The very name “castle” brings up ideas of Europe, yet it was the Japanese who brought it into the modern era and reimagined it as a structure that combined power with elegance and grace. It is also believed that William the Conqueror was responsible for the construction of castles since his conquest of England in 1066 was the impetus for the monumental construction of these buildings. Six hundred years later, with the development of more powerful gunpowder and cannon, they started to lose their utility as a defensive structure and fell into disuse.
During the Nara Period in Japan, which lasted from 545-794 AD, the castle first took on its distinctive appearance. As feudal warlords got more aggressive, these constructions went through a transitional period during which they changed from fortifications built of wood and stone to those consisting of forts and moats. This was the fundamental reasoning for the construction of castles, which was to conform to the demands of the warlords and the changing norms of society. Defense was the primary motivation for the construction of the castle. When they were under siege, the warlords and their troops would flee to the towers, which served not only as fortifications but also as armouries and granaries. The towers became to represent power and money, and the larger the tower, the more powerful and wealthy the warlord was seen to be. After some time had passed, the castle came to be associated with both.
Between the years 1333 and 1572, Japan was home to an astounding 30,000 to 40,000 castles that were constructed throughout that time period. During the Sengoku Period, often known as the Warring States Period since it was the time of the brutal civil warfare, hundreds of hilltop castles were built. These castles still stand today. The guard towers were quite large despite the fact that the castles themselves were rather modest. After then, castles began to appear throughout the plains. Oda Nobunaga, who would eventually be responsible for the unification of wider areas of Japan, began construction on the Azuchi Castle in the year 1579. This process automatically made the vast majority of the mediaeval constructions useless, and as a result, they were quickly abandoned.
Azuchi altered the fundamental principles of castle construction in the nation and reoriented the description of the structure such that it exhibited not only the builder’s rank but also the ability to provide defence. The location’s suitability for the construction of a castle was evaluated based on whether or not it included a vantage point. Because of this, the structures took on a more complicated form. The act of planning itself turned become a laborious and time-consuming endeavour. They needed to be able to defend the owner while also displaying their creative and grandiose side in order to convey the owner’s strength and social position. The expansion of the Samurai clans’ sphere of influence had a positive impact on these features. The introduction of guns to the Japanese in the middle of the 1500s further transformed the castle from a defensive stronghold into a strategic stronghold with military benefits.
The castle’s influence expanded throughout time to include almost every facet of normal life. Aside from the castles’ importance to governments and armies as headquarters, the castles were also important for their military significance. These also allowed for the traditional palace politics of one-upmanship and alliances to be played out. The grounds of the castles were so large that they eventually developed into complete towns, attracting people from all walks of life, including those involved in commerce, agriculture, the arts, and crafts. The development of the castle township had a direct impact on the economic growth of the surrounding region.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867 AD), Japan was consolidated under one rule by Tokugawa Ieyasu, which contributed to a perceptible increase in the country’s level of peace. He constructed the Edo castle in Tokyo, which had a cedar fortress in its design. Copper was used in the construction of the rooftops to extinguish any flames that may have been started by the fiery arrowheads that were shot by the adversaries. Almost immediately after that, a regulation known as “Ikkoku Ichijoo” was passed, which stipulated that each province may only have a single castle. Following this, a number of castles were destroyed. After a period of calm lasting 250 years, the prominence of the castles started to wane, first from a military aspect, then from a social one. This fall occurred in reverse chronological order.
The Castle Abolishment Law was enacted in 1873 by the Meiji administration in order to put an end to the existence of all of the buildings that served as a reminder of the feudal era. Within a span of only two years, at least one hundred of the Edo Period’s 170 castles were destroyed. The timber from the torn-down sections of the magnificent castles was sold as firewood, and the stones were utilised in the building of dams and railways. The remainder were destroyed by the earthquakes and flames that occurred. The bombs of World War II caused whatever was left to crumble. Even though most of the surrounding land and expansive gardens have been lost to the passage of time, twelve of the original castles with their signature enormous towers have been preserved in their original locations today.