Kiyosu & Azuchi, Shigaraki, Omi Hachiman, Suigo Meguri

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Kiyosu Castle, Ruins of Azuchi Castle, Shigaraki, Omi Hachiman (Shiga)
Tour Code: OK0710
Tour Fee: 24800 Discount Price: 19600

Date: Saturday/Sunday, July 10th/11th

Saturday: July 10th – Kiyosu Castle, Ruins of Azuchi Castle, Shigaraki, Omi Hachiman.

We begin with a visit to Kiyosu castle. Once a massive fortification, it was built early in the 15th century to control trade routes, and prior to its enlargement, was also an outer fortress of Orizu castle. When the later was burned down in battle, the local military governors moved to Kiyosu. Captured by Oda Nobunaga in 1555, the area around it grew quickly as a market town with separate districts for samurai and townspeople. It was a good example of building not on mountaintops, but on strategic routes. Defense was enhanced by skillful use of water, with multiple moats.

It was here, after the death of Oda Nobunaga in 1582, that his vassals met to decide on his successor. Hideyoshi turned out to be the most astute politician in the room. After Tokugawa Ieyasu secured power, he decided to have Nagoya Castle built (establishing the Owari branch of the Tokugawa family, with his 9th son, Tokugawa Yoshinao (1601–1650) as daimyo).

The castle, and almost the entire castle town, was dismantled and moved. The donjon (main keep), became a turret on the northwest corner, and this building is still there. One of the few to escape the firebombings by B29 aircraft during 1944-45. The current building at Kiyosu is a reconstruction which hosts a pretty good museum.

We then head to the ruins of Azuchi castle in Shiga Prefecture. Azuchi castle was built in 1576 by Oda Nobunaga as he approached the peak of his powers. By this stage, he was in control (close, highly centralized control) of much of central Japan. Built close enough to Kyoto to control it, as well as the important trading port of Sakai and markets of Osaka respectively. Azuchi was the first example of what we now consider to be a “Japanese castle”. Built with high stone walls, skillful use of terrain, located close to water and transportation routes, it included brilliant artwork by Kano Eitoku (amongst others) and architecture (the donjon, or “tenshu”, was 7 stories high) as demonstrations of power and prestige. It became the model for Oda Nobunaga’s successors.

On clear days you have beautiful views over Lake Biwa, with views to the east extending to Nagahama and Hikone. To the west you can see Mount Hiei, the location of the great Enryakuji monastery complex. Participants in Option B will visit Enryakuji on Wednesday, July 16th.

The history period “Azuchi-Momoyama” 1582-1600 (or 1576-1615 depending on the writer) derives from Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s massive Fushimi Castle, built on a hilltop near Kyoto long known as Momoyama. The massive Azuchi Castle was destroyed just 6 years after it was built, when Akechi Mitsuhide betrayed Oda Nobunaga and tried to seize power, but was defeated by Hideyoshi.

We now head to nearby Shigaraki. Once the site of an Imperial Residence (built in 745, but abandoned due to the threat posed by forest fires), it is a small village known for being one of the famous “six kilns” of Japan. These days modern kilns are in use (powered by LNG mostly), but historically the pottery known as Shigaraki-yaki was fired in anagama and noborigama (climbing) kilns. Although wood and charcoal fired, a noborigama (a technique introduced from Korea) can produce temperatures in the upper chambers well in excess of 1000 degrees celsius. What hasn’t changed at all is the quality of the local clay. Half-melted bits of white feldspath and quartz are common, producing brownish pottery with a rough surface. We will spend the rest of the day here working with master potters, mostly on powered wheels. As with Seto, the fame of Shigaraki-yaki spread far and wide. Items (especially for the tea ceremony) were highly sort after, particularly amongst the aristocrats and courtesans of Kyoto. After Japan re-opened to foreign trade and visitors, Shigara-yaki quickly became popular in the new trading ports such as Kobe and Yokohama. The British potter Bernard Leach came and spent some time here, and in more recent times, potters and ceramic artists from around the world have come to experience the clay, and to learn, share and collaborate with others.

We will spend the night in historic Omi Hachiman.

Sunday: July 11th – Omi Hachiman, Suigo Meguri.

“Those who control Omi control Japan” – Omi is the name of the region around Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake, and one of the world’s oldest lakes.

With its strategic location at the “cross roads” of eastern and western Japan, the area was secured by Oda Nobunaga when he defeated the Rokkaku clan in 1568 during his march to Kyoto. Omi Hachiman (then just called Hachiman) became a very prosperous marketplace. Created as a castle town by Toyotomi Hidetsugu (Hideyoshi’s nephew) in 1585, he chose to build a new castle, closer to the lakeshore (as his uncle had at Nagahama) since both Azuchi and Kannonji (the mountaintop castle of the Rokkaku) had both been destroyed. Canals and warehouses were built, taxes and tariffs lowered, and standardized measures enforced.

The merchants (Omi Shonin) began as traveling salesmen. Easily able to travel anywhere across the lake, or down river to Fushimi & Osaka, they quickly learned of the variety of regional products, became masters of logistics, and using their growing experience of the shipping businesses connecting Osaka to western Japan via the Seto Inland Sea, soon eventually learned how to extend that network northwards to Edo (now Tokyo).

We can enter the houses and warehouses of many of these merchants. They had to hide their wealth (burying silver, wearing poorer looking kimono over their fine silks when traveling and so on) but the Omi merchants were involved in the creation of new financial and manufacturing businesses in the newly re-unified Japan. Experience that would prove essential when Japan was re-opened to foreign trade in the mid-19th century. Even today, many well known firms such as trading companies (Itochu, Marubeni and Tomen), department store chains (Takashimaya, Daimaru and Seibu), Textiles (Nisshinbo and Toyobo) amongst others, have their origins in Omi Hachiman.

Apart from the merchant houses, we’ll see the Hachiman-bori canal (the cheapest way to move bulk goods was by boat) and the Kawara Museum.

Next is the Suigo Meguri, to experience how people traveled by water in the days before engines. These are shallow draft, largely flat bottom boats, which we will ride in as we explore the wetlands and lagoon just northeast of town.

Depending on time and weather, you then have the choice of visiting either Choumeiji (a famous temple on the lake shore, and part of the 33 temple “west country” pilgrimage route), or Nagahama, the castletown of Toyotomi Hideyoshi at the eastern end of the lake. We then return to Okazaki.

Departs: East Exit, JR Okazaki Station, Saturday, 8:30am. Returns: 9:30pm (approx)
Mode of transport: Minivan or Microbus
Deadline for Discount Price: 21 days prior
Tour Code: OK0710 (needed for application form below)

Click here to apply (opens new window).