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Kumamoto Castle, approx. 1872–1877
By Akahoshi Kan’i (1835–1888)
Japan, Meiji period (1868–1912)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper
Eisei-Bunko Museum, 29-aka215
© Eisei Bunko, Japan.

This painting depicts a grand view of Kumamoto Castle as it stood before 1877. Generations of Hosokawa lords administered the Higo domain from this castle between 1633 and 1868, when feudal rule ended.

Kato Kiyomasa (1562–1611), a daimyo warrior, initiated the building of the castle in 1601. Construction of the main portion was accomplished by 1607 (see the diagram on the panel “Japanese Castles” in this gallery). But Kiyomasa died a few years later, and his son proved unable to manage the domain. The shogun removed him from power and named Hosokawa Tadatoshi (1586–1641), then the daimyo of a smaller domain, to be lord of Higo. Tadatoshi took up residence in the castle in 1633.

Castles must be able to endure long-term warfare. If besieged, the inhabitants of this castle would have been able to survive on stored food and on water from the castle’s more than 120 wells. Abundant trees within the castle compound gave shade as well as fruits and nuts.

Surrounded by moats and walls, two towers soared into the sky. Open spaces within the compound were bounded by stone walls topped with parapets. Protected by a large number of turrets, there were many gates that had to be passed through in order to reach the interior. The castle’s winding, mazelike configuration was designed to disorient invaders.

Kumamoto Castle endured throughout the feudal age and into the 1800s, but it was sacked during civil strife in 1877. The castle has been largely restored, and now houses a museum.

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