Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle,

Azuchi’s design was based on that of Komakiyama Nobunaga’s first castle constructed. For defensive purposes, most castles feature a confusing or winding main path leading up to the important central Honmaru enclosure. This is to slow, hinder and impede any attackers efforts at storming the castle easily. Azuchi Castle’s large, wide, mostly straight stone lined Otemichi stairway leading directly to near the base of the Honmaru seems easy to attack from a distance. Nobunaga appears to been showing his confidence, almost inviting any potential enemy to test himself. It is almost like Nobunaga is challenging “You want to take me down? Go on, just you try it!”

Azuchi Castle

The main stairway is steeper than it looks, and each staggered step is surprisingly high, making it difficult for people in the Sengoku period with an average height of 155~165cm to walk or run up it. Particularly if wearing around 15 to 20kg of armor, and carrying various weapons and while under fire from defenders lined up behind walls and yagura along these steps! On either side of this wide, ascending boulevard, were the houses of Nobunaga’s most loyal retainers. Naturally, each of these lords would have their closest and best samurai guards with him, adding to the defensive capabilities of Azuchi.

The main stairway is steeper than it looks, and each staggered step is surprisingly high, making it difficult for people in the Sengoku period with an average height of 155~165cm to walk or run up it. Particularly if wearing around 15 to 20kg of armor, and carrying various weapons and while under fire from defenders lined up behind walls and yagura along these steps! On either side of this wide, ascending boulevard, were the houses of Nobunaga’s most loyal retainers. Naturally, each of these lords would have their closest and best samurai guards with him, adding to the defensive capabilities of Azuchi.

 

At the top, Azuchi Castle’s magnificent tower keep stood 7 stories high, and is believed to have been the largest wooden building in the world at the time. Its thick outer walls were plastered white, and protected by black lacquered wooden paneling along the lower edges. The uppermost roofing above the lookout area was tiled with gold plated kawara roof tiles. Below that was an octagonal 5th floor with red lacquered balustrades and cornices. This unique design was meant to represent heaven, while the quadrangular 6th floor was supposed to represent the thoughts of Taoism and Confucianism.

Internally, the structure is believed to have been like the churches or cathedrals of Europe, with high vaulted ceilings going up through the very center some 20 meters, right up to the 5th floor! It has been suggested that Nobunaga’s design was based on the descriptions he heard from the many visiting missionaries who made his acquaintance. Or that he was imitating the huge, cavernous Buddhist temples housing the Great Buddhas within their shells. Either way, for a Japanese structure, and a castle at that time, it was unique, massive building, one that reeked of riches, and was supported by strong, thick walls of closely fitted rock. Nobunaga himself lived inside the lower floors of the tower building. There was even a Noh stage set within! One of the top floor interiors, a tea room, was covered in gold. The walls, the ceilings, the pillars and railings, everything was pure gold leaf.

One story tells of how during construction of the great stone walls, Nobunaga noticed that the highly ranked samurai tasked with supplying stones for the Ano stonemasons to work with, were running behind schedule. Enquiring as to why the work was behind, Nobunaga was informed of the difficulty in securing suitable stones. Nobunaga then had a number of samurai dispatched back to his native Nagoya, and when they quickly returned, they were carrying the gravestone of Nobunaga’s father, which was then incorporated into the stonework. Fearing they would be ordered to destroy their own family graves for the stones, the samurai lords soon found plenty of suitable rocks to ensure the work went smoothly! That is just a story, however according to the remaining diaries of Portuguese missionary Louis Frois, some of the stones were so large, 4 to 5,000 laborers were required to haul each one up the slopes.

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle

Once they had completed their enormous task, it was up to the famed architect Okabe Matazaemon and his team of carpenters to erect the timber framed tower, and surrounding defensive buildings. It was the most splendid building Japan, possibly the world, had ever seen. The entire project took just under three and a half years, and the story of the castle tower’s construction was made into a movie titled “Katen no Shiro” in 2009.

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi became the talk of the nation. During the summer months, Nobunaga would hang paper lanterns from the eves of the tower keep, illuminating it at night and creating an entertaining spectacle for the people of the new town. From Azuchi, Nobunaga would continue his push to conquer the nation and bring Japan under a single ruler, himself. His dream was within reach, or so he believed.

In June of 1582, with the bulk of his generals scattered across the nation, bringing it under Nobunaga’s control, one of Nobunaga’s closest aids, General Akechi Mitsuhide suddenly and inexplicably turned against his master, attacking and killing Nobunaga while he was at rest with less than 70 guards at the Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto. Days later, Akechi’s forces attacked Azuchi, and the castle was set aflame. Azuchi burned to the ground in a great pyre that lasted for four days.

There were rumors the fire was started by one of Nobunaga’s sons to prevent Akechi Mitsuhide from gaining control of the gorgeous fortress. Other rumors pointed to looters, even rumors of Tokugawa Ieyasu sending ninja to fire the castle have emerged.

Either way, Nobunaga’s, and indeed Japan’s most magnificent castle were no more. Today, only the extensive stone walls remain, but they alone leave you with a sense of awe, and an idea of the scale of the dreams and aspirations of Oda Nobunaga, master of Azuchi Castle.

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle

Azuchi Castle

If you want to see what Azuchi looked like, there are models on display in the Nobunaga no Yakata Museum in Azuchi, or there is the life-sized reproduction in Mie Prefectures’ Ise Sengoku Mura theme park.

By | 2018-05-13T13:30:42+00:00 11月 14th, 2017|Castles, Spots|0 Comments

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