Maruoka Castle (丸岡城 Maruoka-jō) is a hilltop castle located in Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture. It is famous for its wooden main keep, one of the oldest original castle towers in Japan.

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When Oda Nobunaga captured the nearby temple of Hakusan Hougenji in 1575 to thwart further uprisings of the Ikkō Ikki in Echizen, he ordered Shibata Katsutoyo (柴田勝豊, 1556-1583) to build a castle in Toyohara. Katsutoyo was the nephew and the adopted son of Shibata Katsuie, a retainer of Oda Nobukatsu, Oda Nobunaga's younger brother and one of Nobunaga's most trusted generals. In 1576, Katsutoyo moved Toyohara Castle to Maruoka. Maruoka Castle was also known as "Castle of Mist" (霞ヶ城 Kasumiga-jō) due to the legend that thick mist appeared whenever an enemy advanced towards the castle.

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After Katsutoyo's death in 1583, the castle was transferred to the Aoyama, who after the Battle of Sekigahara (1600) were divested of their land holdings by Tokugawa Ieyasu for having sided with the Western armies. Ieyasu bestowed Echizen Province on his son Yūki Hideyasu (結城秀康, 1574-1607) who created Maruoka Domain for his retainer Imamura Moritsugu.

After an O-ie sōdō (御家騒動, "house strife"), Honda Narishige (本多成重, 1571-1647) was assigned Maruoka Domain. Narishige's father Honda Shigetsugu (本多 重次, 1529-1596) had served as general under the Tokugawa. The fief was raised from 26,000 to 40,000 koku, and in 1623 - in the light of Narishige's efforts in the Siege of Ōsaka (1614/15) - to 46,300 koku. His three successors ruled the domain from 1612 to 1695, when Honda Shigemasu, Narishige's great-grandson and reputedly an inept drunkard, was dispossessed and replaced by Arima Kiyosumi (有馬清純, 1644-1703). The Arima governed Maruoka for eight generations until 1871. In 1901, Arima Mochizuki (有馬道純, 1837-1903) donated the land and the remains of the castle to his hometown.

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The lords of the castle and the periods their families reigned over Maruoka Domain.

The castle rests on a small hill on a plain in the eastern outskirts of Sakai. After the Meiji Restoration (1868) and the abolition of the han (feudal domain) system in 1871, most castles in Japan were demolished. Maruoka Castle is one of only twelve castles that have kept their original wooden donjons.

The wooden keep has three storeys only two of which are visible from the outside. Each storey has independent pillars which means that there are no pillars that support the entire structure. In the Meiji Period, the moats were filled and most surrounding buildings as well as the buke-yashiki (samurai quarters) sold. In 1934, the castle tower was designated a national treasure, however, in 1948, it collapsed in the Great Fukui Earthquake. It was therefore demoted to the status of important cultural property in 1950. The restoration began in 1951 and was completed in 1955, with about 80 per cent of the building materials taken from what was left of the donjon.

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Historic photo of Maruoka Castle with the damage sustained in the Great Fukui Earthquake (1948).

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It is quite a climb over a steep staircase to reach the second storey.

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The roofs consist of some 6,000 tiles made of natural stone weighing in at about 75 tons.

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The main keep has a small museum holding arms, armour and other artefacts that belonged to the rulers of Maruoka Domain. The diorama shows the structure of the original moat and its pentagonal shape.

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A friendly ashigaru (足軽, "foot soldier") doll wearing a uniform of the Honda clan.

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Shachi (鯱), often described as dolphins or "dolphin-like", are mythological creatures with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp. Usually carved from wood and covered in copper or sometimes gold and attached to the roofs of castles and other structures to prevent fire. The shachi at Maruoka were remade of stone when the castle was repaired during the Second World War, as copper plating was difficult to procure in wartime. They fell off the roof in the Great Fukui Earthquake of 1948 and were left in place. The current shachi were restored in the early 1950s and are made of wood and copper plates.

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The backside of the main keep; the bay window had ishi-otoshi (石落, "stone-throwing holes") that allowed the defenders to hurl stones onto enemies attempting to scale the walls.

The legend of O-shizu, the human pillar

When Shibata Katsutoyo constructed Maruoka Castle in 1576, the stone wall of the donjon would keep collapsing, despite several attempts at rebuilding and reinforcing it. One of Katsutoyo's retainers suggested a human sacrifice, a practice that was not uncommon in old Japan. A so-called hitobashira (人柱, "human pillar") was sacrificed to the gods so that they would avert natural disasters and allow for large-scale building projects such as bridges or castles to be completed successfully.

In Maruoka, a one-eyed woman by the name of O-shizu was chosen. In return for her self-sacrifice she demanded that her son be made a samurai. Katsutoyo agreed and O-shizu was mured under the main pillar of the castle which was completed soon after. Unfortunately, Katsutoyo was transferred to Nagahama Domain and never made her son a samurai. It is said that her aggrieved spirit caused the moat to overflow every year in April with her tears of sorrow. Later, a small shrine was installed at the castle to soothe her spirit.

Kasumigajō Park

Kasumigajō Park is a Japanese garden that was constructed in 1976 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the castle. The park has 400 Yoshino Sakura trees that offer a stunning sight during the cherry blossom season. The Koshiro Matsuri (Old Castle festival) is held every year in the beginning of October.

Access:

Hourly Keifuku buses from Fukui Station for Honmaruoka (get off at Shiro-iriguchi) or by JR Hokuriku Line from Awara-onsen Station to Hon-Maruoka by Keifuku bus. By car: five minutes from Hokuriku Expressway (Maruoka IC), free parking.

Hours and admission:

Daily from 08:30 to 17:00. Admission: 450 JPY (adults), 150 JPY (students).

Address:

1-59 Kasumicho, Maruokacho, Sakai 910-0231, Fukui Prefecture; phone: 0776-66-0303



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