In my previous post, we had a look at one of Japan’s twelve remaining original castles. On my way back to Okayama, I managed to squeeze in one more. I now regret making that brief stopover – not because the castle I saw was disappointing, but because it was so flipping awesome that I can’t forgive my not setting aside more time for the visit.
Although a fortress was first constructed on the site in the late 16th century, Marugame Castle (丸亀城, Marugame-jō) as we see it today is mainly the product of a mid-17th century rebuilding. Most of the castle buildings were lost over time due to fire or demolition – especially after the fall of the Tokugawa shōgunate in 1868 – but amongst the few survivors was its tenshu, one of just 12 original keeps still standing in Japan.
The castle site is about 15 minutes by foot from the railway station. I’ve hiked to the tops of hills and deep into forests in pursuit of castles before, so the flat, paved, thoroughly civilised urban terrain I had to cross for this particular specimen presented no special challenge. That said, I’ve read there are buses available from the station, which would cut your travel time to 5 minutes.
Even with its outermost defences long gone and its former samurai town replaced by the concrete blandness of a typical mid-sized Japanese city that has seen better days, the sight of the castle as one approaches its main gate is quite impressive indeed.
The terrain hereabouts is remarkably flat, so the tiered defences that make up Marugame Castle really do stick out above the rest of the landscape. Rising 66 metres above sea-level, a natural hill (Kameyama by name) was transformed into the fortress we see today by having its upper slopes encased in walls made of tightly fitted stone blocks, which were then crowned with an assortment of watchtowers and gateways.
I’ve read accounts comparing Marugame to Mesopotamian ziggurats or Mayan pyramids: an apt description, in my view, considering how the castle’s walled enceintes rise up towards the sky like gigantic stair steps.
And all the way over there, perched upon the edge of the uppermost terrace, stands the castle’s beautifully preserved 17th-century tenshu.
We’ll have a closer look at Marugame’s main tower shortly. Across the moat now, into the castle compound through its formidable main gate…
…and up through the castle’s tightly nested rings of defence, each one featuring well preserved ishigaki. (Do bear in mind that the climb, whilst mostly paved, is fairly steep in some stretches, which left me quite knackered by the time I reached the top level.)
And here we are – the tenshu. One of the last remaining original castle donjons in Japan.
It’s one of the smallest tenshu I’ve seen in my travels, although the height of the hill upon which it stands – together with the surrounding territory that stays level for miles around – does lend something of a multiplier effect in terms of the view. To give you an idea, here’s a shot of the surrounding area taken from the castle compound. Note that I wasn’t even standing at the uppermost enceinte when I snapped this; I believe I was one terrace down at the time.
I’ll admit that I really didn’t think the castle – and its soaring ishigaki in particular – would be this impressive. Otherwise, I’d have set aside at least half a day to explore the grounds, and perhaps do a full circuit of the surviving walls and moat. But no worries: I’m already sketching out a future trip focusing on Shikoku, and Marugame’s high on my priority list for a return visit.
Now then, let’s wrap up the day by following this path on the castle’s lowest enclosure…
…until we reach this age-darkened gateway and the guardhouse next to it. These are the last remnants of the castle lord’s palace, completely destroyed many years ago (as with so many other parts of the fortress).
Back to Marugame Station now, there to wait for the Nanpū 18 limited express service bound for Okayama. The air was chilly, but a warm beverage fresh from a vending machine was all it took to make things right.
It’s a nice, peaceful interlude after a long day of castle hunting, and an opportunity to engage in one of my other areas of interest – namely, Japanese trains. I’ll keep the nerdy railway talk brief for the moment: my plan is to write a separate trainspotting post documenting the different trains that brought me all over Shikoku.
A few minutes before my own train pulled up at the station, another beast came to a halt alongside the platform opposite: a 115-series EMU, set D-23. The lead car bore the body number KuHa 115-350.
Whoops, here comes our ride. Time to get ourselves onboard.
I was in a bit of a rush to board my train – this was just an intermediate stop after all, and there wasn’t much time to spare for photo-snapping – so I captured these images after we arrived at Okayama. A JR Shikoku 2000 Series DMU, wrapped in special Anpanman livery.
My seat was in the comfortable – but hopelessly drab – Green Car. More spacious 2-1 seating, generous legroom … but the decorative scheme is boring as heck.
I stole a shot of one of the Ordinary Cars as I walked past. A bit more cramped with 2-2 seating, but at least it looks a whole lot nicer in there. (Though it makes sense that they would save the Anpanman interiors for the less expensive Ordinary section, since families travelling with children would be more likely to book seats in that part than in the more expensive Green compartment.)
Off to bed now for some much-need rest … because we’ve got more castle hunting scheduled the next day. (^_^)