Nagoya castle

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For the castle in Saga prefecture, see Nagoya castle (Hizen).
  • Type: Flatland
  • Founder: Tokugawa Ieyasu
  • Built: 1610-1612
  • Destroyed: 1945
  • Rebuilt: 1957-1959
  • Japanese:名古屋城(Nagoya-jou)
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Nagoya castle

The Nagoya area was home to several fortifications that predated the current version of Nagoya castle. The first recorded structure was built by Shiba Takatsune at Kiyosu west of Nagoya late in the fourteenth century. This castle was eventually taken by Oda Nobunaga while unifying the province of Owari. The Imagawa family constructed the first known castle in Nagoya around 1525 (attributed to Imagawa Ujichika). This castle also fell to the Oda family, in this case Oda Nobuhide, who took the castle in 1532 from Imagawa Ujitoyo.

The current version of Nagoya castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu for his seventh son Yoshinao between 1610 and 1612. Yoshinao became lord of Owari when Ieyasu’s fourth son, Tadayoshi passed away. It is located in present day Nagoya City in Aichi Prefecture (the historical Owari province). As with many other castle restoration projects of the time, one of the main goals was to drain the coffers of the tozama daimyo and other former Toyotomi loyalists (even those that had aided Ieyasu at Sekigahara). ‘Requested’ to aid in the project were the Maeda clan, Mori clan, Kuroda clan, Hosokawa clan, Yamanouchi clan, Nabeshima clan, Kato clan, Fukushima clan, and 14 other clans. Foremost among these was master castle builder Kato Kiyomasa, who supervised the construction of the ishigaki. Using bamboo screening to hide his techniques from prying eyes, Kato directed the efforts of 200,000 laborers and constructed the massive stone walls of Nagoya in about sixth months. Building materials were used both from the much smaller existing structure and also from nearby Kiyosu castle. The tenshu was completed in 1612, with the honmaru palace and other buildings added over the next few years.

In the Ed period, Nagoya castle was the third largest hirajiro after Edo and Osaka. Its position on the Tokaido made it an important commercial center and also a strategic bulwark against any invasion from the west. The castle also became an important center of Neo-Confucianism. It remained in the hands of the ‘Owari’ Tokugawa (one of the three Tokugawa contingent houses or sanke) until the Meiji government took control in 1868. It was used by the Imperial Army from then until 1895, during which time many of the castle’s treasures were defaced and damaged by Imperial soldiers (much as also happened at Nijo castle). The Imperial family took direct control of the castle in 1895 and converted it into a detached palace. It was handed over to the city of Nagoya in 1930. While the castle was spared the fate of many other castles at the hands of the Meiji government (that being destruction), it was not to be so lucky on May 14, 1945. On that day a World War II American firebombing raid obliterated much of the castle-the tenshu, the secondary tenshu, four corner towers, the honmaru palace, and dozens of other buildings. Today only three corner towers (including the most famous original structure of the castle, the Seinan Sumi Yagura) and a gateway survive (along with the ishigaki). A ferroconcrete reproduction of the original castle was built from 1957-1959, and was an excellent replica of the original-at least on the outside. It cost $1.67 million with an additional $120,000 to replace the 2 gold shachigawara on the roof.

The original castle featured five courts (honmaru, ninomaru, sannomaru, along with the western and fukai courts). The honmaru had both a main and secondary tenshu (connected by an earthern bridge) with a palace alongside. The ninomaru housed chief retainers. There were stone walls protecting the north and west sides of the honmaru along with moats. The south and east sides had a dry moat and high earthern walls. The main tenshu featured five exterior stories with six interior ones (along with a basement containing a well that was said to have had gold thrown inside to improve the taste of the water). The first floor was roofed in standard tile, but the others used copper. As with virtually all Japanese castles the floors declined in size from bottom to top-the first floor was 120’ x 105’ (an area of 530 mats) while the top floor was 55’ x 40’. Overall, the tenshu was about 36 meters in height (with another 20 for the stone base), making it about 10 meters higher than Himeji’s. It had the most famous shachigawara in Japan-two golden, silver eyed mythical dolphin/tiger hybrids eight feet eight inches high that were thought to protect the building against fire (the current reproduction ‘dolphins’ are made of copper and each is covered 560 scales of 18 carat gold). These also gave the castle its alternate name-‘Kinshachi-jo’. The shachi were spared destruction in the early Meiji period, and were shown at the 1873 Vienna World's Fair as prime examples of Japanese craftsmanship and design.[1]

The castle serves as a museum and recently removed the two golden shachigawara for display at Japan’s Expo 2005. Many reproductions of the artwork and rooms lost in World War II can be seen in the nearby Tokugawa Art Museum. There are also plans to rebuild the honmaru palace, which currently exists only as remains cordoned off by a bamboo fence.

Note that there was another famous Nagoya castle (名護屋城)-this was the name given to the structure built by Hideyoshi Hizen province in northern Kyushu in 1592. The castle served as the headquarters and staging area for Hideyoshi’s invasions of Korea in the 1590’s. The construction of this castle was also largely overseen by Kato Kiyomasa.



  • Kodama Kota & Tsuboi Kiyotari, editors Nihon Joukaku Taikei-20 Volumes Tokyo:Shinjimbutsu oraisha, 1981
  • Hinago Motoo Nihon No Bijutsu #54:Shiro Tokyo:Shibundo, 1970
  • Schmorleitz, Morton S Castles In Japan Tokyo:Charles E Tuttle Company Inc, 1974
  1. Ran Zwigenberg, "Citadels of Modernity: Japan's Castles in War & Peace," talk given at Temple University, Tokyo campus, 12 July 2017.