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Okayama Castle and Korakuen, by Castle Curator Sachiko Hagiwara

2017.03.20


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A Brilliant, Black "Crow Castle"

Okayama Castle was originally painted with black urushi lacquer, making it as dark and glossy as a crow's wings. This earned it the nickname "Crow Castle" (ujō), sometimes expanded to "Golden Crow Castle" in reference to the gold-leaf roof tiling.

In Japan's Sengoku ("Warring States") period, black urushi lacquer was found only on the castles of the most powerful figures, like Oda and Hideyoshi, or their trusted vassals. Gold-leaf roof tiles, too, were a status symbol reserved for the elite. In other words, Okayama Castle was an extremely special place.

okayama-2 copy-minokayama-3 copy-minokayama-4 copy-minokayama-5 copy-minWalls and watchtowers still standing

The castle was built by Ukita Hideie, one of the members of Hideyoshi's Council of Five Elders. Hideyoshi directed every aspect of the construction personally, ensuring that it would be suitable for one of his most favored and well-rewarded daimyo.

Few of the stone walls remaining on the site date back to Hideie's time. Instead, they were raised later, when the castle was in the hands of the Kobayakawa or Ikeda clan. However, some of the original stone walls do survive, which is one of Okayama Castle's main attractions.

The wall still standing from on the south-east side of the main building is 15.6 meters tall, making it one of the highest stone walls raised before the Battle of Sekigahara. The original wall is rough, with the stones hardly cut or processed at all, while the later additions by the Kobayakawa and Ikeda clans are more refined—the difference is clearly visible as you walk along.

Another surviving remnant of the original castle is the western watch tower in the west part of the castle complex. Lately, the old high-rise buildings along the train line to the west have been torn down, making the tower clearly visible from that direction.

There is also the "Moon-viewing tower," a unique design with two levels when viewed from outside the castle, but three when viewed from within. This was built by Ikeda Tadakatsu.

 

Next page: "Korakuen Garden: the best view of Okayama Castle!