Castles gave monumental expression to both political authority and military
power in Japanese civilization.
At the height of castle-building activity in the late 16th century and the
early 17th, nearly 100 castles were built in Japan, many on a scale and with a technical
sophistication equal or superior to that of the largest and most advanced castles built during
the European Middle Ages and the Crusader campaigns to the Middle East.
Today, only 12 of these Japanese castles still survive, including the most
well known Japanese castle, the Himeji Castle or the black-colored Matsumoto Castle.
Each province in Japan had one primary castle and several subsidiary
fortifications, but these fell ready victim to changed political circumstance.
Castles were deliberately demolished during the consolidation of Tokugawa
shogunal government after 1615, and dozens were destroyed by the Meiji government after 1868 as
part of the systematic dismantling of the feudal system.
Fortification construction in Japan, has a long history, but the castle had
only a brief period of 63 years of full technical and stylistic maturity, beginning in 1576
with the construction of Azuchi Castle and ending with the last reconstruction
of the keep of Edo (now Tokyo) in 1639.
After that time castle construction virtually ceased as a result of a
prohibition by the Tokugawa as part of the institutionalization of their nationwide
The castle as an institution was the symbolic focal point of this period.
Its physical presence, particularly the soaring tenshu at the heart of each complex, was the
most visible statement of the power of the warrior class.
The castle also served as a palatial residence for regional and national
rulers and the centre for the court and patronage of the arts, making its glittering array of
buildings and activities a constant reminder of the authority of its patrons. As the substance
of authority the castle was a bastion of military might.
Castle construction was for a time the major activity of the age, requiring
the massive mobilization of manpower and material that was possible only because of a total
commitment to that end by the warrior leaders.
Castles in Japan were also centres of civil administration for feudal
domains of increasing size and complexity. Around these seats of government castle towns were
established, which became hierarchically ordered representations of status within the political
order as well as centres of commerce, culture, communications and population.
Many of the major cities of Japan were founded as castle towns in this era,
including Nagoya, Sendai, Shizuoka, Hiroshima, Okayama, Kōchi and, the largest of them all, Edo