Zeze-jo Castle (膳所城)

Zeze-jo Castle used to stand in present Honmaru-cho, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.


Zeze-jo Castle was located to the east of the downtown area of Otsu City. It was a mizu-shiro (castles on lakes or marshes for defensive reasons) built on Zezezaki, the land that protruded into Lake Biwa near the mouth of Sagami-gawa River. Zeze-jo Castle is included in a list of the three typical castles in Japan and one of the ukishiros (castles built over and into the water) of Lake Biwa along with Otsu-jo Castle, Sakamoto-jo Castle, and Seta-jo Castle. While the Sannomaru (outer part of the castle) was situated inland, the Ninomaru (second bailey), the Kita-no-maru (north compartment of the castle), and the Honmaru (the keep of a castle) were built over and into the water. Its layout was in the Teikaku style. The Honmaru held a four-story keep.
A popular song among local people applauded its reflection in the water saying, 'While Seta no Karahashi Bridge is adorned with karagane-giboshi (bronze ornamental railing top), the water is adorned with the reflection of Zeze-jo Castle.'

Recent times

In 1600, Ieyasu TOKUGAWA won the Battle of Sekigahara and succeeded in becoming a ruler both in name and reality. The following year, in 1601, he had Otsu-jo Castle demolished and another castle built in Zezezaki to hold control over the Tokai-do Road. Zeze-jo Castle was the first castle built by Tenkabushin, a construction order given to territorial lords by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun). Edo-jo Castle, Osaka-jo Castle, Nagoya-jo Castle, and Fukuchiyama-jo Castle were also built by Tenkabushin. Nawabari (general term for the layout of a castle and its component structures) was made by Takatora TODO who was known as a master of castle construction. He had a stone wall built in the lake and a four-story tenshu erected in the eastern corner of the Honmaru. It is said that Ieyasu chose this place for its proximity to Seta no Karahashi Bridge.
Since the olden days, it had been said that 'person who has control over Seta no Karahashi Bridge can rule the country.'

In the year it was built, Kazuaki TODA, the lord of Otsu-jo Castle, was allowed to settle in it and have a territory worth 30,000 koku crop yields, which marked the establishment of the Zeze Domain. After that, it became a castle of fudai daimyo (a daimyo in hereditary vassal to the Tokugawa family). In 1617, his son, Ujikane TODA, was ordered to change the territory to the Amagasaki Domain in Settsu Province.

Yasutoshi HONDA moved from the Nishio Domain in Mikawa Province to take his place. In 1621, his son, Toshitsugu, was ordered to change the territory again to the Nishio Domain. Sadayoshi SUGANUMA moved from the Nagashima Domain in Ise Province to take his place. In 1634, he moved to the Tanba-Kameyama Domain in Tanba Province. Tadafusa ISHIKAWA moved from the Sakura Domain in Shimosa Province. In 1651, his son Noriyuki ISHIKAWA was ordered to change the territory to the Ise-Kameyama Domain in Ise Province.

After the Ishikawa clan, Toshitsugu HONDA again moved in from the Nishio Domain and was allowed to have a territory worth 70,000 koku crop yields. The Honda clan resided in it over 13 reigns or 220 years until the Meiji Restoration.

In 1662, the architecture was destroyed by an earthquake. This forced Toshitsugu to renovate the castle on a large scale.

Since Zeze-jo Castle was built on the lakeside, it later suffered water erosion consistently. So the renovation of the castle was constantly required, which put a heavy burden on the clan's finances.

After the Edo period and the modern age

In 1870, on the day after the Dajokan Fukoku (Decrees of the Cabinet) which ordered demolition of castles, the feudal retainers of the domain who wanted a quick change of government tore down the castle, including the tenshu.

At present, the place where the Honmaru stood is accessible by land. This place was developed into Zeze Park (Zeze-jo Castle Ruins). There are some remains of the stone wall and an imitation gate. The castle gates are now situated in Zeze-jinja Shrine, Shinozu-jinja Shrine, and Muchisaki-jinja Shrine, all of which are designated national important cultural assets. The Korai-mon Gate was moved to land in Matsunohama, Izumiotsu City, Osaka Prefecture, property owned by Hosomi Museum. The hommaru sumi yagura (corner towers of castle keep) were moved to and still stand in Basho kaikan (the place where haiku poet Basho visited) in the city. But, because of thorough remodeling, it is completely different from the original structure.

In 2006, the guard house for the Setaguchi main gate which was moved to private property was demolished. And the site of Ninomaru is now used for the Zeze water purifying plant.