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Tōkaidō ichiranzu was printed by Shōtei Kinsui in 1830 with the help of Ichigorō Sanoya. This map illustrates one of the famous Five Routes, which connected Edo (modern day Tokyo) with Kyoto. In this map, we can see that there are a lot of major components that occupy the entire space such as mountains, station names, descriptions, and houses. Everything was drawn out in great detail. For instance, if you look closely at the buildings, the stone wall, the gate, and even the roof tiles were drawn with painstaking precision. One interesting thing in this map is that the rooftops of houses located in the capital or main cities were painted in blue. The reason behind this is that each cluster of houses represented a jōkamachi 城下町, or a castle town.

The roofs are painted blue

Jōkamachi directly translates as “the town below the castle” (Satoh, 217). Castle towns served an important role in establishing urbanization and commercialization. Their existence was in fact a necessity. The locations of castle towns provided strategic benefits to their economy and their defensive construction. Also, their distinctive segmentation within each castle towns demonstrated the four principle elements that were central to their formation.

Nijo Castle

Jōkamachi were built around castles, and later on facilitated the  formation of urban and commercial hubs. Castles were built for one main reason and that is to create fortification. The construction of forts that could withstand weapons and firearms were a necessity during times of war. “Earth, stone, and wooden walls; holes, ditches, moats, and natural barriers were the principal forms employed from early times” (Kirby, 4).  Nevertheless, the importance of castles began to diminish during the Tokugawa period when the country was in a state of relative peace. During this era, castles came to serve multiple roles. They functioned not only as forts, but also as centres of administration, law, and politics. With the absence of unions or a central government, local daimyō established their own domains. They acted as lords, with the power to instate their own “laws, taxation rates, and even systems of weights and measures” (Nishi, 102).

Castle towns were formed in many different ways and had distinct features. However, one commonality among all castle towns was that commoners living in the surrounding areas were were all attracted by the opportunities that the castle towns created. For example, thousands of people recognized the opportunity to expand their businesses and migrated to the castle town of Kanazawa, increasing the population exponentially. Furthermore, by opening up new roads for easier transportation, the market at Kanazawa was broadened even further, making it more convenient and accessible (McClain, 268). It was in this way that castle towns acted as facilitators of urbanization and commercialization.

According to Shigeru Satoh, castle towns can be categorized into five different forms. Let’s first examine how Japanese castles in general were categorized. Despite Japanese castles’ design, structure, and size, they were categorized according to topographic location. Sanjo, hirajo, and hirasanjo are the names that defined the castles whether they were built on a hill top, on a plain land, or partially on mountain and partially on plain land, respectively (Kirby, 4). They all shared various advantages and disadvantages during times of war. For example, if the castle was built on a hilltop then its vision of the surrounding land would be clearer than those castles that were built on a plain. However, it was much more difficult to construct a castle on a hilltop, as it was necessary to transport heavy materials all the way to the top of the mountain.

The location of a castle was also important for the development of a castle town. The location became part of a critical strategy to ensure rapid urbanization and economic success of economic. For example, in Satoh’s identification of castle towns, if they were built on the coast or along a river, they had great advantages in trading. Especially when maritime trading was active, large quantities of goods could be traded at the ports. As Satoh notes, “the coastline affected development of the urban areas, and consequently their spatial composition sometimes became dynamic and unique” (Satoh, 221).

Satoh also identifies other three types of castle towns: “castle towns with a mountain castle”, “castle towns located on a horseback-hill”, and “castle towns with a hill-on-the-plain castle” (Satoh, 221). These castle towns may not favour the advantage of merchant trading, like those built along coasts or rivers, which could boost their economy. Nevertheless, this does not mean it that would necessarily have a negative impact on their economy.

One substantial common advantage among these three types of castle towns was that their castles were built in better locations and thus served as exceptional military bases. For example, Satoh explains that until the sixteenth century the most typical castle towns were built at the foot of the mountain castle. As previously mentioned, castles that were built on a mountain had superior advantage as it was possible to survey all of the land below. Hence, with better security, the population was able to expand due to fewer casualties and the attraction of more migrants, and businesses were also able to develop without interference.

Edo castle
Warriors’ houses
Urban commoners’ buildings
Temple-shrine complex

Castle towns are divided into four zones: “a castle, residential areas for warriors ranked by class, areas for ‘urban commoners’, and temple and shrine sites” (Satoh, 223). This distinctive zoning is visible in the Tōkaidō ichiranzu map. Castle towns also consisted of four main elements. The first is a castle, which served as the centre of political power and defense. The second is the residential area for warriors. This was usually constructed around the castle as protection. A hierarchical system was strictly enforced in this area. The higher class warriors were able to live in larger houses, whereas lower class warriors resided in row houses. The third is defined by Satoh as an “urban commoners” area. This was where commerce in the area was centered. Merchants, traders, and tailors lived in this region. The fourth zone was the temple and shrine region. This was where religion was practiced at the time. As religion always played an important role in the development of a country in history, it is influential and inevitable. Temple and shrines were built in this area and people would go there to practice their rituals. These were usually located at the edge of the castle town or on a mountain (Satoh, 224).


Works Cited

Kirby, John B. From Castle to Teahouse: Japanese Architecture of the Momoyama Period. 1st ed. Tokyo: C.E. Tuttle Co, 1962.

McClain James L.. “Castle Towns and Daimyo Authority: Kanazawa in the Years 1583-1630”. Journal of Japanese Studies6.2 (1980): 267–299. Web. Mar. 26, 2016.

Nishi, Kazuo, and Kazuo Hozumi. What is Japanese Architecture?. 1st English ed. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1985.

Satoh, Shigeru. “Urban Design and Change in Japanese Castle Towns”. Built Environment (1978-) 24.4 (1998): 217–234. Web. Mar. 26, 2016.

Schmorleitz, Morton S. Castles in Japan. Rutland, Vt: C. E. Tuttle Co, 1974.


Contributor: Charlie Feng

(Edited by Elle Marsh)