Hirosaki castle (also known as Takaoka castle) is located in the city of Hirosaki in Aomori Prefecture (the historical Mutsu province, which was also known as Rikuchû (陸中)). During the Muromachi period the Tsugaru clan had established themselves at Oura castle, which was slightly to the west of the site of Hirosaki. The Tsugaru relocated to Horikoshi castle in 1594 (which was more secure from hostile neighbors) and finally to Hirosaki in 1610. Hirosaki castle was built from 1610-1611, replacing an earlier structure built in 1560 by Tsugaru Tamenobu. Unlike many other clans, the Tsugaru were never moved from their fief and kept control of the castle until the Meiji Restoration. While the castle qualifies as a hirayamajiro, it more closely resembles a hirajiro due to the rather small hill it was built on. The honmaru was surrounded by three irregularly shaped rings of moats and the castle grounds measured about 1 km north to south and 500 meters east to west. The castle did not feature the extensive ishigaki seen in other structures of the period, but for the most part used earthen embankments. Ishigaki were only used around the honmaru. The original tenshu was five stories tall and was located in the southwest corner of the honmaru. It was struck by lightning in 1627 and burned down. The castle then fell into disuse for about 200 years. The Tsugaru returned in 1810 and built a new tenshu. For some reason which has never been uncovered, this structure was built on the southeast corner of the honmaru and would therefore be more properly classified as a yagura. It features a very simple style of architecture (with small and unadorned windows, although it does use projecting windows on the sides facing outward) and has three exterior and three interior stories. Remaining from the original 1610-1611 structure are five gates and three corner towers. The three corner towers also have three stories, as does the tenshu, but are much smaller. The roofs were at one time covered in wood shingles but now feature copper sheeting. The gateways are two-story structures roofed with traditional tiling. As with most two-story gates, they have a lower story pent roof, but these are located higher up on the structure (to take advantage of the main roof’s protection from snowfall). The gates (including the well preserved Ninomaru Higashimon) are not flanked by ishigaki as seen at other castles, but as noted earlier use earthen embankments.
The castle tenshu is now a museum and part of the grounds are used by Hirosaki University. The rest of the compound is Oyo Park, and is a very popular spot to visit, especially in the spring cherry blossom season (due to the large volume of cherry trees planted atop the fortified embankments). The tenshu, gates, and corner turrets have all been designated Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government.
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