See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Wednesday, November, 23rd, 2011 at 9:36 pm
The Chinese-style gable would easily have to be one of the more attractive elements of traditional Japanese architecture. Reliable sources inform me that the Kara gable (唐破風) has existed in Japan since the Heian Period (794 to 1185). One interesting thing worth noting is that kara (唐), while actually meaning China (specifically the Tang Dynasty), is merely used to denote elegant. Which is exactly what it is, if not actually Chinese.
Below, behind my wonderful family, is the Dazaifu Tenman-gu (shrine) in Fukuoka Prefecture. Quite prominent is its Kara-hafu. You’d have to agree that the shrine is looking pretty good considering it’s been standing since 1591.
Prior to the mid 1500′s the undulating curves of the Kara gable were most commonly found on shrines, temples, gates & palanquins. During the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573 to 1603) though, they were increasingly incorporated into the towers & gates of castles.
You’ll see there are two pictures of the Kara hafu below, and a quick glance may not reveal the subtle yet significant difference. To the left, the Kara gable sits along the edge of the roof. This is known as a Noki kara hafu. To the right, the Kara gable sits atop the roof and forms a small room. This is known as a Mukai kara hafu.
|Noki kara hafu – 軒唐破風||Mukai kara hafu – 向唐破風|
|Uwajima Castle||Matsumoto Castle|
Again, there are two examples. Are they the same? Of course not.
The first kara-mon (formerly of Najima Castle, Fukuoka) has its gable facing the way from which it is entered. The roof on the second gate (Meirin-kan, Hagi) is oriented East-West. Did you spot the difference?
|Mukai kara mon – 向唐門||Hira kara mon – 平唐門|
… and more gates
This Kara-mon is utterly spectacular. Though originally of Fushimi Momoyama castle, it is now located here at the Nishi Hongan-ji. As a side-note, there is a color photograph of this gate in the Genshoku Nihon no Bijutsu (Vol 12) that shows it completely devoid of paint. Quite a surprising sight, I assure you.
Also in Kyōto is the Kara-mon of Nijō castle. Found in large number on the gate is the 16-petal chrysanthemum; symbol of the Emperor. Prior to these being added in the latter half of the 1800′s, the heraldic crest that adorned the gate was the three-hollyhock-leaf crest of the Tokugawa clan.
So, there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about the Chinese-style gable. Did I miss anything?
Article posted on Friday, August, 12th, 2011 at 1:43 pm
Time and time again, I read of people’s disappointment upon discovering that the traditional Japanese castle that they’ve just visited, is concrete, or that “it has an elevator”. There’s no need for the sad-faced emoticon, it’s plain for all to see.
Have you experienced disappointed with a Japanese castle visit? Let’s face it, who hasn’t? Be sure to leave a comment, I like to hear what you have to say.
The fact is though, that castles with rebuilt main towers are common. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this category of castle were the most visited. Consider the castles of Ōsaka, Nagoya & Hiroshima, they are far more accessible to the jet-setting tourist than many of Japan’s original castles.
Help is here
To assist those hoping to come away with a more positive experience from their castle visit, I’ve put together the following tables. The coloured boxes will guide you from here on in.
I will give away one thing though, and that is that it looks like the age of concrete replicas just might be over.
|Sub-categories||Description||In other words|
|Mock||Completely based on whim. It cannot be confirmed what the original keep looked like or that there even was a keep. The vast majority are concrete.||Puke|
|Revival||This is a tricky one. Though it may be based on extant images/artefacts, the rebuilt (concrete) main tower has gone in a new direction, as though it merely hints at the original. The vast majority are concrete.||Meh|
|Replica||It looks as it should, but only from the outside. Inside, it’s your typical historical museum. I believe all are concrete.||Hmmm…|
|Restored||At last! A tower built using traditional materials & methods based on surviving diagrams & old photographs. Built using wood though many are enhanced to conform to modern building regulations.||Yippee!|
|Gujo Hachiman Castle||Mock||1933|
|Iga Ueno Castle||Mock||1935|
|Aizu Wakamatsu Castle||Replica||1965|
|Echizen Ōno Castle||Revival||1968|
|Shirakawa Komine Castle||Restored||1991|
Article posted on Monday, April, 4th, 2011 at 1:49 pm
For the longest time I’ve been driving past this building and vowing to get a closer look. It has taken until now because it required getting off the expressway, and we were always on the way to Ultraman Land which well-and-truly trumps any ounce of curiosity I may have.
So, like I said, I’d always seen it from the expressway (here) and I just assumed it was a house. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a Japanese castle? And while it is rare, I’ve come across many a Japanese blog showing castle-like houses. Here’s one I actually went & visited: Yamato Koizumi Castle.
The way in is through a rather large car-park. I guess they get big crowds in on Sunday’s, or whenever it is that they meet. There appears to be only one gate into the compound, and it seemed odd to me that it isn’t wide enough for a vehicle.
If you take a look at this map, you’ll see four largish buildings between the “castle” and the expressway. There is just one other building of note, that being a small pagoda is the south-east corner. You can just see its roof in the photo below.
I actually saw The Cult live in Brisbane many years ago, but that has nothing to do with these folk. The cult that inhabits the buildings above is the Hachiraku Kaikyōdan (八楽会教団). I’m not sure what their go is, and I don’t wish to know.
I know they like castles, so they can’t be too bad.
Article posted on Friday, February, 25th, 2011 at 12:57 pm
May 14th, 1945 – The main tower of Nagoya castle together with the Hon-maru Palace went up in flames.
Below is surely one of the last photos to be taken of the original Tenshu (main tower) of Nagoya castle. The tower (built in 1612), adorned with Japan’s most famed shachi (follow the link for an explanation), and the Hon-maru palace (built in 1615) were also lost. How amazing that that frightening moment in time has been preserved.
I don’t know the exact date that the following photo was taken, but it does appear that a clean-up has taken place. Clearly visible are the stone foundations of the main tower (Tenshu-dai – 天守台), the lesser-tower & the connecting walk way. You’ll notice the two thick-walled and shallow basements. The Hon-maru palace was located in the upper-left section of the image.
About the only good news to come out of all this was that over 1,000 of the Palace’s sliding doors, stunningly decorated with priceless paintings, managed to survive. They’d been tucked away within the castle grounds, in the Nogi storehouse (乃木倉庫). Good on ya Nogi!
The human loss and World War II itself are deserving of unending attention, but I hope you’ll understand that my focus here is Japanese castles. I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the topic in any case.
For the post When did castles lose their Tenshus?, I did some research and was a little surprised to learn that during World War II just seven castles had lost their main towers due to Allied bombing. I say just, but happily it was limited to those seven; it could easily have so been much higher.
During an NHK documentary on Japanese castles, an elderly Japanese gent recalled the time he was witness to bomb that had entered through a window on the top floor of Himeji Castle. Of course it didn’t explode. It turned out to be a dud, so it rattled around the room before finally coming to rest.
It sounds all a bit fantastical, but what am I going to say, that he’s a liar? Anyway, Himeji got lucky, and just to recap, the unlucky seven were:
Article posted on Sunday, November, 28th, 2010 at 7:35 pm
A Tenshu: that of Kumamoto’s
What’s the deal with all these concrete, museum-like castles? There are 100′s of castles around Japan, so how is it only 12 have managed to retain their wooden, central towers from the Edo period? What happened to them? Did they all go up in flames in World War II?
What do you think were the circumstances that these towers met their end? A castle siege? WWII bombing? Someone was smoking in bed but they nodded off before extinguishing the cigarette only to wake up coughing in a flame-filled room? Each of these causes seem reasonable. Well, except the one that stands out as being completely ludicrous – As if a castle would get bombed, humph.
These questions had been going around in my head for some time. I had a fair idea what happened to many of them from the information I’d picked up here-and-there, but thought it may benefit others than myself to boil it down to some straight-forward graphs and tables.
May I direct your attention to the following infographic?
- Horizontally, we have the years from 1580 to 1950.
- Vertically, we have the number of Tenshus toppled in that decade.
- The three boxes show a year & an event impacting upon Japanese castles.
- Just remember, each bar represents a decade.
A lot of things happened to a lot of castles over the centuries. Just keep in mind that the above graph is only concerned with the main towers. Oh, almost forgot. The sample size is 93!
- 1615 – The Tokugawa Shogunate enacted a law dramatically limiting the number of castles in each province. (There were actually many exceptions.) Only three of the seven Tenshus downed that decade was due to this law.
- 1868 – With the collapse of the Shogunate & the feudal system, the following years saw the vast majority of Japan’s castles decommissioned. Many castles would, in fact be re-purposed and used by imperial forces.
- 1945 – Many castles were damaged by WWII bombing. This fact is quite easy to wrap your head around. Surprisingly, only seven (albeit, rather high-profiled) main towers were burnt to the ground.
The numbers crunched
The 93 charted events above are broken down into their cause in the table below. Any surprises?
The full data
You got it. The whole shebang.
So, there you have it folks, the hows & whens of the disappeared Tenshu. Has that answered any questions, or has it simply brought about new questions in their place? I’d like to think it has done both. Either way, I’d love to read your thoughts/questions below.
Article posted on Saturday, July, 17th, 2010 at 10:10 am
There have been so many castles built with massive stone bases for their central towers but now have nothing sitting atop them.
It is generally known when & how these central towers (keeps/tenshus) were lost, but there are cases where mystery still surrounds these old structures. I’m not talking about the small details like their height or appearance, but whether the tower actually even existed.
There are two schools of thought on what became of Fukuoka castle‘s main tower. Some believe the main tower was dismantled and shipped to Osaka to aid in the rebuilding of Ōsaka castle (completed in 1620). Why would Kuroda Nagamasa relinquish his castle’s crowning glory? As a sign of his loyalty to the Shoguate of course. Those opposed to this view simply believe none ever existed.
Pictured is Mr. Odawara along with a model of how Fukuoka castle’s main tower may have once looked. It turns out he is an even bigger fan of Fukuoka castle than I am. He is chairman of the Castles of Chikuzen study group, so I guess he must be. The motivation behind the building of the 1:150 scale model is to promote the (re)building of a 1:1 tower.
Will Fukuoka’s tenshu ever be built? Perhaps the answer can be found in this older post: At what cost?