The story behind one of Japan's finest original castles

Matsuyama-jo is one of Japan’s finest original surviving castles. This statement can be misleading, since the Castle was actually restored just before the end of the Edo period. The castle was originally built in 1602 with five storys; it burnt down and was rebuilt in 1642 with only three storys. In 1784 it was struck by lightning on New Years Day and burnt down once again and was finally rebuilt in 1820. The Castle suffered again during the Showa Era, when a small donjon and turrets were destroyed by arson and bombing during World War II. And yet today the Matsuyama Castle still stands, containing many original structures on top of Katsuyama Hill, in the center of Matsuyama City in Ehime Prefecture. It is considered one of the most beautiful of Japan’s few remaining original castles.

Matsuyama Castle was built by Yoshiakira Katoh, a samurai from Aichi Prefecture. It is known that he joined Ieyasu Tokugawa’s army in 1600 at the battle of Sekigahara. He became a retainer of Hideyoshi Hashiba and gained distinction as one of seven legendary spearmen in the battle of Shizugatake. Much more information about Katoh is not easy to find. History tells us that at some point Tadachika Gamoh became the new lord of Matsuyama castle and completed its construction before he died in 1635, leaving no heirs.

In 1635, Matsudaira Sadayuki moved into Matsuyama Castle and the Matsudaira family ruled over the area till the end of feudalism. As a relative of the Tokugawa shogun, Matsudaira Sadaaki naturally fought for the Tokugawa in several battles at the Meiji Restoration. Once the emperor regained political power, Sadaaki was a wanted man and considered an enemy of the emperor. In order to avoid attack, he decided to submit and allow Tosa soldiers into the castle while he sought penance and refuge in Joshinji temple in Matsuyama. His sincerity was accepted and Sadaaki and the Matsuyama Castle were saved from attack.

Matsuyama castle has many strategic features to defend it against military attacks. The zig-zag stone walls not only reinforce the base but also make it easy to catch attackers in pockets. Along most of the outside walls are holes, the square ones for guns and the slotted for arrows. Inside the Castle were gardens of “Shichiku” or purple bamboo. If ammunition was running low, they could be fashioned into arrows or spears. They could also serve as a hiding place. Purple bamboo is rare and it symbolized the status of the lord.

The Matsudaira family eventually gave the castle to the city of Matsuyama in 1923. Today the Castle enjoys wide fame in Japan as one of the three large-scale multiple-wing Japanese castles built on a hill. The dungeon is lit up every night and the trees by the moat are decorated by illuminations during the end of every year. The castle has been described as “awe inspiring” and with only a ropeway available to reach it, a trip to view this monument would be an amazing experience.

(Originally published in Muzosa Journal 2/10/06. Author retains all copyrights.)


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