō & Tōhoku|
|3||甲信越・北陸―銀嶺を望む風雪の城||Hokuriki & Koshinetsu|
|8||九州・沖縄―火燃ゆる強者どもの城||Kyūshū & Okinawa|
A cross between the Magazine & the Book is the Mook. The two pictured here are filled with technical drawings of the most famous Tenshu (天守), the main towers of a Japanese castle. The text is Japanese but the fact that they are very visual means there is still value to be had when using them as a reference.
Just click on either of the covers and you’ll be whisked away to Amazon Japan. Secondhand Mooks are available, and they are cheap!
I hope I have at least given you some good leads on getting your hands on some blueprints & plans of Japanese castles. And, if anyone out there has further suggestions to add, I’d be more than happy to hear them. Just let me now via the comments section below.
Article posted on Friday, March, 19th, 2010 at 11:44 am
In today’s post we’re going to clear up one of the more confusing aspects of Japanese castle roofs. Before I go much further, I’d like to say thank you to Kedvin, a member of the JCE facebook fanpage, who asked what the difference was.
Step 1: identifying the gables
I’ve highlighted the five visible gables of Kumamoto’s Uto Turret below. And you can see Kumamoto’s main tower lurking in the background, which sports yet another type of gable. Ten points to anyone who can name & describe it (in the comments section of course).
Step 2: a closer look
The two gables on the lower floor look the same, right? The two gables on the second floor do too, don’t they? Yes, they do, so no help there. I’ve highlighted the three Irimoyahafu below, the now, un-highlighted gables are Chidorihafu. Can you see how they are different? No?
Step 3: Irimoyahafu truly are part of the roof, not add-ons
The painted blue sections below are the actual roofs of each layer, with the Irimoyahafus at each end. You can now see that the Chidorihafu look added on.
There is something else worth pointing out here – the key difference between Bōrōgata & Sōtōgata towers. Bōrōgata-style towers have Irimoyahafu (resembling the right side of the Uto Turret) and Sōtōgata-style towers don’t (resembling the left side of the Uto Turret). Sōtōgata would only have added-on looking gables (or possibly none at all).
I hope that cleared things up. Hey, I’m glad I was asked the question. We can all benefit from it. Would love to get your thoughts guys..