Korean-style fortresses

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  • Japanese: 朝鮮式山城 (chousen shiki yamajiro)

Over the course of the Yamato period, in the early centuries of the establishment of a Japanese state, a great number of Korean-style fortresses were constructed in Japan. Old fortresses dating to the 8th century and earlier can be found all over western Japan. Many of these sites have been identified with fortresses whose construction, repair, and destruction are described in detail in ancient chronicles such as Nihonshoki and Shoku Nihongi. According to some interpretations of these texts, these fortresses were built under the guidance of, and at the orders of, various members of the Korean nobility or royalty.

Comparisons of these sites have been made to other Japanese fortresses, and to sites of the same period in both Korea and China. Though the theory persists of direct Korean involvement in the construction of these fortresses, alternative theories center around a fortress-building campaign in the late 7th century, by the Yamato court or more local Japanese authorities, against possible invasions from Silla and T'ang China. Many of the sites have been definitively dated to centuries earlier, however, and so, even if this theory holds for some sites, it does not encompass the majority.

Research on these sites is ongoing, and the questions of the purposes and origins of the fortresses, and their possible connections to Korea remain hotly debated among scholars, in part due to the nationalistic elements involved. Though some scholarship questions the identification of these fortresses with Korean origins, the Japanese term chōsen shiki yamajiro (朝鮮式山城, lit. "Korean style mountain castles/fortresses") continues to be used, for lack of a better term, to distinguish this particular class of structures. The term kodai yamajiro (古代山城, lit. "old period mountain castle/fortresses") is sometimes used, but its opponents argue that it can be interpreted too broadly; chōsen shiki yamajiro, even if not an entirely accurate description, denotes a very particular group of sites.

For the most part, researchers and specialists today doubt the appropriateness of the term "Korean-style fortresses," and continue to propose, research, and develop alternative theories as to the origins and purposes of these fortresses. However, mainstream sources such as newspapers and magazines, continue to represent the widely believed "traditional" version of events put forward by older scholarship, and to use the Korean-related terminology.

Research and debate

Cooperative research and discussions between the two countries, over the issue of determining the origins of these fortresses began in the 1970s. Fortresses of roughly the same type are extant in Korea, but only because they have been repaired or restored, either during the Joseon period or in the 20th century, and thus arguments of their similarity to the Japanese fortresses in question are difficult to prove. On the other hand, enough of the ruins do remain that most scholars believe it obvious that these fortresses in question have far more in common with one another than with other Japanese fortresses, particularly later ones.

Much of the debate over these fortresses began in the late Meiji period (1868-1912) and early Taisho period (1912-1923), when geography and archaeology took off in Japan for the first time, and the classification of kôgoishi fortresses emerged. One key element of the debate was, and continues to be, whether these fortresses were built in the late 7th century, following Japan's defeat in the battle of Hakusukinoe, as defenses against a possible Silla/T'ang Chinese invasion of Japan, or whether they were built earlier, possibly independently from the policies or orders of the Yamato court. During the first decades of the twentieth century, a vibrant discourse was expounded regarding the time these fortresses were built, their similarities to one another and to Korean structures, the way in which they spread, and the reasons they were built. This debate continues among archaeologists today.

As it relates quite closely to the origins of Japanese culture and society, nationalistic bias on the parts of both Korean and Japanese scholars continues to have a major effect on this discourse.


Name Kanji Romanization Year of Construction Possible Locations Current Situation
Takayasu fortress 高安城 Takayasu no ki[1] 667 Kyûan-ji, Nara Prefecture; Takayasu-yama, Osaka Prefecture The outer walls and water gate may have been found, but the extent of the fortress' remains, records of its history, and the area it covered have not been extensively investigated.
Yashima fortress 屋嶋城 Yashima no ki 667 Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture Stone walls, earthworks, water gate, remains of the lookout towers and other remains have been found, but site has not been extensively investigated. Site of the 1185 battle of Yashima.
Nagato fortress 長門城 Nagato no ki 665 Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture Unknown
Ôno castle 大野城 Ôno jô 665 Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture Earthworks, stone walls, water gate, and remnants of buildings remain.
Kii castle 基肄城 Kii jô 665 Kiyama, Saga Prefecture Ruins remain of the castle foundations, main gates, earthworks, stone walls, and water gate.
Kaneta fortress 金田城 Kaneta no ki 667 Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture Ruins remain of castle walls, main gate, water gate, and lookout towers.
Kikuchi castle 鞠智城 Kikuchi jô Nara-early Heian pds Yamaga or Kikuchi cities, Kumamoto Prefecture Ruins of 64 buildings or towers remain.
Ibara fortress 茨城 Ibaraki Nara period Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture Unknown
Tsune fortress 常城 Tsuneki 665 Fuchû or Fukuyama cities, Hiroshima Prefecture Unknown
Minô castle 三野城 Minô-jô late 7th c. Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture Unknown
Inazumi fortress 稲積城 Inazumi no ki late 7th c. Shima, Fukuoka Prefecture Unknown
Mio fortress 三尾城 Mio no ki   Takashima, Shiga Prefecture Unknown
Ki castle 鬼ノ城 Ki no jô late 7th c. Sôja, Okayama Prefecture Ruins of stone walls, water gate, various buildings remain. Western gate, several other buildings, reconstructed in first years of 21st century.

See also

Notes and references

  1. As the character 「城」is used in Japanese to refer to all variety of fortresses and castles, from the most basic wooden and earthwork defenses to elaborately furnished noble residences with stone foundations, I have taken the liberty of translating the character's archaic pronunciation of ki as "fortress" and the somewhat newer readings of shiro and as "castle".
  • This article was written by User:LordAmeth and contributed to both S-A and Wikipedia; the author gives permission for his work to be used in this way.