31st January: Kanazawa – Kanazawa Castle

From the Kenrokuen Gardens I walked to the nearby Kanazawa Castle.

Ishikawa-mon Bridge and Gate

This is the entrance from Kenrokuen Gardens, including a bridge over a road.

Kahoku-mon Gate

Kanazawa Castle

The castle is very large and there are several layers of fortification. This is one of the inner walls and moat.

Though it would never have been subsequently attacked, Kanazawa Castle was built as a genuine military castle during a period of protracted civil war. The watchtowers are designed to allow a cross-fire against troops attacking at any point. There are stone-dropping slots in the floors of the “bay windows” and the latticed windows provide a place to fire guns or arrows from. There are also hidden gun holes in the tiles on the walls.

Kanazawa Castle

There were video displays and structural examples inside the castle showing the traditional construction methods which were of extraordinary complexity. For example, two cross-beams would be fitted together using about half a dozen different tongue-and-groove type connections and without a single nail or screw. This kind of construction also allows for greater movement in the case of an earthquake.

The buildings are not necessarily original. There were devastating fires in the castle complex in 1602, 1620, 1631, 1759, 1808 and 1881. Some of the reconstructions are quite recent.

Tree and castle buildings

Kanazawa Castle behind tree

The founding of Kanazawa Castle is closely associated with Maeda Toshii (1539-1599). Toshii’s father was a samurai in charge of a castle in an area controlled by Oda Nobunaga. He grew up under Nobunaga’s wing and eventually became one of his senior commanders.

Gokuraku Bridge

Gokuraku Bridge

Momoyama Period (1568-1600)

Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) was born into the Warring States period and in the 1550s, after some years of military campaigns, managed to succeed his father in effective control of Owari province. The rest of his life was spent in a fluctuating campaign to take over new territory.

The political structure in Japan at the time was remarkably obtuse. At the top was the Emperor, though he might be a child or a teenager with his father retaining effective control as Shadow Emperor. The Emperor though had little power, as had been the case since a brief period in the 1430s. Then there was the Shogun and there might similarly be a Shadow Shogun. Since the late 1400s, the Shogun had little power either, with various clans competing for fragments of power. Below the Shogun were the Shugos, Governors of one or more provinces, who might be either powerful or weak. Oda Nobunaga was a Deputy Shugo, but with little to constrain him from above.

View from the Castle

In 1568 Ashikaga Yoshiake sought support from Nobunaga to become shogun in place of his assassinated brother. Nobunaga obliged but Yoshiake was to be no more than a puppet shogun and the last of the Ashikaga shoguns. Nobunaga was renowned for his brutality and also notable for his enthusiastic battlefield adoption of firearms (arquebuses or matchlocks), introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. Prominent amongst his supporters were Toyotomi Hideoshi (1537-1598) and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616). By the time of his death, he controlled about one-third of Japan.

In 1582, he was assassinated by one of his generals who was in turn defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who then became the successor to Nobunaga, though neither actually became shogun. Maeda Toshii became Hideyoshi‘s chief retainer and he was rewarded with Kaga, a han or domain that included Kanazawa. For about 100 years previously there had been a Buddhist peasant republic in Kanazawa but that ended in 1580 when another of Nobunaga‘s generals took the town. Construction of Kanazawa Castle commenced at that time but Toshii was granted the Kaga fief in 1583 and arrived then to take over.

View from the Castle

Hideyoshi continued Nobunaga‘s wars of unification and by 1590 controlled all Japan (well, apart from Hokkaido, which was Ainu territory and essentially outside Japan at that time). He had started life as a peasant and in order to bring an end to the instability of perpetual warfare, decreed that only samurai could bear arms and restricted movement between localities. Ironically, this prevented a peasant from achieving his level of success again for many hundreds of years. Samurai were also forced to live in town and not be farmers.

Extraordinarily, in 1592 he undertook an invasion of China and since the Koreans would not give him free passage, he invaded Korea. The Japanese were successful on land and advanced as far as Pyongyang and the Korean frontier in the north-west but were then driven back to Seoul by a Chinese counter-invasion. The Koreans, meanwhile, had the advantage in naval warfare and were able to strangle the Japanese supply line. Peace talks followed from 1593 and most of the Japanese forces had withdrawn by mid-1596.

In 1597, the Japanese invaded again but this time they were largely pinned down on land by a joint Chinese/ Korean force and defeated again at sea by Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. Hideyoshi ordered a final withdrawal from Korea on his deathbed in 1598 and Japan refrained from foreign military activity for the next 400 years.

View from the Castle

Hideyoshi also arranged for a five-man council to act as regents for his young son, including Maeda Toshii and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Toshii died the next year and Ieyasu moved to take over power, which he achieved with the climactic Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, involving 180,000 men. There was also a final campaign against Hideyoshi ‘s son in 1615, leading to the storming of Osaka Castle.

View of the Castle

During much of the Tokugawa era (1600-1868), the Maeda clan was the leading daimyo clan following the Tokugawas themselves. The Kaga domain was the most productive rice-growing area in the country and Kanazawa at one stage was the third most populous city in the country. However, it did not participate in industrialisation following the Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century so there are many larger cities these days. The lack of industrialisation also helped it to escape bombing in the Second World War and largely preserved the ancient city.

Samurai quarter

In an old part of town, this is the Samurai Quarter. The houses were essentially fortified so that characteristic walls of the street are thick and solid, filled with earth and rocks.

Valentine's day presents

Valentine's day presents

If you look hard enough, it is also possible to find artifacts that do not appear to be so ancient. These are like relics from a 60s fairground. You put in a coin and see whether you can lower the pincers and take a prize.