Japanese Castles: Azuchi Castle
Azuchi Castle 安土城
The original Azuchi Castle was built by the warlord Oda Nobunaga on the shores of Lake Biwa in present-day Shiga Prefecture between 1576-1579.
Azuchi Castle commanded the main roads of the day to the capital, Kyoto, namely the Nakasendo, on which Azuchi Castle is located, and the nearby Tokaido in addition to boat traffic on Lake Biwa. Azuchi Castle's vast size and revolutionary defences were designed to both impress and demoralize Nobunaga's numerous enemies and political opponents.
Azuchi was the first castle in Japan to be surrounded by high stone walls, which became a feature of later Japanese castle architecture. The tenshu or keep was an imposing seven storeys in height with the 5th floor octagonal in shape and covered with gold leaf inside and out. The octagonal floor symbolized heaven, whereas the square-shaped sixth floor represented a synthethis of Confucianist and Daoist thought. The lavish interiors contained paintings and sliding screens (fusuma painted by artists of the Kano School. Azuchi Castle was very much the palace of Oda Nobunaga.
The castle was both a defensive fortress and a luxurious mansion for Nobunaga, who envisioned the castle as part of a new town. As such he moved temples such as Sokenji into the castle's grounds and encouraged merchants to settle within the castle's precincts.
The Nobunaga no Yakata Museum has a replica of the original keep of Azuchi Castle
The original stone steps leading up to the tenshu of Azuchi Castle
Azuchi Castle was unfortunately short-lived and was burnt down in a battle after Nobunaga's death at the hands of Akechi Mitsuhide at Honnoji Temple in Kyoto. All that now remains of one of the wonders of Japan are the stone walls and foundations of the keep.
Visitors can get some idea of the magnificence of the castle at the Nobunaga no Yakata Museum at the site which has a replica of what the tenshu is believed to have looked like. This colorful reproduction was built for the Sevilla Expo in 1992. The Shiga Prefectural Azuchi Castle Archeological Museum (Tel: 0748 46 2424) also has documents and exhibits relating to the castle.
The Ise Sengoku Village, a samurai theme park near Ise in Mie Prefecture also has a reproduction of Azuchi Castle.
Though now in ruins, the stone walls of Azuchi Castle make for a spectacular sight
Access To Azuchi Castle
Azuchi Castle is a 30 minute walk from JR Azuchi Station on the JR Biwako Line (Hokuriku Line). Azuchi is about 45 minutes from Kyoto by JR train. Azuchi Station is 24 minutes from Maibara Station which is a stop on the Tokaido shinkansen and 33 minutes from Nagoya Station. National Highway 8 passes through Azuchi town.
Books on Japanese Castles
Recommended books on Japanese castles are the beautifully illustrated hardcover Castles of the Samurai by Jennifer Mitchelhill and the knowledgeable paperback Japanese Castles 1540-1640 by Stephen Turnbull.
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