Matsumae castle

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Matsumae castle

Matsumae castle (which is also known as Fukuyama castle) is located in southern Hokkaido alongside the Tsugaru straits between Hokkaido and Honshu. The castle is the northernmost of all the fully developed castles in Japan. It was built in 1606 by Matsumae Yoshihiro. The castle was the last completed Japanese castle to use traditional building methods. It served as the pipeline for most traffic passing to and from Ezo (the old name for Hokkaido). Anyone passing from Ezo to Honshu was required to get a passport here. The original structures burned down in 1637 and were rebuilt in 1639. The castle was completely rebuilt from 1849-1854 in the traditional Japanese style (unlike the nearby Goryokaku castle) by Matsumae Takahiro. It was intended primarily as a defense against Russian ships and the walls were reinforced to withstand off shore artillery bombardment. Most of the structures were not to have a long life-the Meiji government tore down most of them in 1875 (including the administrative building, three turrents, and an artillery emplacement), leaving only the tenshu and main gate. The tenshu survived World War II but was destroyed during a fire in 1949. The gatehouse is the only surviving original structure. This two story structure has several features designed to cope with the harsh Hokkaido winters. While it uses the standard two roof design (upper story and smaller entrance roof), the rear of the gate has only one on the upper story. This roof was extended further than usual to provide cover from snowfall. The roofing uses copper sheeting over wood shingles rather than traditional terracotta tiling (which doesn’t hold up well in extreme cold). A modern reconstruction of the tenshu replicated the three interior/exterior floor original structure, and the castle grounds now serve as a park for the people of Hokkaido.


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