Academic conferences can be really hit or miss sometimes. The titles of talks or panels can be deceptive, and often the talks that prove the most interesting, or impactful, are the ones you were never planning on going to to begin with. Strangely, this year’s AAS proved otherwise, and pretty much every talk at every panel was really great.
The second panel I attended was one on Japanese castles, a great fun topic all around, even if not of direct relevance to one’s research.
Lee Butler began the panel with a presentation on Japanese castles before Azuchi.
Above: The main tower at Fushimi-Momoyama castle, a beautiful example of precisely the type of castle we are not talking about in this post.
Azuchi Castle, built by Oda Nobunaga in 1579, and sadly destroyed in 1582, represents an important turning point in castle construction in Japan. More or less everything we stereotypically associate with Japanese castles – the stone foundations, the elaborate gables and roofing, the impressive or beautiful decorative elements otherwise – all begin with Azuchi, which we shall return to. First, Butler’s presentation, in which he discussed castles prior to that. These were “castles” which were not permanent residences, nor symbols of wealth and power, but were, rather, temporary structures made primarily of wood and earthworks, constructed chiefly for tactical purposes, to be used during battle, and were not structures to live in, or be based/quartered in, on any long-term basis. As a result, we should perhaps use terms such as “fort” or “fortifications,” rather than “castle,” in order to better represent – and better keep in mind – what it is we’re talking about.
Much of Butler’s talk focused on a document known simply as the Chikujôki (築城記, “Record of Castle/Fortification Construction”). The origins of the document are unknown; it is believed to have been recopied in the 1530s or 1550s, and is known to us today through a copy obtained from Asakura Yoshikage by Kawamura Seishin (sp?). The text, a guide to aspects of the construction of fortifications, consists of 44 articles, or items, including elements on how walls and gates should be constructed, etc. The most important considerations in choosing a site for one’s fortifications, according to the text, are geography, and the availability of water. If we were talking about long-term, permanent castles, this would come as no surprise. Availability of potable water is essential for supplying a residence or garrison, and especially essential for holding out against a siege. But, for these short-term fortifications, I do find it kind of surprising. Then again, I’m no expert at medieval military tactics, so what do I know? In any case, the text also makes suggestions such as the use of an earthen bridge over the moat, rather than a wooden one, since the latter can be set on fire; a fortification must also be designed so as to allow warriors to escape out the back – another good indication that we’re talking about a temporary structure here. Other features of the ideal fortification include yumi-kakushi (弓隠し, “bow-obstructions”) – bundles of straw placed atop the walls to serve as merlons – and rows of pikes embedded in the doi (土居, earthen embankment) so as to impale attackers at roughly waist height.
As might be expected, the Chikujôki makes no mention of stone foundations, or of a multi-story “keep” or tenshu. Where it does mention buildings within a “castle” compound, the Chikujôki generally employs the term ie (家, “house”), and not anything meaning “mansion” or the like. Mark Erdmann would discuss the origins of the keep, and of the term tenshu, in his talk.
I knew the basics of this important shift centering around Azuchi castle (and Hideyoshi’s Fushimi-Momoyama castle, hence the Azuchi-Momoyama period named after the two), but one thing from Butler’s talk that was completely new to me was the mention of a Nijô Palace or Nijô Residence1 built in 1569 for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki, which according to Butler is an equally important element in representing or marking this architectural turning point. Knowing next to nothing about the structure, my best guess is that, just like Azuchi and Fushimi-Momoyama, it combined fortifications (more so than previous palaces or noble residences) with luxury, permanent residence, and overt shows of wealth and power (more so than earlier fortifications). I’d be curious to learn more about this structure. I wonder why we don’t tend to hear more about it to begin with, if it truly is as important as Azuchi and Fushimi-Momoyama.
1. Not to be confused with the Nijô Castle still standing in Kyoto today, which was built a few decades later, by the Tokugawa shoguns.