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Japanese Castles to Cities. Social 8/9. Reconstructed castle with nearby samurai district. Matsumoto Castle. Hiroshima Castle- reconstruction. Matsuyama Castle. Matsue Castle. Hikone Castle. Ueno Castle – feudal (reconstruction). Himeji Castle. Osaka Castle. Matsumoto- a plains castle.

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Reconstructed castle with nearby samurai district.

Matsumoto Castle

Hiroshima Castle- reconstruction

Matsuyama Castle

Matsue Castle

Hikone Castle

Ueno Castle – feudal (reconstruction)

history of castles

Matsumoto- a plains castle

History of Castles
  • The need for castles arouse after the central government's authority had weakened in the 15th century and Japan had fallen into the chaotic era of warring states (sengokujidai).
  • During that era, Japan consisted of dozens of small independent states which were fighting each other and, for defense purposes, were building small castles on top of mountains.

Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle- mountain castle


When Oda Nobunaga reestablished a central authority over Japan about a century later, and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi completed the reunification of Japan, many larger castles were built across the country.

  • Unlike the earlier castles, they were built in the plains or on small hills in the plains, where they served as a region's administrative and military headquarters, and became the centers of "castle towns".
  • During the Meiji Period, many castles were destroyed as unwelcome relics of the feudal past, and even more were lost in World War II.
  • Only about a dozen original castles, i.e. castles that date from the feudal era (before 1868), survive today. Furthermore, several dozen castles were reconstructed over the past decades.
castle structures and castle towns
Castle Structures and Castle Towns
  • The typical, large castle consisted of three rings of defense, with the so called honmaru ("main circle") in the center followed by the ninomaru ("second circle") and sannomaru ("third circle"). The castle tower stood in the honmaru, while the lords usually lived at a more comfortable residence in the ninomaru.
  • In the town around the castle, the samurai were residing. The higher their rank, the closer they lived to the castle. Merchants and artisans lived in special areas, while temple and entertainment districts were usually located just outside the city. 
  • Tokyo and Kanazawa are two good examples among many Japanese cities which evolved as castle towns.

The main construction material for castle buildings used to be wood, as can be witnessed when visiting the interior of one of the surviving original castles.

  • Most newer reconstructions, however, are made of concrete, and their interiors are modern. Most castles now house a museum.

Inside Meiji Castle

castle tower tenshukaku
Castle Tower(Tenshukaku)
  • Also known as donjon or castle keep, this is the innermost, best defended and most prominent structure of a castle. Most castle towers have between two to five stories, and there are usually more floors inside than there are stories on the outside. 

Castle tower of Kumamoto Castle

guard tower yagura
Guard Tower (Yagura)
  • Also known as turrets, these are watch towers and storage rooms along the castle walls. 

A guard tower of Hiroshima Castle

walls and moats

Petal filled castle moat (Hiroshima)

Walls and moats
  • Several rings of walls and moats served as a defense measure. Osaka Castle and the former Edo Castle (now Tokyo's Imperial Palace) offer the most impressing examples

Castle walls and moat of Osaka Castle


The foundation of the Edo Castle (home of Tokugawa), was burned in city wide fires in 1657 and was never rebuilt.

  • The typical castle gate consists of two gates which are placed in a 90 degree angle to each other, creating a small inner yard which is heavily defended from all sides.

Sakurada Gate of the former Edo Castle

things to keep in mind
Things to keep in mind:
  • Villages and post stations on route to Edo grew into larger centers in order to meet the needs of the daimyo and their entourages traveling to Edo. Artisans and merchants moved to the areas.
  • Artisans and merchants moved to castle towns to meet needs of the daimyo and his samurai and farmers. In turn these artisans and merchants needed accommodations, so the city grew. With the influx, new business thrived.
  • Cities developed unique roles in the country which increased their growth. New policies were put into place that would allow for greater production and trade in non-agricultural areas.
things to keep in mind1
Things to keep in mind:
  • Edo was the centre of government
  • Kyoto became center for publishing and production of beautiful silks, lacquer, and metal work.
  • Osaka became the center of economy-had large market. Foreign ships brought foreign goods that were shipped by sea to other ports in the country; was the centre for sale of rice.
  • How did the castle towns lead to the growth of the cities?
  • How did the annual pilgrimage to Edo change the map of Japan?
  • What do these cities have in common? (page 149-150)
  • Why were they called the three metropolises?
  • Were there other cities in Japan at the time?