Nagoya Castle is undoubtedly the pinnacle of pride for the citizens of the city of Nagoya.
The castle was originally built on the orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa shogun, in the early 17th century. It was to be a critical stronghold for invading Osaka Castle, the opposing Toyotomi clan’s final place of resistance.
The actual construction work took place under the rule of Hidetada, the second shogun, who cleverly made the 20 daimyo feudal lords in the region compete against each other in quickly constructing the fine castle.
Consequently, the construction work on the castle tower was completed in 1612, just two years after Hidetada’s issuance of the build order, followed by the completion of the Honmaru Palace in 1615.
The Nagoya Castle tower, built within the central Honmaru compound, was the largest of all castle towers in Japan, even exceeding those of Edo or Osaka castles. Constructed from fine timber logged from the Owari fiefdom, Nagoya Castle’s multilayered tower was renowned for its distinctive beauty and sturdiness, adopting a new building style that was quite different from those of the previous Momoyama Period.
The most eye-catching exterior ornament of the tower was its pair of gold shachihoko (mythical fish-like animals believed to protect buildings from fire) perched on the two sides of its rooftop. The shachihoko were said to have been made from 270 kilograms of solid gold. The castle was also known for other detailed and intricate design details such as gable fittings and pendants, as well as the Shogun Crest of Hollyhock made from gold leaf affixed to black lacquer.
The Honmaru Palace, the residence of the lord, came after the construction of the Castle Tower. Together with the Ninomaru Palace of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle, this palace was recognized as a masterpiece of samurai-style Shoinzukuri architecture, and was designated as a National Treasure in 1930.
It was comprised of a centrally located reception and ceremonial hall with a decorated alcove section displaying imported Chinese ceramics and hanging scrolls, a secondary display area featuring split-level shelves for ornamental items, a recessed writing stall for the record-keepers, and the dignified Jodan-no-ma raised room for the exclusive use of the lord.
The Honmaru Palace walls and sliding fusuma doors were decorated with the dynamic motifs of tigers, leopards, flowers, birds and landscapes awash in a flood of colors.
Those bold paintings were born from the paintbrushes of Kano Sadanobu, Kano Tanyu, as well as other Kano school master painters. The fusuma door fittings also incorporated intricate decorative designs, while the delicately carved out wooden transoms above adopted motifs of flowers and reeds.
Unfortunately, major parts of the castle were burned during the World War II bombings, though some of the removable partitions and panels were saved. Today, 1,047 such paintings have been designated as Important Cultural Assets.
Since the 1950s, experts in various fields have come together to restore Nagoya Castle to its original beauty and form. Early Showa Period architectural research, measurements and drawings, as well as pre-war photographic evidence has allowed the restoration to take place.
Thanks to such diligent efforts, the Nagoya Castle Tower was reconstructed by 1959. A three-stage restoration project for Honmaru Palace began in 2009. Of special note is that the Honmaru Palace project employs the same materials and techniques used by the original builders centuries ago.
Hence, modern painters involved in the project are trying to replicate the Kano masterpiece paintings down to the tiniest details by using microscopes and computers, as well as referencing historical materials.
As a result of such tireless efforts, the genkan entrance hall and the Omote Shoin main hall of the palace were restored by 2013, ready to be opened to the public. This was followed this year by the completion of the Taimenjo reception hall, which is scheduled to be open to the public from June 1.
Nagoya Castle is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. (entrance admitted until 4:00 p.m.). Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥100 for those aged 65 and over and free for children through junior high school.
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