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Azuchi Castle
Azuchi, Ōmi province, Japan
110305 Imitation of Aduchi cstl.jpg
Reproduction of Azuchi's main keep, at Ise Azuchi-Momoyama Bunka Mura.
Type Azuchi-Momoyama castle
Coordinates Latitude:
Built 1579
Built by Oda Nobunaga
stone, wood, plaster walls
Height Seven stories (138ft)(main keep)
Demolished 1582, by Akechi Mitsuhide
Stone base remains
Controlled by Oda Nobunaga
Garrison 5,000 (incl. civilians)
Events Azuchi religious debate (1579)

Stone steps leading up to the Azuchi Castle ruin

Ruins of the tenshu, or keep.

Azuchi-jō-zu, a drawing of the castle

Azuchi Castle (安土城 Azuchi-jō?) was one of the primary castles of Oda Nobunaga. It was built from 1576 to 1579, on the shores of Lake Biwa, in Ōmi Province. Nobunaga intentionally built it close enough to Kyoto that he could watch over and guard the approaches to the capital, but, being outside the city, his fortress would be immune to the fires and conflicts that occasionally consumed the capital. This location was also quite strategically advantageous, in managing the communications and transportation routes between his greatest foes - the Uesugi clan to the north, Takeda clan in the east, and Mōri clan to the west.[1]


Unlike earlier castles and fortresses, Azuchi was not intended to be solely a military structure, cold, dark, and foreboding. Nobunaga intended it as a lavish mansion, which would impress and intimidate his rivals, not only with its defenses, but with its lavish apartments and decorations, and flourishing town and religious life. The keep, called Tenshukaku (or Tenshu), rather than being the center of the castle's defences, was a seven-story building containing audience halls, private chambers, offices, and a treasury, as though it were a royal palace. In addition to being one of the first Japanese castles with a tower keep, Azuchi was unique in that its uppermost story was octagonal. In addition, the facade of Azuchi, unlike the solid white or black of other castles, was colorfully decorated with tigers and dragons. There were five main militaristic features of Azuchi Castle that differentiated it from earlier castle designs. Firstly, it was a massive structure, with the walls of the castle ranging from 18 feet to 21 feet in thickness. The second feature of Azuchi Castle is the predominant use of stone. The walls were constructed from huge granite stones fitted carefully together without the use of mortar. A third innovation of the Azuchi Castle was the high central tower, or donjon. The tower allowed for increased visibility for the use of guns against an opposing force. Builder’s plans for the castle show the donjon to be 138 feet tall, with seven levels. Fourthly, Azuchi Castle had irregularly formed inner citadels. These inner citadels gave defenders ample defensive positions against intruders. The location of Azuchi Castle was also a novel feature. Whereas most Japanese castles found the most advantegous position was at the base of mountain surrounded by dense vegetation (which would allow cover for an enemy), Azuchi Castle was built on a plain to give a wide view of an approaching enemy.

Nobunaga desired a full castle town, and built well-defended homes for his generals, a Jōdo-shū Buddhist temple called Jōgon-in, and a number of homes for commoners a short distance away on the shore of the lake. However, he had trouble convincing people to move into these homes at first. In the summer of 1577, he issued a municipal charter, guaranteeing residents immunity from taxes, building or transport levies, and moratoria, and forced all travelers on the Nakasendō highway to stop in the town overnight for lodging, thus bringing business to his town's innkeepers. By 1582, the town's inhabitants numbered roughly 5,000.

In addition to welcoming many of Nobunaga's powerful political guests, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu and Niwa Nagahide, Azuchi castle also hosted an event in 1579 which has come to be known as the Azuchi religious debate (安土宗論, Azuchi shūron), taking place between leaders of the Nichiren and Jōdo-shū sects of Buddhism.

In the summer of 1582, just after Nobunaga's death at Honnō-ji, the castle was attacked by the forces of Akechi Mitsuhide, Nobunaga's betrayer. The castle was set aflame, though some accounts claim this might have been the work of looting townspeople, or of one of Nobunaga's sons. Mitsuhide, therefore, never managed to occupy the castle.

The Azuchi-Momoyama Period of Japanese history takes its name, in part, from this castle.

Architecture and Design

In 1976, the Japanese architectural historian Naitō Akira published what he believed to be a conclusive summary of the features of Azuchi Castle, George Elison in The Cross and the Sword translated and shortened Naitō's description as follows:

The tower was a colossal structure, which soared some 138 feet into the air from the top of a hill, which itself rose 360 feet above the waters of an inlet of Lake Biwa. It had seven internal levels, although from the outside only five were apparent. The interior had some unexpected, unprecedented and unique features. The centre of the structure rose without a ceiling, up to level of the fifth floor, almost 62 feet from the ground. A stage for theatrical performances, which projected into this design, has caused professor Naitō to speculate on some possible European influence, derived from the Jesuits (whose churches, such as the exact contemporary, the Gesù in Rome, are noted for their spectacular vaults

However, the external design of Azuchi Castle is still debated, another Japanese Architectural Historian, Miyakami Shigetaka, has accused Professor Naitō Akira of failing to corroborate enough documentation to come to the conclusion he did. All that remains of the castle today is the stone base. However, an approximate reproduction of Azuchi, based on illustrations and historical descriptions, stands in Ise Sengoku Village, a samurai theme park near Ise. In addition, an full-scale replica of the top floors of the donjon is on display at the Nobunaga no Yakata Museum near the original castle ruins.

Contemporary Media

In the Samurai Warriors/Warriors Orochi franchise, Azuchi Castle was termed by Naoe Kanetsugu as "one of the most impregnable and powerful castle" in the Sengoku Period though as he metaphorically termed the castle to have "lack of justice" due to being controlled by Oda Nobunaga

See also

  • List of Special Places of Scenic Beauty, Special Historic Sites and Special Natural Monuments


  • Elison, George and Smith, Bardwell L. (eds) (1987). "Warlords, Artist, & Commoners." Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii.
  • Turnbull, Stephen (2003). "Japanese Castles 1540-1640." Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
  1. Ōrui, N. and M. Toba (1935). Castles in Japan. Tokyo: Board of Tourist Industry & Japan Government Railways.


  • Schmorleitz, Morton S. (1974). Castles in Japan. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.. pp. 65–68. ISBN 0-8048-1102-4. 

External links

Coordinates: 35°09′22″N 136°08′22″E / 35.156022°N 136.139361°E / 35.156022; 136.139361

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