Field Report: Fukuchiyama Castle, Kyōto Prefecture, Japan (13 November 2016)

My love of Japanese castles takes me to the city of Fukuchiyama northwest of Kyōto, where an ancient fortress demolished during the Meiji Restoration now again stands proudly over the lands it once controlled.

After attending Sunday Mass at a Catholic church in downtown Kyōto, I travelled to the city’s main railway station to await my first ride of the day: the Hashidate 1 limited express service, departing at 0925.

And here’s our ride, a JR West 287 series EMU. The interior shots are of the train’s Green Car (first-class compartment), with a roomier 1+2 seat configuration than the 2+2 abreast found in the Ordinary Cars behind.

Now then, time for breakfast. The ride was one hour and sixteen minutes long, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy my simple store-bought meal.

My target was a 15-20 minute walk east of Fukuchiyama Station. A relatively featureless stroll over flat, paved terrain…

…until I reached the base of the hill on which the castle stands. From there, the path branched off from the main road and rose upwards to the level, stone-clad platform of the summit.

Fukuchiyama Castle (福知山城, Fukuchiyama-jō) might not ring bells for many tourists, but it’s had a long and colourful history. Initially established as the headquarters of the Yokoyama clan, the fortress was subsequently rebuilt in 1580 by Akechi Mitsuhide (who served and later betrayed the warlord Oda Nobunaga), reconstructed in the early 1600s by Arima Toyōji, transferred between a succession of fudai daimyō and tozama daimyō, and ultimately ended up in the hands of the Kutsuki clan, 13 generations of whom held the castle and its surrounding territory from 1669 until 1871.

When the imperial court assumed full control over all of Japan during the Meiji Restoration, scores of castles across the country were demolished, including Fukuchiyama. The site remained an empty ruin until the 1980s, when a concrete replica of the former tenshu (main tower) was erected on the original spot and the city finally regained the most prominent feature of its historic skyline.

The main tower now serves as a museum. Photography is forbidden in almost all areas inside, but fortunately some of the best pictures one can take are of the great outdoor views from the top.

The courtyard just outside the tower entrance has a number of interesting features, including a small gatehouse, a shrine, and a stone-lined well that’s said to be the deepest of its kind in any Japanese castle.

At first glance, the tenshu base looks pretty much like any other – but take a closer look and you’ll notice something quite special. Hiding amongst the rough natural rocks that make up much of the platform are finely chiselled stones, some even bearing traces of inscriptions and decorative work.

These so-called ten’yōseki – literally, “stones put to another use” – might include old millstones, stone lantern bases from Buddhist temples, even gravestones: a veritable hodgepodge of carved rock from different sources, smashed apart and reused in the construction of the castle walls. Whilst by no means unique to Fukuchiyama Castle, there’s a particularly rich concentration of them in the base of its main tower.

Speaking of stone walls … as I walked back down to the foot of the hill, I turned left into a side path running along the base of the castle’s soaring ishigaki. A short detour, but quite a rewarding one for those who appreciate the defensive stonework that’s such an iconic part of Japanese castle architecture.

The castle wasn’t the only attraction I visited in the area, however. Near the foot of the hill, just above the main road, I came across the Fukuchiyama City Satō Taisei Memorial Art Museum (福知山市佐藤太清記念美術館, Fukuchiyama-shi Satō Taisei Kinen Bijutsukan).

Opened in 1990, the museum is housed in a building that was designed to resemble a castle turret, which makes it an appropriate – and quite attractive-looking – feature of the neighbourhood.

From here, I returned to the train station and caught the Kinosaki 14 limited express service back to Kyōto. Then followed a late lunch, as well as a brief look at Kōshō-ji and Nishi Hongan-ji in the city centre. I might incorporate the lunch into a food report at some point, though I probably won’t bother writing about that last bit of sightseeing as I didn’t spend much time at either spot.

The next morning, I set out to visit a place renowned for its fine garden and splendid autumn colours…

…but let’s save all that for the next post.


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