Castles and the Unification of the Realm 15th century to 17th century Japan
Period October 3 through November 26
Detail of Edo-zu Byobu
Detail of Edo-zu Byobu
[Folding screen depicting Edo]

It is said that there are as many as 40,000 castles throughout Japan. The 16th century, when these castle ruins were at their peak of development, was a century of tumultuous political and social change as Japan moved from the medieval to the early modern age. During the Sengoku ("warring countries") Era (late 15th century to late 16th century), a variety of organizations in society such as villages, towns and Buddhist temples built castles, and eventually Japan was unified and a new order was formed under the rule of ODA Nobunaga and TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi. At the same time, the castles were rapidly integrated under the daimyo (feudal lords), and with the establishment of the Bakuhan (military fief) system, they became standardized.

The process of change, revealed by castle ruins, from the castles of the Sengoku Era to the castles that were subsequently built at the start of the early modern age, tells the real tale of Japan's unification. The Sengoku Era and the period of Oda Nobunaga and TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi were characterized by military organizations taking the leading role in influencing the structure of society. The type of castles that appeared went beyond strictly military function and reflected the sort of politics and society that the people of those times aimed for.

Gradually, castles were built as an integral part of towns which later grew to become large urban centers such as Edo (Tokyo). In other words, an investigation into the castles of those times represents a look into the foundation of the modern city.

This exhibition on the topic of castles clarifies the changes of the times as revealed by castles from the vantage points of regional characteristics, wars, the propagation of technology, and other themes.

Castles and Residences of the Medieval Period

Echigo-no-kuni Gun Ezu
Echigo-no-kuni Gun Ezu
[Rural Sketches of Echigo Province]

Following the battles of the Nanboku (Northern and Southern) Courts (1336-1392), the Muromachi Bakufu (military government) that was formed in Kyoto endeavored to extend its rule as the samurai class over all the islands of Japan. The samurai culture of the Muromachi Era became a model for residences of the samurai class in all areas of the country, starting with those of the Shogun's trusted vassals, and was characterized by such activities as treasuring Chinese ceramics and other things Chinese, participating in linked verse parties, inuoumono (mounted archery using dogs as targets), and landscape gardening for buildings.

From the second quarter of the 16th century, castles made a complete change from structures built on flat land to those built in mountains, and their numbers also increased. The appearance of numerous mountain castles reflected, in castle form, the circumstances of regional politics and society. Castles were built not only by samurai, but various groups within society also became involved in their construction, including villagers who cooperated in the building of defensive facilities and temples which devised plans for moats and earthwork. The castles of samurai owed their existence to the support of the local population. ("Echigo-no-kuni Gun Ezu" [Map of Echigo Province])

(Echigo-no-kuni Gun Ezu [Rural Sketches of Echigo Province])

Azuchi and the Castles under ODA- TOYOTOMI Government

Computer Graphic Restoration of an Azuchi Castl
Computer Graphic Restoration of an Azuchi Castle: Tenshu (castle keep) was restored by NAITO Akira

The most epoch-making event in the development of castles and castle surroundingsfrom the medieval to the early modern age was the establishment of the Azuchi castletown. In this exhibition, computer graphics have been used to recreate an apparition of the whole scene. The magnificent castle adorned with gold foil tiles and other materials successfully convey the brilliant atmosphere of the Azuchi-Momoyama Era while also serving as a tool to visually show people the presence of a new authority and society.

(Computer Graphic Restoration of an Azuchi Castle: Tenshu (castle keep) was restored by NAITO Akira.)

One can think about how the political message of Azuchi was passed on, or not passed on, to the castles that followed.

Completion of Early Modern Castle Towns

Starting in the fourth quarter of 16th century, early modern castle towns grew throughout Japan. This meant the formation of overwhelming political and economic centers with uniformly concentrated urban functions in regional areas. In addition, these regional castle towns were also linked in a transportation network of sea and land routes spanning the Japanese archipelago. Under the rule of the Edo Bakufu, under which Japan was finally unified, a new political, economic, and distribution system throughout the country was completed. These early modern castle towns are indeed a symbol of the new era. "Edo Zu Byobu" [Folding Screen Depicting Edo]

Castles and Spells

While medieval castles were built rationally in military functions, they were strongly endowed with a variety of magical elements that are difficult for modern people to understand. Great importance was attached to the ground on which castles were built, and intricate spells were formed in response to various conditions.

Castles and Wars

In the folding screen depicting the Osaka Fuyu no Jin (winter siege of Osaka Castle), we can read many details in the defenses and the attack. Firearms became the most important weapon in both attack and defense during the Sengoku Era. The folding screen of the Osaka Natsu no Jin (summer siege of Osaka Castle) depicts men and women fleeing Osaka Castle, which was about to fall. Viewers are struck by the scene of gruesome plundering. We shall also see scenes from the battle of Nagashino, Nagano Castle, and others.

"Chosen Gunjin Zu Byobu" [Folding Screen of the Army in Korea]:
Depicting the attack and defense of Urusan Castle during the invasion upon Korea 1592-1615.

Sakura Castle

Foundation stones of Sakura Castle
Foundation stones of Sakura Castle

Sakura Castle, in the Former Sakura Citadel Park where the National Museum of Japanese History is located, is an excellent example bearing the features of an early modern castle. Ruins of the actual castle can be visited and examined.

Foreign language service:Sound guide is available.(English, Spanish)