Modern period

A canon on display at Matsumoto Castle

Castles In Modern Times

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 (see below) brought an end to feudalism and the necessity of castle strongholds. In 1873 the Meiji government adopted the "Castle Abolishment Law" to demolish these undesirable relics of feudalism. By 1875 more than 2/3 of the 170 Edo period castles had been dismantled.

In the time since then many more castles have been destroyed by fires, earthquakes and WWII. Only 12 original castle main keeps remain. Matsumoto-jo (1596), Inuyama-jo (1601), Hikone-jo (1606) and Himeji-jo (1609) are all designated National Treasures by the Japanese Ministry of Education and Culture (Monbusho). Maruoka-jo (1576), Matsue-jo (1611), Marugame-jo (1660), Uwajima-jo (1665), Bitchu-Matsuyama-jo (1684), Hirosaki-jo (1810) and Matsuyama-jo (1854) are all designated Important Cultural Property. Even the most spectacular of these castles have lost most of their original grounds and peripheral buildings.

In the 1900's a renewed interest in history led to the reconstruction of many old castle main keeps. The first main keep to be reconstructed was Osaka-jo in 1931 and was made of concrete. The second reconstruction was Gujo Hachiman-jo in 1933 and the third was Igaueno-jo in 1935. These two were both wooden reconstructions. These are the only 3 castles to be reconstructed prior to WWII. After WWII, however, castles were reconstructed one after another beginning with Toyama-jo and Kishiwada-jo in 1954.

Reconstructed main keeps are generally made of concrete and often house some kind of local history museum. In some cases, an old gate, moat or even the stone foundation for the main keep remains of the original castle. Whether any structures remain or not, the grounds of former castle sites continue to act as important community centers for schools, parks and museums.

If you're fortunate enough to visit a Japanese city that once had a castle (including Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka) pay special attention to the area surrounding the former castle grounds. Most cities have developed along the same roads that made up the maze of narrow, winding, twisting streets, T-junctions and dead ends that characterized the typical jokamachi (castle town). You can also find influences of the former castle town in place names like Marunouchi ("within the moat"; Tokyo, Nagoya), Otemachi ("main gate town"; Tokyo) and the Sotobori-dori (outer moat street) and Uchibori-dori (inner moat street) streets in Tokyo.

Meiji Restoration (1868)

In 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry and a fleet of Black Ships arrived in Japan to request permission for open trade. The Japanese were both amazed and terrified at the power of Perry's ships. Perry gave the Japanese a year to work out the necessary details and returned to Edo (Tokyo) in 1854 to negotiate a treaty.

In 1856, as a part of Perry's treaty Townsend Harris established an American Consul General in Shimoda. Harris negotiated for various provisions and unfair agreements with Japan. These difficult negotiations and unfair treaties exposed the cracks and weaknesses that had developed in the Tokugawa government over the previous 250 years.

Many people began to resent all foreigners and under the auspices of reinstating the emperor to his rightful power and banishing the foreigners, a mixed group of samurai and peasants overthrew the Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1868 the Meiji emperor was restored as the leader of Japan, although in name only as he had no real power. The capital was officially moved to Edo which was then renamed Tokyo, the "eastern capital."

Following the Meiji Restoration all remnants of the feudal system were disposed of. The caste system was eliminated, daimyo lost all their lands and compulsory education for all children was instituted. The government set up a new constitution by adopting European forms of government and the country began to rapidly modernize to catch up with the West.