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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.

Okazaki Castle was originally built in 1455 by the warrior Saigo Tsugiyori near the present site of Myodaiji Temple. Initially, it was likely just a small wooden fort. Ieyasu's grandfather, Matsudaira Kiyoyasu, captured the fortress and rebuilt Okazaki Castle on its current site in 1531, utilizing the Otogawa River and its tributary as a natural moat. Over the years, the castle was expanded and its defenses strengthened, making it one of the nation’s most respected castles. It served as the stronghold of the Tokugawa clan for over 350 years.

During the Edo Period, Okazaki prospered as a significant castle town located along the Tokaido Highway, the main route between the capital, Kyoto, and Ieyasu’s later stronghold, Edo (modern-day Tokyo).

In 1868, Japan ended its feudal system, and the samurai caste was abolished eight years later. In 1873, Okazaki Castle, like many other castles across Japan, was demolished, leaving only the moat and sturdy stone walls. The main keep, annex, and well-house were reconstructed in ferro-concrete in 1959.

Today, the castle grounds are a tree-filled park, popular for cherry blossom and wisteria viewing in spring. Visitors enter through the striking Otemon gate. The remaining rough-hewn stone walls, once formidable defensive structures, are now softened by lush moss and ferns.

The grounds feature several statues of Ieyasu and a smaller one dedicated to Honda Tadakatsu, a loyal Tokugawa retainer. There is also the oldest municipal Noh theatre in Japan, various shrines, small eateries, an ancient teahouse, and a well from which Lord Ieyasu's first bath was supposedly drawn. One of the castle’s yagura watchtowers has been rebuilt in the traditional manner and is open to the public.

Another notable attraction is the Ieyasu and Mikawa Bushi (warrior) Museum. The main highlight, however, is the castle keep. The reconstructed castle’s second, third, and fourth floors house a museum displaying samurai armor, weapons, daily items, and local history and cultural exhibits. The fifth-floor observatory offers a panoramic view of the surrounding Mikawa region, the area that Tokugawa Ieyasu first ruled.

 


See also

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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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  • 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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  • Nobeoka Castle

    Nobeoka-Castle.jpg

    One of Nobeoka Castle’s most impressive features is the 22-meter-high stone wall around the central Hon-Maru citadel. Legend has it that if the castle were ever attacked and a specific keystone was moved, the wall would collapse, killing 1,000 invaders!

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