See Japan's castles the easy way
Article posted on Thursday, March, 31st, 2011 at 3:48 pm
Well, here we are with another vintage postcard. It’s post-dated (19)27, so there’s little mystery surrounding its age. Had it been undated, I could only have guessed that it was no newer than 1945. I think we all know what happened in 1945. For anyone not so sure, most of the buildings shown below were lost in WWII bombing.
The castle is of course Ōsaka castle. The two-story building on the right edge, overlooking a non long-jumpable moat, is the Inui Turret. The thing of real interest to me is the series of buildings to the left. Yes, the buildings that burnt to the ground in WWII.
At the extreme left is the three-story Fushimi Turret. Then a little to its right is the Kyōbashi-Guchi. The Kyōbashi-Guchi being a complex of gates & hall-like turrets. (Teaser: We’ll be seeing more of the Kyōbashi-Guchi in the near future.)
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 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 Tuesday, January, 18th, 2011 at 10:16 pm
It’s things like this that 1. make me bounce out of bed in the morning, 2. put a spring in my step and 3. put a smile on my face. And, I’m not talking about 1. my alarm, 2. my morning coffee and 3. beating my four-year-old at Mario Kart.
What you see below is, I believe, quite a rare find. While not exactly proof of the existence of Big foot or Nessie, it is up there, at least in my estimation. What it is, is a postcard depicting the three-story turret that became the substitute main tower of Mito Castle. It was built in 1766 but would ultimately be lost in a blaze during WWII bombing.
I think you’ll agree, it’s quite the ugly duckling. Usually when we cast our gaze upon the turrets & main towers of Japanese castles, we see elegant gables in the roofs, and the buildings themselves stand elevated atop stone foundations. All of these features are gracefully curved; all of these features are missing from this particular tower. What we are left with must be the least stunning of the former National Treasures of Japan (yes, it was).
Completely featureless it isn’t. The building is top-and-tailed by a pair of Shachi at the building’s highest point & Namako kabe walls at its base. The Shachi protected buildings from fire (no they didn’t), the slate-tiled walls protected the plastered walls from the weathering effects of snow. (Beats me, I’m Australian.)
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 Sunday, July, 11th, 2010 at 9:40 am
Well, between procrastination and not having a means to visit, I finally checked out the Tachiarai Peace Hall. You may well imagine it to be a hall-like building filled with peace, which may not be a completely accurate description. It is in fact, filled with WWII aircraft, parts of aircraft & other WWII related items.