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Azuchi Castle, inspired by the design of Komakiyama Oda Nobunaga’s initial fortress, boasted a distinctive feature that defied conventional defensive tactics: a grand, wide stone-lined Otemichi stairway leading directly to the base of the central Honmaru enclosure. This seemingly inviting approach, devoid of the usual winding paths meant to impede attackers, hinted at Nobunaga’s confidence, almost daring any potential adversary to challenge him.

Despite its appearance, the main stairway posed significant challenges for assailants. Its steep incline and unusually high steps made ascent arduous, especially for individuals of the Sengoku period’s average height, laden with heavy armor and weaponry, amidst defending forces raining fire from walls and yagura positioned along the steps. Flanking this ascent were the residences of Nobunaga’s most trusted retainers, each accompanied by elite samurai guards, further bolstering Azuchi’s defenses.

Atop the castle stood a magnificent tower keep, soaring seven stories high and reputedly the world’s largest wooden structure at the time. Its imposing exterior, adorned with white plaster and black lacquered panels, culminated in a roof tiled with gold-plated kawara tiles. Symbolically, the tower’s design blended elements of heaven, Taoism, and Confucianism, embodying Nobunaga’s grandeur and philosophical influences.

Internally, Azuchi Castle resembled European churches, with vaulted ceilings soaring up to 20 meters through the central structure. Nobunaga’s architectural vision, possibly influenced by visiting missionaries or colossal Buddhist temples, resulted in a unique, opulent edifice supported by formidable stone walls. Within its confines, Nobunaga resided in lavish quarters, including a Noh stage and a tea room adorned entirely in gold leaf.

Legend has it that during the castle’s construction, Nobunaga ingeniously overcame stone supply shortages by compelling samurai to contribute stones, including his father’s gravestone, integrated into the fortress walls. Okabe Matazaemon and his team of carpenters then erected the towering structure, completing the project in under three and a half years.

Azuchi Castle quickly became a national spectacle, particularly during summer evenings when lanterns illuminated its towering presence, captivating the populace. Nobunaga’s ambition to unify Japan under his rule seemed within reach until tragedy struck in June 1582. A treacherous betrayal by General Akechi Mitsuhide led to Nobunaga’s demise at Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto, followed by Azuchi’s destruction at the hands of Akechi’s forces.

Though rumors abound regarding the castle’s fiery end, Azuchi’s legacy lives on through its extensive stone walls, a testament to Nobunaga’s towering ambitions. Models of the castle can be viewed at the Nobunaga no Yakata Museum in Azuchi or experienced firsthand at the life-sized replica in Mie Prefecture’s Ise Sengoku Mura theme park.

 


See also  

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    Tsuyama Castle, located in Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture, is celebrated as one of Japan's top three major hilltop (Hirayama) castles, alongside Himeji and Matsuyama Castles. Originally, Tsuyama Castle comprised 77 structures, including the main keep, various yagura (watchtowers), gates, palaces, and living quarters. For comparison, Hiroshima Castle had 76 structures, and Himeji had 61. The first castle on this site was built in 1441 but was soon abandoned. The large-scale construction that we recognize today began in 1603 under the orders of Mori Tadamasa. The castle served as the administrative base for the Tsuyama Han daimyo, the Mori clan from 1603 to 1697, and the Matsudaira clan from 1698 to 1871.

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  • Tsu Castle

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  • Sadowara Castle

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    Sadowara Castle in Miyazaki Prefecture was a mountaintop yamajiro castle, initially built by the Tajima clan during the Nanboku-Cho period (1334-1394). As was typical of castles from that era, Mt. Kakusho, the chosen mountain, was terraced to create various baileys, or kuruwa. While defensive structures were constructed at the top and around the mountain, the lord's main living quarters and administrative offices were situated at the mountain's base.

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  • Osaka Castle

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    Osaka Castle is a prominent symbol of Osaka City, originally constructed in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the site of the Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple-fortress, which had been the scene of a violent uprising by warrior monks and peasants in the late 16th century. Modeled on Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, the original Osaka Castle tenshu (tower keep) featured five visible floors, six interior floors, and two underground basements. The exterior was lacquered black and adorned with gold decorations, including large peony flowers, tigers, birds, and various crests.

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