Genson Tenshu (The Existing Castle Towers) (現存天守)

The existing castle towers are those, among castle towers of Japanese castles built during the feudal period from around the beginning of Edo period to the late Edo Period, that have been preserved to date. In addition to the existing castle towers (tenshu), there are restored tenshu, reconstructed tenshu, and imitation tenshu.

Summary
It does not necessarily mean that the existing castle towers are the original buildings that have been preserved from the time when they were first built. Some existing castle towers (including that of Himeji-jo Castle and Hikone-jo Castle) have gone through repeated renovations to maintain their near-original splendors, whereas other ones (including that of Inuyama-jo Castle, Matsumoto-jo Castle, Kochi-jo Castle, Maruoka-jo Castle, and Matsue-jo Castle) that were rebuilt while their respective castles existed have remained virtually intact through today. Additionally, there is an existing castle tower (of Uwajima-jo Castle) where a part of the building housing the castle tower was destroyed by fire and rebuilt. Other existing castle towers include those (of various castles such as Matsuyama-jo Castle (Bicchu Province), Matsuyama-jo Castle (Iyo Province), Hirosaki-jo Castle, and Marukame-jo Castle) where only the castle towers have been preserved as the main buildings housing the respective castle towers were removed or lost prior to the time when their preservation was decided after the Meiji Restoration. The last group in the foregoing includes the castle tower that was referred to as Gosankai Yagura (Three-storied turret) when the castle was standing. There was an instance where Yasuhiro NISHIGAYA positioned the Uto-yagura turret of Kumamoto-jo Castle and the Daidokoro-yagura turret and Koran-yagura turret of Ozu-jo Castle as sho-tenshu (small keeps), thereby designating these turrets the existing castle towers.

Details

Castle towers, the symbolic representation of the respective castles, are said to have been brought into existence by Nobunaga ODA, and reached the peak of their popularity around the Battle of Sekigahara, but as the number of castles decreased with implementation of the Ikkoku Ichijo Rei (Law of One Castle per Province) by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), a ban was also imposed on construction of new castles and extension and reconstruction of the existing castles according to Buke shohatto(Acts for the Military Houses). Additionally, since some castle towers (including those of Edo-jo Castle and Osaka-jo Castle) that had been burnt down or destroyed by disasters and the like during the Edo Period were not subsequently rebuilt, the number of castle towers fell. Additional castle towers were lost due to various circumstances such as wars that broke out between the end of the Edo bakufu and the beginning of the Meiji era, the removal of castles according to the ordinance by the Meiji Government to abolish castles, and war damages that occurred during the Second World War.

Up to around 1945, there were castle towers at 20 castles, including 8 castles (Matsumae-jo Castle, Mito-jo Castle, Ogaki-jo Castle, Nagoya-jo Castle, Wakayama-jo Castle, Okayama-jo Castle, Fukuyama-jo Castle (Bingo Province), and Hiroshima-jo Castle) that were destroyed by war damage during the Second World War or accidental fires after that war. These 8 castles had been designated cultural properties such as National Treasures in accordance with the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures but, today, only 12 castles have existing castle towers that are available for viewing as Cultural Properties. The castle towers that remain at these 12 locations as mentioned above are collectively referred to as the existing 12 castle towers. These 12 existing castle towers will be discussed below.

The 12 Existing Castle Towers

The 12 Castles with Existing Castle Towers
As mentioned earlier, of the 20 existing castle towers, 8 were burnt down during and after the Second World War in the Showa period, whereby 12 castle towers remain in existence today. All of these 12 existing castle towers are ancient examples of architecture which have been preserved in accordance with the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. The castle towers designated as National Treasures are sometimes referred to as the ‘Kokuho Shijo’ (the 4 castles designated as National Treasures) (as christened by the Tourism Council for the Cities with the National Treasure Castles), whereas the castle towers designated as Important Cultural Properties are sometimes referred to as the ‘8 Jubun Castles’ (the 8 castles designated as Important Cultural Properties).

These are said to be the ‘real castles (castle towers)’as contrasted to those castle towers that have generally been reconstructed in modern times. An exorbitant amount of money is required to maintain and preserve castle towers, as such work demands the traditional technique of castle building, down to each of the nails used, under the supervision of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Since there are 12 castles, they are sometimes used in calendars.

Features

Various descriptions, including distinct features of each castle tower, have been given in this section, but articles and reading matters on the respective castle should be referenced for more details. The following list of castles is in order of appearance in Japan’s Top 100 Castles, and the representative crests have been designated by the National Conference of Castle Administrators. Additionally, the terms Shinpan(relatives of the Tokugawa family), Fudai (Hereditary), and Tozama (Non-hereditary) are the classifications of feudal lords in effect at the Meiji Restoration, and the information on Kokudaka is based on the survey conducted by the Edo bakufu in 1863. The years that the castle towers were built indicate the years of construction of the respective buildings which exist today. For information on the year of construction and architecture of older buildings, articles and reading matters on the respective castle should be referenced.

Hirosaki-jo Castle

Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture
Built in 1611 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1810
Tozama daimyo (non-hereditary feudal lord), 100,000 koku (based on Kokudaka, a system for determining land value for tribute purposes in the Edo period)
Hirosaki-jo Castle was built by Tamenobu and Nobuhira TSUGARU
Refurbished mainly by Yasuchika TSUGARU
Representative crest: Tsugaru botan (tree peony of Tsugaru)
The castle is a historical site designated as Cultural Property, with its 9 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites, Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 4th), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan

It is a free-standing, multi-level, tower-type keep consisting of 3 tiers and 3 stories which, among the existing castle towers, is situated furthest northeastern.
After the original castle tower was burnt down by lightning in 1627, the three-tiered, three-story castle tower was newly built in the Sotogata (multi-level tower-type keep) style as a yagura (turret) on paper in deference to the bakufu in 1810 and it was reported to be a ‘three-story turret.’
With respect to construction, on the east and south sides of the castle tower facing outside the castle, there are 2 tiers of gables where bay windows and ledges are present in addition to oillets instead of windows. On the west and north sides of the castle tower facing inside the castle, however, there are no gables, which are characteristics of castle tower architecture, but there is a series of windows. Additionally, to resist low temperatures, the orca ornaments and roofs are finished with copper tiles (made of copper-laminated wooden molds).
Matsumoto-jo Castle
Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture
Built between 1593 and 1594 and abandoned in 1871
Dai tenshu (the large castle tower) was built in 1615. It has been explained that Inui-kotenshu (Inui small castle tower) was built between 1591 and 1592. Fudai Daimyo (hereditary feudal lord), with Kokudaka being 60,000 koku. Matsumoto-jo Castle was built by Kazumasa and Yasunaga ISHIKAWA.
Refurbished mainly by Naomasa MATSUDAIRA
Representative crest: Sasa rindo
The castle is a historical site designated as Cultural Property with its 5 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 29th), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is a nawabari (castle plan; general term for the layout of a castle and its component structures) castle tower complex, which consists of a 5-tiered, 6-story multi-level tower-type large keep, a 3-tiered, 4-story Inui-kotenshu small keep, a 2-tiered Tatsumitsuke-yagura turret, and a Tsukimi-yagura turret, being the castle tower of the only Hirajiro (a castle built on flatland) among the ’12 existing castle towers.’
Its exterior looks austere with a few gables and black-painted sidings but, since the construction is a multiple attached style, the castle tower gives different impressions to its beholders depending on the angle from which it is viewed.
Maruoka-jo Castle
Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture
Built in 1576 and abandoned in 1871
The year the castle tower was built remains unknown. Non-hereditary feudal lord with Kokudaka being 50,000 koku.
Built by Katsutoyo SHIBATA
Main person(s) responsible for repairs/refurbishing is unknown.
Representative crest: Gokanigokenkarahana
The castle is designated as Cultural Property with its 11 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites, Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, and Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 36th)
It is a two-tiered, three-story free-standing lookout-tower-type keep and it is said to be the oldest existing castle tower in Japan. It was destroyed by the Fukui earthquake in 1948 but, in 1955, was rebuilt using approximately 80% of the original materials. The castle tower of Maruoka-jo Castle has various distinct features, including decorative wrap-around verandas with high handrails, a well-lit interior compared with the other keeps among the 12 Existing Castle Towers, and slate roofs (with stone orcas) instead of clay tile roofs, which would crack in cold weather.
Inuyama-jo Castle
Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture
Built in 1469 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1601.
Hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 35,000 koku
Built by Hirochika ODA
Refurbished mainly by Nobuyasu ODA.
Representative crest: Katabami family crest (katabami in a circle)
The castle is designated as a Cultural Property with its 1 wing being designated as a National Treasure.
Also designated as one of Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 43rd) and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is a lookout-tower-type keep directly connected to a smaller keep or turret having 3 tiers, 4 aboveground floors, and 2 underground levels. A small lookout tower with jutting wrap-around verandas was built on top of the Oirimoya roof structure, being similar to that of the Maruoka-jo Castle keep. On the top floor of this castle tower, there are functional wrap-around verandas and high handrails in addition to the kato-mado windows, which are actually ornamental and not true windows. Karahafu-demado bay windows were installed on the third floor, which is actually an attic, designed with consideration for lighting.
Hikone-jo Castle
Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture
Built in 1622 and abandoned in 1874
The castle tower was built in 1606
Hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 230,000 koku
Built by Naotsugu II
There was no person responsible for refurbishing
Representative crest: Hikone tachibana
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 2 buildings being designated as National Treasures and 5 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 50th), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is a lookout-tower-type keep directly connected to a smaller keep or turret having 3 tiers, 3 aboveground floors, and 1 underground level built by Tenkabushin (construction order by the Tokugawa shogunate). The design includes decorative wrap-around verandas with high handrails and a combination of gables in various styles such as the kirizuma-style, irimoya-style, chidori-style, and kara-style, presenting a complex and beautiful structure and outline as well as a magnificent sight to visitors. Additionally, Nobori-ishigaki Stone Walls seen at the Japanese-style castle built during the Bunroku-Keicho War on the Korean Peninsula and a Daimyo Garden Genkyu-en Garden remain in existence today.
Himeji-jo Castle
Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture
Built in 1346 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1601.
Hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 150,000 koku
Built by Sadanori AKAMATSU
Refurbished mainly by Yoshitaka KURODA and Terumasa IKEDA
Representative crest: Agehacho (swallowtail)
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 8 buildings being designated as National Treasures and 74 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites, Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 59th), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is a lookout-tower-style keep interconnecting a large keep, having 5 tiers, 6 aboveground floors, and 1 underground level, and three 3-tiered small keeps, with a 2-tiered, parallel Tamon-yagura (hall turret) being the largest existing castle keep in Japan. In addition to its structural beauty of the white stucco exterior walls, roof, and gables, it is an interconnected-style castle tower presenting different effects depending on the angle from which one views it. Himeji-jo Castle is said to be the representative castle that passes along the construction techniques of the period between the late Momoyama Period and early Edo Period to the present day. There is a shrine (Osakabe-jinja Shrine) in the keep, the only shrine in the 12 Existing Castle Towers.
Matsue-jo Castle
Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture
Built in 1611 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1607.
Shinpan (relatives of the Tokugawa family), with Kokudaka being 186,000 koku
Built by Yoshiharu HORIO
Main person responsible for refurbishing was Tadataka KYOGOKU.
Representative crest: Mutsumeyui
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 11 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites, Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 64th), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is a 5-tiered, 6-story lookout-tower-type keep directly connected to a smaller keep or turret and is the only existing castle tower with a well inside. The exterior is finished with black sidings and the top floor has enclosed wrap-around verandas with high handrails, while the orcas are made of copper-laminated wood. With its jet-black exterior giving an air of masculinity and solemnity, the castle tower was built to be useful in warfare, being equipped with a boulder drop on the second floor.
Matsuyama-jo Castle(Bicchu Province)
Takahashi City, Okayama Prefecture
Built in 1240 and abandoned in 1874
The castle tower was built in 1681.
Hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 50,000 koku
Built by Shigenobu AKIBA
Main persons responsible for refurbishing were Motochika MIMURA and Katsumune MIZUTANI
Representative crest: Hidarimitsutomoe
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 3 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 68th) and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
Although the Watari-yagura (connecting corridor) turret was lost, it is a 2-tiered, 2-story tower-type keep directly connected to a smaller keep or turret, being the smallest (11 meters tall) of the existing castle towers. Bicchu Matsuyama-jo Castle is the only example of the remains of a mountain castle that exists today. There is an open hearth remaining in existence on the first floor, and other features, such as the kara-style gables and trellis windows on the top floor, give an air of dignity to the design of the exterior of the castle tower.
Marukame-jo Castle
Marukame City, Kagawa Prefecture
Built in 1597 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1606.
Non-hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 51,500 koku
Built by Chikamasa IKOMA
Main persons responsible for refurbishing were Ieharu YAMAZAKI and Takakazu KYOGOKU.
Representative crest: Yotsumeyui
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 3 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties. Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks and Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 78th). It is a 3-tiered, 3-story free-standing multi-level tower-type keep standing approximately 14.5 meters, being the second shortest 3-tiered castle tower after that of Hirosaki-jo Castle (approximately 14.4 meters high) and was built on top of the stonewall castle, which is 66 meters tall. The castle was abandoned with implementation of the Law of One Castle per Province but, in 1660, the castle tower was built as a three-story turret. The roof of the top floor has gables of irimoya-roof facing the flat sides (the north and south sides) with a Kara-style gable built over the second floor on the north side to make the building appear larger, indicating that special attention is given to its exterior.
Matsuyama-jo Castle (Iyo Province)
Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture
Built in 1602 and abandoned in 1873
The castle tower was built in 1852.
Shinpan, with Kokudaka being 150,000 koku
Built by Yoshiaki KATO
Main person responsible for refurbishing was Katsuyoshi MATSUDAIRA
Representative crest: Marunimitsubaaoi
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 21 buildings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Cherry Blossom Viewing Sites, Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks, Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 81st), and the Top 100 Historical Sites of Beautiful Japan
It is an interconnected-style keep consisting of a multi-level large keep having 3 tiers, 3 aboveground floors, and 1 underground level and a 2-tiered small keep that were connected with two 2-tiered turrets, being, of the 12 existing castle towers, the one located at the highest point above sea level (approximately 160 meters) based on the difference in elevation. The castle tower built on top of Kuruwa tenshumaru was restored by the Matsudaira family, relations of the Tokugawa shogunate family in the year following the coming of Kurofune. It is the only castle tower displaying Aoi no Gomon (the family crest of the Tokugawa) as the representative crest of the castellan among the 12 Existing Castle Towers and is the newest construction of the Japanese-style castle. The exterior walls of the first and second stories were finished with sidings, and decorative verandas with high handrails were built to wrap around the white stucco exterior walls of the third story. There is a tokonoma (alcove in a traditional Japanese room where art or flowers are displayed) on the top floor. Additionally, there are Nobori-ishigaki stone walls and a Matsuyama-jo Gondola for visitors to the castle.
Uwajima-jo Castle
Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture
Built in 941 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1666.
Non-hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 100,000 koku
Built by TACHIBANA no Toyasu (?)
Main persons responsible for refurbishing were Takatora TODO and Munetoshi DATE.
Representative crest: Uwajima sasa (Uwajima bamboo leaves)
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 1 wing being designated as Important Cultural Property.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks (the second) and Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 83rd)
It is a 3-tiered, 3-story free-standing lookout-tower-type keep, located the furthest southwestern among the existing castle towers in Japan. Its design is well-balanced, with the white stucco exterior walls, gables, and roofs with bronze orcas being in harmony with one another. Additionally, this is the only castle among the 12 Existing Castle Towers in which screen-sliders and furniture remain in existence. Tensha-en Garden, one of the Daimyo Gardens, also remains in existence in this castle today.
Kochi-jo Castle
Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture
Built in 1603 and abandoned in 1871
The castle tower was built in 1747.
Non-hereditary feudal lord, with Kokudaka being 240,000 koku
Built by Kazutoyo YAMAUCHI
Main person responsible for refurbishing was Toyonobu YAMAUCHI.
Representative crest: Marunihosomitsukashiwa/Tosakashiwa
The castle is a historic site designated as a Cultural Property with its 15 wings being designated as Important Cultural Properties.
Also designated as one of Japan's Top 100 Historical Parks and Japan's 100 Best Castles (the 84th)
It is an existing 4-tiered, 6-story free-standing lookout-tower-type keep with no castle tower foundation, and its entrance is located in the palace (in existence today). It was rebuilt in 1747 with a traditional and open design having white stucco exterior walls, gables of various styles including oirimoya on the second floor, chidori, and kara, functional wrap-around verandas with baluster finial forged high handrails, and large sliding doors. Bronze orcas adorn the large roof of the top floor as well as the massive irimoya-roof of the second floor.