【Japan's Famous Castle Series】"Takatori Castle" of Nara: The impregnable Super Mountain Castle!

【Japan's Famous Castle Series】The impregnable Super Mountain Castle! Takatori Castle of Nara

When you think of Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, you may think of deer and the magnificent Buddha statue. But for Japanese castle lovers, Nara is a prefecture with mountain castle ruins that you definitely want to visit. Read on for our guide to Takatori Castle, "Japan's strongest castle" with impregnable and steep terrain.

Japan's strongest castle with natural rugged terrain

Japan's strongest castle with natural rugged terrain

"Yamajiro" (山城 - mountain castle) refers to a castle built along the topography and height of a mountain, using the natural topography of the mountain as advantage. The height of the castle makes it difficult for the enemy to move around, and since you can see far from the high ground, you can quickly grasp the movements of the surroundings - it is a type of castle that is strong in defense and counterattack.

Among the three major mountain castles in Japan, "Iwamura Castle" (岩村城) in Gifu Prefecture, "Bitchu Matsuyama Castle" (備中松山城) in Okayama Prefecture, and "Takatori Castle" (高取城) in Nara Prefecture, Takatori Castle is most large-scale one, with the difference in height of 390 meters between the Honmaru (main enclosure, the highest ground of the castle) and the foot of the mountain - the largest height difference among Japanese castles. The circumference of the castle is about 30 km. I t boasts a total of 33 gates, 27 turrets, and a 3-storied castle tower. No wonder why Takatori Castle is said to be out of the standard as such a big castle is built on the top of the mountain with an altitude of 583 meters! 

It is only natural that the enemy will begin to lost their motivation before they can even attack, and that even if they actually attack the castle, they will not be able to take it down and will be in despair. Now that's why it is called "the best mountain castle in Japan".

A castle that gradually evolved

Gradually evolved castle

However, Takatori Castle was not invincible right from the beginning. This castle was originally built in 1332 as a branch castle of Kaibukiyama Castle (貝吹山城). The castle was abandoned once in 1580, but its strategic importance was reaffirmed and it was rebuilt in 1584. Then In 1589, a large-scale renovation was carried out. The castle tower and turrets were added to increase its defensive power, making it the strongest mountain castle in Japan.

Takatori Castle, which has the appearance of being the strongest, remained impregnable during the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and the Tenchugumi Incident in 1863 (an armed uprising to overthrow the shogunate by the lordless feudal retainers around the end of Edo period), contributing to the victory of the Takatori Domain. Especially in the Tenchugumi Incident, only two people were slightly injured, proving once again the height of the topographical superiority of Takatori Castle.

Three Sengoku Heroes and Takatori Castle

Three Sengoku Heroes and Takatori Castle

What is also noteworthy is the relationship between the Three Sengoku Heroes such as Nobunaga Oda and Takatori Castle itself.

It was Nobunaga Oda who decided to abandon Takatori Castle in 1580, so the castle had a bad relationship with Nobunaga Oda. In addition, the Toyotomi family, famous for Hideyoshi Toyotomi, built and expanded Takatori Castle. In 1585, Hideyoshi's younger brother, Hidenaga Toyotomi, took possession of Takatori Castle and appointed his senior vassal Toshihisa Honda as the lord of the castle. Toshihisa Honda made a major renovation in 1589. In 1640, when the ruler of Takatori Castle was replaced by the Uemura clan loyal to the Tokugawa family, Takatori Castle was managed for 228 years until the Meiji Restoration, when Takatori Castle was officially abandoned. The last days of the castle passed under the control of the Tokugawa clan.

Magnificent stone wall that leaves the forest as it is

Magnificent stone wall that leaves the forest as it is

There is not a single building left at the current Takatori Castle ruins. Many of the buildings were abandoned and returned to nature and the forest. Beside the two castle gates that were once inside the castle have now been relocated to the main gate of the temple and the entrance to the children's park. The only thing remains is the huge stone wall.

Although the current Takatori Castle is only the ruins, not a complete castle, one can still tell how powerful it was in its glorious days. Its amazing appearance is now merely a dream, but it is not difficult to imagine.

Because of its historical value, Takatori Castle has been designated as a National Historic Site and one of Japan's Top 100 Castles. Located in the mountains, it attracts not only castle fans but also many tourists to see the beautiful scenery that changes with the seasons.

As Takatori Castle is on the top of the mountain, we recommend wearing clothes suitable for hiking when visiting. Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes. Only with a safe footing can you fully enjoy the beauty and harshness of the Takatori Castle ruins.

Tourist Spot Information

  • Spot name: Takatori Castle (高取城 / Takatori-jo)
  • Address: Takatori, Takatori-cho, Takaichi District, Nara Prefecture
  • Hours: Free to visit anytime
  • Access: From Kintetsu Yoshino Line "Tsubosakayama" station, take the Nara Kotsu bus bound for "Tsubosaka-dera". Get off at "Tsubosaka-dera-mae", then walk about 1 hour.

Related article: 【Japan's Famous Castle Series】Japan's Three Great Mountain Castles with "Japan's No.1"


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