Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Kyushu Part 4- Kumamoto Castle

The proud central keep of Kumamoto Castle

The next stop in our grand loop around northern Kyushu was the city of Kumamoto, home to one of the largest and most advanced of castles in Japan. However Kumamoto castle has a few interesting connections with history, and Hollywood.

The prototypical Japanese castle town actually came about in a time of peace. Many castles were build or expanded by Tokugawa Ieyasu in an attempt to solidify his hold on Japan. However, since the Edo period was a time of peace and isolation, very few of the grand Japanese castles every saw war. They all met their fate in more mundane ways, Okazaki Castle was pulled down at the end of feudalism, Osaka Castle was struck by lighting, and Nagoya Castle was burned in World War II.

The Looming Shadow of the Keep

Yet Kumamoto Castle was one of very few castles to be involved in an actual land battle, and to be destroyed not through chance or bombing, but in an actual siege. Kyushu was the center of the anti-Meiji Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. Led by an ex-Imperial Army Field Marshal who had been instrumental in the Meiji Restoration, Saigo Takamori, the rebellious Samurai besieged the goverenment forces in Kumamoto Castle.

This is actually one of many defensive towers on the wall. It is original as the wind was blowing the other way when the keep burned. It is unique in that the structure is large enough to be the keep in a smaller castle, yet here is just a tower.

Unfortunatly for Takamori, while he did eventually take, and burn, the castle, it proved a rather disasterous victory as it allowed the Imperial Army time to mobilize a fresh army of 300,000 men. After weeks of bloody fighting it all came to an end in September with the death of Takamori, who has since become a bit of a folkhero.

Ahh but what about the Hollywood connection? Well remember the film Dances with Samurai? Oops, wait I meant The Last Samurai. Yup, a heavily fictionalized Takamori became Ken Wantanabe's noble character, never mind the fact that the rebellion was less about 'tradition!' and more about the Samurai holding on to their protected status and privileges.

Well enough about the history. The castle was Amazing. They haven't finished fully restoring it to a mostly pre-burned state, but what they have finished is pretty darn cool. The central keep is quite imposing, and has excellent historical displays on the area and of course the seige, including a few rare photographs. To a certain extent there is the 'typical' display in one of these castle museums, like armor and a few Katana, yet each is also a product of its area and so while there is always a bit of 'more of the same' there is also a lot of fascinating new information. Then there is the always impressive castle archecture, that NEVER gets old.

Next: A Parting of Ways and An Active Volcano.


Liz said...

Hmmm, I am getting a strong sense of castle deja vu. Interesting.

the editor said...

not all the photos came through - not sure why. Also look up "architecture" and other typos.

Anonymous said...

nevermind - the photos were there when I went back. Must not have had time to load.

Zach said...

rad shadow pic