Nobunaga’s Castle Museum

Nobunaga’s Castle Museum

The keep of Oda Nobunaga’s castle is dramatically recreated at full scale.

place Area: Omihachiman access_time Published: 2020.11.27

Name in Japanese: 安土城天守 信長の館
Pronunciation: azuchijō tenshu nobunaga no yakata

Azuchi Castle was built by Oda Nobunaga on Mt. Azuchi on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa. It was a magnificent structure, with the first large keep designed as a symbol of the owner’s prestige, atop walls all made of stone. The castles built subsequently all followed the pattern of Azuchi.

Said to be the first wooden high-rise building in the world, it rose to a height of 46 metres and the Christian missionary Luís Fróis praised its magnificence. However, only three years after its construction, the castle burned down.

In recent years, instructions for a castle tower handed down by the carpenters of the Kaga domain were discovered. Excavations and site surveys conducted by Naitō Akira, President of Aichi Sangyō University revealed that the castle tower was that of Azuchi.

At the Seville Expo ‘92 in Spain, the main exhibit in the Japanese pavilion was a full-size reconstruction of the 5th and 6th floors of Azuchi Castle. Paintings by Kanō Eitoku, a leading artist of the Azuchi–Momoyama period, were reproduced on gold-leaf sliding doors. The exhibit attracted 5.2 million visitors, the largest number recorded in the history of the World Exposition up to that time. After the Expo, the exhibit was dismantled and relocated to the Azuchi Castle Museum, located one kilometre from the site of the castle.

Azuchi Castle was a symbol of Nobunaga’s intention to unify the nation, and the 5th and 6th floors of the castle represent the unification of Japanese religion and thought. The imagery reflects Nobunaga’s strong will to unify the world. An atrium in the centre of the castle extending from the ground to the fourth floor is believed to have been occupied by a stupa, reinforcing the religious atmosphere of this castle.

The 5th floor is a regular octagon, a shape which represents the universe. The pillars and ceiling are all painted in vermilion lacquer, with a structure like that of the Yumedono at Hōryū-ji Temple. The pillars are engraved with ascending and descending dragons, showing the Buddhist view from hell to heaven. In the inner sanctum, there are images of the Buddha preaching among the ten great disciples painted on gold leaf doors. On the reverse side facing the corridor are hungry devils in hell.

The 6th floor is square and finished in gold leaf on the outside with black lacquer inside. It depicts the doctrines of Taoism and Confucianism. There are depictions of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors from the Chinese creation story, Laozi, Confucius, and Seven Wise Men.

Although you can’t go inside the reconstruction, you can get close enough to see the details.

Another attraction of the museum is its Virtual Reality theatre. Based on excavations and research materials, Azuchi Castle has been recreated using computer graphics. It shows the residences of Nobunaga’s vassals, Lake Biwa as it was at the time, and the castle town and rice fields around the castle. The short film depicts Azuchi Castle from the perspective of Portuguese missionary Luís Fróis, who was invited to the completed Azuchi Castle in the summer of 1581. You also see the castle from the exhilarating perspective of a hawk flying around it. The strategic significance of Azuchi is also explained .

There are other interesting exhibits including a model of the keep, and a diorama showing the castle being built. In May 1582, Tokugawa Ieyasu and Anayama Baisetsu visited Azuchi Castle after defeating Takeda Katsuyori. Nobunaga ordered Akechi Mitsuhide to serve them a banquet. The meal that he served them is reproduced as an exhibit.

In those days, the dishes of a banquet were lined up all at once, highlighting the gorgeousness of the arrayed food. Various decorations were employed to create a more luxurious atmosphere. These included placing dishes on stands painted with gold or silver, using skewers of gold, and serving the food on sheets of gold leaf. Artificial flowers were also used. These decorations are characteristic of banquets served in Japanese medieval times.

Since the Muromachi era, three birds and five fish have been designated as particularly good as food. The birds are the crane, pheasant, and goose. Menus also included many wild birds and waterfowl such as lark, sandpiper and heron. It seems that the cranes came to Japan in the autumn and most of their varieties were used for food, but in the Edo period, they had been over-hunted and were a valuable foodstuff that could only be used for formal ceremonial menus. It seems that larks and other small birds were roasted and eaten whole including the head and bones.

The five fish are carp, sea bream, sea bass, flounder, and shark. A medieval cookbook advised that carp should be served first followed by sea bream. However, in the Edo period, sea bream came to be prized over carp. In terms of seasoning, the book also specifies wasabi vinegar for carp, ginger vinegar for sea bream, and water pepper vinegar for sea perch.

Visiting the castle site, Nobunaga’s Castle Museum, the nearby Azuchi Castle Archaeological Museum, and the Azuchi Castle Museum near Azuchi Station makes an enjoyable and educational day out.


place 800, Kuwanomiji, Azuchichō, Ōmihachiman, Shiga Prefecture