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.

The magnificence of Azuchi Castle's architecture gave its name to the Azuchi-Momoyama period of Japanese history. Momoyama refers to Hideyoshi Toyotomi's castle in Fushimi, Kyoto.

Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
Replica of the original keep of Azuchi Castle
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
Stone walls of Azuchi Castle

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.

Azuchi Castle.
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
The Nobunaga no Yakata Museum has a replica of the original keep of Azuchi Castle
Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
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.

Azuchi Castle
Tel: 0748 46 6512
Admission: 500 yen to the Nobunaga no Yakata
Hours: 9am-5pm (last entrance 4.30pm)
Map of Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
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.

View from Azuchi Castle over the surrounding countryside.
View from Azuchi Castle over the surrounding countryside
Reconstruction of the interior of Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture.
Reconstruction of the interior of Azuchi Castle, Shiga Prefecture

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