Maruoka Castle, located in Maruoka town, Fukui pref, is the oldest standing castle with a remaining donjon. The castle, built with an old style stone wall that uses natural found stones, is rather small but has a simple beauty that remains unchanged to this day. The castle was built in 1576 by the order of Katsuie Shibata who was awarded the Echizen territory, now a part of Fukui pref., by Nobunaga Oda, who ruled a vast area of Japan in the Sengoku Period. The castle was built originally in Toyohara town, however, for more convenient road access, it was moved to Maruoka by Katsuie’s nephew, Katsutoyo. The castle employs a unique architectural method. It is three stories high with two layers of roof and there is a watch tower with handrails going around the donjon on the top story. The castle was roofed with Shakudani stone, a local stone, and has thick lattices and black wooden walls, which are unmistakable characteristics of the early style of castle making. The castle has lived through many war-torn periods of deadly strife and carnage. The castle is also known as Kasumiga Joh, Mist Castle, owing to a legend that, at a time of battle, a giant serpent appeared and blew mist over the castle and concealed it from attackers. In 1934, it was designated as a National Treasure. It was destroyed by an earthquake, then later reconstructed and was designated an Important National Property.
Ono Castle, also called Miyayama Castle, was located at the top of Mt. Seikai in Tokoname City, Aichi Prefecture. The castle was resided first by the Ono clan, the descendant of the Owari-Genji family, then the Isshiki clan, and finally the four generations of the Saji clan.
The Saji clan built up Chita Suigun (the naval forces) and played an important role in promoting maritime trade and controlling marine transportation in Ise Bay. Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi placed great importance on their naval power and Nobunaga’s sister and niece were married off to the Saji clan.
Nobunaga’s niece, Ogo (or Oeyo), whose mother is Nobunaga’s sister Oichi, was married to Saji Kazunari, the 4th head of the Saji clan, by the order of Hideyoshi. However, when Kazunari sided with the Tokugawa and Oda allied forces later, Hideyoshi got angry and made the couple get divorced in 1584. Later in 1595, she remarried Tokugawa Hidetada, the 3rd son of Ieyasu and later the 2nd Tokugawa Shogun, and became the mother of his successor, Iemitsu.
The castle ruins site has been arranged into the park, where the two-story donjon and the castle gate were newly constructed. You can command a wonderful view of Ise Bay from the observatory deck on the donjon. The Saji clan is enshrined at Saji Shrine in the ruins site of the watch tower.
Azuchi Castle at the foot of Azuchiyama, a 199 meter hill, on the shores of Lake Biwa in Omi Province (present-day Shiga Prefecture) was the primary castle of Oda Nobunaga, a major daimyo in the Warring States period (1493-1573). The Azuchi-Momoyama Period of Japanese history takes its name from this castle. Azuchi Castle took three years to build, between 1576 and 1579, under the supervision of Niwa Nagahide, a retainer of Nobunaga.
As Oda Nobunaga’s best expression of his power and influence on Japan, the castle had the magnificent donjon and many other gorgeous structures. Unfortunately, the castle existed for only three years for Oda Nobunaga died in 1582, when being betrayed and attacked by one of his retainers, Akechi Mitsuhide. After his death, the castle was burnt down for unknown reason.
All that remains of the castle today is the stone base. Deep stone walls, a lot of cornerstones, stone images of Buddha used for lining the paths and the remaining Nio-mon gate; all tells us of the grand vision conceived by Nobunaga. The castle ruins site is nationally designated as a Special Historic Site, where repairwork was given to stone steps and excavations and researches have been made on the donjon and the main castle.
Numata Castle was located in Numata City, Gunma Pref. It is said to have been built by Bankisai Akiyasu, the 12th generation head of the Numata clan. The castle was called Kurauchi Castle in those days. As it stands at the strategic spot on the way to Kanto region, a lot of battles to capture this castle were fought among warring lords such as the Uesugi clan of Echigo region (present-day Niigata Pref.), the Hojo clan of Odawara, and the Takeda clan of Kai province (present-day Yamanashi Pref.). In the Edo period, this area came under control of the Sanada clan. Sanada Yukinobu started its modification work in 1597, and in several years it was modified into an early modern-styled castle with the five-story donjon, Ninomaru (the second castle), Sannomaru (the third castle), and the stone walls, which were rear for Kanto region. At the present time, only a part of stone walls and moats remains, which remind us of the ancient times. In spring, a 400-year-old cherry tree called “Goten-zakura (palace cherry tree)” is in full bloom. It looks as if it were talking of rise and fall of the castle.
From the end of April through the early May every year, Hirosaki Cherry Festival is held in Hirosaki Park in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture. It is counted as one of the four big festivals in Hirosaki City; the others are the Snow Lantern Festival in February, The Neputa Festival in August and Autumn Leaf Festival in October.
Hirosaki Park is the ruins site of Hirosaki Castle, where the Tsugaru clan had resided during the Edo period (1603-1868). The only existing donjon in the Tohoku region remains in the park. The castle ruins site was arranged into Hirosaki Park and open to the public in 1895. It is now one of Japan’s representative cherry blossom viewing places.
The cherry trees were first planted in Hirosaki Park in 1715, when 25 stocks of Kasumi-zakura (Prunus leveilleana) were sent for from Kyoto. Later in the Meiji period (1868-1912), additional cherry trees were planted several times. Today as many as 2,600 cherry trees in about 50 sub-species including Somei Yoshino cherry come into bloom in spring.
The cherry trees that stand at the edge of the water moat extend their branches over the water, reflecting their beautiful images on the surface. When the park is lit up at night, the donjon shows its elegant figure in the midst of the cherry blossoms, which creates a fantastic scene.
“Gomangoku Fuji (Wisteria)” is the name of the wisteria trees climbing over the trellises with a total area of 1,300 square meters located in the south of Okazaki Park in Okazaki City, Aichi Prefecture. Constructed in the Okazaki Castle ruins site, the park has a lot of buildings and historic sites pertaining to Tokugawa Ieyasu. The restored donjon stands in the center of the park.
The wisteria flower is the city’s official flower and Gomangoku Wisteria is designated as a city’s cultural property. The trellises were built in 1911. The longest vine extends 11 meters and some vines have pendulous racemes 1 meter long.
From late April through early May, Gomangoku Wisteria Festival is held and the area around the trellises is bustled with visitors. The flowers are illuminated in the evenings during the festival period.
The ruins of Amagajo Castle are at the top of a 120 m hill in the central part of Takaoka-cho in Miyazaki City, Miyazaki Prefecture. The castle was constructed by the Shimazu clan as a fort to defense the border with the territory of the Ito clan, who had sent troops to attack Sadowara Castle in the Shimazu’s territory in 1600, after the Shimazu clan had fought the Battle of Sekigahara on the western side and was defeated by the eastern army led by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The castle was dismantled, however, in 1615 according to the Ikkoku Ichijo (One Castle per Province) order by the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The castle ruins were arranged into Amagajo Park, which is famous as a viewing spot of cherry blossoms. 1.200 Somei Yoshino cherry trees, which were planted 40 years ago, come into bloom all at once in April, after which 5,000 azalea produce wonderful red flowers.
In the park towers the donjon, which is used as a history museum and has become a landmark of the town. From the observatory deck, you can command a panoramic view of the Oyodo River and the Miyazaki Plain, thinking of this short-lived castle.
Hagi Castle was constructed in 1604 by Mori Terumoto, who lost to the Tokugawa forces in the Battle of Sekigahara. His huge territory in Hiroshima was confiscated and he was moved to Hagi as the lord of the Choshu domain.
The structure of Hagi Castle is interesting in that it is primarily a flatland castle but Terumoto also built a compound called Tsume no maru at the top of Mt. Shizuki. The donjon, watch tower and other structures were demolished in 1874 under the Castle Abolition Law. Only the stone walls and moats remain today.
The castle site was arranged into Shizuki Park with an area of 200,000 sq m when Shizukiyama Shrine was built in the ruins of Honmaru (the main castle) to enshrine the successive lords of the Mori clan.
Today the structures such as the ruins of the donjon, the Banzai Bridge and the East Yard also remain in the park. Some of the historic buildings in the city were relocated to the park and open to the public, which include Hananoe Tea House, the tea house of the Nashiba family and the old Shoin-room of the Fukuhara family.
In spring, this park is famed for its cherry blossoms including the prefecturally designated Natural Monument “Midori Yoshino,” which produces cherry blossoms with green calyces, and 600 Somei Yoshino cherry trees.