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Part I: The Cultural Heritage of Hikone

[2015年7月21日]

Part I: The Cultural Heritage of Hikone

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Aerial view of Mt. Hikone and Hikone Castle, with Lake Biwa in the background, Hikone Castle Museum in the foreground.

1.Introduction

   At the center of the City of Hikone stand the castle and castle complex, much as they have for some 400 years now. Designated as a National Treasure in 1952 by the Japanese government, Hikone Castle was the residence of successive lords of the Ii family of the Hikone domain, one of the most prominent and influential warlord families serving the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) which completed the reunification of Japan after the Warring States period. Hikone Castle played a pivotal role in securing the military rule which maintained peace for more than 250 years in early modern Japan.
   
   Throughout the Edo Period, the tower and turrets of Hikone Castle symbolized military prestige, and the palace-style buildings of the castle complex served to project authority and to promote the daimyo culture of early modern Japan. The castle grounds incorporated expansive gardens, as well. The Hikone Castle complex, including the main tower and other castle structures, gardens, have been well preserved, mostly in their original form.
  
   These are properties of outstanding cultural and historical significance, ones of which Japan can be proud, and it is necessary to protect and preserve these assets in order to pass them on to future generations. Hikone Castle has been on the tentative lists for UNESCO World Heritage nomination since 1992.

2.Origin of Hikone Castle

   The Warring States (Sengoku) Period of Japanese history lasted from 1467 to 1568. During this period, feudal lords (daimyo) and their samurai armies waged civil war. In 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598) succeeded in reunifying Japan under his rule. After his death there was a power struggle between a coalition of eastern daimyo led by Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) and a western coalition led by Ishida Mitsunari (1560-1600).

    In 1600 the Battle of Sekigahara took place in Mino Province (present-day Gifu Prefecture). This was one of the most famous civil wars in Japan. The western armies supporting the Toyotomi family were defeated by the eastern armies led by Tokugawa Ieyasu, and in 1603 Ieyasu became the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, establishing his headquarters in Edo (present-day Tokyo). 

   Sawayama Castle, the former stronghold of the western armies, and located in the strategically important Hikone area, was then given to Ii Naomasa (1561-1602) as a reward for playing a leading role in winning the Battle of Sekigahara. Naomasa became the first daimyo of the Hikone domain. However, in the following year he died as a result of complications from a gunshot wound sustained at Sekigahara. After Naomasa’s death, his chief retainer consulted with Tokugawa Ieyasu about relocating Sawayama Castle. Relocation was authorized and from three potential sites Mt. Hikone was selected as the new location.

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Japanese folding screen (byobu) depiction of the Battle of Sekigahara from the Edo era (Hikone-jo Bon Sekigahara Kassen Byobu by Kano Sadanobu)

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Ii Nagamasa, first lord of the Hikone domain

3.Construction of Hikone Castle

   In 1604, construction of Hikone Castle began on Mt. Hikone (a hill also referred to as Konki-yama, which means Mountain of the Golden Turtle), which lay two kilometers west of Sawayama Castle. It took approximately twenty years to complete the Hikone Castle complex. During the first half of the construction period, the main part of the castle (including the honmaru, or main compound, and the kanenomaru, or bell tower) was completed.
  
   The Tokugawa Shogunate had dispatched six commissioners to oversee the construction and requested assistance from neighboring domain lords, endowing the construction the status of a national project. Since the castle was considered to be of strategic importance in controlling domain lords in western Japan who had long been loyal to the Toyotomi family, construction of Hikone Castle was rushed to completion. As a result, wood and stone materials were collected from nearby dismantled castles and temples. For example, the main tower of Hikone Castle was reportedly relocated from the former ?tsu Castle in ?mi Province. In modern terms, one could describe Hikone Castle as a castle made from reclaimed materials.
  
   During this first building period, construction of Hikone Castle proceeded at a quick pace. On July 15th, 1604 Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632), son of Tokugawa Ieyasu and the next shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate, sent messengers to the Ii family to inquire about the castle’s construction. Furthermore, on September 20th 1605, Tokugawa Ieyasu himself visited Hikone to view the construction site. Perhaps this reveals the Tokugawa family’s feelings of solicitude for the youthful Ii Naotsugu, who was responsible for such an important task as castle construction. With the strong support of the Tokugawa family, the construction of Hikone Castle progressed smoothly and several years later the main body of the castle was completed.
  
   In 1614 however, the Winter Siege of Osaka Castle took place in an effort to destroy the power of the Toyotomi family. The following year, the Summer Siege of Osaka Castle occurred, and as a result of these battles, the construction of the Hikone Castle was temporarily interrupted. As Ii Naotsugu was poor in health, his younger brother Ii Naotaka fought actively in the Osaka battles in his elder brother’s place. After the battles in Osaka, the construction of the castle was resumed independently by the Ii family of the Hikone domain under Ii Naotaka’s direction, and the majority of the castle complex and surrounding castle town were brought to completion, ushering in an era of peace and prosperity for the city and region which lasted over 250 years.
  
   Following the Meiji Restoration in 1868, castles in Japan were demolished one after another because they were viewed as unwelcome relics from the shogunate and feudal domain system. Hikone Castle was no exception and was slated for demolition, as well. However, it was decided to preserve the main tower and some of the turrets of Hikone Castle in response to strong requests by local community leaders and magnates. These included ?kuma Shigenobu (1838-1922), a leading politician and Councilor of the new government, in power when Emperor Meiji visited Hikone during his imperial tour around the northern part of Japan in 1878.

4. Selected Features of Hikone Castle

Main Tower (Tenshu): A National Treasure of Japan

   The construction of Hikone Castle and its castle town began in 1604, over 400 years ago, and took about twenty years to complete. The center of the castle complex and castle town was the main tower, or tenshu (also referred to as a donjon), which is situated in the main compound (or honmaru). A tenshu is the main keep and the most defining feature of a Japanese castle. Although previous castles usually had a defensible structure for residence and/or administration, the architecturally distinct tenshu was first constructed during the late Warring States (Sengoku) period. The daimyo of the Hikone domain, in fact, rarely visited the Tenshu, which served mainly as storage for the suits of armors worn by the successive lords of the Ii family. As previously mentioned, rather than a military fortification, the Tenshu of Hikone Castle, looking out over the castle town, was primarily a symbolic projection of the authority of the Hikone domain.

天守

A drawing of the main tower (Tenshu) of Hikone Castle

天守

Photograph of the main tower (Tenshu) of Hikone Castle

Tenbin Yagura (Balance Turret): An Important Cultural Property of Japan

   The turret referred to as Tenbin Yagura is known for its symmetrical beauty. Its name derives from its resemblance in shape to a balance, or pair of scales (tenbin). There are no other examples of turrets with this kind of structural form in Japan. The structure projects a sense of impregnable strength and dignity appropriate to a castle gate. In truth, the structure is not exactly symmetrical. The two-story turrets on each side face different directions, and their latticed windows differ in number. The Tenbin Yagura was built several years after the castle’s construction started. According to the Chronological Record of the Ii Family (Ii Nenpu), the Tenbin Yagura was formerly the Otemon gate of Nagahama Castle (in present-day Nagahama City, Shiga Prefecture), which was relocated to Hikone Castle.

   The Tenbin Yagura building has been repaired several times during the last 400 years. The restoration carried out in 1854 was the largest in scale; as not only the building, but also the stone walls were repaired at that time. If one looks carefully at the Tenbin Yagura from the front, one can see that the stone wall on the right side is constructed in the gobo-zumi style (piling up roughly cut natural rocks shaped like a gob? or a burdock); it was made by a group of stonemasons from the northern part of Echizen Province (present-day Fukui Prefecture) at the beginning of the castle’s construction in the early 17th century. In contrast, the stone wall on the left side is made in the otoshi-zumi style (stacking up rectangular cut rocks diagonally) at the end of the Edo Period.

天秤

The Tenbin Yagura (Balance Turret)

Nishinomaru Sanju Yagura (Three-story Turret): An Important Cultural Property of Japan

   In addition to the Tenshu or main tower, there were two other three-story buildings in the Hikone Castle complex. The one still in existence today is the Nishinomaru Sanju Yagura, or Three-story Turret in the West Compound. (The other building was demolished in 1868 by order of the new government.) This Three-Story Turret is situated at the northwestern corner of the Nishinomaru, or west compound, which adjoins the honmaru, or main compound. When looking up from the dry moat below, the Three-story Turret appears as if it were standing on a perpendicular cliff. This turret was constructed as a key installation for defense against the enemy from the west (the back of the castle). It does not have decorative gables like a main castle tower, and its white plastered walls give it a simple yet dignified appearance.
西の丸

Nishinomaru Sanju Yagura (Three-story Turret)

Umaya (Stable) of Hikone Castle: An Important Cultural Property of Japan

   This stately stable (umaya) is the only one in existence among the Edo-period castles. The stable has a number of horse stalls and hitching places; a total of 21 horses could be housed there. The stable kept horses available for the successive lords of the Hikone domain. In addition, there used to be another stable for visitors by the entrance of the Omotegoten Palace. There were also horse-riding grounds for training horses at other Ii family residences. Renowned for its martial arts, even in an era of peace, the Hikone domain employed a number of military tacticians and instructors of martial arts, and continued to teach military skills. Horsemanship was no exception. It became popular in the domain to study various kinds of riding techniques under the tutelage of specialists.

Genkyuen Garden: A Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan

   The Genkyuen Garden was originally a part of the Ii family palatial residence called the Keyaki-goten (Zelkova Palace). Construction of the garden was begun in 1677 by Ii Naooki (1657-1718), the fourth lord of the Hikone domain, and completed in 1679. It was designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government in 1951. At present, the garden section of the Keyaki Palace is called Genkyuen, and the palace building section is called Rakurakuen.

   Genkyuen was said to have been named after an ancient garden adjoining a Chinese imperial palace building. The Genkyuen garden was probably influenced by the concept of the “Eight Scenic Views of Omi Province” and/or the “Eight Scenic Views of Xiaoxiang in China’s Hunan Province,” both of which had been famous as themes of landscape paintings and poetry in Japan. Genkyuen features a circular walking path around a central pond typical of seventeenth century daimyo (Japanese lord) gardens. The garden offers a diversity of changing views to strollers. Water for the pond used to be provided from an outer moat using a system of siphons, and it used to cascade down over the arranged rocks on the islet before flowing into the pond. Occasionally people would enjoy boating in the pond from a boahouse. At the southeast side of the garden facing Matsubara Inlet of Lake Biwa, there was a small port which opened into the inlet. Traveling by a traditional Japanese roofed pleasure boat (gozabune), from there the lords of the Ii family could visit the Benzaiten-do temple, Seiryo-ji temple and Ryotan-ji temple, which retained the Ii family’s graves, and the Ohama Palace (another residence of the Ii family in the Matsubara district of Hikone near Lake Biwa).

玄宮園

Genkyuen Garden pond,
main castle tower in the background

Rakurakuen Palace Building: Place of Scenic Beauty of Japan

   The Rakurakuen Palace was constructed together with the Genkyuen Garden by Ii Naooki (1657-1718) as the Ii family residence. Originally called the Keyaki-goten or Zelkova Palace, it was later divided into two sections, the Genky?en Garden and the Rakurakuen Palace Building. After the death of Ii Naooki, in order to economize, the Rakurakuen Palace building was downsized by the order of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1812, however, a large scale renovation of the building was carried out when Ii Naonaka (1767-1832), the 11th lord of the Ii family, retired from being the head of the family and the domain. As a result, the scale of the Rakurakuen building was dramatically increased. The size of the renovated Rakurakuen building was ten times larger than the present-day structure, and a garden was newly constructed facing the room. Today the garden has become a dry landscape (karesansui) garden.  
楽々園

Rakurakuen Palace

Hikone Castle Town

   The Hikone castle town was planned and constructed by the Hikone domain as a large-scale civil engineering project. The area where the planned town was to be built was originally marshland. In order to drain the area for construction, the Seri River, which originally flowed into the Matsubara
Inlet of Lake Biwa, was diverted to its present-day course - and also straightened and shortened two kilometers in the process). The remaining low lying areas were raised by landfill.

    The completed Hikone castle town was laid out in four divisions assigned to the concentric spaces created by three encircling moats. Located inside the inner moat, the first division consisted of the main castle tower complex on the hilltop surrounded by several compounds with turrets, as well as the area of the Omotegoten front palace building, which served as the administrative center of the Hikone domain as well as the lord’s living quarters (and is now the Hikone Castle Museum).

   The second division, located in the area between the inner and middle moats, housed the Keyaki Palace (the present-day Genky?en garden and Rakurakuen building), built as the Ii family residence. In addition, the second division contained the residences of chief retainers and other high-ranking vassals of the domain.

   The third division, located between the middle and outer moats, accommodated the dwellings of both warriors and townspeople. Within the division, residential areas were strictly delineated according to social standing. Samurai residences and Buddhist temples faced the middle and outer moats, with most commoners’ houses located behind them. The large precincts of the Buddhist temples were expected to assume military roles in the event of an emergency, forming a defensive line for the castle town together with the warriors’ residences. The locations of commoners’ houses in the third division were arranged according to occupation. Areas of the division were assigned names such as Aburaya-machi (Oil Sellers Town), Uoya-machi (Fish Dealers Town), Okeya-machi (Wooden-Bucket Makers Town), and Shokunin-machi (Artisans Town).

   The fourth division was the area of town which lay beyond the outer moat, and mainly consisted of the houses of the commoners and foot soldiers. High-ranking vassals of the Hikone domain also built spacious second residences there. The foot soldiers of the domain were divided into six groups (for example, the Nakayabu Group and the Seri Group) and given responsibility for defending the castle and castle town. Their houses were built in a line encircling the outer part of the town between the outer moat and the Seri River.

   Nowadays, the number of remaining Edo Period (1603-1867) dwellings which formerly housed foot soldiers of the Hikone domain has decreased. However, approximately 30 of the houses still stand in the city. In addition, some of the defensive devices characteristic of a castle town remain intact, such as narrow streets of just 2.70 meters in width which lead to a dead end or bend to make an L-shape.

   In summary, in addition to the Tenshu (main tower), turrets and other existing original structures of the castle, Hikone still preserves many distinctive features of a castle town in the Edo Period in Japan. 

城下町

Map of Hikone Castle Town, Edo Period, 19th century
(Reproduced with slight modifi cations from Koji Nishikawa, Jokamachi no Kioku (Memories of a Castle Town), Sanraizu Shuppan Co., Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, 2007, p. 18.)

路地

A lane in present-day Hikone

関連コンテンツ

An extraordinarily attractive city

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