Goryokaku castle

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The Goryôkaku (‘five angle fortification’) was one of the final castles to be built during the samurai era (Tatsuoka castle in southern Nagano likely being the last). It was built from 1857 to 1864 in southern Hokkaido about 10 kilometers east of Hakodate, to serve as a new base for governing the territory.

Construction began in the 12th month of 1857, under the oversight of Hakodate bugyô Takenouchi Yasunori.[1] The fortress was designed by Takeda Hisaburo. Takeda (who later became an instructor at the Kaiseijo, one of the shogunate’s institutes for the study of Western learning) designed it with Western Renaissance castle-building principles in mind, having learned these from Dutch books brought into Nagasaki. The final result looked far less like a typical Japanese castle and more like an American Civil War harbor fort. The castle was laid out in the form of a five pointed star and was primarily planned to be used against Western incursions into Japanese territory. It allowed for enhanced positioning of artillery batteries that a traditional Japanese castle did not. Because this was the first attempt by Japanese engineers to construct a castle that could survive Western artillery bombardment, the end result proved to be technically inferior to similar Western structures.

Goryokaku became the headquarters of the Hakodate magistrate. During the latter stages of the Bakumatsu, the castle was taken by a group of about 1,000 Shogunate supporters led by Enomoto Takeaki. Enomoto formed the Independent Republic Of Ezo with himself as leader on December 28, 1868. This proved to be short lived when Imperial forces laid siege to the castle (in the so called Hakodate War), leading to its surrender on May 18, 1869.

The castle originally had no tenshu, parapets, or other superstructures. Overall, the compound was about 150 meters in length and followed the outlines of the star shaped walls. Buildings included an official’s office, residence, and storage areas. Barbicans and bastions were built at the points of the star and at the entrances (to obstruct outside surveillance). It had impressive looking earth embankments and ishigaki. The ishigaki used the traditional dry-wall method, but the design differed from the end results of other castles. Labor and material shortages forced the builders to forego the small packing stones usually used to wedge the larger ones into place. As a result, the castle walls had poor earthquake resistance and necessitated frequent repairs. The intersections of the curved walls also had lines carved down their edges, further weakening them. There were layers of projecting stone atop the walls, placed there to make climbing more difficult in lieu of a parapet. The earth excavated from the moats was used to create a two tiered series of embankments.

Only one of the original buildings survives, thought to have been a food store. The walls and moat of the castle are still intact. The embankments and moats are over 95 feet wide, and the moats are a popular spot for ice skating when they freeze over in the Hokkaido winter. Goryokaku and the Hakodate War were the subjects of a table top simulation published by the Japanese magazine ‘Six Angles’.


  • 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. Ishin Shiryô Kôyô 維新史料綱要, vol 2, (1937), 478.