There are many articles on the internet extolling the wonders of Nagoya Castle. Most will tell you the most obvious points and places to look for,..here are a few you might not have known about.
The first thing to notice when visiting Nagoya Castle are the three sets of moats, and all stone work surrounding the castle. This was all completed in six months. I kid you not! It was still the Sengoku period, a time of civil war, and so they didn’t have the luxury of taking their time putting up castles. It had to be done like,..yesterday! Six months! Can you imagine how many workers there must have been to get this done by hand 400 years ago?
In the case of Nagoya Castle, the former Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (He’d handed the reigns to his son, Hidetada by this stage, but still wielded plenty of power!) had 20 of the nations’ daimyo, or warlords assist in its construction. The cost of providing the thousands of laborers, stones for the walls and timber for the buildings was financially ruinous, and prevented these daimyo from being able to afford to wage war. To show their “loyalty” and to prove that they’d built the stone walls as ordered, they carved marks in the stones they laid. It was also a means of preventing over zealous rival warlords from stealing your rocks! These marks are called Kokumon, and various designs can be seen all around Nagoya Castle. Looking for and identifying the Kokumon is a great way to work your way around the grounds.
Taking of rocks, this is one rock that,..well, rocks. It’s called the Kiyomasa Stone, the biggest stone used at Nagoya Castle and is named after Kato Kiyomasa, a warrior amongst warriors and a castle building expert. Kiyomasa was long credited as the chief architect of Nagoya Castle, but that isn’t the case. In fact this huge stone wasn’t placed by Kiyomasa at all. It was brought in by another well-respected samurai, Kuroda Nagamasa!
Kiyomasa only built the stone base under the main and sub keeps. But what a fantastic job he did. Kiyomasa built Kumamoto Castle, famed for its graceful sloping walls and is considered a masterpiece of castle construction. He outdid himself working on Nagoya Castle! The curves are magnificent! He even left us a little reminder of his expertise. On each corner of the main keep’s base, is Kiyomasa’s name, position and a symbol carved into it.
The South eastern corner carving was badly damaged by the heat of the burning keep 70 years ago. The South Western corner is too far away to see. The North Eastern corner is the best example, and one of the best times to see this clearly is if you visit Nagoya Castle in Autumn, around about 4pm, as the sun sets in the west, casting the last, low rays of sunlight and allowing the shadows to make the characters become clearer.
Something else to look out for while you’re looking at this corner stone is the Wall of Spears! Above the Fuemon Gate (so named because it was never opened) are rows of spearheads pointing outwards. Theses are Tsurugibe, rows of spear-like spikes, protruding from wall tops and aimed at keeping attackers, in particular ninja, from entering the grounds. These defensive devices can be found only at Kochi, Kumamoto and Nagoya castles. Nagoya has them above the Fuemon Gate, and also along the outer wall between the main and sub keeps.
All of this goes to protect the very central part of Nagoya Castle, the treasure,…in fact a former National Treasure.
The Nagoya Castle Honmaru Palace was considered a masterpiece of Samurai Shoin-Zukuri architecture. Built as the living quarters for the lord of Nagoya, it was vacated two years later, and from then on used exclusively for the Shogun on his visits between Edo (Tokyo) and the Imperial capital, Kyoto. It was so fine a building, so richly decorated and so well preserved, it was made a National Treasure along with the rest of the castle around 1930. In 1945, just three months before the war ended, the castle, its magnificent keep and sub-keep, gorgeous palace, many gates and watchtowers were all destroyed during WW2 firebombing. Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes, it is returning to its former glory.
While the keep was rebuilt in concrete in 1959, a fully authentic reconstruction effort on the Honmaru Palace began in 2009. The first of three sections opened in 2013. The grand entrance hall, waiting rooms, and lords’ audience chamber featuring walls of gold leaf and richly decorated with paintings of tigers and leopards, birds, animals and landscapes is simply breathtaking !
The second section opened June 1, 2016. Although it is much more subdued than the gorgeous entrance and main halls, it is still an amazing piece of architecture, and a glimpse into the lifestyles of the samurai elite. While the lord’s audience chambers were supposed to impress the many noble visitors, the Taimenjo room was for confidential, private audiences with top ministers in a more relaxed setting. The art is just as incredible, the ceilings, particularly in the Taimenjo room are double coved with black lacquered coffers with gold leaf fill.
The third stage is set for completion in 2018.
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Chris Glenn is a bilingual radio DJ, TV presenter, producer, narrator, MC, copywriter, author and columnist, and Japanese historian, specializing in samurai castles, battles, armor and weapons. He is an inbound tourism advisor, and is often called upon as a lecturer and speaker on Japanese history and topics. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1968, and has spent over half his life in Japan, most of that time in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Chris is dedicated to promoting and preserving Japans’ long history, deep culture, traditions, arts and crafts.