The Japanese Castles

    The Japanese idea of Castles may not what we thought about castles( an individual building), they are actually whole compounds centered by the large multistory towers. It’s more like the idea of the palace. The Japanese castles were started in earlier centuries and made from wooden stockades. However, they were best known in the 16th century and made from wood and stone. This made the Japanese castles much stronger. There were two purposes of the Japanese castle, one is to defense the attacks, the other one is to display the wealth and power of lord. There were many key elements of the Japanese castles such as castle wall, bridges, gates, moats and castle towers. In addition, due to the defensive purpose, the minings, countermining and catapult bombardments were common to see in the Japanese castles. 

    There are totally three types of Japanese castles. The first one is mountaintop castles, it was called “Yamajiro” in Japanese. In the earlier century, the castles were mostly built on the top of mountains. One of the most significant reasons of this is the fortifications were not really advanced at that time. This made the terrain advantage extremely important to a castle. The mountaintop was easy to hold but hard to attack. Moreover, this type of castle not only provided a magnificent view but also shows the supremacy of lord.  The last but not least, the mountaintop castles are more easily to survive during the earthquakes.The Gifu castle and Iwakuni castle are excellent examples of the mountaintop castles. The two pictures below show the Gifu castle.

Figure 1: Gifu castle. Source:
Figure 2: view from Gifu castle. Source:

     The second type of Japanese castle is hill castles. They are also called hirayamajiro in Japanese. This type of castles was tended to build one the low mountain or big hill. It was started in the Sengoku period. This makes the location of castle more convenient. However, compare to the mountaintop castle, hill castle lack on view and more vulnerable to the earthquakes. As a result, the moats and walls around the castle were added during this time. In addition, for enhancing the defensive capability of the castle, there were more fortifications surround the castle.  One example of Japanese castle is Himeji castle. The picture below is Himeji castle.

Figure 3:Himeji castle. Source:

    The last type of castle is flatland castles. They are called hirajilo in Japanese. This type of castles started in the end Sengoku period and it was popular in Edo period. Since this type of castles was built in the flat area and it had no nature defense. As a result, it was always built really big.  However, this type of castles tended to bother by floods. The Edo castle is one of the flatland castles. There are many other flat castles such as Osaka castle and Nagoya castle. 

Figure 4: Osaka castle. Source:
Figur 5: Nagoya castle. Source:

The Edo Jo

Figure 6: Edo-Jo. Source:

 The Edo Jo is also called Chiyoda castle. As we said, it is a flatland castle. It was built by Ota Dokan in 1457. It “was one of the grandest and most elaborate castles in Japan.” I was well known for the ruggedness of the gates. 


1457 The Ota clan constructed a castle here.
1524 The Hōjō clan seized control of the castle from the Uesugi clan.
1590 Tokugawa Ieyasu became lord of the castle.
1592 The Nishinomaru enclosure was completed.
1606 The Honmaru, Ninomaru, Sannomaru and the outer enclosures were completed.
1607 The main tower & the Kitanomaru enclosure were completed.
1611 The Nishinomaru enclosure was extended.
1623 The main tower was rebuilt.
1624 The Nishinomaru Palace was renovated. It burnt to the ground 10 years later.
1629 Expansion of the castle commenced. It was completed 7 years later.
1639 The Honmaru Palace burnt down. It was rebuilt the following year.
1657 The main tower & the buildings of several enclosures burnt down.
1659 The Honmaru Palace & the Fujimi Turret were reconstructed.
1747 The Ninomaru Palace burnt down. It had been rebuilt just six years prior.
1838 The Nishinomaru Palace burnt down. It was rebuilt the following year.
1844 The Honmaru Palace burnt down. It was rebuilt the following year.
1852 The Nishinomaru Palace burnt down. It was then rebuilt.
1859 The Honmaru Palace burnt down. It was rebuilt the following year.
1863 The Nishinomaru & the Honmaru Palaces burnt down. The Nishinomaru Palace was rebuilt the following year.
1867 The Ninomaru Palace burnt down.
1923 The Fujimi Turret collapsed in an earthquake.
1945 The Ote Gate burnt down in WWII bombing.
1967 The Ote Gate was reconstructed.
Figure 7: Tokugawa map of Edo Jo.Source:

Background of the map

    Figure 7 is the map I chose. It was created in 1854. It is a bird-eye-view map. Moreover, the colors of it are dusky. However, Some special places were used in bright colors. For example, the painter used red color to illustrate the gates and bridges. The blue color is used to illustrate moats. In addition, the yellow color is used to present the rooms. The four directions were given. Moreover, the map was drawn very detailedly. It not only contains the name of each room but also the true area. All of this information written into the Chinese characters.  The map wasn’t just planimetric map, it also illustrated the stone base of the building and windows for archers on the wall. 

View of Edo folding screen

Figure8:”View of Edo” (Edo zu) pair of six-panel folding screens (17th century)

    The screen is made by the 17th century. It combines by the left screen and right screen, each screen has 6 pieces, so totally there are 12 pieces. Each screen is 162.5 x 366.0 cm. The screen describes the Korean envoys came to the castle. It not only vivid in artistic expression but also has the historical value. It is treasuring up in the National museum of Japanese history and only displayed four weeks of a year (from later mid-April to mid-May) 

The Gates of Edo Jo

    The gates are the most important element of Edo Jo. As we see, It was illustrated by marked red in the Tokugawa maps of Edo Jo. The gates were not only the protection of castle but also seen as the symbols of power and authority. The size, materials, and design of a gate showed the power of lord. The gates of Edo Jo were basically made of wood. Since the castle was surrounded by the walls and moats, the gates were the breakthrough points during the war. As a result, the gates were used to be destroyed. Moreover, the gates tended to be preserved by soldiers. For example, the main gates such as Ote, tended to have 120 soldiers and sub-gates tended to have 30-70 soldiers.  If you interested in the gates of Edo Jo, there is an amazing album of Painting called”pictures of the 36 gates of the shogun’s castle in Yedo”


    This is the cover of “pictures of the 36 gates of the shogun’s castle in Yedo”. The words Yedo is the same as Edo. The album is published at the end of 19th century. Each painting of gate accomplished by the historical description.

Figure 10:$50i

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     According to the description of album, This is “OTE-GOMON (THE MAIN CASTLE-GATE.) When the Shogun passed the gate, all the people were to be sent away (they being not allowed to take sight of the Shogun), except the Daimyo, who was the master of the guards, his Karo (1st class steward), and Rusui (a Daimyo s deputy keeping a castle or mansion).” (Bachmann ,2014)


    “The gate was called Hokuto-Kwaku (lit. : polar-star gate). The place outside the gate facing toward Hitotsugi was called Fujimi-Kwaku (probably from its having the view of the Mount Fuji)” (Bachmann, 2014)


“Since the disastrous fire, of 1806, which, however, did not destroy the gate or its bridge, the site of the residence of Matsudaira Noto-no-kami was made an open space for protection against fire.” (Bachmann)


    Hormaru means the central circle in Japanese, so it is the most inner and honorable place in the Castle. It contains the main tower and the residence of the lord. As we can see, in the “view of Edo” folding screen, the roofs and walls were inlaid by golden to show the honorable of the shogun



Donjon is the central tower. It is an 11-meter-multistory tower. It was destroyed during Meireki fire in 1657. Moreover, it isn’t restructured. As a result, there is almost nothing left now. The two pictures below shows the Donjon before Meireki fire and after it.

Figure 15: the undamaged Donjon. 
Figure 16: the fire of Meireki 


Figure 16: Donjon today.

Edo Jo today

Today, Edo Jo is part of the Tokyo Imperial palace.  Part of it can be visited by travelers, and it is free.

“Edo castle”的图片搜索结果
Figure 17:Edo castle today


  1. Turnbull, Stephen R., and Peter Dennis. Japanese castles, 1540-1640. Oxford: Osprey Pub.,     2008. Print.
  2. “Japanese Castles.” Japanese Castles. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. Castles
  3. “Edo Japan: A Virtual Tour — Edo-jo.” Edo Japan: A Virtual Tour — Edo-jo. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
  4. O’Grady, Daniel. “Japanese Castle Explorer.” Japanese Castle Explorer – Edo Castle – 江戸城. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017.
  5. “THE SHELF.” THE SHELF RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10. Apr.


Final post: 10th April 2017