The samurai were the military caste and nobility of ancient and medieval Japan. Besides being professional warriors, they were administrators, protectors, guards and gentlemen. They shared a unique military code of honor, bravery, duty and loyalty.
Recognized as one of history’s foremost fighters, these austere warriors were also highly educated, well-mannered men of literature, and patrons of the arts. They practiced the tea ceremony, performing and visual arts with the same dedication with which they practiced the martial arts.
While most cultures throughout the world had swords, the samurai were renown for having the finest blades in history, and possessing unparalleled skills with the various weapons they used. The samurai wore some of the most unique, versatile and eye-catching armor too.
For many, the ideals of the samurai, their dedication, loyalty, and martial prowess, combined with their cultured ways have made them an ideal role model and a figure of respect.
Located in the middle of Japan, Aichi Prefecture was at the center of the Sengoku, or Warring States period. Its central position made it strategically valuable, while the wide, flat, fertile Nobi plain was ideal for growing rice, the nation’s staple, and a form of currency. Plentiful rivers provided irrigation and nutrition for the plains, while the rich fishing grounds of Ise Bay proved a vital source of food and salt. Aichi was a transportation hub of sea, river and road, including the major roadway, the Tokaido. As such, Aichi was seen as strategically and financially important.
These factors made Aichi the envy of surrounding warlords, and kept the samurai of Aichi vigilant, constructing over 3,600 castles and fortresses, and fighting a number of historically important battles.
As such, Aichi is the birthplace of countless samurai heroes, among them the nation’s Three Unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Their peace-seeking expansionist policies led to trusted companions from their homelands being dispatched across the nation, effectively making Aichi the birthplace of modern Japan.
Where there were castles, there were samurai, and there were some 3,600 castles of various size and design across Aichi alone! From the national treasure listed Inuyama Castle and Japan’s largest castle keep, the magnificent Nagoya Castle, to the small, sturdy Yamashiro type castles of Asuke and Damine, there is something to interest the castle beginner and the expert in Aichi.
Aichi was the birthplace of Samurai Heroes. The three national Unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were all born in Aichi. Among the many other important historical figures were the “samurai among samurai”, Kato Kiyomasa, and Honda Tadakatsu. Other famous names include Fukushima Masanori, Shibata Katsuie, Yamamoto Kansuke, Maeda Toshiie, and many, many more. Not just Sengoku period samurai either, the first of the Kamakura Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo was also born in Aichi!
There are various places to see, meet and even become a samurai in Aichi Prefecture. The Nagoya Omotenashi Bushotai samurai team can be seen daily at Nagoya Castle, and the Aoi Bushotai at Okazaki Castle. You can try on samurai armor at Kiyosu, and register to become an International Samurai too! Every October, the streets of Nagoya City come alive with a huge samurai parade, and there are numerous samurai related events throughout the year in Aichi.
Aichi is dotted with the ruins of Yamashiro, small to medium sized mountain and hilltop top castles. Yamashiro castle ruins are enjoyable year round, but best seen in the winter months, when there are no tree leaves and thick undergrowth hindering the view, allowing the features, such as the moats, trenches, earthen walls, various baileys and gates to be more easily seen.
Asuke Castle was a small, but vitally important castle that saw a great deal of battle action between 1525 and 1590. Asuke Castle is one of Japan’s best examples of an authentically reconstructed Yamashiro type castle of the Sengoku period.
Damine Castle, also known as “Snake Head” and “Dragon” Castle was the scene of political intrigue and family turmoil during the Battle of Nagashino. Damine is a fine example of a reconstructed fortress-type castle of the Warring States period.
As warfare increased, so did the castles. Larger, sturdier more permanent castles were built as strategic residences for the lords, and as centers of governance, incorporating towns as part of the defenses.
Inuyama is the oldest of just five castles nationwide designated as national treasures. Strategically positioned on a small hill, the impressive castle surrounded by the natural moat of the Kiso River survived a number of attacks as it watched over the important border between Owari and Mino provinces. The top floor balcony provides fine views of the surrounding area too.
Birthplace of the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Okazaki Castle was one of the most important of the Edo Period. Take note of the castle’s layout, and the stone wall construction, and enjoy the history of the Okazaki region and the Tokugawa clan in the castle keep museum.
One of the most important castles of the Sengoku period, Kiyosu Castle was Oda Nobunaga’s personal headquarters for many years. Many of the more famous battles of the samurai period were launched from Kiyosu.
In the late Sengoku, and early Edo periods, as battle tactics and military attitudes changed, castle construction flourished and developed, producing even larger, more imposing and highly sophisticated castles.
One of the grandest, most imposing and best-designed castles built during the peak Golden Age of castle construction. Nagoya Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu around 1612 to protect eastern Japan from attack by the western provinces, and became the starting point for the Siege of Osaka. During the 260 years of Tokugawa rule, it was a symbol of authority and peace.
Kiyosu Castle Armor Workshop replicates the Owari-Gussoku style samurai armor Oda Nobunaga designed and fitted his troops with. Trained staff will help you dress in full armor or in samurai princess robes. Once dressed, take your picture in front of the castle or the gardens. You can also join the Kiyosu Castle International Samurai Registry!
Try on samurai armor when you visit the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushi Museum at Okazaki Castle. Pose in front of the special screens and take a photo!
Nagoya’s Omotenashi Busho Tai samurai, and the Hattori Hanzo Ninja team can be found wandering the grounds of Nagoya Castle daily, followed by hoards of admirers, interacting with the visitors, posing for photographs and at times banding together to perform sword fighting feats, and entertaining talks. Feel free to approach them when you see them at Nagoya Castle and get an opportunity to meet a living historical figure. Surprisingly, Tokugawa Ieyasu in particular speaks quite good English!
The Aoi Busho-tai samurai team consists of Tokugawa Ieyasu and his generals. They can be seen in and around Okazaki Castle performing a variety of entertaining shows and mingling with visitors for photo opportunities.