In Japanese history, armed conflict continued throughout the 15th and 16th century. The incidents and people who were part of this era, the Sengoku period (Warring States Period), are now still popular among many Japanese, and are themes of films and television programs.

Inuyama Castle was constructed during this period of war, and the castle lord switched frequently due to the importance of the castle’s location. Furthermore, the territory was the battleground for many battles which shaped history carried out by famous warlords such as Oda Nobunaga, who attempted to unify the warring nation, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified it, and Tokukagawa Ieyasu, who built an era of peace.

Japanese castles were constructed in accordance with the fighting methods of the periods and territories. We will introduce the history of Japanese castles and Inuyama Castle from the age when Japan was centered around an imperial court to when it built a peaceful nation after the warring period.

  • Japanese eras
  • History of Japanese castles and Inuyama Castle


Japan is connected to the continent. People hunt with stone tools and gather food to live.

  • -36000~

Jomon period

People start to settle down in various areas and group into villages.

  • -13000~

Yayoi period

Rice farming spreads and storage of rice becomes possible. However, conflict between villages over land, water, and produce start to occur.

As fighting continues, Queen Himiko is said to have subdued this and ruled over Yamataikoku.

  • -2500~

Villages (moated settlements) are fortified with moats, embankments (dorui), and fences to defend from enemy invasions. These are considered to be the beginning of Japanese castles.

Kofun period

The land of Yamato (Nara Prefecture) unifies all the local lords under its authority.

  • 300

Residences with moats around them are said to have been built in various areas. Leaders of each area are thought to have fortified their houses.

Asuka period

Yamato constructs a palace in Asuka (Nara Prefecture), and virtually becomes the ruling power (Imperial Court) of Japan.

  • 600
  • 700

Due to diplomatic and strained relations with the Korean peninsula, castles called Kodai Sanjo (Korean-influenced mountain castles) with continuous walls (dorui and stone walls) surrounding mountains and hills were constructed in the Kyushu and Seto Inland Sea area.

On the other hand, Josaku, official outposts with square fences protecting them, were constructed in the Tohoku region in order to conquer groups which would not submit to the Yamato regime’s rule.

Nara period

Heijō-kyō (imperial court) is built in Nara, and legal codes are implemented into the foundation of society.

Heian period

The capital is moved to Heiankyō in Kyoto. The golden age of the society of court nobles is brought about, and a peaceful period continues. However, unsatisfied farm workers in rural areas organize into armed groups (bushidan) and start to overwhelm the imperial court’s power. The Taira clan led by Taira no Kiyomori seizes leadership, but war breaks out due to conflict between armed groups and the Minamoto clan led by Minamoto no Yoritomo destroys them.

  • 800

Kamakura Period

After defeating the Taira clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo establishes a military government (Kamakura Bakufu) with Kamakura (Kanagawa Prefecture) as its base in 1192. This becomes as powerful as the imperial court in Kyoto. However, after Yoritomo’s death, struggles for power between the subordinates who support the shogunate occur one after another, and the shogunate gradually loses its power. Around the same time the Imperial Court experiences issues regarding imperial succession, and Emperor Go-Daigo stands up with plans to regain the power of the Imperial Court by overthrowing the shogunate. In this war, the shogunate is defeated due to its predominant vassal, Ashikaga Takauji, disaffecting.

  • 1200
  • 1300

Nanboku-chō period

Although Emperor Go-Daigo begins governing with the imperial court as the center (Kenmu Restoration) after the defeat of the Kamakura Shogunate, he is defeated by bushi (warriors) led by Ashikaga Takauji, and Emperor Go-Daigo flees to Yoshino (Nara Prefecture). On the other hand, Takauji supports the enthronement of Emperor Koumyou and designates the principles of the feudal government. Thereafter, the Southern Court in Yoshino and the Northern Court in Kyoto oppose each other. This develops into power struggles between bushi in various areas and continues for several decades.

Castles called Yamajiro which make enemy invasion difficult by utilizing harsh landscapes of hilltops begin to emerge. The start is thought to be Emperor Go-Daigo and anti-shogunate forces defeating invading shogunate troops with a small army, while holding up in a castle built on top of a hill.

Frequently used tactics change to long drawn-out battles which avoid using brute force. The invading army advances on armys holding up in castles, while waiting for reinforcements in multiple forts (small-scale castles), and castles begin to be constructed not only for defense but also as a military base.

Muromachi period

As the Northern and Southern courts continue their opposition, grandson of Ashikaga Takauji, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, establishes a residence in Muromachi, Kyoto, called Hana no Gosho. He starts to govern from there, and the Muromachi Shogunate is born both in name and reality. Yoshimitsu then displays immense political power and the Southern and Northern Courts are unified. With this, the feudal government possesses power over the emperor and court nobles, and bushi become rulers of Japan.

  • 1400

After the conflict between the Northern and Southern Court died down, castle lords start to move from constructing yamajiro, which are inconvenient for every-day life, to estates in plains. Although these estates did not have some of the military advantages yamajiros had, they were built in accordance to the Hana no Gosho, which were seen as symbols of political power.

(Sengoku Period)

The power of the shogun declines in 1441, after the 6th shogun, Ashikaga Yoshinori is assassinated. War (War of Onin) breaks out between factions of regional feudal lords and farmers over leadership of powerful feudal lords. This war lasts for 11 years, Kyoto, the main battleground, is in ruins, and the shogunate loses its power. Thereafter, feudal lords start fighting with other feudal lords in the area in order to expand their territory. From among them, Oda Nobunaga managed to almost conquer the whole of Japan. Nobunaga was the heir to a rural feudal lord of the southwestern region of Owari (western Aichi Prefecture). After he took over as head of the family, he gradually spread his rule over Owari by defeating Imagawa Yoshimoto of Suruga (Shizuoka Prefecture) and forming an alliance with Tokugawa Ieyasu of Mikawa (eastern Aichi Prefecture). He then unified all of Owari by defeating Oda Nobukiyo. After that, he invited Ashikaga Yoshiaki, who had been wandering the lands after losing power, and entered Kyoto. He elects him as shogun, and revives the Muromachi Shogunate. However, Yoshiaki deterred from Nobunaga’s intentions, governed on his own accord, and even tried to collaborate with other feudal lords to take down Nobunaga. Therefore he was banished.

  • 1500

As warring becomes a constant, rather than the estates constructed until then, castles for holding up during battles start to be built. Although it is said that many were yamajiros which took advantage of the cliffs of mountains and other geographical features, some were built in planes in order to make use of natural features such as rivers, swamps and ponds, wetlands, etc.

Furthermore, the scale of battles started to grow, and apart from the main castles (honjos) where feudal lords lived, supportive castles called shijou were built at important points within the territory and beside the border. The number of castles began to grow, and according to theory, the number of castles at this time were 50,000.

1537Construction of Inuyama Castle

Oda Nobuyasu, uncle of Oda Nobunaga, is said to have moved Kinoshita Castle to the current location to establish it as Inuyama Castle. Kinoshita Castle is said to have been built south-southwest of Inuyama Castle and in the Atago Jinja (Atago Shrine) area close to the current city hall.

1565Domination of Oda Nobunaga

Due to Oda Nobuyasu following Oda Nobuhide (Nobunaga’s father) into battle (The Siege of Inabayama Castle) against Saito Dosan of Mino (Gifu Prefecture) and passing away, his son, Oda Nobukiyo became the lord of the castle. Although Nobukiyo temporarily served Nobunaga, they opposed each other over allotment of territory. Thereafter, Nobunaga is said to have attacked Inuyama Castle with six thousand soldiers and set fire to the castle town. The battle was won by Nobunaga with Nobukiyo giving up Inuyama Castle and fleeing to Kai (Yamanashi Prefecture).
After that, Ikeda Tsuneoki, who was Nobunaga’s vassal became the castle lord.

Azuchi-Momoyama period

After expelling Yoshiaki, Nobunaga moved to Azuchi near Kyoto and built the grand Azuchi Castle and continues to subdue feudal lords of various regions. However, he loses his life in 1582, from an attack by his vassal, Akechi Mitsuhide, at Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a vassal of Nobunaga, was the one to succeed him and unify Japan. After defeating his master’s foe, Mitsuhide, he starts to establish himself as the successor of Nobunaga. He then constructs Osaka Castle, but Nobunaga’s second son, Nobuo, rebels against him. Nobuo banded together with Tokugawa Ieyasu, Nobunaga’s ally, and a battle is fought at the border of Nobi (Battle of Komaki and Nagakute). The battle lasted for more than half-a-year, and although the Ieyasu-Nobuo army was winning, the battle was ended due to Hideyoshi and Nobuo making peace, and Ieyasu retreating. Thereafter, Hideyoshi manages to unify all of Japan in only 8 years and establishes a stable system of governance.

However, after Hideyoshi’s death, in opposition to Tokugawa Ieyasu who breaks Hideyoshi’s rules and strengthens his own forces, those who aim to follow the rules such as Ishida Mitsunari take up arms. Hearing news of this, Ieyasu also raises an army with anti-Ishida feudal lords and the two forces battle at Sekigahara, Gifu Prefecture (Battle of Sekigahara). Although it was a decisive battle with approximately 84 thousand soldiers on Mitsunari’s side (West Army) and 74 thousand soldiers on Ieyasu’s side (East Army), there were many military commanders who betrayed the Mitsunari army or didn’t join the fighting, and the battle which lasted for several hours was easily won by Ieyasu’s army.

Starting with castles built by Oda Nobunaga such as Gifu Castle (1567) and Azuchi Castle (1576), castles with large donjons, high stone walls, and wide moats become the norm. Furthermore, castle towns surrounded by moats called sogamae are built in many castles, and castles become the center of politics. The donjons were unique to each castle, and constructing a large donjon was meant to express influence and economical power. Some battles were settled without any fighting due to this.

The way of how castles were was passed on to Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu, and contributed to how castles are in the present.

1584Becoming a stage for The Battle of Komaki and Nagakute

The Battle of Komaki and Nagakute starts out with the Hideyoshi army occupying Inuyama Castle. Oda Nobuo’s vassal and lord of Inuyama Castle, Nakagawa Sadanari, was absent and fighting at a battle in Ise (Mie Prefecture). Therefore, when the castle was short of hands, Ikeda Tsuneoki, who was loyal to Nobuo, went to the side of Hiodeyoshi, crossed the Kiso River to enter the castle, and took it over. After winning the battle over Inuyama Castle, Hideyoshi entered the castle. Although there was a stand-off between him and Ieyasu, who had set up base at Komakiyama Castle, a peace treaty was concluded, and the battle ended as a draw. Following that, Inuyama Castle was returned to Oda Nobuo.

1600At the forefront of the preparations for the Battle of Sekigahara

Ishikawa Sadakiyo, the lord of Inuyama Castle at the time, was part of the West Army of Ishida Mitsunari. However, due to Fukushima Masanori of Kiyosu Castle in Owari switching to Tokugawa Ieyasu’s East Army side, Inuyama Castle became an outpost for the West Army, and reinforcements were sent to fortify its defenses. Castle lord Sadakiyo had to retreat and was defeated due to Ieyasu’s senior vassal Ii Naomasa coaxing the commanders of the reinforcements to switch sides and join the East Army.

After battling at Gifu Castle in Mino the East Army makes rapid progress towards Sekigahara. After the war is won, Ogasawara Yoshitsugu on the Ieyasu side becomes the lord of Inuyama Castle.

Edo period

Tokugawa Ieyasu, victor of the Battle of Sekigahara, established a feudal government (Edo Shogunate) with Edo (Tokyo) as the base, in 1603. He then takes control of his vassals with force. He strengthens his control of vassals by issuing laws such as the Ikkoku Ichijo Rei (Law of One Castle per Province) and the Buke shohatto (Laws for the Military Houses) after incapacitating the Toyotomi clan at the Siege of Osaka in 1615.

However, it was not rare that citizens suffering under the rule of force took up arms and revolted against their lords. Furthermore, crime rates rose as the number of ronin (masterless samurai) rose due to the shogunate prosecuting their masters, and anti-shogunate incidents start to occur.

To remedy this, the Shogunate set out to convert the samurai to refined culture and verticality. He wanted to be a protective Shogunate for the population, especially during natural disasters and famines. It was the Pax Tokugawa.

As a response to this, the shogunate reconsidered the value of samurai families held until then, and requested them to maintain the balance of the hierarchy by valuing courtesy rather than resulting to violence. The nation (bakufu) begins to protect its people after overcoming multiple natural disasters and cases of famine. From this came a period of peace also known as Pax Tokugawa.

However, the shogunate, which had only been trading with a limited number of countries, will be conflicted after receiving pressure from western countries requesting the regime to open its borders. The shogunate complies in order to avoid war, but efforts to overthrow the weak shogunate (Tobaku) and expel the foreign intruders gain traction among bushi who are discontent with this decision. 15th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu, cornered by those on the side of overthrowing the shogunate, relinquished his political power to the Imperial Court (Taisei Hokan) from fear of inner conflict in 1867. However, fearing that Yoshinobu will regain his power, members of the Tobaku side caused a coup d’état, took control of the Imperial Court, and announced the establishment of a new government (Declaration of Imperial Rule). At the same time, Yoshinobu’s resignation as Minister of the Interior and the abandonment of the Shogunate’s territories was decided (Jikan Nochi). As a result, a war between the former Shogunate army and the new government army (Battle of Toba–Fushimi) took place, and lasted until the former Shogunate army surrendered at the Goryokaku Fortress in Hakodate (Boshin War).

  • 1800

Many castles were built all around Japan due to territory reallocation and rewards given out after the Battle of Sekigahara. Most of the castles that are still present are said to have been built at this time.

However, after the Siege of Osaka, the Shogunate issued the law, Ikkoku Ichijo Rei (Law of One Castle per Province), recognized only one castle per province, and ordered to destroy all other castles. Furthermore, with the Buke shohatto (Laws for the Military Houses), not only construction of new castles but also the reparations of pre-existing castles were deemed illegal.

In this way, Japanese castles were reduced in numbers.

1617The Naruse clan is bestowed ownership of Inuyama Castle

Vassal of the Owari Tokugawas, Naruse Masanari, is bestowed ownership. Improvements are made which lead to the current appearance of the castle. The Naruse clan acts as castle lord until the end of the feudal regime.

Meiji era

During the civil war against the former shogunate, the new government issued the Gokajo no Goseimon (Imperial Covenant Consisting of Five Articles), which designates the bases on which the new government is run with the emperor at its center, renamed Tokyo as “Edo”, and entitled the era “Meiji”. Furthermore, Tokyo was deemed the new capital, and the emperor and government were both moved there. The Hanseki Hokan, which returns the land and people to the Imperial Court, and Haihan Chiken, which instates prefectures in the place of han are conducted, and a system where the central government governs and dispatches prefectural governors is implemented.

In addition to this, segregation from farmers and towns folk was conducted by deeming court nobles and feudal lords as Kazoku (peerage), and warriors as Shizoku (warrior class). Despite this, an equal society without limitations by the class system starts to be shaped. There were some samurai who would wear two katanas as they had until then, but carrying katanas save on special occasions became illegal (Haitōrei Edict), and apparent privileges of the bushi were abolished.

  • 1900

Castles in various areas which had become national property after Haihan Chiken were separated into those which were needed as military bases and unnecessary castles, and each were managed by either the army or the Ministry of Finance. As some were taken down to construct barracks and disposed of by local governments and made into schools and government offices, their numbers decreased.

1871Demolition sparing the donjon

Inuyama Castles becomes property of Aichi Prefecture after Haihan Chiken, and most structures apart from the donjon are demolished. A number of the structures that were demolished were disposed of, and the various gates of the castle grounds have been relocated and are still present to this day. The names and locations are as follows: The Yaraimon as the East Gate of Senjuin in Fuso Town, the Kuromon at Tokurinji Temple in Oguchi Town, the Matsunomaru-mon at Jorenji Temple in Ichinomiya City, and the gate known as Uchidamon at Zuisenji Temple.

1891Donjon is partially destroyed by the Mino-Owari Earthquake

The donjon was partially destroyed by the Mino-Owari Earthquake, which was a magnitude of 8.4. Therefore, the castle was handed over to the Naruse clan, the former feudal lords, in 1895 with the condition of repairing it. The Naruse clan and citizens of Inuyama Town raised donations, and the castle was completely restored.

Taisho era

Showa era

Although there were 20 castles still remaining in 1940, only 12 castles survived with their donjons the air raids during World War II. They are: Hirosaki Castle, Matsumoto Castle, Maruoka Castle, Inuyama Castle, Hikone Castle, Himeji Castle, Matsue Castle, Bichu Matsuyama Castle, Marugame Castle, Matsuyama Castle, Uwajima Castle, and Kochi Castle.

1952Designated as a national treasure

Although the castle was already designated as a national treasure in 1935 under the law active before World War II, the Law for the Preservation of National Treasures, it was re-designated as a national treasure after the war in 1952 under the law: Cultural Properties Protection Law.

1965Dismantling and repair

After being damaged in the Ise Bay Typhoon in 1959, dismantling and repairs were made from 1961 to 1965. From the investigations conducted during this process, the second floor yagura was made, a boro (observation level) was set on it, and became how it is today through large-scale modifications like applying karahafu gables to the base of the boro.

Heisei era

  • 2000

2004Transfer to the foundation “Inuyamajo Hakutei Bunko”

The castle was registered as the only privately-owned castle in Japan, but since 2004, it has been owned by the foundation “Inuyamajo Hakutei Bunko (currently a Public Interest Incorporated Foundation)”.


Inuyama Castle is an important cultural asset of Japan. As its manager, Inuyama City responds to daily visitors, conducts regular maintenance such as cleaning, guards the castle 24 hours, and conducts reparations and maintenance as needed.