Forest Bathing, Chapter 2

Forest Bathing Book Cover

(Click here for Chapter 1)

Chapter Two
Phantom Chamber

What seems false is real
what is real, is fantasy
when dreams become both.
–Tengu Riddle

Into the courtyard, Tomiko hurried beneath lace blossoms–pink, ginger and white. In the springtime garden, the trees stood like parasols over her mother and auntie. The two women rested among the other ladies, beneath the fragrant trees: plum, peach, and cherry. Lounging seemed the only reason for their visit to the sacred mountains. While the men climbed the steps of Haguro-San to pay homage at the mountaintop shrine. Into the reflecting pond, the men would toss mirrors for the women of their clan. These image symbols served to show the female’s esteem for the gods of the mountains since the women were not allowed to pay tribute for themselves.

Tomiko clicked her tongue in aggravation. It galled her that the women of her station were expected to lead such futile lives. She could never be so compliant sitting around complacent while the “men” took part in the feast of life. It was this skewed thinking that caused her to keep her outlaw thoughts and deeds, such as her trek up the forbidden mountain, hidden in her heart-of-hearts.

Sadness sat on her chest–the weight of a wounded heart. She could barely breathe for hiding it.
Hiding and keeping secrets seemed the only way to live life on her terms.

Desperate to keep her secret, Tomiko held the jade egg close to her breast, like an infant, fragile and in need of protection as she skirted close to a rock fountain that swished and gurgled near the gate.
The last thing she wanted was more questions about her decisions, right or wrong.

The sound of Mother speaking her name jarred her nerves, like the shrill of a water bird, brown and speckled that preyed near her home on the western shore near Tsuruoka Castle.  “Tomiko-san, where have you been?”

Tomiko skidded to a halt. She had no other choice, but to obey. Still, the fingers of her free hand curled into a fist as she turned to face the waggling finger that accused her.

Mother’s voice beat her name in staccato bursts like a mallet pounding the sides of a taiko drum barrel. “Tomiko Hino.” She sucked her teeth in exasperation. “Just look at you; your clothes are filthy!”

Tomiko cringed at the rolling eyes of disapproval, steeling herself for the worst to come as the tirade continued. Bending her face toward the ground, she gritted her teeth in agitation. Her stance was meant to appear as humiliation and shame. But on the inside, she seethed with frustrated anger.

Mother berated, “It cannot be too soon for you to conduct yourself as a proper wife-to-be!”

At the cutting words, Tomiko’s spine stiffened. Her head shot up, eyes glaring with unchecked defiance in Mother’s direction.

Tomiko had known Shun Sanada, her betrothed, since they were children, and had followed him wherever their adventures might lead. Tomiko had always loved Shun since she could remember. As his wife, she believed her life would not change from the freedom she now enjoyed, to that of the confining restrictions most wives of noblemen must endure.

It soothed her heart to believe that she would never have to bear the suffocating existence forced on Mother and Auntie, who sat like painted dolls on a shelf. The mere thought of such a fate clawed like death at Tomiko’s heart.

Her Auntie’s indulgent smile pulled her from the dark place where her mind had fallen. Auntie Said, “Ah, Fumiko-san let her be young while she can. There is time enough to be saddled with wifely duties.”

Auntie’s bold words forced the blood to Mother’s face. She gave her sister-in-law a stern, sidelong-glance filled with raw disapproval.

“Well, I can only imagine what Lord Sanada and his son would think if they could see her splattered with mud from head-to-toe.”

Auntie chuckled gently. “They would think, what a delightful, energetic mother she will make for strong-spirited sons and daughters.” She added without the slightest bow of her head in apology.

Tomiko bestowed a loving smile upon her Auntie. She could envision the serene lady, kimono tied up and fashioned as pants, trekking happily through a stream, or even climbing a sacred, forbidden mountain.

At the same time, an ashy whiteness spread from the roots of Mother’s dark hair to the base of her elegant neck. Her angry ravings replaced with alarm. Her quavering finger pointed toward the jade egg nestled in the scraped raw palm of Tomiko’s hand.

“Wha-what is that?” Mother’s eyes grew round as saucers. “From where did you get that?”

Auntie likewise looked askew at the strange object. “Hmm? Well…” Her gentle tone held no trace of blame, only bewilderment.

Resentment raw in her throat, Tomiko lifted her chin that much higher. “I found it. It, it is mine.” Her voice faltered. Still, she kept her gaze firm and resolute. She would rather die than yield her precious find.

Glancing down, she watched the jade-green skin of the egg suddenly fade into a robin’s speckled-blue. While its size shrank so that it nestled small as a silkworm’s spun cocoon against the lifeline crease that ran down the center of her palm.

In confused astonishment, Tomiko blinked. Her heart beat wildly. Had her eyes played tricks on her? Where had the jade egg gone? Her frantic gaze swept the ground in ever widening circles. Where, oh dear, oh dear, had it gone?

Gut-wrenching doubt swept through her mind, making her wonder if she had ever held the exquisite egg. Had she actually seen the priest on the steps leading up to the top of Haguro-San, or, for that matter, the King of the Tengu that stood before her in the haunted forest?

Panic grew as her mind swirled, making Tomiko feel suddenly sick to her stomach. On the slopes of the mountain, had she picked up an ordinary bird’s egg, deluding herself into thinking she had found some mysterious treasure?

Madness clawed at her mind. Her head ached. Too much had happened in one short morning and it was all crashing down around her.

Then a chuckle soft and quiet broke through the terror and confusion of her mind. Mother spoke, her angry tone replaced by affection.  “Oh run along, Tomiko-chan.”

Astonished, Tomiko watched a tender smile play across her mother’s face. Mother continued,  “But mind, clean yourself up!”

Tomiko stammered, “Yes, Oka-saan.”

Grateful for whatever had softened Mother’s heart, she bowed low in obedience. Then she spun around and hurried from the garden.

From behind, Mother’s strident voice echoed. “And walk like the lady that you are.”

Tomiko replied, “Yes-s-s, Oka-saan.”

Mother’s laughter echoed softly in the near distance. “What does she think to do with a robin’s egg? Brood and hatch it for the mother bird?”

Auntie giggled like a schoolgirl. “Perhaps she does.”

The irrational thought made Tomiko feel slightly unreal as if she floated rather than ran around the next corner. Safely out of sight from the garden and the prying eyes of her mother, she picked up her heels and raced toward the family’s private quarters. Skittering around another corner, she almost collided with an elderly servant. The woman’s arms piled high with clean laundry. Her old back bowed under the weight.

Tomiko tucked the egg inside a hidden pocket of her kimono, something she should have done earlier. She stopped, holding out her arms as if to assist the old woman.

Horrified, the servant ducked her head and hurried away down the corridor, muttering to herself.
A sigh of resignation whispered through Tomiko’s teeth. Why did things that were considered taboo attract her so? The daughter of a samurai master should never carry clean laundry, even in an attempt to help a bent-over, old woman that looked as if her back might break from the strain.

Exhausted both in mind and spirit, Tomiko slipped inside her room. She stepped inside, closing the rice paper door securely in place. Then she sank. Her knees pressed against the braided rice-rush floor.

From its hiding place, she pulled the changeling egg free. Jade-green once again, it lay nuzzled in the palm of her hand, just as it had when she plucked it from the ground near the stairs that led to Mount Haguro’s summit.

Weak with relief, she slumped down; her forehead bowed against the floor. Sojobo-sama, the name of the Tengu King, whispered through her mind. She rolled onto her back, holding the egg toward a trickle of sunlight that flowed through a crack above the door. Both the King and his egg had proven real enough, or else she had stepped into a dream of no return.


Darkness draped Haguro Mountain, as Tomiko lay on her sleeping mat. She gazed up toward the rafters. Transparent as fine webbing, the wooden slats melted away so that the jeweled night glittered through. Stars clung like dew drops. While a sharp tang against her tongue reminded Tomiko of salted air, though the edge of the sea washed against the shoreline of the sea, leagues in the distance. The rolling waves soothed her like a feral lullaby.

A phantom wind rattled the rice paper screens, stretched across perfect squares encased in the door face. The spectral wind swept her thoughts back to the haunted glade on Mount Haguro, and her meeting with the Tengu King.

Head pressed between damp palms; she tried to force the image of the fox spirit away as it tracked her through the underbrush. The Tengu King’s fox mistress, come to haunt and seduce her. Kitsune, a spirit creature that could transform at will into human shape. A gasp of surprise stretched Tomiko out, drowsy and content, as the fox maiden filled her mind, making her feel as if she floated somewhere above the floor.

Wrapped in veils of mists, like the ones that had surrounded King Sojobo, a man leaned over her. A glimmer of moonlight glowed softly against his cheek.

“Shun?” she whispered the name of her betrothed.

Though the man’s face stayed hidden in shadows, she could feel strong arms wrap gently around and beneath. Her breath quick and urgent, she entwined her arms around his neck, as she pulled her beloved close.

When Tomiko woke, morning light trickled past the edge of the open door, where she lay just inside the threshold. The sky above burst blue with yellow and orange light cast from the gates of the sun goddess’ sky palace. Tomiko listened to the warble of a lark, cheered by its exquisite love song.

“Shun…” Tomiko moaned, stroking fingertips across her bruised neck. The light touch ignited the earthy fragrance of pine needles that clung to her hair and robe.

Remembering something, she sat up straight, sending her confused glance around the room. It settled on the empty places where Mother and Auntie’s futon bed rolls should have reclined. Had the two women already gone to breakfast, or had they never come to sleep next to her last night?

Tomiko shifted her gaze toward the rice paper doors, opened onto the garden beyond. A smile spread slowly across her lips. Of course, the two women must have decided to spend the night with their husbands. After the wedding, she would forever spend her nights beside her beloved Shun.


Later that day, the family pilgrimage ended, and Tomiko found herself seated in the palanquin. Straddled across the muscled shoulders of its bearers, she felt the sedan chair, suspended by a single beam, move beneath her. Eyes drooping from lack of sleep, she leaned heavily against the inside wall.

Her fingers rested on the bamboo curtain. Chin propped against the window’s edge; she watched mist-shrouded Haguro. The mountain seemed to breathe, its summit filled with lungs that rose up and down in the crisp morning air. Her hungry eyes devoured the mystical village as both it and the mountain disappeared around a curve in the road. Her heart ached as if part of her soul was left clinging to the mountain’s haunted cliffs.

She slumped down in the cushioned seat, letting the bamboo curtain fall back in place. Her heavy eyelids slid shut as she drifted into sleep, so deep that not even the King of the Tengu could enter her dreams.

Copyright © 2012 by Ledia Runnels


(For all of Ledia Runnels’ published works press on the book image below.)

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Forest Bathing Chapter 1

Forest Bathing Book Cover

(For a limited time, my new novelette will be available one chapter published weekly.)

 Forest Bathing

(Shinrin Yoku)


Deep into the woods

where everything is silent,

peaceful, relaxing

Chapter One

Mountain Goblin

The spring morning calls

into the haunted forest

forgotten secrets.

–Ancient Scroll

Year of the Dragon–1484

 Men had set a death kinjiru that forbade women to set foot on the sacred ground. Yet for the past eight years, Tomiko Hino crept in secret beneath the grandfather cryptomeria, the giant evergreens that covered the sloping sides of Mount Haguro.

Each spring, when the dance of the dawn goddess lured Amaterasu back from winter exile, Tomiko’s family made their pilgrimage to the smallest of the three Brother Mountains. It was Haguro where the shrine dedicated to the three gods of the mountains perched on its summit. This was the place and the time when Tomiko crept away from the other women and made her clandestine journey into the forest.

Through the dense branches that grew high above her head, shifting sunlight filtered down through the morning fog. She closed her eyes hoping to hear what the gods would tell her. All the times before, they spoke through whispers in the wind or through the chilled dampness that kissed her cheeks. But this morning they spoke through sharp, crisp snaps and pops in the crack of high branches. The sounds echoed against the whirring wing-beats of a crane in flight.

Elegant neck extended, the white bird, with black-tipped feathers, soared from the enclosure of trees toward the green canopy high above Tomiko’s head. The bird’s voice quavered like a haunting trumpet of protest. But at what was it complaining?

Near the tree where the crane took flight, Tomiko spied a Raven perched on a lower branch. Its ebony feathers glistened like emeralds in the early morning light, as if jewels shined beneath the dark pinions.

Tomiko smiled, pretending the sassy black bird could actually understand her words. She said, “Did you frighten the crane?”

Head cocked to one side, the Raven waited. Its shrewd eyes seemed to watch her. The next instant, the brute flew at her face. The tip end of one wing flicked her nose as it soared by, sending a shock wave of astonishment that rolled down her spine to quake in the pit of her stomach.

She threw up her hands, beating wildly at the Raven’s sharp beak that snapped close to her ear. Then in a swooping motion, the black bird doubled back, diving straight for her again, but this time, it grabbed onto the narrow slope of her shoulder.

Startled more than frightened, Tomiko shrank away. Fingers splayed, she shoved at the beast’s clinging claws, while the peppery scent of pine needles filled her mouth and nose, irritating her eyes.

When the Raven refused to budge, Tomiko trembled with expectation. Breath held, she waited for its sharp talons to rip into her flesh.

Her words wrapped around a suppressed scream that scraped its way up her throat. “Wha-what, who, who are you?”

Her voice squeaked. Are you an emissary to the gods?”

The Raven leaned its head close to her face as if to stare directly into her soul. Its almond-shaped eye, the color of green jade, appeared more human than fowl giving the terrifying impression of someone trapped inside the bird’s black-feathered body.

What a horrible image. Tomiko shivered, wanting desperately to scream. Only her fear of discovery by the men who climbed to the summit each day kept her silent.

Then just as suddenly as it had landed on her shoulder, the Raven lifted into the air, its earthy scent blowing into Tomiko’s face. A short distance away, the bird landed on the forest floor.

Amidst a clamor of loud squawking, erupting from the fiend’s throat, a greenish cloud formed around the Raven’s claws. The mist seemed to come from nowhere. In a matter of moments, it shifted and settled like vapors from a shaman’s spell cast in the purple dawn. Tomiko stood trembling from head-to-toe. Puffs of panic escaped with her breath while she waited, too astonished to speak or move.

Slowly the mist cleared, evaporating into thin air. In place of the Raven, a man-like creature stood instead. A circle of gold lay atop the man thing’s black hair, feathered across elfish-point ears. Its hair, like the Raven’s feathers, was flecked with glistening emerald lights. Its jewel-green eyes sparkled with mischief. A beak-shaped nose stretched above a smirk that pulled its lips upward.

Blue-black wings, with crimson tips, folded against broad shoulders. Muscled arms lay crisscrossed against the creature’s chest. Equally robust legs stretched from a human torso ending in bare claw-like feet.

Tomiko trembled. Her teeth chattered together.

In the safety of Tsuruoka Castle, her home by the Sea of Japan, Auntie had told tales of demons and mountain goblins such as this one. At the mention of the roguish imps, she had shivered with delight. Now as she faced this creature, clearly not of the world that she had known thus far, she was both exhilarated and terrified all in one breathless moment.

If she had been irreverent before, she now had a healthy dose of respect for all the unseen spirits that wavered in the air. Understanding there were times when stubborn arrogance became little more than stupidity, she lowered her eyes toward the ground. She had no wish to bring an entire army of the dreadful beings down around her.

While she stared at the dirt and moss beneath her feet, Tomiko’s thoughts spun like a whirlpool. This was truly a haunted forest, or else she had gone insane. Each time before, when she had come to the forbidden mountain, she wished for the gods to speak words of enchanted wisdom to her heart. She now began to wonder if they had sent a demon to torment her instead.

Shivering in the chilled morning air, her feet were the first to move out of their paralysis-of-terror. Not wasting another moment, she spun around in the opposite direction.

Her feet poised to flee back down toward the safety of the village. Before she could escape the shadow of the trees, invisible fingers dug into her arms, forcing her back toward the open glade where the man-thing stood.

It said, “You have nothing to fear from me, Little One.” The creature’s voice held a pleasant warble as if the man’s voice and the bird’s song mingled as one.

“I am Sojobo, King of the Tengu,” he said as his hands swept majestically around, encompassing all within sight. “Haguro Mountain is one of my homes.”

Curiosity tugged at Tomiko’s fear, giving her the courage to look at the bird man. The good-natured smirk still tugged at his sensuous lips making her flush hot with embarrassment. She quickly averted her gaze toward the scaly bark of a nearby tree, as if there was something interesting there that she must examine.

King Sojobo narrowed his eyes while cocking his head to one side. He seemed to probe her innermost thoughts. His pointing finger twitched toward her nose.

“I know you. You have come here many times before.” His grin widened. “One so young and brave could not have missed my notice.”

Tomiko drew in a deep breath to steady her voice. Still, it cracked with nervous tension when she dared to speak.

“You, you have been watching me?”

Her gaze shot warily from one side of the tree-walled clearing to the other. All the times before, she thought her movements had stayed secret.

Foolish girl, what must the King think of my boldness in coming here? She drew in a deep breath that burned in her chest and throat.

For the first time, she considered what painful retribution might feel like. Tomiko stiffened, waiting for the worst possible consequences.

To her amazement, King Sojobo doubled over with laughter.  The invisible fingers that held her fast nudged one shoulder giving it a playful pinch. The next instant, the invasive hands shoved her aside, releasing their grip so suddenly that Tomiko stumbled forward. Grabbing wildly for something to stop her fall, she tore open the palms of her hands against the rough bark of the closest tree.

She cried out, both alarmed and annoyed,  “What do you want from me?”

Her bleeding palms stung, bringing angry tears to her eyes. Warm breath stirred near her ears. The pungent scent of pine needles tickled her nose. Tomiko sneezed once, twice, three times as invisible arms folded around her.

Strong, yet gentle, they pulled her close. She hugged herself as a shield from the impertinent creature’s advances. Her fingers clenched into fists, pressed close to her sides.

Again, the infuriating smirk spread across the tengu’s face. Then he winked playfully and said, “I see you doubt my sincerity, Hino-san.”

She gasped and flinched as if someone was about to strike her across the face. He knows my name?

King Sojobo sighed, his smug face giving the pretense of sadness. He shrugged while raising his hands in what seemed like mock resignation.

“I shall cause you no further discomfort, little one.” He shook his head.” Farewell, Hino-san.

Cr-r-ruck! Cr-r-ruck! Cr-r-ruck!” The voice of the Raven sprang from his throat followed by a vortex of emerald-gold cloud that swirled up from the ground beneath the goblin’s feet.

The mist quickly consumed him, leaving only a trail of shimmering green-gold. It hung in the space where moments before he had stood. Then the sparkling substance slowly turned brittle, like tossed glitter in the wind. It dispersed in the chilled morning breeze.

A loud squawk drew Tomiko’s attention upward as the black bird disappeared through the canopy of trees. Toward the blue sky that peeked through the towering branches.

Leave. Leave now! Her mind screamed for her to react.

She spun around and ran as fast as her frantic feet would carry her. Through tangled underbrush, and around looming trees, each of her steps became a blurred dance of forward thrusts and sideways maneuvers.

Something wove a path in and out of the scrub brush that scratched her ankles with itching wounds. The pointed muzzle of a Fox peeked out from the tangled branches of a bush. Between dark green leaves and scarlet berries, the vixen kept pace with her while flicking its Nine Tailstoward her.

The arrival of the spirit made her tremble with dread so terrible she almost lost her footing. It took all Tomiko’s concentration not to trip as she zigzagged through the towering bodies of trees. In a rush, she jumped over the underbrush near her feet.

Though fox spirits served as messengers for Inari, the benevolent goddess of rice, they could also be seductive tricksters. Never a good sign, in any case.

Breath burning in her chest, Tomiko burst through the towering trees. In a clearing, she skidded to a halt beside a pagoda. Home to the five elements: earth, wind, fire, air, and the void. It towered five stories from the ground upward toward its roof that curved into the clouds.

Her next step hovered beside one of 2,445 stone steps. Men used the path. The only ones allowed to climb to the summit, where Sanshin Gosaiden Worship Hall of the Three Gods perched.

Much to her horror, one of the guardian priests of the shrine stood next to the pagoda. She recognized his attire, from others of his sect, seen from time to time in the village. His hair stood in stiff, white peaks from his head with black tips, also like the other priests. Her knees trembled at the sight of the fighting pole tucked crosswise beneath his obi belt.

As if in slow agonizing motion, he turned in her direction. Her gaze locked on his. At that moment, a terrible sense of danger trapped her in its net.

“Amaterasu!” she gasped, slumping to her knees, forehead pressed in subjugation against the damp earth.

Numb with fear, she waited for the priest’s fighting pole to crack hard against her head. It was what she deserved, of this, she knew all too clearly.

At the gruesome image, Tomiko’s stomach lurched, promising to release the breakfast of rice and sliced vegetables she had munched for breakfast earlier that morning.

The young man’s voice floated, soft on the morning breeze. “Did you see him?” The sound of it tickled her ear with its gentle, innocent tone.

She had seen no other person on the open steps, except for herself and the young priest. So to whom did the holy man speak? Surely not to a lowly female, even if she was the daughter of a warlord?

When no other voice answered him, Tomiko lifted her eyes, astonished to see the bamboo pole remained tucked at the priest’s side. She could see it there as clearly as the beautiful smile on his face.

She replied, her voice barely above a whisper, “Of who do you speak?”

The priest exclaimed, sheer delight apparent in his manner, “Why of Sojobo-sama, King of the Tengu.” A perplexed expression drew a frown between his brows. “You did see him, did you not?”

She answered, “Ye-es, I saw him.”

Still uncertain, she slowly pulled to a kneeling position. Fingers pinching nervously at the ground in front of her knees, her gaze caught in the priest’s mesmerizing eyes. Her mind stayed lost in a fog of confusion, except for the lingering image of her cracked skull.

Much to her astonishment, the young priest knelt toward the ground. Placing a hand on one knee, the holy man leaned toward her.

“It is an excellent sign, you know.” His smile broadened, crinkling the corners of his eyes. “King Sojobo does not appear to just anyone. He is a very solitary and taciturn fellow from what I hear.”

In a movement graceful as the wing beats of the crane, she had seen fly into the dawn sky, the priest took something from his robe pocket and placed it on the ground near his bent knee. He then bowed reverently toward her direction as if to the sacred Buddha.

When he rose to his feet, he smiled and said, “It is for you.” Then he turned and strolled soundlessly into the forest to disappear through a thicket of spruce trees. A moment later, the wing beats of another crane in flight broke the silence. She caught a glimpse of the bird as it rose in the distance over the stone path.

Alone near the pagoda, she looked more closely at the place where the priest had stood only moments before. To her delight and amazement, she saw a glistening jade egg cradled in tufts of grass. Scrolls of gold etched into the egg’s jeweled surface shined in the morning light. The gilded strokes seemed to pulsate and move as if alive.

Curious to a fault, the terrors she had felt earlier melted away. She scooted forward on bent knees. Unafraid, she lifted the egg to nestle it against her cheek. The throb of a heartbeat seemed to pulse through the warm shell.

Prize in hand, she jumped to her feet and ducked quickly beneath the sheltering trees. Better to be safe than sorry. No use pressing her luck. Careful and quiet as possible, she looped her way through the trees that ran along the stone steps, keeping out of sight as she aimed for the splintered gate that led to the pilgrim’s inn.

Forest Bathing is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Ledia Runnels

Go to Chapter 2

Cover images

Names: Pagoda Bridge and Path to Haguro

Place: Haguro Mountain, Tsuruoka, Japan

Author: Ledia Runnels

(Find Ledia Runnels published novels. Click the book cover below.)

Tengu Prince Cover for Kindle 05252015

Ruins of Ichijodani Castle

The historical ruins are located in the Kidonouchi section of Fucui Prefrecture, Japan. During the Sengoku Period of feudal Japan, also know as the Warring States Period, this area was controlled by the Asakura clan, a family line of daimyo (feudal lords) for 103 years. Founded in 1471, the castle town became a major cultural and military center.  The Asakura family was defeated by Oda Nobunaga at the Battle of Anegawa in 1570, and were all but eliminated when their home castle of Ichijodani was taken three years later. Most of the castle and town were burned to the ground in 1573, The remaining ruins were later excavated in 1967. English: Asakura Yakata of Ichijōdani Asakura ...Main Gate of Feudal Castle

Main Gate of Castle


Asakura Family Gardens

Asakura Family Gardens

Fukui Prefecture, JapanFukui Prefecture, Honshu Island, Japan

Portrait of Oda Nobunaga (detail)
Portrait of Oda Nobunaga (detail) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Sengoku” Historical Japan

Uesugi Kenshin
Uesugi Kenshin

In a nutshell, the warring states period actually began eleven years before with the Onin War, 1467 to 1477, and lasted to the beginning of the 17th century. The conflict began in Kyoto, the capital city of Japan from 794 until 1868, and was between two powerful families, the Hosokawa family in the “west “and the Yamana clan in the “east” over shogunal succession. The “Kyoto” war spilled over into the outlying provinces and led to the bloody civil war, labeled” Sengoku”, by historians when the social and political upheaval evolved into a constant military clash between the lesser warlords that pitted samurai against samurai. The conflict ended after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, when Tokukawa Ieyasu defeated the followers of Toyotomi Hideyori. The unification of Japan finally came about when Emperor Go-Yozei appointed Ieyasu as military leader with the title of Shogun, or bakufu (tent officer) in 1603.


File:Sengoku period battle.jpg

Battle of Kawanakajima in 1561

File:Azuchimomoyama-japan.pngJapan in the Late 16th Century

File:Takeda Shingen versus Uesugi Kenshin statue.jpgBronze statue representing Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin. Nagano, Japan.

File:Takeda Shingen.jpg

Takeda Shingen by artist, Utagawa Kuniyoshi

Sengoku Period

Sengoku Daimyo/The Website of Anthony J. Bryant


Takeda Shingen

Uesugi Kenshin


The Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1858)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Japanese Castle (Copied in full from Wikipedia)File:Himeji Castle 01s2048.jpg

apanese castles (城 shiro?) were fortresses composed primarily of wood and stone. They evolved from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries, and came into their best-known form in the 16th century. Like European castles, the castles of Japan were built to guard important or strategic sites, such as ports, river crossings, or crossroads, and almost always incorporated the landscape into their defense.

Though they were built to last and used more stone in their construction than most Japanese buildings, castles were still constructed primarily of wood, and many were destroyed over the years. This was especially true during the Sengoku (‘Warring States’) period (1467–1603), when many of these castles were first built. However, many were rebuilt, either later in the Sengoku period, in the Edo period (1603–1867) which followed, or more recently, as national heritage sites or museums. Today, there are more than one hundred castles extant, or partially extant, in Japan; it is estimated that once there were five thousand.[1] Some castles, such as the ones at Matsue andKōchi, both were built in 1611, remain extant in their original forms, not having suffered any damage from sieges or other threats. Hiroshima Castle, on the opposite end of the spectrum, was destroyed in the atomic bombing, and was rebuilt in 1958 as a museum.[2]

The Japanese character for castle, ‘城’, normally read as shiro, is read as  when it is attached to a word, such as in the name of a particular castle. Thus, for example, Osaka Castle is called Ōsaka-jō (大阪城) in Japanese.


File:Tsuyama Castle old potograph.jpg

Tsuyama Castle was a typical hilltop castle.

Originally conceived of purely as fortresses, their primary purpose being military defence, Japanese castles were originally placed in strategic locations, along trade routes, roads and rivers. Though castles continued to be built with these considerations in mind, for centuries fortresses were also built to serve as centres of governance. By the Sengoku period, they had come to serve as the homes of daimyo (feudal lords), and served to impress and intimidate rivals not only with their defences, but with their size and elegant interiors, architecture and decorations. Oda Nobunaga was one of the first to build one of these palace-like castles, at Azuchi Castle in 1576; this was Japan’s first castle to have a tower keep (天守閣, tenshukaku), and it inspired both Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s Osaka Castle andTokugawa Ieyasu‘s Edo Castle.[3] Azuchi served as the governing center of Oda’s territories, and as his lavish home, but it was also very keenly and strategically placed. A short distance away from the capital of Kyoto, which had long been a target of violence, Azuchi’s carefully chosen location allowed it a great degree of control over the transportation and communication routes of Oda’s enemies.

Prior to the Sengoku period (roughly, the 16th century), most castles were called yamajiro (山城), or ‘mountain castles’. Though most later castles were built atop mountains or hills, these were built from the mountains.[4] Trees and other foliage were cleared, and the stone and dirt of the mountain itself was carved into rough fortifications. Ditches were dug, to present obstacles to attackers, as well as to allow boulders to be rolled down at attackers. Moats were created by diverting mountain streams. Buildings were made primarily of wattle and daub, using thatched roofs, or, occasionally, wooden shingles. Small ports in the walls or planks could be used to deploy bows or fire guns from. The main weakness of this style was its general instability. Thatch caught fire even more easily than wood, and weather and soil erosion prevented structures from being particularly large or heavy. Eventually, stone bases began to be used, encasing the hilltop in a layer of fine pebbles, and then a layer of larger rocks over that, with no mortar.[4] This support allowed larger, heavier, and more permanent buildings.

Early fortifications

File:Kinojo Nishimon.JPG

The reconstructed western gate of Ki castle.

The first fortifications in Japan were hardly what one generally associates with the term “castles.” Made primarily of earthworks and wood, the earliest fortifications made far greater use of natural defences and topography than anything man-made. These kōgoishi and chiyashiwere never intended to be long-term defensive positions, let alone residences; the native peoples of the archipelago built fortifications when they were needed and abandoned the sites afterwards.

The Yamato people began to build cities in earnest in the 7th century, complete with expansive palace complexes, surrounded on four sides with walls and impressive gates. Earthworks and wooden fortresses were also built throughout the countryside to defend the territory from the native EmishiAinu and other groups; unlike their primitive predecessors, these were relatively permanent structures, built in peacetime. These were largely built as extensions of natural features, and often consisted of little more than earthworks and wooden barricades.

The Nara period (c. 710-794) fortress at Dazaifu, from which all of Kyūshū would be governed and defended for centuries afterwards, was originally constructed in this manner, and remnants can still be seen today. A bulwark was constructed around the fortress to serve as a moat to aid in the defense of the structure; in accordance with military strategies and philosophies of the time, it would only be filled with water at times of conflict. This was called amizuki (水城), or “water fort”.[5] The character for castle or fortress (城), up until sometime in the 9th century or later, was read (pronounced) ki, as in this example, mizuki.

Though fairly basic in construction and appearance, these wooden and earthwork structures were designed to impress just as much as to function effectively against attack. Chinese and Korean architecture influenced the design of Japanese buildings, including fortifications, in this period. The remains or ruins of some of these fortresses, decidedly different from what would come later, can still be seen in certain parts of Kyūshū and Tōhoku today.

Medieval period

The Heian period (794–1185) saw a shift from the need to defend the entire state from invaders to that of lords defending individual mansions or territories from one another. Though battles were still continually fought in the north-east portion of Honshū (the Tōhoku region) against native peoples, the rise of the samurai warrior class[Notes 1] towards the end of the period, and various disputes between noble families jostling for power and influence in the Imperial Court brought about further upgrades. The primary defensive concern in the archipelago was no longer native tribes or foreign invaders, but rather internal conflicts within Japan, between rival samurai clans or other increasingly large and powerful factions, and as a result, defensive strategies and attitudes were forced to change and adapt. As factions emerged and loyalties shifted, clans and factions which had been helpers in the service of the Imperial Court became enemies, and defensive networks were broken, or altered through the shifting of alliances.

The Genpei War (1180–1185) between the Minamoto and Taira clans, and the Nanboku-chō Wars (1336–1392) between the Northern and Southern Imperial Courts are the primary conflicts that define these developments during what is sometimes called Japan’s medieval period.

Fortifications were still made almost entirely out of wood, and were based largely on earlier modes, and on Chinese and Korean examples. But they began to become larger, to incorporate more buildings, to accommodate larger armies, and to be conceived as more long-lasting structures. This mode of fortification, developed gradually from earlier modes and used throughout the wars of the Heian period (770–1185), and deployed to help defend the shores of Kyūshū from the Mongol invasions of the 13th century,[Notes 2] reached its climax in the 1330s, during the Nanboku-chō period. Chihaya castle and Akasaka castle, permanent castle complexes containing a number of buildings but no tall keep towers, and surrounded by wooden walls, were built by Kusunoki Masashige to be as militarily effective as possible, within the technology and designs of the time.

The Ashikaga shogunate, established in the 1330s, had a tenuous grip on the archipelago, and maintained relative peace for over a century. Castle design and organization continued to develop under the Ashikaga shogunate, and throughout the Sengoku period. Castle complexes became fairly elaborate, containing a number of structures, some of which were quite complex internally, as they now served as residences, command centres, and a number of other purposes.


The Ōnin War which broke out in 1467, however, marked the beginning of a period of nearly 150 years of widespread warfare (called the Sengoku period) between daimyō (feudal lords) across the entire archipelago. For the duration of the Ōnin War (1467–1477), and into the Sengoku period, the entire city of Kyoto became a battlefield, and suffered extensive damage. Noble family mansions across the city became increasingly fortified over this ten year period, and attempts were made to isolate the city as a whole from the marauding armies of samurai which would dominate the landscape for over a century.[6]

As regional officials and others became the daimyō, and the country descended into war, they began to quickly add to their power bases, securing their primary residences, and constructing additional fortifications in tactically advantageous or important locations. Originally conceived as purely defensive (martial) structures, or as retirement bunkers where a lord could safely ride out periods of violence in his lands, over the course of the Sengoku period, many of these mountain castles developed into permanent residences, with elaborate exteriors and lavish interiors.

The beginnings of the shapes and styles now considered to be stereotypical “classic” Japanese castle design emerged at this time, and castle towns (jōkamachi, lit. “town below castle”) also appeared and developed. Despite these developments, though, for most of the Sengoku period castles remained essentially larger, more complex versions of the simple wooden fortifications of centuries earlier. It was not until the last thirty years of the period of war that drastic changes would occur to bring about the emergence of the type of castle typified by Himeji castle and other surviving castles. This period of war culminated in the Azuchi-Momoyama period, which was the scene of numerous fierce battles, which saw the introduction of firearms and the development of tactics to employ or counter them.

[edit]Azuchi-Momoyama period

Unlike in Europe, where the advent of cannon spelled the end of the age of castles, Japanese castle-building was spurred, ironically, by the introduction of firearms.[3] Though firearms first appeared in Japan in 1543, and castle design almost immediately saw developments in reaction, Azuchi castle, built in the 1570s, was the first example of a largely new type of castle, on a larger, grander scale than those which came before, boasting a large stone base (武者返し, musha-gaeshi), a complex arrangement of concentric baileys (丸, maru), and a tall central tower. In addition, the castle was located on a plain, rather than on a densely forested mountain, and relied more heavily on architecture and manmade defenses than on its natural environment for protection. These features, along with the general appearance and organization of the Japanese castle, which had matured by this point, have come to define the stereotypical Japanese castle. Along with Hideyoshi’s Fushimi-Momoyama castle, Azuchi lends its name to the brief Azuchi-Momoyama period (roughly 1568–1600) in which these types of castles, used for military defense, flourished.

Osaka Castle was destroyed by cannon. This reproduction towers above the surroundings. The introduction of the arquebus brought dramatic shifts in battle tactics and military attitudes in Japan. Though these shifts were complex and numerous, one of the concepts key to changes in castle design at this time was that of battle at range. Though archery duels had traditionally preceded samurai battles since the Heian period or earlier, exchanges of fire with arquebuses had a far more dramatic effect on the outcome of the battle; hand-to-hand fighting, while still extremely common, was diminished by the coordinated use of firearms.

Oda Nobunaga, one of the most expert commanders in the coordinated tactical use of the new weapon, built his Azuchi castle, which has since come to be seen as the paradigm of the new phase of castle design, with these considerations in mind. The stone foundation resisted damage from arquebus balls better than wood or earthworks, and the overall larger scale of the complex added to the difficulty of destroying it. Tall towers and the castle’s location on a plain provided greater visibility from which the garrison could employ their guns, and the complex set of courtyards and baileys provided additional opportunities for defenders to retake portions of the castle that had fallen.[7]

Cannon were rare in Japan due to the expense of obtaining them from foreigners, and the difficulty in casting such weapons themselves as the foundries used to make bronze temple bells were simply unsuited to the production of iron or steel cannon. The few cannon that were used were smaller and weaker than those used in European sieges, and many of them were in fact taken from European ships and remounted to serve on land; where the advent of cannon and other artillery brought an end to stone castles in Europe, wooden ones would remain in Japan for several centuries longer. A few castles boasted ‘wall guns’, but these are presumed to have been little more than glorified arquebuses, lacking the power of a true cannon. When siege weapons were used in Japan, they were most often trebuchets or catapults in the Chinese style, and they were used as anti-personnel weapons.[4] There is no record that the goal of destroying walls ever entered into the strategy of a Japanese siege. In fact, it was often seen to be more honorable, and more tactically advantageous on the part of the defender for him to lead his forces into battle outside the castle. When battles were not resolved in this way, out in the open, sieges were almost always undertaken purely by denying supplies to the castle, an effort which could last years, but involved little more than surrounding the castle with a force of sufficient size until a surrender could be elicited.

The crucial development that spurred the emergence of a new type of defensive architecture was, thus, not cannon, but the advent of firearms. Arquebus firing squads and cavalry charges could overcome wooden stockades with relative ease, and so stone castles came into use.

Azuchi Castle was destroyed in 1582, just three years after its completion, but it nevertheless ushered in a new period of castle-building. Among the many castles built in the ensuing years was Hideyoshi’s castle at Osaka, completed in 1585. This incorporated all the new features and construction philosophies of Azuchi, and was larger, more prominently located, and longer-lasting. It was the last bastion of resistance against the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate (see Siege of Osaka), and remained prominent if not politically or militarily significant, as the city of Osaka grew up around it, developing into one of Japan’s primary commercial centers.

Though stone was sometimes used to shore up defenses or foundations for a few centuries prior, Azuchi’s distinctive style of stone base was the first of its kind, and was seen in every castle constructed afterwards. The Japanese used cannon very infrequently, and the heavy stone foundations were more than sufficient to repel arquebus fire. Whether intentionally or not, these foundations also proved very resilient against Japan’s frequent earthquakes.[citation needed]

This period saw the climax of earlier developments towards larger buildings, more complex and concentrated construction, and more elaborate design, both externally and in the castles’ interiors. European castle design began to have an impact as well in this period, though the castle had long been in decline in Europe by this point.

In Japanese politics and warfare, the castle served not only as a fortress, but as the residence of the daimyō, or feudal lord, and as a symbol of his power. Fushimi Castle, which was meant to serve as a luxurious retirement home for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, serves as a popular example of this development. Though it resembled other castles of the period on the outside, the inside was extremely lavishly decorated, and the castle is famous for having a tea room covered in gold leaf. Fushimi was by no means an exception, and many castles bore varying amounts of golden ornamentation on their exteriors. Osaka castle was only one of a number of castles which boasted golden roof tiles, and sculptures of fish, cranes, and tigers. Certainly, outside of such displays of precious metals, the overall aesthetics of the architecture and interiors remained extremely important, as they do in most aspects of Japanese culture.

Some especially powerful families controlled not one, but a whole string of castles, consisting of a main castle (honjō) and a number of satellite castles (shijō) spread throughout their territory. Though the shijō were sometimes full-fledged castles with stone bases, they were more frequently fortresses of wood and earthenworks. Often, a system of fire beacons, drums, or conch shells was set up to enable communications between these castles over a great distance. The Hōjō family’s Odawara Castle and its network of satellites was one of the most powerful examples of this honjō-shijō system; the Hōjō controlled so much land that a hierarchy of sub-satellite networks was created[8]

Edo period


The Ninomaru Garden at Nijō Castle in Kyoto is attributed to Kobori Enshū..[1]

The Sengoku period, roughly a century and a half of war which saw great changes and developments in military tactics and equipment, as well as the emergence of the Azuchi-Momoyama style castle, was followed by the Edo period, over two hundred and fifty years of peace, beginning around 1600–1615 and ending in 1868. Edo period castles, including those which survived from the preceding Azuchi-Momoyama period, therefore no longer had defense against outside forces as their primary purpose. Rather, they served primarily as luxurious homes for the daimyō, their families and retainers, and to protect the daimyō, and his power base, against peasant uprisings and other internal insurrections. The Tokugawa shogunate, in order to forestall the amassing of power on the part of the daimyō, enforced a number of regulations limiting the number of castles to one per han (feudal domain), with a few exceptions,[Notes 3][9] and a number of other policies including that of sankin kōtai. Though there were also, at times, restrictions on the size and furnishings of these castles, and although many daimyō grew quite poor later in the period, daimyō nevertheless sought as much as possible to use their castles as representations of their power and wealth. The general architectural style did not change much from more martial times, but the furnishings and indoor arrangements could be quite lavish.

This restriction on the number of castles allowed each han had profound effects not only politically, as intended, but socially, and in terms of the castles themselves. Where members of the samurai class had previously lived in or around the great number of castles sprinkling the landscape, they now became concentrated in the capitals of the han and in Edo; the resulting concentration of samurai in the cities, and their near-total absence from the countryside and from cities that were not feudal capitals (Kyoto and Osaka in particular) were important features of the social and cultural landscape of the Edo period. Meanwhile, the castles in the han capitals inevitably expanded, not only to accommodate the increased number of samurai they now had to support, but also to represent the prestige and power of the daimyō, now consolidated into a single castle. Edo castle, expanded by a factor of twenty between roughly 1600 and 1636 after becoming the shogunal seat. Though obviously something of an exception, the shogun not being a regular daimyō, it nevertheless serves as a fine example of these developments. These vastly consolidated and expanded castles, and the great number of samurai living, by necessity, in and around them, thus led to an explosion in urban growth in 17th century Japan.[citation needed]

As contact with Western powers increased in the middle of the 19th century, some castles such as Goryōkaku castle in Hokkaidō were turned once again to martial purposes. No longer needed to resist samurai cavalry charges, or arquebus squads, attempts were made to convert Goryōkaku, and a handful of other castles across the country, into defensible positions against the cannon of Western naval vessels.

Modern Period

Meiji Restoration

Before the feudal system could be completely overturned, castles played a role in the initial resistance to the Meiji Restoration. In January 1868, the Boshin War broke out in Kyoto, between samurai forces loyal to the disaffected Bakufu government, and allied forces loyal to the new Meiji Emperor, which consisted mainly of samurai and ronin from the Choshu and Satsuma domains.[10] By January 31, the Bakufu army had retreated to Osaka Castle in disarray and the ShogunTokugawa Yoshinobu had fled to Edo (later Tokyo).[11] Osaka Castle was surrendered to the Imperial forces without a fight, and on February 3, 1868, Osaka Castle was burned. The destruction of Osaka Castle, which was a significant symbol of the power of the Shogun in western Japan, dealt a major blow to the prestige of the Shogunate and the morale of their troops.

From Edo, the Bakufu forces fled north to the Aizu domain, from whence a large number of their troops hailed. As the Aizu Campaignopened, Nagaoka and Komine Castles were the scenes of heavy fighting.[12] In the course of battle, Komine Castle was burned (it was re-built in 1994). The allied forces continued north to the city of Wakamatsu, and lay siege to Tsuruga Castle. After a month, with the walls and main tower pock-marked by bullets and cannonballs, Tsuruga Castle was finally surrendered. It was later demolished and not re-built until 1965.

From Aizu, some Bakufu loyalists, including the remnants of the Shinsengumi, made their way north to the city of Hakodate, on Hokkaido. There they set up the Republic of Ezo, centered on a government building within the walls of Goryokaku, a Russian-style star fortress, which is nonetheless often included in lists and in literature on Japanese castles. The fledgling republic was left alone over the winter, but Imperial forces started northward in the spring of 1869. After the fierce Battle of Hakodate, the fortress of Goryokaku was under siege, and finally surrendered on May 18, 1869, bringing an end to the Boshin War.[13]

All castles, along with the feudal domains themselves, were turned over to the Meiji government in the 1871 abolition of the han system. During the Meiji Restoration, these castles were viewed as symbols of the previous ruling elite, and nearly 2,000 castles were dismantled or destroyed. Others were simply abandoned and eventually fell into disrepair.

Rebellions continued to break out during the first years of the Meiji Period. The last and largest was the Satsuma Rebellion (1877). After heated disagreements in the new Tokyo legislature, young former samurai of the Satsuma domain rashly decided to rebel against the new government, and lobbied Saigo Takamori to lead them. Saigo reluctantly accepted, and led Satsuma forces north from Kagoshima city. Hostilities commenced on February 19, 1877 when the defenders of Kumamoto Castle fired on the Satsuma troops. Fierce hand to hand combat gave way to a siege, but by April 12, reinforcements of the Imperial army arrived to break the siege. After a series of battles, the Satsuma rebels were forced back to Kagoshima city. Fighting continued there, and the stones walls of Kagoshima Castle still show the damage done by bullets. (Kagoshima Castle was never re-built, but portions of the stone walls and the moat were left intact, and later the prefectural history museum was built on the castle’s foundation.) The rebel force made their last stand on Shiroyama, or “Castle Mountain”, probably named for a castle built there some time in the past, whose name has been lost in history. During the final battle, Saigo was mortally wounded, and the last forty rebels charged the Imperial troops and were cut down by Gatling guns. The Satsuma Rebellion came to an end at the Battle of “Castle Mountain” on the morning of September 25, 1877.

The Imperial Japanese Army

Some castles, especially the larger ones, were used by the Imperial Japanese Army. Osaka Castle served as the headquarters for the 4th Infantry Division, until public funds paid for the construction of a new headquarters building within the castle grounds and a short distance from the main tower, so that the castle could be enjoyed by the citizens and visitors of Osaka.Hiroshima Castle served as Imperial General Headquarters during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) and later as the headquarters for the 5th Infantry DivisionKanazawa Castleserved as HQ for the 9th Infantry Division. For this reason, and as a way to strike against the morale and culture of the Japanese people, many castles were intentionally bombed during World War II. The main towers of the castles at NagoyaOsakaOkayamaFukuyamaWakayamaOgaki, among others, were all destroyed during air raids. Hiroshima Castle is notable for having been destroyed in the atomic bomb blast on August 6, 1945. It was also on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle that news of the atomic bombing was first transmitted to Tokyo. When the atomic bomb exploded, a team of volunteer high school girls had just taken their shift on a radio in a small fortified bunker in the main courtyard of Hiroshima Castle. The girls transmitted the message that the city had been destroyed, to the confused disbelief of the officers receiving the message in Tokyo.

Shuri Castle (technically a Ryūkyūan gusuku), on the main island of Okinawa, was not only the headquarters for the IJA 32nd Army and the defense of Okinawa, but also has the distinction of the being the last castle in Japan attacked by an invading force. In April 1945, Shuri Castle was the coordinating point for a line of outposts and defensive positions known as the “Shuri Line”. US Soldiers and Marines encountered fierce resistance and hand-to-hand combat all along the Shuri Line. Starting on May 25, the castle was subjected to three days of intense naval bombardment. On May 28, a company of US Marines took the castle, finding that the intensity of the destruction had prompted the headquarters contingent to abandon the castle in order to link up with scattered units and continue the defense of the island.[14] On May 30, the US flag was raised over one of the parapets of the castle. Shuri Castle was re-built in 1992, and is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Reconstruction and Conservation

During the early 20th century, a new movement for the preservation of heritage grew. The first law for the preservation of sites of historical or cultural significance was enacted in 1919, and was followed ten years later by the 1929 National Treasure Preservation Law.[15][16] With the enactment of these laws, local governments had an obligation to prevent any further destruction, and they had some of the funds and resources of the national government to improve on these hisitorically significant sites.

By the 1920s, nationalism was on the rise, and a new pride was found in the castles, which became symbols of Japan’s warrior traditions.[17] With new advances in construction, some of the previously destroyed castles were re-built quickly and cheaply with steel-reinforced concrete, such as the main tower of Osaka Castle which was first re-built in 1928.

While many of the remaining castles in Japan are reconstructions, and most of these are steel-reinforced concrete replicas, there has been a movement toward traditional methods of construction. Kanazawa Castle is a remarkable example of a modern reproduction using a significant degree of traditional construction materials and techniques. Modern construction materials at Kanazawa Castle are minimal, discreet, and are primarily in place to ensure stability, safety concerns, and accessibility. At present, there are local non-profit associations that are attempting to collect funds and donations for the historically accurate re-construction of the main towers at Takamatsu Castle on Shikoku, and Edo Castle in Tokyo.

There are only twelve castles that are considered “original” (Bitchu Matsuyama CastleMatsue CastleKochi CastleUwajima CastleMatsuyama CastleMarugame CastleHimeji CastleHikone CastleInuyama CastleMatsumoto CastleHirosaki Castle, and Maruoka Castle).[18] Most of these are in areas of Japan that were not subjected to the strategic bombing of World War II, such as Kochi CastleMatsumoto Castle in the Japanese Alps, or Matsue Castle in western Honshu. Great care is taken with these structures; open flame and smoking near the castles is usually prohibited, and visitors are usually required to remove their shoes before stepping on the wooden floors (slippers are usually provided). Volunteers are sometimes on hand to answer questions, and some speak English. Local legends or ghost stories may also be associated with some of these castles; the most famous is probably the tale of Okiku and the Nine Plates, based on events that occurred at Himeji Castle.

At the other end of the spectrum are those castle which have been left in ruins, though usually after archaeological surveys and excavations have been done.[19] Some have been incorporated into public parks, such as the ruins of Kuwana Castle and Matsuzaka Castle in Mie Prefecture, Kunohe Castle (NinoheIwate Prefecture), or Sunnpu Castle (Shizuoka). Others have been left in more natural state, often with a marked hiking trail, such as Azaka Castle, (Matsuzaka, Mie Prefecture), Kame Castle (Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture), Kikoe Castle (Kagoshima), or Kanegasaki Castle (Tsuruga city, Fukui Prefecture). Others, while remaining public lands, have been developed with municipal buildings or schools. In Toba, Mie Prefecture, the city hall and an elementary school were built on the site of Toba Castle. Some castle sites are now in the hands of private landowners, and the area has been developed. Vegetable plots now occupy the site of Kaminogo Castle (Gamagori, Aichi), and a chestnut orchard has been planted on the site of Nishikawa Castle, though in both cases some of the castle-related topography can still be seen, such as the motte or ramparts. Finally there are the castle sites that have not been maintained or developed to any degree, and may have few markings or signs. Historical significance and local interest are too low to warrant additional costs. This includes Nagasawa Castle (Toyokawa, Aichi), Sakyoden Castle (Toyohashi, Aichi), Taka Castle (Matsuzaka, Mie), and Kuniyoshi Castle (MihamaFukui Prefecture). Castle sites of this type also include nearly every area marked “Castle Mountain” (城山Shiroyama) on the maps of towns and cities across Japan. Because the castle was small or may have been used for a short time in centuries past, the name of the castle is often lost to history, such as the “Shiroyama” at SekigaharaGifu Prefecture, or the “Shiroyama” between Lake Shoji and Lake Motosu near Mount FujiYamanashi Prefecture. In such cases, locals might not be aware there ever was a castle, believing that the name of the mountain is “just a name”. Detailed city maps will often have such sites marked. At the site, castle-related landscaping, such as ramparts, partly filled wells, and a levelled hilltop or a series of terraces, will provide evidence of the original layout of the castle.

Whether original or reconstructions, numerous castles across the nation serve as history and folk museums, as points of pride for local peoples, and as tangible structures reflecting Japanese history and heritage.[19] As castles are associated with the martial valor of past warriors, there are often monuments near castle structures or in their parks dedicated to either samurai or soldiers of the Imperial Army who died in war, such as the monument to the 18th Infantry Regiment near the ruins of Yoshida Castle (Toyohashi, Aichi). Castle grounds are often developed into parks for the benefit of the public, and planted with cherry blossom trees, plum blossom trees, and other flowering plants. Hirosaki Castle in Aomori Prefecture andMatsumae Castle in Hokkaido are both famous in their respective regions for their cherry blossom trees. The efforts of dedicated groups, as well as various agencies of the government has been to keep castles as relevant and visible in the lives of the Japanese people, to showcase them to visitors, and thus prevent the neglect of national heritage.[20]

Architecture and defenses

Japanese castles came to be built in a variety of environments, but all were constructed within variations of a fairly well-defined architectural scheme. Yamajiro(山城), or “mountain castles” were the most common, and provided the best natural defenses. However, castles built on flat plains (平城, hirajiro) and those built on lowlands hills (平山城, hirayamajiro) were not uncommon, and a few very isolated castles were even built on small natural or artificial islands in lakes or the sea, or along the shore.

Walls and foundations

File:Kumamoto Castle 02n3200.jpg

The steep stone walls beneath Kumamoto Castle are known as musha-gaeshi (武者返し, lit. “repelling warriors”).

Japanese castles were almost always built atop a hill or mound, and often an artificial mound would be created for this purpose. This not only aided greatly in the defense of the castle, but also allowed it a greater view over the surrounding land, and made the castle look more impressive and intimidating. In some ways, the use of stone, and the development of the architectural style of the castle, was a natural step up from the wooden stockades of earlier centuries. The hills gave Japanese castles sloping walls, which many argue helped (incidentally) to defend them from Japan’s frequent earthquakes. There is some disagreement among scholars as to whether or not these stone bases were easy to scale; some argue that the stones made easy hand- and footholds,[4] while others retort that the bases were steep, and individual stones could be as large as twenty feet high, making them difficult if not next to impossible to scale.[5]

Thus, a number of measures were invented to keep attackers off the walls and to stop them from climbing the castle, including pots of hot sand, gun emplacements, and arrow slits from which defenders could fire at attackers while still enjoying nearly full cover. Spaces in the walls for firing from were called sama; arrow slits were called yasama, gun emplacements tepposama and the rarer, later spaces for cannon were known as taihosama.[21] Unlike in European castles, which had walkways built into the walls, in Japanese castles, the walls’ timbers would be left sticking inwards, and planks would simply be placed over them to provide a surface for archers or gunners to stand on. This standing space was often called the ishi uchi tana or “stone throwing shelf”. Other tactics to hinder attackers’ approaches to the walls included caltrops, bamboo spikes planted into the ground at a diagonal, or the use of felled trees, their branches facing outwards and presenting an obstacle to an approaching army (abatis). Many castles also had trapdoors built into their towers, and some even suspended logs from ropes, to be dropped on attackers.

The Anō family from Ōmi Province were the foremost castle architects in the late 16th century, and were renowned for building the 45-degree stone bases, which began to be used for keeps, gatehouses, and corner towers, not just for the castle mound as a whole.

Japanese castles, like their European cousins, featured massive stone walls and large moats. However, walls were restricted to the castle compound itself; they were never extended around a jōkamachi (castle town), and only very rarely were built along borders. This comes from Japan’s long history of not fearing invasion, and stands in stark contrast to philosophies of defensive architecture in Europe, China, and many other parts of the world.[Notes 4] Even within the walls, a very different architectural style and philosophy applied, as compared to the corresponding European examples. A number of tile-roofed buildings, constructed from plaster over skeletons of wooden beams, lay within the walls, and in later castles, some of these structures would be placed atop smaller stone-covered mounds. These wooden structures were surprisingly fireproof, as a result of the plaster used on the walls. Sometimes a small portion of a building would be constructed of stone, providing a space to store and contain gunpowder.

Though the area inside the walls could be quite large, it did not encompass fields or peasants’ homes, and the vast majority of commoners likewise lived outside the castle walls. Samurai lived almost exclusively within the compound, those of higher rank living closer to the daimyō’s central keep. In some larger castles, such as Himeji, a secondary inner moat was constructed between this more central area of residences and the outer section where lower-ranking samurai kept their residences. Only a very few commoners, those directly in the employ and service of the daimyō or his retainers, lived within the walls, and they were often designated portions of the compound to live in, according to their occupation, for purposes of administrative efficiency. Overall, it can be said that castle compounds contained only those structures belonging to the daimyō and his retainers, and those important to the administration of the domain.


File:Old painting of Himeji castle.jpg

A hanging scroll painting of Himeji castle, giving some indication of the overall layout of the castle, and the complex arrangement of walls and paths which would present a considerable obstacle to an invading army.

The primary method of defense lay in the arrangement of the baileys, called maru (丸) or kuruwa (曲輪?). Maru, meaning ’round’ or ‘circle’ in most contexts, here refers to sections of the castle, separated by courtyards. Some castles were arranged in concentric circles, eachmaru lying within the last, while others lay their maru in a row; most used some combination of these two layouts. Since most Japanese castles were built atop a mountain or hill, the topography of the location determined the layout of the maru.

The “most central bailey”, containing the keep, was called honmaru (本丸), and the second and third were called ni-no-maru (二の丸) andsan-no-maru (三の丸) respectively. These areas contained the main tower and residence of the daimyō, the storerooms (kura 蔵 or 倉), and the living quarters of the garrison. Larger castles would have additional encircling sections, called soto-guruwa or sōguruwa.[Notes 5] At many castles still standing today in Japan, only the honmaru remains. Nijō Castle in Kyoto is an interesting exception, in that the ni-no-maru still stands, while all that remains of the honmaru is the stone base.


Layout of Utsunomiya Castle, c. Edo Period

The arrangement of gates and walls sees one of the key tactical differences in design between the Japanese castle and its European counterpart. A complex system of a great many gates and courtyards leading up to the central keep serves as one of the key defensive elements. This was, particularly in the case of larger or more important castles, very carefully arranged to impede an invading army and to allow fallen outer portions of the compound to be regained with relative ease by the garrisons of the inner portion. The defenses of Himeji castle are an excellent example of this. Since sieges rarely involved the wholesale destruction of walls, castle designers and defenders could anticipate the ways in which an invading army would move through the compound, from one gate to another. As an invading army passed through the outer rings of the Himeji compound, it would find itself directly under windows from which rocks, hot sand, or other things could be dropped,[22] and also in a position which made them easy shots for archers in the castle’s towers. Gates were often placed at tight corners, forcing a bottleneck effect upon the invading force, or even simply at right angles within a square courtyard. Passageways would often lead to blind alleys, and the layout would often prevent visitors (or invaders) from being able to see ahead to where different passages might lead. All in all, these measures made it impossible to enter a castle and travel straight to the keep. Invading armies, as well as, presumably, anyone else entering the castle, would be forced to travel around and around the complex, more or less in a spiral, gradually approaching the center, all while the defenders prepared for battle, and rained down arrows and worse upon the attackers.[23]

All of that said however, castles were rarely forcibly invaded. It was considered more honorable, and more appropriate, for a defender’s army to sally forth from the castle to confront his attackers. When this did not happen, sieges were most often performed not through the use of siege weapons or other methods of forced entry, but by surrounding the enemy castle and simply denying food, water, or other supplies to the fortress. As this tactic could often take months or even years to see results, the besieging army sometimes even built their own castle or fortress nearby. This being the case, “the castle was less a defensive fortress than a symbol of defensive capacity with which to impress or discourage the enemy”. It of course also served as the lord’s residence, a center of authority and governance, and in various ways a similar function to military barracks.



yagura, or turret, at Edo Castle in Tokyo.

The castle keep, usually three to five stories tall, is known as the tenshukaku (天守閣), and may be linked to a number of smaller buildings of two or three stories. Some castles, notably Azuchi, had keeps of as many as seven stories. The tallest and most elaborate building in the complex, and often also the largest, the keep was the residence of the daimyō and his central command post. Interestingly, the number of stories and building layout as perceived from outside the keep rarely corresponds to the actual internal layout; for example, what appeared to be the third story from outside may have in fact been the fourth. This certainly must have helped to confuse attackers, preventing them from knowing which story or which window to attack, and likely disorienting the attacker somewhat once he made his way in through a window.

The least militarily equipped of the castle buildings, the keep was defended by the walls and towers, and its ornamental role was never ignored; few buildings in Japan, least of all castle keeps, were ever built with attention to function purely over artistic and architectural form. Keeps were meant to be impressive not only in their size and in implying military might, but also in their beauty and the implication of a daimyō’s wealth. Though obviously well within the general sphere of Japanese architecture, much of the aesthetics and design of the castle was quite distinct from styles or influences seen in Shintō shrines, Buddhist temples, or Japanese homes. The intricate gables and windows are a fine example of this.

On those occasions when a castle was infiltrated or invaded by enemy forces, the central keep served as the last bastion of refuge, and a point from which counter-attacks and attempts to retake the castle could be made. If the castle ultimately fell, certain rooms within the keep would more often than not become the site of the seppuku (ritual suicide) of the daimyō, his family, and closest retainers.

File:Kokura castle from the Japanese garden.jpg

Reconstructed Kokura Castle from the nearbyJapanese garden.

Palisades lined the top of the castle’s walls, and patches of trees, usually pines, symbolic of eternity or immortality, were planted along them. These served the dual purpose of adding natural beautiful scenery to a daimyō’s home, representing part of his garden, and also obscuring the insides of the castle compound from spies or scouts. A variety of towers or turrets, called yagura (櫓), placed at the corners of the walls, over the gates, or in other positions, served a number of purposes. Though some were used for the obvious defensive purposes, and as watchtowers, others served as water towers or for moon-viewing. As the residences of purportedly wealthy and powerful lords, towers for moon-viewing, balconies for taking in the scenery, tea rooms and gardens proliferated. These were by no means solely martial structures, but many elements served dual purposes. Gardens and orchards, for example, though primarily simply for the purpose of adding beauty and a degree of luxuriousness to the lord’s residence, could also provide water and fruit in case of supplies running down due to siege, as well as wood for a variety of purposes.

So, you want to be a ninja?

Page from volume 6 of the 15-volume Hokusai Ma...
Page from Volume 6 of 15 Volumes: Hokusai Manga

Have you ever wanted to be a ninja, a covert agent or mercenary of feudal Japan? If so, you would specialize in many unorthodox practices in the arts of war. Your functions would include espionage, sabotage, infiltration and assassination. Still think you are up for the job?

The abilities to be sneaky and deadly quick are your trademarks. You would travel in disguise as the front-line person who goes to check out and judge the enemy’s situation. If you are good at worming your way into other people’s confidence, then you might dress up like one of the enemy and walk among them gathering information. Just don’t get caught. Being hoodwinked is something most people frown upon.

You might be asked to set fire to the enemy’s castle. If you are a secret pyromaniac, this is a good job for you. Another job description besides spy (kanchō), scout (teisatsu), and surprise attacker (kishu), is that of agitator (konran). If you are good at causing a ruckus or a flat-out riot, this could be the job for you.

You will become part of a long and popular sect that has captured the imagination of Japan and the world. Your predecessors figure prominently into Japanese Folklore and legend, though sometimes it is difficult to separate historical fact from myth. Your legendary abilities include that of invisibility, walking on water, shape-shifting or the ability to split into multiple bodies. You should be able to summon animals or transform into them including birds and be able to control natural elements such as earth, wood, metal, fire and water.

Your origins are obscure and difficult to determine. One idea seems to rise above the rest; your predecessors appear to have come into existence in the Heian period, in the early days of Japan, from 794 to 1185, when the capital city was located in Kamakura. Unfortunately, there are few written records to check out these sketchy details. During the unrest of the Sengoku period, that took place from the 15th to the 17th centuries, mercenaries and spies were hired from the Iga and Koga clans.

A good book to get your hands on is the Bansenshukai manual. It was written in 1676 and details Chinese military philosophy as well as the techniques for espionage, the type that formed the basis for the art of ninjutsu. You should definitely study the The Art of War (Sunzi Bingfa), by Sun Tzu. It has invaluable information that you will be required to know. I’m pretty sure, there will be a test or two…

File:Yamato Takeru at 16-crop.jpg

Yamato Takeru dressed as a maidservant, preparing to kill the Kumaso leaders. Woodblock print on paper. Yoshitoshi, 1886.

Your family or clan is organized into larger guilds, each with their own assigned territories. There are also ranks involved. You can aspire to be a jōnin, the “upper man or woman”. It is the twenty-first century after all. This is the highest rank representing the group. If you like to boss people around, or have a “Mommie (or Daddy) Dearest” type of yearning, and if you want to be the person that others come to for hiring out the other members of your guild as mercenaries, then this job could be perfect for you.

The chūnin is the “middle man or woman” and is the assistant to the jōnin. At the bottom of the food chain is the genin or “lower man or woman”. If you don’t want to lead and instead want to be in the thick of it, this is definitely the job for you. You get to carry out the actual missions, which is way more fun, than bossy people around, don’t you think?

You will live in a secluded, remote mountain village, in the provinces of Iga or modern-day Mie Prefecture or Koga, which is now called Shiga Prefecture. This is where all your training takes place. It is the perfect place due to its remote location and inaccessibility of the surrounding mountains.

Also, the skills of ninjutsu require the aid of magic know as an onmyodo (see prior post) to calculate when it is the best times to carry out your covert operations.

File:Bansenshukai-v8-diagram.jpgThis is a diagram from the Bansenshukai, using divination and onmyodo.

Though I must warn you, it may be difficult to join if you were not born into this profession. Tradition is very important and is usually kept in and passed down through the clans. Most ninja are trained from childhood. It is important to learn martial art disciplines, survival and scouting techniques, information regarding poisons and explosives at a very young age. Scary, no?

Physical training that involves long distance runs, climbing, stealth methods of walking and even swimming are also taught to the very young. You must also learn how to blend into the woodwork by studying common professions so that you will be believable when you go incognito as a spy. You may even be asked to have medical training so that you can stitch up a wound right on the spot. You should know how to administer “Black Medicine” that will stop bleeding.

I won’t kid you, there is a lot to learn, so if you are a late starter, better crack the books and polish up your throwing stars. The jōnin will expect a lot right out of the gate.

To help you in your quest, I have included a list of tactics you will need to know (learn):

Hitsuke – the art of distracting the guards by starting a fire away from your planned point of entry. This is a “fire technique” known as (katon-no-jutsu).

Tanuki-gakure is the ability to climb a tree and blend in with the foliage. It is a ”wood technique” known as (mokuton-no-jutsu).

Ukigusa-gakure involves throwing duckweed over water in order to conceal underwater movements of your fellow ninja. It is a “water technique” knowns as (suiton-no-jutsu).

Uzura-gakure involves curling into a ball and remaining motionless so that you appear like a stone. This is an ”earth technique” known as (doton-no-jutsu).

Starting fires in order to cover a ninja’s trail falls into another katon-no-jutsu “fire technique”.

Now this is the fun part, you get to dress up in costumes or disguises. Any of you who like going to those crazy anime conventions or whose favorite holiday is Halloween will certainly appreciate the entertaining aspect of this.

File:Komuso Buddhist monk beggar Kita-kamakura.jpg

Here is a photograph of a komuso monk. It is just one of the many possible disguises you get to put on.

You can also dress up as a Shinto priest, or an entertainer, such as Kabuk andNoh. You can pretend to be a fortune-teller, a merchant, a ronin, you know, a samurai without a master, and a Buddhist monk. You can even be a regular “Jin” or person who goes to gather firewood. Now, how difficult is that.One of my favorite disguises is that of the mountain ascetic or (yamabushi), translated as mountain warrior, which would allow you to travel freely between political boundaries. While wearing the loose robes of Buddhist priest you could carry concealed weapons, such as a cool tanto blade. If you should decide that you want to take on the disguise of a minstrel or sarugaku, this would allow you to spy in enemy’s buildings without arousing suspicion. Disguises such as a Komuso, or a mendicant monk, who are known to play the shakuhachi, bamboo flute, are really fun. Just make sure you really can play a flute. Discordant music is not a good way to blend. That is for sure. The good news is, you get to wear one of those large “basket” hats that will conceal your entire head!

Listen to
Sound of Shakuhachi
John Kaizan Neptune
Tsuru no Sugomori9
(The Nesting of Cranes)

If you are one of those that likes to go in under the wire, so to speak, you would  probably wear one of these.

File:Ninja Armour.jpg

A suit of armor purportedly worn by ninjas

Sorry, but the black garb is part of the “legend” or “myth” aspect we were talking about earlier. But I think if you bring it up at the monthly meetings, the guild may concur and agree that this could become a new tradition. After all, black does blend in well with the black of night. Wouldn’t you agree? And all those anime and live action movies already have the costume down pat, so you could just copy them. The guild might even make you a jōnin because of your innovative ideas. From what I can gather though, it is much more common to be disguised as a civilian, than to dress in the typical nijutsu armor.

One thing you would definitely need to acquire and bring everywhere with you is a tenugui, which is simply a piece of cloth, in black, I would think. White or red is much too noticeable. It is used to cover your face, form a belt, or even assist in climbing.

Now for the tools you will need to purchase or make yourself if that is your talent. Here is a list, ready? A belt to carry all your stuff in such as ropes, grappling hooks, a collapsible ladder, with spikes at both ends, used to anchor the ladder, spiked or hooked climbing gear, worn on the hands and feet, that can also double as weapons, chisels, hammers, drills and picks.

Better get a really large belt. This is a lot of stuff!

Also, do not forget a kunai, which is a heavy pointed tool, much like a masonry trowel. This is for gouging holes in walls in order to get a foothold or to create a passage of entry. It can also serve as a weapon if necessary. You can use a knife or a small saw such as a hamagari for the same thing, but I say, why carry more things than are necessary? A portable listening device such as a saoto hikigane is also very useful if you should ever need to eavesdrop on important conversations.

A pair of mizugumo which are a set of wooden shoes that supposedly allow a the ninja to walk on water, are important gear as well if you think that you might need to cross a large pond or lake very quickly and don’t have access to a boat. The secret is that they can distribute your weight over the shoes’ wide bottom surface.

The word mizugumo comes from the Japanese water spider or argyroneta aquatica japonica. A set of inflatable skins and breathing tubes are also handy devices that allow you to stay underwater for prolonged periods of time.

You may have to pick and choose which of these handy devices you want to take along with you on any given mission. The goal is to not to be overburdened. Remember, it is of the utmost importance to move quickly and in silence. If you have too much stuff jangling around… well you get my drift.

Now, your weapon of choice, of course, is the katana blade. Isn’t it everyone’s? And all those samurai can’t be wrong! Still, if you can find room, it is good to carry a shorter sword or dagger also, most probably in back of your very heavy belt.

The katana has several uses beyond normal combat. In dark places, the scabbard can be extended out of the sword and used to probe the area. The sword can also be laid against the wall as a means to gain a foothold by standing on the guard or tsuba. You could stun your enemies before attacking them, by putting a combination of red pepper, dirt or dust and iron filings into the scabbard, so that as the sword is drawn the concoction will fly into the enemy’s eyes, stunning them until a lethal blow can be made. How cool is that! Just make sure the wind is not blowing in your direction.


A pair of kusarigama

Also, try to find room for an array of darts, spikes, knives, and sharp, star-shaped discs known as shuriken. A bow with arrows is always good for sharpshooting as well as a sickle or kusarigama that has, from what I am told, proved very useful. It consists of a weight on one end of a chain, and a sickle or kama on the other. The weight is used to injure or disable an opponent while the sickle part can kill at close range. Simple gardening tools such as a kunai or sickle can also be used. But they are not nearly as cool. It’s just an opinion.

Explosives such as hand-held bombs and grenades are also good to have in your mini arsenal. Soft-cased bombs that release smoke or poison gas, along with fragmentation explosives packed with iron or broken shards of pottery used as shrapnel are also good to have on hand..

Other assorted weapons include: poison, caltrops, (made of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged so that one of them always points upward from a stable base). Also good are land mines, blow guns, with poisoned darts, acid-spurting tubes, and firearms. The happō is a small eggshell filled with blinding powder or metsubushi and is useful if a quick escape is needed.


Actor portraying Nikki Danjō, a villain from the kabuki play Sendai Hagi. Shown with hands in a kuji-in seal, which allows him to transform into a giant rat. Woodblock print on paper.Kunisada, 1857.

File:Kumawakamaru by kuniyoshi - 24 paragons of filial piety.jpgKumawakamaru escapes his pursuers by swinging across the moat on a bamboo.[105] Woodblock print on paper. Kuniyoshi, 1842-1843.

File:Jiraiya - kuniyoshi - japanese heroes for the twelve signs.jpgJiraiya battles a giant snake with the help of his summonedtoad. Woodblock print on paper.Kuniyoshi, c. 1843.

REFERENCES (or where to learn more about the subject…)

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia: Ninja

Tai Hei Shakuhachi Japanese Bamboo Flutes

(My favorite ninja movie.) “Ninja Assassin” A young ninja turns his back on the orphanage that raised him, leading to a confrontation with a fellow ninja from the clan. Starring: the handsome and very sexy “Rain” as the hero, Raizo.

TRAILER found at