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transper_1pic.gif Inuyama Castle, a National Treasure

Photo courtesy of Inuyama City/JTB Photo

Inuyama Castle, situated on a hill overlooking the Kiso River, is a fine example of the castle architectural style of the Warring States period (1467–1568). The three-tiered donjon (a four-story central keep plus a two-tier stone wall), is one of the four of Japan’s twelve extant donjons to have been designated a national treasure. (The other three are the donjons of Matsumoto, Hikone, and Himeji Castles). The fourth-story Koran no Ma (Balcony Chamber) commands a panoramic view of Mount Kiso Ontake, Mount Ena, and the surrounding Nobi Plain.

Oda Nobuyasu, whose nephew was Oda Nobunaga, the most powerful warlord of the day, built the castle on its present site in 1537. Later, strife broke out within the Oda clan, and when Nobuyasu’s son Nobukiyo was the castle’s lord it fell to Nobunaga. After that, as if symbolizing the turbulent Warring States period itself, the castle changed hands repeatedly.

The present donjon was built soon after the 1600 Battle of Sekigahara, in which the warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu and his allies were victorious. He established the long-lasting Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1867), which decisively reunified the nation. In 1607 the castle was bestowed on Hiraiwa Chikayoshi, a retainer of one of Ieyasu’s sons, but he had no heirs. In 1617 Naruse Masanari, chief retainer of the Owari branch of the Tokugawa clan, was made lord of the castle with a stipend of 35,000 koku of rice. (The koku is a traditional Japanese measurement equivalent to about 180 liters.) The castle remained in the hands of the Naruse clan for the rest of the Tokugawa period.

The castle’s vicissitudes continued even after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 put an end to Tokugawa rule and ushered in Japan’s modern period. In 1871, when the new government abolished the feudal domains and established the current system of prefectures, the castle lost its status, and all its structures except the donjon were demolished. To make matters worse, the donjon was damaged in the Nobi earthquake of 1891. In 1895 the castle was handed back to Naruse Masamitsu, the ninth-generation clan head, on the condition that he carry out repairs. The Naruse family retained ownership until 2004, when a foundation was established specifically to maintain the castle. Inuyama Castle was the only one of Japan’s castles to remain in private hands in modern times.

This castle, buffeted by history, has a unique beauty. The watchtower atop the donjon’s half-hipped roof in particular is a precious example of the original castle’s architectural style.
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