Azuchi-jo Castle (安土城)

Azuchi-jo Castle was a flatland-mountain Japanese castle (hirayamajiro) located at present Shimotoira, Azuchi-cho, Gamo County, Shiga Prefecture. Site of Azuchi-jo Castle is designated as a Special Historic Site by the national government.

Summary

Azuchi-jo Castle was built on now Mt. Azuchi, presenting dignified appearance for its unprecedented large-scaled castle tower (or Azuchi-jo Castle keep) and others. However, it was burnt down for some unknown reason soon after the rebellion against Nobunaga ODA plotted by his vassal Mitsuhide AKECHI in 1582, which is called "Honno-ji Temple Incident" (raid on the Honno-ji Temple), becoming an abandoned castle. At present, only a small amount of structural remnants including a part of stone walls are remained. However, the records made by a missionary Luis FROIS and others, who had actually visited the castle in those days, enable us to imagine its atmosphere.

Modeled after Kannonji-jo Castle of the Rokkaku clan, Azuchi-jo Castle was completely constructed by piling up stones. The castle construction technology cultivated in this construction became the model of modern castles that were constructed nationwide one after another from the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the beginning of the Edo period. The stone masonry group called 'Ano-shu Guild,' which had engaged in the construction of Azuchi-jo Castle, later took part in constructing stone walls of castle throughout the country, which contributed to the diffusion of the castle adopting the stone wall nationwide. However, stone walls surviving at the site of Azuchi-jo Castle show that the way they were piled up varied by location.
Therefore, it is difficult to suppose the specific techniques of 'How to pile up the stone wall.'

Due to reclamation works and so on, the castle is now situated a little far from the shore of Lake Biwa. The remnants of castle range all over the Mt. Azuchi. The Nio-mon Gate (Deva gate) and a three-storied pagoda survive retaining their original forms within the precinct of Soken-ji Temple situated halfway up the mountain. Moreover, Nobunaga's mausoleum is placed at Ninomaru (second bailey). Shiga Prefecture has started a 20-year project to excavate and investigate the Azuchi-jo Castle since 1989. Excavation of the Ote michi-road connecting the southern foot of Mt. Azuchi and Honmaru (the keep of a castle), the resident attributed to Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI and that attributed to Toshiie MAEDA, both of which were adjacent to pathway, as well as the Hon-maru Palace modeled after Seiryo-den (an imperial summer palace) in the Imperial Palace which were constructed for the Imperial visit, is disclosing the castle's appearance in those days. At the same time, stone stairway and stone walls are being restored.

Azuchi-jo Castle was constructed from the viewpoint of convenience, because the castle was situated nearer to Kyoto than Gifu-jo Castle. In addition, this castle was constructed as a fortress against an uprising of Ikko sect followers in Echizen Province and Kaga Province, because it was situated at the strategic point on the route from Hokuriku-kaido Road to the capital. According to the descriptions made by Gyuichi OTA and the missionary, the scale and appearances of the castle symbolized Nobunaga's task of unifying the whole country that was expressed in his policy "Unify Japan by the military government." It is believed that Nobunaga lived in the castle tower constructed on the top of the mountain, his family lived in the vicinity of the Hon-maru, and his vassals lived in residences constructed on the mountainside or in the town developed around the castle.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period

In 1576, Nobunaga ODA appointed Nagahide NIWA to the Sofushin Bugyo (head of shogunate administrator concerned with the construction works) involved in the construction of Azuchi-jo Castle on Mt. Azuchi, where the subsidiary castles of Kannonji-jo Castle had been situated. Nobunaga took seven years to build this castle.

Luis FROIS recorded in his book "Nihonshi" (The History of Japan) that Honmaru was burnt down due to a lightning strike around the year 1579.

When the Honnoji Incident broke out in 1582, Katahide GAMO stayed within the castle as the Rusuiyaku (a person representing the master during his absence). Notified that Nobunaga was killed in the Honnoji Incident, Katahide GAMO and his son Ujisato GAMO had Nobunaga's family and others evacuate from Azuchi to their stronghold Hino-jo Castle, then they left Azuchi-jo Castle. After the Battle of Yamazaki, following the withdrawal of Akechi's army led by Hidemitsu AKECHI from Azuchi-jo Castle, castle tower and surrounding structures (mainly Honmaru) were burnt down.

The castle worked as a stronghold of the Oda clan mainly centered around the Ninomaru for a while after the Honnoji Incident; for example, Nobunaga's heir Hidenobu ODA made a triumphal entry into the castle after the Kiyosu conference. However, after Hideyoshi's adopted son Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI built Yawata-jo Castle, Azuchi-jo Castle was reportedly abolished in 1585.

The modern times

In 1918, aiming to preserve Azuchi-jo Castle, 'Azuchi Hoshokai' (Azuchi conservation association) was organized.

In 1926, the site of Azuchi-jo Castle was designated as a historical spot by the Law for the Historic Sites, Places of Scenic Beauty and Natural Monuments enforced in 1919.

In 1927, prewar Ministry of Home Affairs (in Japan, present Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) erected a stone monument at the castle site with inscription of 'Relic of Azuchi-jo Castle Ruins.'

In 1928, Shiga Prefecture was designated as the management organization of the historic site, Azuchi-jo Castle Ruins. Afterwards, Shiga Prefecture erected stone markers at the site of Ote-mon Gate and other places, as well as restored the site of Ninomaru, and excavated and investigated the sites of castle tower and Honmaru.

The present time

In 1950, following the enforcement of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the site of Azuchi-jo Castle became the historic site, Azuchi-jo Castle Ruins. Later, it was designated as a special historic site.

The castle ruins have been repaired from 1960 to 1975. In 1978, based on the information obtained through the repair works, a survey map drawn on a scale of 1 to 1000 of Azuchi-jo Castle Ruins was produced.

In 1988, 'The First Committee for Investigating and Preserving the Special Historic Site, Azuchi-jo Castle Ruins' was held.

In 1989, 'The 20-Year Project for Investigation and Preservation' was started.

In 1992, a part of Azuchi-jo Castle tower (the fifth and sixth floors), which had been restored referring to 'Tenshu sashizu' (a blueprint of Azuchi-jo Castle keep), was exhibited at the World Exposition in Seville. The restored castle tower is now preserved and exhibited at Azuchi-jo Tenshu Nobunaga no Yakata (house of Nobunaga in the replicated Azuchi-jo Castle keep).

In 1999, a structure with the same ground plan as Seiryo-den of the Imperial Palace was discovered from the site of Honmaru. This discovery is important to infer the Nobunaga's ideal in those days.

In 2005, a project team in Azuchi-cho Town went to Rome in Italy in search of a painting on a folding screen, which is believed to be 'Painting depicting the Azuchi-jo Castle,' but in vain. Then, presenting the Pope with a miniature of the folding screen produced by Toshiaki ONO, the team asked the Pope for help in searching the folding screen.

On April 6, 2006, Azuchi-jo Castle was selected among the top 100 castles in Japan (Number 51). Since June 2007, the top 100 castles stamp rally on a nationwide scale has been carried out.

Burnt down of castle tower and Honmaru

As mentioned above, the castle tower of Azuchi-jo Castle and surrounding structures including Honmaru were burnt down soon after the Battle of Yamazaki. However, the burnt down structures were limited to the castle tower, Honmaru and so on. Azuchi-jo Castle could fulfill its function sufficiently only by the Ninomaru, which is shown by the fact that Hidenobu ODA made a triumphal entry into the Ninomaru even after other structures were burnt down.

There are some theories about the cause of fire.

A theory suggests that when the troops of Nobukatsu ODA set a fire at the foot of the castle to burn out the remnants of the Akechi's party, it spread to the castle tower.
This is based on the description made by a missionary in those days, which says, 'Nobukatsu ODA was so foolish that he directed his troops to set fire.'

There is also a theory suggesting that the troops of Hidemitsu AKECHI set fire when they escaped. However, when Hidemitsu committed suicide at Sakamoto-jo Castle, he set fire after having a lot of cultural assets evacuated from the castle.

Another theory suggests that natives who had intruded into the castle for plunder set fire.

Furthermore, there is a theory that the castle was burnt down due to a lightning strike.

Current research supports the theory that natives who had intruded into the castle for plunder set fire. On the other hand, a new theory has been formed in recent years that the castle tower had once collapsed before it was burnt down in 1582.

Some documents describe that the natives set fire not only to the castle but also to the castle town, but they are wrong.

Excavation, Investigation and Preservation

The 20-Year Project for Investigation and Preservation is scheduled from 1989 to 2009.

In 1989, five building remains were discovered at the residence site attributed to Hideyoshi HASHIBA (later Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI).

In 1990, the basic plan for the environmental preservation was drawn up. In the same year, the site of Yagura-mon Gate (two-layered gate with a lookout) was discovered at the residence site attributed to Hideyoshi HASHIBA. In addition, the original route of Ote-michi Road spreading 136m was identified.

In 1991, four buildings and Mokuhi-ankyo (aqueduct and blind ditch) were discovered at the residence site attributed to Toshiie MAEDA. The whole route of Ote-michi Road extending to Kurogane-mon Gate was elucidated.

In 1992, construction work for the environmental preservation started.

In 1993, the remains of Ote-mon Gate (main gate), as well as those of stone mound extending east and west from the gate, were discovered. Furthermore, after the examination of Higashi-ke monjo (documents of the Higashi family), a lot of illustrations depicting the old castle town of Azuchi-jo Castle were discovered.

In 1994, the original arrangement of Buddhist temples became clear after investigating the precincts of Soken-ji Temple. In addition, dismantling the high stone-wall of Soken-ji Temple led to the discovery of the original Ote-michi Road.

In 1995, Dodobashiguchi-michi Road and roads running around the castle were investigated.

In 1996, exploration of Karamete-michi Road started. In the same year, gilded Shachigawara (Shachihoko [orca-shaped ornament] made of earthenware) was discovered in the vicinity of rice granary.

In 1997, the whole route of Karamete-michi Road was elucidated. Furthermore, sinks and traditional cooking stoves as well as decorative metal fixtures were discovered from the site of kitchen.

In 1998, a lot of relics were discovered along with burnt down structures from the foot of the mound on which the castle was constructed. A metallic building material, a juno (fire pan), a hoe, flower vases, gilded tiles, wall clay, etc. were included in the relics. Meanwhile, mokkan (narrow, long, and thin pieces of wood strung together that were used to write on in ancient times) and almost perfect-shaped gilded tiles and so on were discovered at the lakeside near Karameteguchi (back gateway). The improvement work of the Ote-michi Road has been completed.

In 1999, a structure with the same ground plan as Seiryo-den of the Imperial Palace was discovered from the site of Honmaru.

A lot of relics relating to the Buddhism were excavated by these projects, which established a new theory that in fact, Nobunaga was quite tolerant toward Buddhism and only tried to separate religion and military affairs, although he had long been believed to be strict in Buddhism.

The castle tower

Studies on the substantial appearance of the castle tower have been pursued for many years, and many researchers have proposed various ideas for restoration one after another. Referring to 'Shinchoko-ki' (Biography of Nobunaga ODA) and 'Azuchi Nikki' (diary of Azuchi) written by the people living in those days, they uniformly adopted the description made by Jesuit missionaries. However, in terms of interpretation, they have been divided without a conclusion yet reached. The castle tower is believed to have had five-storied (fivefold roofs) and six floors above the ground and one below. The outer color of the top floor was gold, while that of the floor below was vermilion with the octagonal structure. It is believed that the inside of the castle tower was black lacquered and decorated by magnificent paintings on the walls and fusuma (sliding doors).

There is a record that a gilded folding screen with a painting of Azuchi-jo Castle produced by Eitoku KANO under the instruction of Nobunaga aiming to show off his power was presented to Alessandro VALIGNANO. Furthermore, the folding screen was later sent to Europe by Tensho Ken-o Shisetsu (mission to Europe of 1582), who traveled with Alessandro VALIGNANO when he left Japan, and is now preserved at the Roman Curia, the record says. Regarded as the critical evidence to know the appearance of Azuchi-jo Castle, the folding screen has been searched, but not yet discovered.

Historical materials referred to the restoration of the castle tower

"Nihonshi" written by Luis FROIS

Portuguese Jesuit missionary Luis FROIS described the castle tower in his book "Nihonshi" as follows.

In the center of the castle town, there was a kind of tower that people called "Tenshu," which was more elegant and magnificent than the towers we know.

This tower consisted of seven stories. Both inside and outside of the tower were constructed by utilizing every aspect of technical wizardry available. Actually, regarding the inside of the tower, many colorful paintings covered the whole wall in all directions. Regarding the outside, every floor was colored differently. One floor had Japan's traditional white plaster wall with black lacquered windows, which created exquisite beauty. While one floor was colored red, other floor was colored blue, and the top floor was totally colored gold. Roof of this Tenshu, like other residences, was covered with the most gorgeous flat tiles among we know. They had bluish appearance. Furthermore, cylindrical tiles were arranged in the front row. Very elegant, elaborate and magnificent-shaped roof ornamentation of an ogre face was installed on the roof.

"Azuchi Nikki"(Azuchi Diary) written by Gyuichi OTA

Gyuichi OTA, a vassal of Nobunaga, wrote in the chapter on February 1579 of "Azuchi Nikki" as follows by quoting the description made by Sadakatsu MURAI about castle tower.

With seven stories, inside of the castle tower was completely black lacquered. All Edokoro (room decorated with paintings) were gilded. The castle tower was about 30m high. A ceremony celebrating the raising of the ridge beam was held on October 15, 1577, and roof was thatched on December 22 in the same year.

The top story was about 5.5meters square. All wall panels were gilded. The balustrade surrounded the outside. Pillar was gilded. The door was coated with deep black-colored lacquer. Eitoku KANO painted pictures of three sovereigns and five emperors, of the most excellent ten pupils of Confucius, of the Shozan Shiko (four hermits in Shozan), and of Shichiken (Seven Sages) by orders of Nobunaga.

The second story from the top
It was octagonal. This structure was about 7.3m in the major axis. Pillars supporting outside the structure were colored vermilion, while those supporting inside were gilded. There were paintings of the Ten Great Disciples of Buddha, as well as depictions of the Buddha preaching the Law. On the outside of the partition, many ogres including hungry ghosts were painted. On the wall panel, Shachihoko(mythical creature with a tiger's head and the body of a fish)was dynamically painted. The balustrades are adorned with giboshi (decoration in the shape of the onion-bulb jewel).

In the third story from the top, there were no paintings. There were two four-and-a-half-mat Japanese rooms in the south and north of the castle tower, with the gable roofs respectively. This story was called "Koya no dan" (a story of Koya).

In the forth story from the top, two rocks and various trees were painted on the west wall panel of about 22m width, and therefore this space was called the "iwa no ma" (Cliff Room). In the west, there was also an eight-mat Japanese room, with a scene of a dragon and a tiger in combat. On the south wall panel about 22m wide, various bamboos were painted, and therefore called the "take no ma" (Bamboo Room). On the next wall panel about 22m wide, pine trees were depicted in various ways. In the east, there was an eight-mat Japanese room, with a painting of a phoenix on a paulonia tree. The next room was an eight-mat room with a representation of Xuyou washing his ears and Chaofu thereupon returning home with his ox, as well as the sight of their native village. The room after the next was a seven-mat Japanese small room, which was done in gold dust only. There were no paintings. In the north, there was a 12-mat Japanese room without paintings. The next twelve-mat room has 3.6 meter space on the west where Japanese snowball bushes were depicted.
The room after the next was an eight-mat Japanese room with the scene of baby falcons in a bird cage in the garden
Therefore, this room was called the "taka no ma" (Falcon Room).

In the fifth story from the top, there was a twelve-mat Japanese room with painting, which was called "kacho no ma" (Room of the Flowers and Birds). There was a separate, raised four-mat chamber for the lord's use called "goza no ma," also with paintings of flowers and birds. In the south, there was an eight-mat Japanese room with a painting of wise men and a steed emerging from a gourd. In the east, there was an eight-mat Japanese room called the "jako no ma" (Musk Room). There was a twelve-mat Japanese room above the tower gate. The next room was an eight-mat Japanese room with a scene of the Taoist immortal LU Dongbin throwing away his cane. In the north, there was a twenty-mat Japanese room with a painting of horses running around field. Concerning this paint, there was a possibility that several people had retouched it. There was also a twelve-mat Japanese room with a painting of Seiobo (Queen Mother of the West). In the west, there were no paintings. There was a wide veranda with low and high tiers. A twenty-four-mat Japanese room was a closet used as a storeroom. At the entrance, there was an eight-mat Japanese room.

In the sixth story from the top, there was a twelve-mat Japanese room with a Japanese ink painting of plum trees.
In this room, a Shoin (drawing room) was formed
In addition, the scene of the evening bell at a distant temple was depicted, and a miniature landscape (bonsan) was placed in front of it. In the next four-mat Japanese room, reflecting the Nobunaga's affection toward baby Japanese pheasants, and pictures of doves were painted on the shelves. Furthermore, there was a twelve-mat Japanese room called "ga no ma" (Wild Goose Room) as wild geese were depicted. In the next eight-mat Japanese room, there was a painting of Confucians in Tang Dynasty China. In the south, there were twelve-mat and eight-mat Japanese rooms. In the east, there was a twelve-mat Japanese room, which was surrounded by a six-mat room, a three-mat room, as well as two eight-mat Japanese rooms used for meal, a six-mat-sized storage room, and a six-mat room. In these rooms, paintings were always drawn on the gilded wall panels. In the north, there was a Dozo (warehouse). Beside the Dozo, there was an as large as twenty-six-mat Japanese room. In the west, there were six-mat Japanese room, seventeen-mat room, ten-mat room, and seven closets. A lantern made of gold hung down from ceiling.
The seventh story from the top

The number of pillars was 204 in total. This castle tower was sustained by 1.8 square meter space with five pillars; one main pillar with about 15m long and 45cm square meter cross section installed in the center, and other four sub-pillars with about 40cm square meter cross section installed in the each corner.

The number of doors was more than 60 in total. All doors were coated with deep black-colored lacquer.

Besides, a sketch of a structure made by Philips Van Wing who is believed to have depicted a part of Azuchi-jo Castle keep now exists, which was apparently a rough sketch for a folding screen later sent to the Vatican. There are also various historical materials, including 'Tenshu sashizu' that has been handed down among carpenters in the Kaga Domain, which are believed to be blueprints of the Azuchi-jo Castle keep. Some restoration plans such as the one proposed by Akira NAITO suggest that a stairwell going through all floors was installed, as well as a Buddhist pagoda was erected in the basement.

Ideas for the restoration of the castle tower

The following is a part of ideas for the restoration or the summary of imaginary pictures proposed by scholars and researchers, etc. on the basis of various evidences, testimonies, documents and so on.

An idea proposed by Noriyoshi OKUMURA
The castle tower was a multi-leveled tower type keep with either seven-storied (sevenfold roofs) and eight floors structure or seven floors structure, whose lowest floor had a rectangular ground plan. The outer wall adopted a style of Shin-kabe (a type of plastered wall in which structural members are exposed), but its color was unknown. The external appearance was simple, which was shown in the gable roof; only chidori hafu (dormer and plover gable) and kara hafu (undulating gable) were adopted. The sixth story above ground was octagonal, while the seventh story was a lookout tower with a square ground plan.

Idea proposed by Junichi TSUCHIYA
The castle tower adopted the Boro style (a type of castle tower for lookout on the building with a gabled, hipped roof) with six-storied (sixfold roofs) and seven floors structure, whose lowest floor had a rectangular ground plan. The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style (wooden board siding with battens). The third story above ground had small Irimoya (hipped roof), which looked as if connecting with the main large gable roof. The position of the gable was similar to the castle tower of Nagoya-jo Castle and that of Fukuyama-jo Castle (Bingo Province). The fifth story above ground was octagonal, carrying the sixth story, a lookout tower with a square ground plan, veranda and balustrade, which is believed to be similar to the castle tower of Kumamoto-jo Castle.

An idea proposed by Narihiro SAKURAI
The castle tower adopted the Boro style with six-storied and seven floors structure, whose lowest floor had an asymmetrical hexagonal ground plan. The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style. At the third story above ground, there were Muko-kara-hafu (a style of gable) style bay windows, while at the fourth story above ground, there was O-Irimoya (big Irimoya). The fifth story above ground was octagonal, carrying the sixth story, a lookout tower with a square ground plan and Hogyo roof (pyramid style roof).

An idea proposed by Yasuhiro NISHIGAYA
The castle tower adopted the Boro style with a structure of six-storied and seven floors above ground and one floor below, whose first story above ground had a rectangular plan. The castle tower was built on a mound (base of keep), leaving space called "Tenshu-kuruwa" (regions between the castle tower and the fence surrounding the mound). The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style, and each Oirimoya was alternately crossed to assemble. The fifth story above ground was octagonal, modeled after Yumedono (Hall of Dreams). This story carried a completely gilded sixth story, a lookout tower with a square ground plan and Irimoya (also called shikoro roof) like Kinkaku-ji Temple, which is carrying a Kirizuma-yane (gable roof) roofed with shingles.

An idea proposed by Akira NAITO
The castle tower adopted the Boro style with a structure of five-storied and seven floors above ground and one floor below, whose first story above ground had an asymmetrical hexagonal ground plan. The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style, and complicated roofs were characteristic. The fourth story above ground carried the fifth story, a lookout tower, on which Irimoya covered with red tiles was installed. Referring to 'Tenshu sashizu,' a stairwell was installed inside of his model.

An idea proposed by Shigetaka MIYAKAMI
The castle tower adopted the Boro style with a structure of five-storied and six floors above ground and one floor below, whose first story above ground had a rectangular plan. The castle tower was built on a mound, leaving space called "Tenshu-kuruwa." The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style, and the third story above ground had Oirimoya. The fourth story above ground was octagonal, carrying the fifth story, a lookout tower with a square ground plan and Irimoya covered with red tiles.

An idea proposed by Taiki SATO
The castle tower adopted the Boro style with a structure of five-storied and six floors above ground and one floor below, whose first story above ground had an asymmetrical hexagonal ground plan. The outer wall adopted the shitami itabari style and the second and third stories carried Oirimoya crossing alternately. The fourth story above ground was octagonal, carrying the fifth story, a lookout tower with a square ground plan and Irimoya covered with red tiles.

Traffic access

Mt. Azuchi is 20 minutes' walk from Azuchi station of Biwako Line, West Japan Railway Company (JR West).

Visitors guide

Entrance fee (Soken-ji Temple has assumed the responsibility of collecting the fee since September 1).
Adult: 500 yen
Child: 100 yen
Fee for the special viewing of Hondo (main hall) in Soken-ji Temple: 1000 yen (from April, open only on Sunday and holidays: closed in case of rain).
Stamp place for Nihon 100 meijo (top 100 castles in Japan) stamp rally
Shiga Prefectural Azuchi Castle Archaeological Museum

Open: 9:00-17:00 (last admission at 16:30)
Closed: Mondays (except for holidays on Monday), the following days of holidays (the museum is open in the case where the day falls on Saturday or Sunday), December 28-January 4
Information desk of Azuchi Municipal "Azuchi-jo Tenshu, Nobunaga no Yakata"
Open: 9:00-17:00 (last admission at 1630)
Closed: Mondays (except for holidays on Monday), the following days of holidays (the museum is open in the case where the day falls on Saturday or Sunday), December 28-January 4
Azuchi-jo Castle Museum