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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.

The castle's design was crafted by Todo Takatora, a renowned castle architect, and construction was overseen by Ikeda Terumasa. The castle's wide moats and impressive ishigaki stone walls, along with its well-planned layout, are notable features. The three main gates are strategically positioned, and remnants of the Umadashi, special defensive ramparts outside the main gates, can still be seen. Although the castle has a tenshu-dai, or tower keep base, a keep was never constructed. One theory suggests that Ieyasu, fearing the castle's formidable design could be used against him, decided against building the keep. In reality, the plans were abandoned due to Ieyasu's urgency to start constructing Nagoya Castle. Similarly, the keep at Iga Ueno, another Todo Takatora design, was destroyed by a typhoon during construction, and Ieyasu, eager to eliminate the Toyotomi threat, canceled its rebuilding.

Most of Sasayama Castle was destroyed around 1871 at the end of the feudal period. However, the Dai O-shoin, the main palace building, remained intact until it was gutted by US aerial fire-bombing in 1944. The O-shoin was reconstructed in 2000, based on old photographs and the architecture of Nijo Palace in Kyoto, which itself was modeled after Nagoya Castle’s Honmaru Goten Palace. Interestingly, after completing Sasayama Castle, Ieyasu immediately ordered the same 20 daimyo to begin work on the larger, grander Nagoya Castle.

Parts of the original castle town still exist, and several traditional samurai houses have been preserved by the local government. Sasayama Castle is a fascinating site to explore, with ongoing preservation projects aimed at safeguarding the castle and its surrounding historical areas.

 


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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  • 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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  • Nobeoka Castle

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    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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