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Castle Sonobe Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
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Do you know which was the last castle to be built in Japan?

The answer is, of course, Sonobe Castle (園部城 Sonobe-jō). It was built in the Meiji Period. And it was neither a military facility of the Meiji army nor a replica, but the main castle of the Sonobe Domain.


After Tokugawa Ieyasu established the Edo shogunate, Sonobe was ruled by Koide Yoshichika (小出吉親), who in 1619 was transferred from Izushi in Tajima to Sonobe. The Koide were feudal lords without a castle. It took two years to establish the jin-ya (陣屋, an administrative headquarters) on the site of Sonobe Castle (built by Araki Ujitsuna, 荒木氏綱). As Sonobe was a small domain, the shogunate did not permit the construction of a castle. The headquarter had no donjon, but with its outer, inner and middle moats, surrounded by Komukaiyama, it looked like a typical Japanese castle.

In the first year of Meiji (1868), a year after the Tokugawa shogunate had surrendered its power to the new government, most domains had started to demolish their castles. Curiously, the Koide clan, siding of the Meiji government, did precisely the opposite: they reinforced the jin-ya. The domain administration was converted into Sonobe Castle. On 3 January 1868, the Meiji government, led by Satsuma and Chōshū, and the forces of the former Tokugawa shogunate were engaged in a fierce battle (Boshin War) in Toba and Fushimi, south of Kyōto . Sonobe, being close to the former capital and a central transport hub to the Sanin region and Ōsaka, needed to prepare for a visit of the Meiji Emperor and fight the shogunate if the imperial palace was to be attacked. However, Sonobe did not become a battlefield, and the Meiji government consolidated its power. In 1872, Sonobe Domain was abolished and ironically, only four years after its major renovation, most of the castle would be demolished.

Today, Sonobe High School, Sonobe Park, the International House, Sonobe Town Hall, the Court of Justice and other facilities stand on the site of the former castle, turning it into a centre of administration, culture and education. Until recently, the inner moat and the stone walls of the honmaru were still intact, but they have been reclaimed due to the expansion of Sonobe High School and the construction of the International House. The turret gate and the guardhouse are still in existence and are used as the school gate of Sonobe High School, but there are also remains of other structures and landforms throughout the town that reminds us of those days.

The mausoleum of the feudal lords of Sonobe stands quietly on the summit of Mount Tokura, where the Sonobe campus of Bukkyo University is located. The mausoleum is located in the middle of the university grounds, so visitors are not allowed to come and go as they please. The pagoda is about 3m high and is one of the most magnificent pagodas you will see in this area. The pagodas are carved from the top with the words 'sky, wind, fire, water and earth', which are said to symbolise the peace of the nation and the repose of the souls of those who have passed away. The Princess's mausoleum is located at Tokunji Temple, the family temple of the Koide clan, where many of the portraits of successive lords of the line and other objects associated with the clan remain.

Seeing the example of Sonobe Castle, we can understand that the Japanese political system wasn't transferred from the old shogunate to the modern Meiji government in an instance. It needed several years to transfer completely.


Based on the Aerial Photograph Searching Service of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. The location of the enclosures is estimated.

Nantan City International Communication Centre

The Nantan City International Communication Centre (南丹市国際交流会館 Nantan-shi Kokusai kōryū kaikan) is, of course, a replica.


Main enclosure (本丸)

This relatively high place in the picture is the site of the honmaru. Nowadays, it is the location of Sonobe High School.


Yaguramon (櫓門)

The Yaguramon (turret gate) is one of the few surviving structures. It is orderly and dignified, although it was built in 1869. Nowadays, it is the gate of the high school.


Tatsumi Yagura (巽櫓)

Another surviving structure. Tatsumi Yagura seems slightly strange compared with traditional architecture: the second floor is too low and its door too big.


The castle wall remains partly intact as well. But, windows and the loopholes seem to be located somewhat low.


Komugi Mountain (小麦山)

A three-story turret on Komugi Mountain at the backside.


Date of visit: 29 December 2013


  • Address: Sonobecho, Kozakuramachi, Nantan, Kyōto 622-0004
  • Access: a 20-minute walk from JR Yanin Line Yagi Station; 3 kilometres from Kyōto-Jukan Expressway Sonobe Interchange via Prefectural Route 67
  • Parking: Sonobe Park Parking (free; see the map above)
  • Other sights: Yagi Castle
Next article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Fushimi Castle
Previous article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Yagi Castle
About author
Hiroto Uehara
Hiroto is an ordinary Japanese office worker, but his true mission is searching for castles on the weekend.


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Hiroto Uehara
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〒622-0004 京都府南丹市園部町小桜町

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