There are just twelve original castles remaining in Japan, four of which are on the island of Shikoku. I visited one of them (Matsuyama) several years ago, and I added two more to the tally (Kōchi and Marugame) earlier during this present trip. Today, let’s tick the last Shikoku item off our list – and do a bit of trainspotting while we’re at it.
Now then, a terminological digression. By “original castles”, we are referring to those 12 that still have their original wooden tenshu (or tenshukaku), the main tower: one of the defining features of the classic shiro. (Let’s gloss over the fact that several castles never had a tenshu to begin with, not even during the Edo Period; Akō, for example.) Some of Japan’s most famous castles are best known for their tenshu, but many of them – like the ones at Kumamoto, Ōsaka, and Nagoya – are 20th-century concrete reproductions.
As of this writing, I’ve visited 11 of the 12 original castles – including the one we’re about to look at in this post – and I’ve got the last of the club pencilled into a northern Japan itinerary for later this year.
Now then, back to the journey at hand.
After breakfast, I headed to Matsuyama Station and waited for the 8:08 Uwakai 5 limited express service. While cooling my heels on the platform, I engaged in a bit of light trainspotting – but, as I’ve repeatedly promised in recent posts, I’ll speak only briefly of the trains now (reserving the nerdy railfan talk for a separate write-up).
Here we see a sleek new JR Shikoku 8600 Series EMU, or rather two of them, since that’s set E1 (on the left) and E11 (on the right) coupled together into a single train.
And over here, three older single-car units joined into one, led by a JNR KiHa 32 Type DMU. The manufacturer’s plate on the head car is dated “昭和 62年” (Year 62 of Shōwa), which gives us a build date of 1987 – still looks quite good for its age, though.
Now for a (rather blurry) snapshot of my train: a JR Shikoku 2000 Series DMU. Car 2116 to be precise. Actually, I’m not certain if my seat was in this particular car or another one in the same formation.
Let’s save the interior shots for further down this post, since I’ll ride another train of the same type later that day.
And off we go to our destination: Uwajima, in Ehime Prefecture.
There are several attractions of note in this quiet coastal city in western Shikoku, but I only had one target for the day.
Uwajima Castle (宇和島城, Uwajima-jō) was begun in the late 1500s by the warlord Tōdō Takatora, who had been assigned the surrounding territory by his master Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Now if the name “Tōdō Takatora” sounds familiar, that’s because he was transferred to the larger Imabari Domain a few years after starting work on this castle – we had a look at his next base in my previous post. The fiefdom was later assigned to a branch of the prominent Date clan, who kept the general layout intact but added defensive improvements during their more than two centuries of rule. In what has now become a familiar story to castle enthusiasts, the Meiji Restoration of the mid-19th century onwards led to the fall of the Tokugawa shōgunate and the demolition of scores of castles throughout the country. Uwajima was also touched by this tidal wave of destruction, but thankfully the structures that were dismantled did not include its tenshu, which is now one of just 12 original main towers still standing in Japan.
It’s possible to walk there from Uwajima Station – in fact, I went back to the station on foot after my visit – but I decided to save time and effort by taking a cab to the starting point…
…a tile-roofed wooden gate built in the early 1700s. This wasn’t originally part of the castle: it was built for the home of a samurai family located elsewhere in the city, and transferred to the present site in the 1950s.
From here, I was faced with a choice between two paths to the top of the hill. A short but steep route that cuts straight up the slope and through the forest…
…or a longer, not-quite-as-steep road that meanders to the north and loops back south, rising more gently towards the summit. Lacking confidence in my strength and stamina, I settled upon the less challenging route.
I’ll tune out the commentary for now – best to savour the pictures without me blabbing away in the background.
After climbing up those steps in the last picture, I finally got my first good look at Uwajima Castle’s centuries-old tenshu. Not a particularly large one, but quite beautiful in its own way.
The tower sits at the heart of the castle’s honmaru, the innermost enclosure. All of the other buildings in this section are long gone, but their stone foundations are still visible, barely poking out of the green grass.
Here’s part of an old painting showing Uwajima’s honmaru enclosure as it looked during the Edo Period, with its buildings still intact (and the tenshu standing on the right). It’s quite interesting to see how the present-day ruins – the gateway on the left, for example, and the hall in the middle – closely correspond to the various structures in the depiction.
Inside the tenshu, there’s a small museum showing artefacts related to the castle and its former ruling family.
I rather like this painted screen. Contemporary art with a traditional flourish.
Before we leave, let’s take a moment to savour the fantastic view. Uwajima Castle used to be right next to the sea – check out this image to see just how close it was to the water (blue area) – but centuries of reclamation have pushed back the waves, and it now sits stranded in the middle of present-day Uwajima City. Nonetheless, the hill upon which the castle stands is high enough to offer modern-day visitors a clear line of sight to the harbour.
All right, time to go. One last look at the tenshu as I make my way down…
…passing the castle’s ruined walls as I go – an easier walk now as I’ve got gravity on my side…
…and back to Uwajima Station for my ride: the Uwakai 14 limited express service. A JR Shikoku 2000 Series DMU (car 2105 this time), virtually identical to the one I’d taken that morning.
Off we go in the direction of Matsuyama, but not quite all the way there. We’ve got a stopover to make at a charming old town in the countryside…
…though let’s save that tale for the next post.