Two Portuguese Changed Japanese Castles.

( Photo by (c) The city of Himeji )


Himeji Castle: It is said to be the most beautiful castle in Japan. In general, castle towers were originally designed for watch towers but gradually became symbols representing the dignity of castellans.



( Photo by (c) The city of Himeji )


The total area of the castle is almost equal to about six Yankee Stadiums.

In 1543, a Chinese ship drifted about aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean. Overwhelmed by hungry, thirst, and the fear of death, two Portuguese came aboard the ship. To be or not to be, nobody knew! Or could they survive miraculously? The two guys had harquebuses which were futile tools in the ship.

However, the fate of human beings is unforeseeable, let alone our history. The two Portuguese were to sow the seeds of making a building technology of a country completely changed. In the rough situation, although anyone is not aware of their roles in the history, fortunately the ship drifted to the island called “Tanega-Shima Island” in Japan.




The location of Tanega-shima Island.

Japan at the Time: The Age of Provincial Wars

Japan was in the midst of the age of provincial wars which had lasted for nearly 100 years when the ship survived. A lord of the island soon paid attention to the harquebuses the Portuguese had. He bought the two at an exceptional price that European people couldn’t imagine. According to one estimate, just two weapons was sold for 2,000 gold tael!

A swordsmith was ordered to craft the same thing in perfect detail. The smith made it excellently. From a half century on, unbelievably, Japan was to obtain 300,000 harquebuses. The total number surpassed all of the harquebuses in Europe.



( Photo by (c) Tomo.Yun )




The Battle of Nagashino: Harquebuses were also used in the field. The left army accommodating soldiers inside the fences was prepared for cavalry charge.


Without numerous harquebuses, the castles in Japan, like famous Himeji Castle whose photos are inserted at the top, would not be large-scaled and not be equipped with high stonewalls, wide and deep moats, and robust plaster fences

Before that, some built a citadel at the top of a mountain. Others managed with a small-scale castle by trenching moats and casting up earthworks by dirt.  Those would do at the time.

However, the appearance of harquebuses whose firing range was much longer than arrows made traditional-style castles useless.

In Japan, castles after the end of the middle age are well preserved and become tourist destinations, but most previous castles are now deserted or only a few are restored for sightseeing.

It means that the accidental arrival of the Portuguese made samurai warriors have no choice but to innovate their architectural technology.

Imagine that, at your company, the Microsoft Windows cannot be completely out of date and all have to be replaced!


(Image 6) (Image 7)

( Photo by (c) The writer of this article)


Ruined Castle in the Middle Age: There are only a stone monument and direction board. The inside surrounded by earthworks seems to be used as a fruit garden.


Samurai’s Innovation Projects on Castle Renewal

Castles must be strong fortresses. Even though an enemy makes an attack by multi-numerous army, deliberate devises are required to defend by smaller units. Old-fashioned forts on the top of mountains had week points. One was to block off a source of water. Another was the difficulty in material transportation. On the other hand, in conventional castles built in plain fields, defensive soldiers were easily shot because their arrow cannot reach enemies even if they were on a castle wall.

To resolve those weakness, many kinds of efforts were made.

I introduce an example. It was wider moats fortified by stone walls.


Comparing two photos below enables you to immediately understand. The former (Image 8) assumed the attack using harquebuses, but the latter (Image 9) was constructed in the previous period when projectile weapons were only arrows.


( Photo by (c) The city of Himeji )



( Photo by (c) Urabe Research Laboratory)


This is not a stream but narrow moat.

Huge Castles and the Formation of Castle Towns

As defensive power is strengthened, huge castles were constructed in a plain field with good access or on a hilly area whose altitude is about 100-meter (approx. 320 feet).

High capacity of soldiers led to build castle towns where their families resided. A large number of Japanese cities have their origins in the history above mentioned.


( Photo by (c) Jyo81 )


Typical Castle Town: The height of the hill is 132 meters (433 feet). The city has developed around the castle.

The photo is the city of Matsuyama, Ehime prefecture in Shikoku.

New Ideas Samurai came up with

To be prepared for enemy’s firing attack, other new ideas were adopted.

One is a turret on a stone wall surrounded by strong walls. Harquebuses could not be used when it rained outside. To prevent soldiers from getting wet and to be able to take a fire action, many turrets were built on stone walls. It is no exaggeration to say that castle’s defensive strength is proportional to the number of turrets.

To secure soldiers’ safety, little holes were bored into walls, which could fire against foemen. On the other hand, against enemy’s firing, wooden gateways and pillars were also covered with steel sheets.

As long as a besieged army obtained a lot of harquebuses and even if the number of enemy was ten times more than that of their own forces, building a castle which was not easily fallen became more important and valuable tasks for samurai warriors.


(Image 11:

Turrets Plan


(Image 12:

Real turret


(Image 13:

Little holes for firing


(Image 14:



The Biggest Fortress to the East of Constantinople

About 40 years had passed since the two Portuguese arrived at Japan. The innovation of castles sweeping this country at last reached the perfect form. A representative example is Osaka Castle, which was built by a man who unified Japan torn by over 100 years of war. His name is Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He came from a poor farming family and was very short in height and powerless in physical strength.

Unlike in the Middle Age, the appearance of strong weapons would rather shed light on originality and ingenuity than personal physical power. Hideyoshi was a symbol of such period.

A Jesuit missionary reported that Osaka Castle was the most maximum fortress to the east of the Constantinople.

Now, the castle towers up into the sky, but total area of the castle used to be four times larger than that of today.

The Portuguese who caused “Castle Innovation” in Japan didn’t know the result triggered by them. At any rate, how did they use huge profits in the exchange of only two harquebuses?

I think few things are more unforeseeable than the fate of human beings and history itself.

(Image 15:

( Photo by (c) Tomo.Yun )

Full view of Osaka Castle


(Image 16:

Toyotomi Hideyoshi Portrait


(Image 17:

( Photo by (c) Tomo.Yun )

Tower of Osaka castle


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