See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Wednesday, February, 16th, 2011 at 8:27 pm
I recall as a child being asked if I’d collected stamps. My mother had been really into collecting them, and her interest had rubbed off a little onto my sister & me. Anyway, so when I was asked “Do you collect stamps?”, I said yes. The person who’d asked the question then proceeded to jump on my foot and said, “Well, there’s another one!” Ahh… the funny things kids get up to.
You may recall from a previous post that a trip I took to Ehime late last year. It was then that I actually started collecting the stamps of Japan’s 100 famous castles (100名城). What you see below are the stamps of Yuzuki Castle (No, you don’t), Matsuyama Castle, Ōzu Castle and Uwajima Castle.
I actually missed out on Yuzuki twice: morning and night. I guess I’ll just have to go back there again one of these days.
So, um…do you collect stamps?
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, December, 5th, 2010 at 12:43 pm
The weekend of Nov 20th & 21st was shaping up very nicely weather-wise. Hoping to take advantage of that fact, I arrived at Hakata highway bus terminal at 9pm, Friday evening, intoxicated by visions of the awesome weekend that laid before me.
Matsuyama – sold out, Matsue – sold out, Nagoya – sold out, Takamatsu – sold out, Kōchi – sold out. Being spontaneous is all well & good, but that doesn’t get you on the bus.
A change in tactics was in order – “What seats are available? 何処でもいい！” There were just two choices out of Fukuoka, Hiroshima or Fukuyama. I then went to the back of the queue to give myself some time to consider those two tantalising options.
What amazing luck! The guy in front of me postponed his trip to Matsuyama, making a seat available for… me! It’s in times like these people say they were in the right place, at the right time.
On the road again
The only thing I’ll say about the ride is that it was as sleepless as every other night-bus trip I’ve ever taken.
Dogo Onsen, park & Yuzuki castle ruins
Rather conveniently, the bus stops just a short stroll the one of Matsuyama’s most famous sites, that of the Dōgo hot spring. There are many reasons why people go nuts for the place. I debated with myself whether of not just to post a wikipedia link but thought some bullet points might do the job.
- It’s old. Perhaps even really old.
- The building was extended in 1899 to include a wing reserved only for members of the Imperial family.
- Was frequented by some kinda famous literary types.
- Is said to be the inspiration the the fantastical bathhouse of the movie Spirited Away.
A short walk from the hot spring is Dōgo park, which was once the site of Yuzuki castle. It’s not really worth checking out unless you are a castle maniac. I mean, it’s just a park after all. (Read the Yuzuki Castle profile for more pictures & information.)
There’s plenty to be said about this castle. I may just leave it for when I (eventually) update the castle profile itself. The place is indeed excellent. All very well maintained, and there are friendly staff (and volunteers) ready to assist needed or not. Actually, the same can be said for every site I visited. Ehime is a JCE-compliant Prefecture. Well done Ehime!
How do you like the view?
The Ni-no-maru garden of Matsuyama castle
This Secondary enclosure of the castle has received a lot of attention over the last 20 years or so. The site is rather large & square with the layout of the building complex that once existed there marked out with concrete slabs. It’s nicer than it sounds.
I’m afraid to say I treated the sleepy city of Uwajima like a fast-food drive through. As soon as I got off the Express train, I asked the station master when the next express train was out of there. After a smirk and a response of “In 5 minutes.”, I asked when the next one was after that… So, with just one hour to do what needed to be done, I jogged in search of the castle. (Read the Uwajima Castle profile for more pictures & information.)
Of all of the things Ehime has to offer, it was the castle of Ōzu that I wanted to see the most as I missed it of my first trip to the area about 9 years earlier. It didn’t disappoint. The town had plenty to keep me occupied until the slow train back to Matsuyama city that night. (Read the Ōzu Castle profile for more pictures & information.)
Later that day…
… I was sooo tired! I found myself once again loitering around Dōgo onsen. This time I whipped off the socks & shoes to take advantage of the very public foot-bath. It was heaven. Sleepless, sweaty & tired, I lingered there longer that most.
On the night-bus back to Fukuoka, I slept like a log.