Mito castle

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Mito castle is located in Mito City in present day Ibaraki prefecture (the historical Hitachi province) and was primarily famous for being the seat of power of one of the three branch houses (sanke) of the Tokugawa. While the other two branches were eligible to provide potential candidates for Shogun (in the event the main Tokugawa branch could not come up with one), the Tokugawa based in Mito castle instead had the hereditary post of vice Shogun. The Mito branch was therefore not allowed to ascend to Shogun-at least in theory.

One of the castle’s best known residents was Tokugawa Mitsukuni. Mitsukuni was the second lord of the province and began writing Dai Nihon Shi (The Great History Of Japan) in 1657. This work was continued by his descendants and eventually reached 397 volumes comprised of almost 21,000 pages, not being completed until 1906.

The work stressed that the Shogun was a servant of the Emperor and this facet of it became important in the 1850’s when Mito became an early proponent of restoring direct rule to the Son Of Heaven. The views of these anti-Shogunate forces soon spread across the country, giving birth to the Loyalist faction of the Meiji restoration. Despite the restriction on a member of the Mito house becoming Shogun and the anti-shogunate forces in power within it, the son of the lord of Mito, Yoshinobu, who had been adopted into the Hitotsubashi Tokugawa clan, became the last Shogun in 1866. When it became obvious that the Shogunate could no longer effectively maintain control of Japan, Yoshinobu turned control of the country back to the Emperor in 1867. The castle was attacked during the Boshin War by Imperial forces on their march north from Edo and most of the buildings were destroyed at that time.

Very little remains of the castle. There are earthworks and a portion of the original moat. Originally, the tenshu had stood inside the first, outer ring of fortifications (rather than inside the innermost ring as was traditionally the case). It is presumed that the tenshu was a converted one story storehouse, as it was squat and had very thick white plastered walls. What few buildings that survived the Restoration were destroyed during a series of American air raids in 1945.


  • Kodama Kota & Tsuboi Kiyotari, editors Nihon Joukaku Taikei-20 Volumes Tokyo:Shinjimbutsu oraisha, 1981
  • Schmorleitz, Morton S Castles In Japan Tokyo:Charles E Tuttle Company Inc, 1974