Comparing and Contrasting Japanese and European Castles

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Castles to Compare Castles can be located all over the world representing historical stories, epic events and achievements. Western architecture has remained a vital part of our world’s history having taught us a lot about what makes great architecture. Western civilizations display a plethora of magnificent buildings including castles of great fortitude. Japan and Europe are home to a number of these significant castles. In this essay I will discuss Japanese Edo castles and European Medieval castles. By using examples of Japanese and European castles, I will discuss the similarities but also some very significant differences ertaining to different areas including symbolism. One thing remains true no matter the location of a castle; a castle is a large dwelling. This is a similarity that seems to be permanently glued to the word “castle”. Japanese and European castles alike dominate their surrounding areas in size. Size is something often used to create extravagance or as I stated dominance. The Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey North Wales (fig. 1) is no exception to this idea. With more than 16 towers and 2 massive gate houses laid into thick brick walls, this castle exceeds dominating other buildings and the surrounding area.

Edo Castle (fig. 2, fig. 3) of Japan although it no longer exists beyond its base, once stood a good 5 stories high. This is another comparable display of size. Fig. 1: Beaumaris Castle Fig 2: Edo Castle (today) Fig 3: Edo Castle (manipulation as if it would be) Another similarity between the European and Japanese castles are some of its structures. Structures built as part of the Medieval castles were also built as part of Edo castles. Many of these similar structures were the defensive aspects of the castles. One of these efensive vices was the bridge. Most castles had some sort of bridge or draw-bridge that was easily dispensed in battle. Although not common among Japanese castles, Matsuyama (fig. 4) castle also had a sort of gatehouse which was very commonly used in European castle construction. Both European and Japanese castle often had watch towers, placed differently maybe, but used for similar purposes. One major similarity for both types of castles is the central or most important structure, the Keep or Donjon. This was the largest or tallest structure. Although they served as the most prominent feature of astles, they served different functions for the Europeans and the Japanese. This is just one of many differences between the Edo and Medieval castles. Fig 4: Matsuyama Castle If you look back to fig. 1 and 2, at first glace you will probably observe many obvious differences on the exterior between the 2 types of castles. One significant difference lies within the basic frame of the buildings. Japanese Edo Castles were built mainly of wood. They were constructed with large timber beams and very little stone. However, European Medieval castles used very little wood and were built mostly of stone.

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Osaka castle (fig. 5) may stretch this rule a little. As figure 5 displays, it was built with quite an impressive stone wall which may make it more comparable to a European castle. The interior of the European and Japanese castles is also fairly different. Both contain large open areas but the aesthetic feel is completely different. European castles major structure focuses around a great hall made of stone often decorated with wall paintings. As time progressed more elaborate measures were taken, including the installation of fireplaces and decorating the room elaborately with beautiful gold paint.

Japanese castles were most often open wooden spaces with sliding doors used to make separations if necessary. Japanese castles had multiple stories creating a completely different space. This also condoned the purpose of most Edo castles which I will touch on later. (fig. 6) The purpose of the castles is probably the most significant difference between the Medieval and Edo Castles. Medieval castles were created as fortresses. They were very consciously built to act as defensive systems. The strong towers and cowering walls were meant to impress and scare of the enemy. (fig. 7) Not often were hese castles created for inhabitants alone, if at all. The Edo period was a peaceful period. The castles were not built with the intent to act as a fortress in a time of constant war but instead to house the Daimyo (lord of the land). Japanese castles were created to represent and symbolize more than anything else. Fig. 5: Osaka Castle Fig. 6: Interior of top floor – Matsuyama Castle Fig. 7: Sketch of Chateau Gaillard As I stated earlier the Edo period was a time of peace. To promote this belief, the castles interiors were filled with reflecting pools and gardens. These were places to ontemplate, and meditate on the daimyo and the social order. Even the seating arrangement used in the interior rooms symbolized social status and power. Each floor held more prestige and was restricted to certain people as you continued upward. The main tower (tenshu or donjon) symbolized power to intimidate. Often the inner rooms were decorated with great paintings of different subject matter to symbolize numerous things. Some of these paintings might be of terrifying animals to represent the Shogun’s (Daimyo) power or maybe paintings of trees or plants to symbolize the loyalty or longevity.

Each castle was usually surrounded by beautiful and strong pine trees. These were said to symbolize eternity or immortality. This was a very important aspect for the Daimyo, his power and authority over the castle and the land. So, above all else, the castles great magnificence and grandeur symbolized the Daimyo’s authority and the luxuries of his life. Alike in majesty, different in purpose, this is one way of looking at European Medieval and Japanese Edo Castles. By examining a few different castles of each cultural background I have discussed the similarities as well as the differences between he castle types. One of the differences that play a major part in this comparison is the importance of symbolism of the Edo castles. It is one thing to observe and compare these castles, but I hope one day I can visit these locations. Then I’ll be able to see first hand the vast and magnificent Castles from both the Europe Medieval period as well as the Japanese Edo period! Bibiliography Coldstream, Nicola. Medieval Architecture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 23-191. Gies, Joseph, Frances Gies, Harper, and Row. “Life in a Medieval Castle. ” Castle Wales. 1974. 10 June 2008 <http://www. castlewales. com/life. tml>. Holberton, Paul. The World of Architecture. London, Ca: Mitchell Beazley, 1988. 100-106. Oka, Yasuyuki. “Japanese Castles. ” Japanese Castles. 2007. 14 July 2008 <http://www. shirofan. com/english. html>. Thomas, Jeff. “Castle Wales. ” Beaumaris Castle. 1995. 10 June 2008 <Castle Wales>. Varma, Atul. “The Architecture of the Castles in Japan. ” Japanese Architecture: Japan. 23 Feb. 1999. 14 July 2008 <http://mll. kenyon. edu/~japanese02/J28sp99/projects/varma/1/index. html>. Young, David & Michiko. The Art of Japanese Architecture. Vermont, Singapore, Tokyo: Tuttle, 2007. 100-105.

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