Osprey - Fortress 005 - Japanese Castles 1540-1640.pdf

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Series editors
Marcus Cowper and Nikolai Bogdanovic
Japanese castles in their historical context
Design and development of the Japanese castle
The first Japanese castles • The
sengoku yamashiro
• The introduction of stone
The development of the tower keep • Japanese castles in Korea • The use of earthworks
Elements and features of the Japanese castle
The overall layout • The castle wall • Bridges and gates • Castle towers • The castle keep
Building a castle • The principles of defence • Mining and countermining • Catapult bombardment
The living site
Daily life in the castle in peacetime • The castle garrison in peacetime • The castle as palace
The preparation for war • Food and water • Psychological pressures
The operational history of Japanese castles
operations •
Sengoku yamashiro
operations • Operations against castles of stone
The castle town
Japanese castles today
Bibliography and further reading
Japanese castles as we see them today are not only final products of a long
process of military evolution, but also evidence of a military revolution. In the
latter half of the 16th century Japanese warfare was transformed. It changed
from an activity characterised by the use of loosely organised troops wielding
bows and arrows and defending largely wooden fortifications, to one that
involved well-disciplined infantry units armed with guns, fighting from castles
of stone. The similarities to the military revolution that was taking place in
Europe at the same time are striking, but until the beginning of this period
there had been no cultural contact between Japan and Europe.
Contact was made when a Portuguese ship was wrecked on the Japanese
coast in 1543, and the two cultures soon began to realise how their widely
separated worlds had been evolving in roughly similar ways. Both were
experiencing warfare on a larger scale than ever before, which required the
development of strong internal army organisation and good discipline, and
both were seeing a move towards a preference for fighting on foot. Yet there
were also some fascinating differences, at the same time that the European
knight was giving up his lance for the pistol, the mounted samurai was
abandoning his bow for a spear.
The castle of Shimabara in Kyushu, a
fine example of the classic style of
developed Japanese castle
architecture, involving the elements
of a moat, the all-important huge
stone bases, which are the hallmarks
of a Japanese castle, and the graceful
superstructure. We see here one of
the corner towers, and the long
white small walls pierced with gun
and arrow loops.
However, it is in the field of castles and fortifications that both similarities
and differences are found in the greatest abundance. Italian visitors to Oda
Nobunaga’s castle of Azuchi in 1579 compared it favourably with any
contemporary European fortress, and remarked particularly on the richness
of the decorations and the strength of the stone walls. As none of these
early visitors were military men, rather merchants or priests, they cannot be
expected to have commented upon Japanese castles from a position of
technical knowledge, but it is abundantly clear from the impression given to
them by the walls of Azuchi, Osaka and Edo, all of which were enthusiastically
described in contemporary Jesuit writings, that they were making comparisons
with existing structures in Spain or Italy.
So what were they actually comparing the Japanese castles to? By the
mid-16th century the huge sloping stone walls that surrounded Verona, Sienna
or Rome had become a recognised and vital part of the townscape of a
successful city. They were the defining features of the
trace italienne,
fortification style characterised by the use of the angle bastion, which was
designed for artillery warfare and was the most important architectural
innovation since the arch. The walls of fortresses such as Osaka certainly had
much in common with the European system, but what the visitors did not
know was that these curiously similar structures had a completely different
developmental history, were built in a completely different way, and were
designed to withstand attacks of a completely different nature.
The pages that follow will offer a detailed discussion on these points, all
of which went towards making the Japanese castle into a unique form of
defensive architecture that acknowledged its own culture and tradition, yet
responded imaginatively to changing conditions of warfare. Like those in
contemporary Europe, Japanese castles experienced conflict on a huge scale
when all the theory behind them was tested to destruction in half a century of
fierce civil war.
Japanese castles in their historical context
By the time that the first stone walls began to appear around Japanese castles,
an innovation that can be seen from about 1550 onwards, Japan had already
experienced intermittent bouts of civil war for almost 1,000 years. The key to
understanding the reasons for such conflicts, and the nature of the Japanese
castles that arose in response to them, involves an appreciation of Japan’s
physical isolation from continental Asia. This protected her from some
dangers, so that while China and Korea were being ravaged by the Mongol
hordes in the 13th century, life was comparatively peaceful in Japan. Attempts
to invade Japan were repulsed in 1274 and 1281, but this splendid isolation
also meant that Japan could not expand into her neighbours’ territories to
acquire more cultivable land, something that Japan was desperately short of.
As the struggle for land grew, the possession of military force was the best
guarantor of securing new lands and of then defending them against
rapacious neighbours.
The establishment of the rule of the
(military dictator) after the
triumph of the Minamoto family in the Gempei Wars of 1180–85 provided
some measure of stability amid the rivalries, but invading Mongols, rebellious
emperors (who resented the purely ceremonial role forced upon their sacred
office by the
family leaders whose wealth rivalled that of the
peasant revolts and fierce religious fanatics all played their part in disrupting
the theoretical calm. In 1467 the Onin War, so called from the
period) in which it began, broke out between two rival samurai clans. Kyoto,
the Japanese capital, was laid waste and among the smouldering ruins of
palaces and temples lay the blackened remains of shogunal prestige. From this
time on any centralised authority that was left counted for little against the
naked military might of the
(great names) as the rival warlords termed
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