The Shogunate has been the most influential and highly esteemed form of government that began in Medieval Japan when the Imperial Court announced its birth through Minamoto no Yoritomo. Although the Imperial Palace still existed and headed the religious and bureaucratic leadership, the Shogunate became the de facto form of government and maintained this military government up until 1868.
The country’s culture and history revolved around the families who ruled and fought for survival during these tumultuous but colorful times. It reflected their livelihood, their infrastructures, their artistry which was all in a grand scale. The affluence of these families was exhibited by how fortified and magnificent their castles were and that within their walls they lived and were willing to die to protect them.
We’ve seen most of these Samurai castles in movies and tv shows and stories about the Shogunate era have been quite popular even in the west because of its mystery, power and the exemplary way the samurai disciplines himself to achieve perfection. Seeing their magnificent fortresses up close would be an amazing experience so we’ve listed down some of them for you to check out and explore.
1. Himeji Castle
This UNESCO World Heritage and Special National Historic site is famous for not only its grandeur and beauty but for the complex maze-like paths that confused enemies so they could not reach the main tower and if they did they’d easily be under fire as they try to bypass every nook and cranny going up. Parts of the castle have National Treasure status like the main towers and turrets and other parts like gates and walls have been recognized as Important Cultural Properties. It is the largest original castle in Japan and is located in the city of Himeji, Hyōgo, Japan.
2. Hikone Castle
This castle associated with the Ii clan and used between 1603 to 1874 was built like a puzzle since some of its parts were from nearby castles to save up on time and further expenses. Some castles which contributed its parts to make it whole are the Otsu, Nagahama and Sawaguchi castles. Situated in Shiga Prefecture, the property still showcases some sections of the moat, old horse stable where you pass through upon entering and a wooden bridge which takes you to the castle that was rebuilt.
3. Osaka Castle
The Tokugawa clan is known to have made this fortress more magnificent and mightier after they destroyed the original grand structure that Toyotomi Hideyoshi built. They managed to make it so spectacular, it is now considered one of Japan’s famous landmarks and has parts that are now recognized as Important Cultural Properties. The site itself, all eight stories of it, and the moat is recognized as a Special National Historic Site.
4. Nijō Castle
With a long list of historical recognition for the site itself and several of its parts, this castle’s main attraction was the Ninomaru Palace that was owned by the Tokugawa clan. It was the symbol of the clan’s power and authority. Its walls had paintings of master painters and displayed luxury and extravagance around it. This majestic castle is located in Kyōto.
5. Azuchi Castle
Sadly, the most extravagant castle that Oda Nobunaga built only existed for 3 years after a fire burnt it down. Historians still consider it as incomparable due to the innovations on how it was made and what it was for. Other than building a fortress and a watch tower, it was a mansion built for him and his constituents to reside in as it was a part of a castle town with around 5,000 inhabitants. The castle itself was an abode of luxury and wealth as it had gold decorations and walls painted with tigers and dragons by master painters. It is situated in the shores of Lake Biwa, now in Shiga Prefecture.
6. Kannonji Castle
After it was built by the Sasaki clan, it has been known as one of the five greatest mountain castles for centuries. Today, ruins of this once strong fortress can still be viewed around the mountain including the walls of the compounds. It’s history of 230 years came to an end in 1568 when the infamous Oda Nobunaga seized the castle. It was named after a Buddhist temple called Kannonsho-ji. You can visit this National Historic Site in the town of Azuchi, Shiga Prefecture.
7. Fushimi Castle
This castle located in Kyoto was intended to be Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s retirement home. After an earthquake destroyed it, it was then rebuilt but its owner died before its completion. Some of its parts are now within the structures of other castles nearby and a third reconstruction took place in another location. Also known as Momoyama or Fushimi – Momoyama castle, the edifice became a museum of the life and campaigns of Hideyoshi with a small theme park named “Castle Land” as the main attraction. Unfortunately, the property has been closed to the public since 2003.
8. Akashi Castle
Like the other samurai castles across the Kansai area, this castle was passed on from one clan to another and was used to defend the ruling Shogunate, at that time the influential Tokugawa. Some parts of the castle were parts of other castles like the Fushimi and Funage castles. Its two towers, the Hitsujisaru Yagura and the Tatsumi Yagura, were chosen to be Important Cultural Properties by the government. The castle is located in Akashi, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.
Whether they be in ruins or decommissioned, these samurai castles tell a most intriguing tale of how Medieval Japan prospered and waned throughout those centuries of wars and victories. Their beauty exudes undoubtedly so much power and influence that up to this day, people from all over the world still marvel at their majesty and grace as they continue to stand despite natural calamities and signs of the times.
Photo by 投稿者が撮影 (ブレイズマン (talk) 07:48, 23 March 2009 (UTC)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons