Japanese Castles: Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle 熊本城
Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto underwent major restoration in time for its 400th anniversary in 2007. Kumamoto Castle was constructed by Kato Kiyomasa between 1601-1607 and is Japan's third largest castle after Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle.
Kato was an ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu and fought at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. His reward was the fief around Kumamoto, however the Kato clan fell out of favor with the Tokugawa regime and were replaced with the Hosokawa clan in the 1630's.
Kumamoto Castle is a tour-de-force of defensive architecture by master tactician Kato Kiyomasa and has never been successfully attacked. At its peak Kumamoto Castle had 49 turrets and 29 gates and a vast array of defensive measures including portholes (ishi-otoshi-mado) for dropping stones, boiling water and even excrement and other missiles onto any aggressors below.
Kumamoto Castle at sunset
The Akazu-no-mon stood in the north east of the castle and is so called as it was never opened but designed to keep out spirits from that inauspicious direction.
Kumamoto Castle's outer walls measured 13km and the inner walls 5km. Indeed the longest castle wall is here - the nagabei - measuring 253m. Kato planted camphor and gingko trees to provide firewood and edible nuts in time of seige and also dug over 100 wells to provide the inhabitants with water. Remarkably the tatami-mat floors were stuffed not with rice straw but with vegetable stalks, which could be eaten.
Cosplay or "historical re-enactors" at Kumamoto Castle
The wood used in the castle's construction was stained a dark color with persimmon tannin and pine soot to withstand the attacks of insects and changes in the season.
Kato's expertise as a supreme architect of Japanese castles was recognized by his lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who employed Kato and his engineers to help in the later construction of Nagoya Castle from 1610-1612.
Most of the original wooden buildings of Kumamoto Castle were destroyed in a fire during the 1877 siege of the castle by a rebel army led by Saigo Takamori (the model for the Hollywood blockbuster The Last Samurai).
The defenders under the command of Kanjo Tani (1837-1911) held out for 50 days until reinforcements arrived and Saigo's uprising was defeated. The Uto-Yagura turret was the only building to survive the fire.
Kumamoto Castle is Kumamoto city's most important tourist attraction with millions of visitors each year
The reconstruction of Kumamoto Castle began in 1960 using ferro-concrete and continued during 2007 so the castle can be restored for its 400th anniversary. The huge Hon-Maru Go-ten Ohiroma reception hall of the feudal lord is now an impressive piece of wooden architecture completed in 2008.
The ornate interior of the Shokonnoma at Kumamoto Honmaru Goten Palace
The main tower of the 30-meter tall, 6-storey keep (donjon) contains an interesting museum presenting the history of Kumamoto Castle along with exhibits of Japanese armor, weapons used in the 1877 attack and original monochrome photographs.
Kumamoto Castle's grounds (Ninomaru Park) and the sloping road leading to the castle are popular places for cherry blossom viewing and contain Kumamoto's Prefectural Art Museum (Tel: 096 352 2111). North west of the castle grounds is the wonderful Hosokawa Gyobu-tei, the former samurai mansion and gardens of the Hosokawa clan, who were lords of Kumamoto Castle from 1632 to 1868 after the ouster of the Kato.
Honmyoji Temple is also nearby and contains the grave of Kato Kiyomasa.
Kumamoto Prefectural Craft Center and the Kumamoto Prefectural Art Gallery are both located to the north east of Kumamoto Castle.
Kumamoto Castle General Office
1-1 Kyo-machi Kumamoto 860-0007
Tel: 096 352 5900
Admission is currently 500 yen.
Kumamoto Castle is a superb example of defensive architecture and the castle has never been successfully taken
Kumamoto Castle was built by master castle architect Kato Kiyomasa between 1601-1607
Kumamoto Castle is located north east of JR Kumamoto Station. Take a tram from JR Kumamoto Station and alight at the Kumamotojo-mae stop.
Alternatively take the Castle Loop Bus from Kumamoto Kotsu Bus Center.
Kumamoto itself is now connected by the Kyushu Shinkansen to Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Kagoshima and onwards from Fukuoka's Hakata Station to Osaka, Yamaguchi, Hiroshima, Okayama, Nagoya Station and Tokyo.
The area of Kumamoto Castle forms the historic center of Kumamoto and there are many hotels, ryokan and backpacker guest houses within a few minutes walk of the castle grounds. Some hotels near Kumamoto Castle include the Kumamoto Castle Hotel, the Ark Hotel Kumamotojyo-mae and the Hotel Sunroute Kumamoto.
Kumamoto Castle's huge walls are clearly seen
The ornate interior of the repaired and restored Kumamoto Castle