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If you are tired of seeing Japan’s ferro-concrete castle reconstructions, and have visited the historic 4 original castles designated as national treasures (Himeji in Hyogo, Inuyama in Aichi, Matsumoto in Nagano, as well as the Shogun’s palace at Nijo in Kyoto), then its time to pay a visit to Asuke, just north of Okazaki. Asuke castle is more of a frontier fort and military camp for samurai and ashigaru than the white walled tourist traps you may be used to.
Asuke castle is located on the top of a small mountain called “Mayumi” (elevation is only 301 meters/980 feet) and can be accessed via the hanging cliffs that spread in all directions. “Mayumi” mountain (which means bow) was considered strategic terrain in the Asuke valley – which can be seen dotted with rows of houses far below. For this reason Asuke castle is also called “Mayumi mountain castle”, as well as “Asuke Matsuyama mountain castle”. The hill top offers perfect observation and the steep slopes provide natural defenses.
During the Kamakura period, a man called Asuke had lived in this castle but the castle was later taken over by a warrior named Suzuki during the Sengoku Jidai (Period of the warring states). Power ebbed and flowed until from 1564 onwards, under the rising power of Ieyasu, the Mikawa warriors of the Matsudaira/Tokugawa seized control of Asuke castle. In 1590, the Tokugawa warriors were moved to Edo (the present Tokyo) in the Kanto area after an agreement between Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598). Asuke castle was abandoned.
From Asuke castle, you can get a good view of the rows of houses as well as the road leading to Shinshu and Mino, and even to Nagoya. Asuke is a town of just over 10,000 residents lying between verdant mountains in northeastern Aichi. In the Edo period (1603-1867) in particular, it thrived as a post town on the Chumakaido highway, which was the route to transport salt produced along the shores of Mikawa Bay and the mountian towns in the 19th century. The town’s streetscape still has many old houses. In fact most of the historic wooden buildings still standing are kept in good repair by the townspeople themselves, and almost all remain in use as homes, shops, or showplaces.
1) Moat: This is a moat that carves the center of the castle from the southern face of the mountain. The bottom of the moat was also used as a passageway.
2 & 3) The first and second south ramparts: The valley to the south west can be viewed from here. This was important also for communications with Okazaki Castle.
4) Well: A well built to trap and store runoff water.
5) West Rampart: The leading edge of this rampart is hardened with packed earth.
6) West Main: Here, you can have see the route leading to Okazaki and Nagoya.
7) Central Rampart 3: This connects the west and south circular area. Only this rampart contains the remains of the cornerstones that were used for the old buildings. Archaelogical excavations are still continuing.
8) South Main: This area is structured in such a way that it looks like a spreading fan. It was originally utilized as a kitchen area. Here you can find traces of restored buildings as well as the stones and charcoal used for kitchen stoves.
9) West Viewing Tower: This tower is located on top of several large rock stratums. This viewing tower is a 2.7 x 5.4m constructed pillar.
10) Central Rampart 1: Here, you will be able to see the front of roads to eastern Mino (Gifu).
11) North Rampart 2: You can view the road to Shinshu (Nagano). It was along this road that the warriors of Takeda Katsuyori (1546-1582) marched in the early stages of his ill-fated invasion of the Mikawa region in 1575. Remains of trapezium shape buildings can also be found here.
12) North Rampart 1: You can view the road to Shinshu (Nagano). You will also be able to see some remains of buildings about 4.5 x 6.8m size.
13) South Viewing Tower: From this viewing tower, you can see the location of the ruins of Keisoku Castle tothe south. Keisoku castle was part of the communication chain and a satellite fortress.
14) Central: Located in the center of the castle. Here, you can see the rows of traditional houses below in Asuke and the road to Shinshu, Mino, Okazaki and Nagoya. This is the highest point (height 301 meters/980 feet). The turret and row of buildings were restored during the post war period based on the archaelogical excavation report.
Other things to see nearby:
The beautiful Korankei Gorge, home to about 4,000 maple trees, is one of Aichi’s best-known spots for viewing the brilliant colors of autumn. To give visitors added pleasure, the gorge is illuminated at night during the foliage-viewing season when over 4000 trees beautifully change color. It is also beautiful in Spring.
In the vicinity, you can also visit Sanshu Asuke Yashiki. This is an old farmhouse from the early Meiji Era, reconstructed in 1980. Inside, aspects of farmhouse life and manual work are reenacted, including straw crafts, weaving and paper making, which were common features in every Japanese mountain village until the mid-’50s. By recreating the country life and manual techniques that gradually disappeared during Japan’s period of high economic growth and with technological innovations, the house provides an opportunity to reflect upon Japan’s current style of living, and its roots.
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