Inuyama Castle, Aichi Prefecture
While fortifications have been built in Japan since the 8th century, many of those that remain today, such as Inuyama Castle in Aichi, date to the Heian Period (794–1185 CE). This era of Japanese history saw the rise of local lords and of the samurai warrior class.
The familiar style of tall stone and wooden keeps known as tenshu were developed in the Sengoku period (1467–1603 CE). Originally, these were purely practical structures, designed to be used by threatened daimyō, or feudal lords, in the vicious civil wars of the era.
Over time, these temporary military structures became permanent homes and acted as palaces. They became increasingly elaborate and decorated with ornamentation as the owners sought to show off their keen aesthetic sense as much as their military prowess.
Standing on the summit of Mount Kinkazan, Gifu Castle presents an imposing image, and it was famed as a stronghold. But looks can be deceiving. In the 16th century the castle was captured by just 16 men led by the samurai Takenaka Shigeharu.
Many castles continued to be used right up until the twentieth century, and some even played a part in the Second World War. The ruins of Zakimi Castle were turned into a gun emplacement by the Japanese army, and following the war, it became a US army radar station.
Sadly, many other castles were utterly ruined. Ōgaki Castle survived the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, but in 1945 the entire castle was destroyed by American bombing raids. The castle tenshu that stands today was rebuilt in concrete in 1959 to house a museum.
Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (Edo period, 19th century) by Katsushika HokusaiTokyo National Museum