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Kochi Castle is one of the 12 samurai castles with original keeps. Yamanochi Kazutoyo (Yamauchi Katsutoyo), who was granted Tosa Domain (modern-day Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku) after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, began constructing the castle and residence in 1601. The project took ten years, and the Yamanouchi clan remained at Kochi until the Meiji Restoration.

Kochi Castle makes excellent use of the land's layout. The Kagami and Enokuchi Rivers form a natural outer moat, with the castle perched on Mt. Otasaka. The main Honmaru bailey is situated on a rise to the south, with the Ni-no-Maru occupying the northern hill at a similar elevation. The Ni-no-Maru connects to the Honmaru via a corridor-like bridge called a roka-bashi across a small valley. Directly under the roka-bashi, blocking the valley, is the Tsume-mon gate. The layout deceptively suggests that the Tsume-mon is the entry to the Honmaru. However, any attacking enemy breaching this gate would find themselves heading away from the central precinct. While trying to breach the gate, they could be fired upon from the keep to their left, the gate above, and watchtowers to their right. Instead, entry to the Honmaru is to the right, up a flight of once heavily guarded stone stairs, through the Ni-no-Maru, and across the covered roka-bashi.

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In 1727, many central structures, including the tenshu, were damaged by fire. Today, what remains is the rebuilt keep and palace from that period. The remaining tenshu was modeled on the original four-roofed, six-floor tower designed by Yamauchi Kazutoyo, who had wanted a mawarien, a balcony, and railing around the top floor. The reconstructed keep includes this feature. Around the bottom edge of the tenshu are tsuruge spikes called Shinobi Gaeshi, meant to prevent ninja and attackers from climbing the structure. These spikes are found only at Kumamoto, Nagoya, and Kochi Castles, with Kochi uniquely featuring trident-shaped spikes. Kochi Castle’s Honmaru Goten, the lord’s palace, is connected to the base of the main keep, a rare architectural feature. The living quarters occupy the first level of the main keep.

Kochi Castle’s Honmaru is particularly historically valuable, as it is the only castle with all its original structures—keep, palace, gates, and walls—still intact. A total of 15 structures designated National Important Cultural Properties remain at Kochi Castle, including the tenshu, Kaitokukan Honmaru Palace, Nando storehouse, nishi and higashi tamon yagura, Ote, Kurogane, and Roka gates, six wall segments, and the roka-bashi linking the Honmaru to the Ni-no-Maru.

 


See also 

  • Ueda Castle

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    Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture once stood prominently on a cliff overlooking the Saigawa River. Also known as Amagafuchi-Jo, Isesaki-Jo, Matsuo-Jo, and Sanada-Jo, it was built around 1583 by its first master, Sanada Masayuki. This sturdy yet small fortress cleverly utilized the surrounding natural defenses, including the river, steep rocky cliffs, the layout of the town below, and the strategically designed waterways to hinder attackers. Ueda Castle was fortified with seven defensive yagura (watchtowers) atop robust stone walls and had two large gates with watchtowers above them.

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  • Tsuyama Castle

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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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    Tsu Castle, located in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, was originally built by Hosono Fujiatsu in 1558 and was known as Anotsu Castle, named after the old region. The site was strategically chosen at the confluence of the Ano and Iwata Rivers, which naturally formed a moat around the castle, while the nearby port served as a vital trade route.

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  • Sasayama Castle

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    Tamba Sasayama Castle, also known as Sasayama or Kirigajo (Mist Castle), is a flatland castle (hira-jiro) situated on a gentle rise in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture. It was constructed in 1608 as part of Tokugawa Ieyasu's strategy to prepare for an attack on Osaka, aiming to bring an end to the Toyotomi clan. Ieyasu ordered the castle's construction using the Tenka Bushin system, engaging 20 former enemy daimyo and their forces to complete the complex within six months. This system kept the former enemies close and preoccupied, financially straining them and limiting their capacity for further conflict. The stones used in Sasayama Castle feature engravings called kokumon, indicating who made each part of the walls and preventing theft by other lords' men.

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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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  • Okazaki Castle

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    The Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, was born in Okazaki Castle in 1542 during a period of significant civil unrest. At that time, the Tokugawa, then known as the Matsudaira, controlled the rice-rich Mikawa plains of what is now eastern Aichi Prefecture. This fertile region was highly coveted by surrounding warlords. Ieyasu, a shrewd leader and brilliant tactician, managed to maintain and expand his territories. Following in the footsteps of other national unifiers, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ieyasu emerged victorious at the decisive Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. In 1603, he was invested as Shogun, a title he made hereditary, enabling the Tokugawa family to rule Japan for the next 250 years.

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  • Ogaki Castle

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    Ogaki Castle, located in Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture, was originally built around 1500 by Miyakawa Yasusada and named Ushiya Castle due to the Ushiya River serving as a natural moat. The castle was also known as Bi Castle and Kyoroku Castle. The Ogaki region held strategic importance as a transit point between Mino and Omi Provinces, a fact recognized by Saito Dosan, the Viper of Mino. When Oda Nobunaga captured Gifu Castle in 1567, Ogaki Castle came under Oda rule. Both Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi understood the strategic significance of the castle. In 1595, Hideyoshi ordered Ito Sukemori to expand the castle and construct the Tenshu keep.

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