Secrets of the Honmaru Goten Palace 熊本城-本丸御殿

 

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熊本城 本丸御殿 Honmaru Goten Palace within the grounds of Kumamoto Castle is the precinct where government business was conducted and built by Kato Kiyomasa, feudal lord and ancestor of Kumamoto, in 1610.

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While the original palace was destroyed during the Seinan Rebellion of 1877, restoration of part of Honmaru Goten was completed in 2008 after almost fifty years of work on it by numerous architects, craftsmen, carpenters, painters, designers, metal workers and trades people of Kumamoto, Kyushu and throughout Japan.

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The original palace consisted of fifty-three chambers, but the reconstructed Honmaru Goten measures only 580 tatami mats with a total of twenty-three rooms.

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There are four primary gates through which to enter the grounds of Kumamoto Castle and arrive at the Main Castle Tower where the Honmaru Palace is located – the Hohoate Gate 頬当御門 which is the main entrance, Akazuno Gate, Sudoguchi Gate and the Hazekata Gate.

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The main entrance of Kumamoto Castle 頬当御門 (Hohoate Gomon) is said to resemble a soldier’s facial armour, and is hence called the Face Armour “Hohoate” Gate.

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Today, I cross the Umaya Bridge over the Tsuboi River and take the Sudoguchi Gate to get into Honmaru Palace.

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Hiraon Turret at the Sudoguchi Gate by the Tsuboi River.

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You will see six turrets overlooking the city upon entering Sudoguchi Gate.

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Kato Kiyomasa fought with his troops during the Seven Year War (1592-1598) on Korean land. The conditions had been so cruel and severe during the Seven Year War that Kiyomasa and his soldiers survived by drinking putrid water and eating scraps of discarded horse meat throughout the duration of the war.

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This bitter experience haunted Kiyomasa so much that he ordered the construction of 120 wells throughout the castle grounds in order to ensure the availability of good fresh drinking water all year round.  It may be a coincidence that today Kumamoto is famous throughout Japan for its horse meat cuisine.  While horse meat as a delicacy is marketed in Japan as 馬刺 basashi, in Kumamoto, it is referred to as 桜肉 sakura niku, “cherry blossom meat”.

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There are 17 wells that continue to be preserved in the castle grounds and which remain in perfect condition.

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Sword-saint Miyamoto Musashi’s well when he lived as a guest at the castle, as it appears today.

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Making my way towards Honmaru Palace, I stop by Uto Turret.

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Designated as an Important Cultural Property, Uto Turret is the only remaining multi-tiered castle tower preserved in its original state since it was built 600 years ago.

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Looking through the wall openings alongside Uto Turret.

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There are three external levels to Uto Tower.

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Inside, Uto Turret consists of 5 levels with a basement, all accessible by wooden stairs.

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The turret is constructed primarily of pine wood in addition to approximately 16,000 tiles for the roof.

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I met Ama Hime, Princess Ama, Kato Kiyosama’s daughter on the way to Honmaru Palace.  (These are professional actors employed by Kumamoto City to re-enact characters of the Edo and Azuchi-Momoyama periods during Kato Kiyosama’s time.)

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The castle walls that he Kato Kiyomasa designed and built in during 1601 – 1607 are famous for their impenetrability with the curved arch, mushagaeshi, preventing the walls from being scaled.

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Roof tiles used in the construction of castle towers and turrets, displayed in Honamru Goten Palace.

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To arrive at Honmaru Goten Palace, you must travel through the famous underground “dark passage” kuragari tsuuro, a unique feature of this citadel and an unusual construction in Japanese castles.

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Directly above this passage lies Honmaru Goten Palace.

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The light at the end of the passage way that is lined with beautiful stone and exquisite wooden beams.

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The view upon exiting the “Dark Passage”.

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Having arrived within the inner grounds of the citadel, I enter Honmaru Goten Palace.

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The large entrance of Honmaru Goten Palace leads you into a grand kitchen and pantry which display the in-ground earthen stoves.

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The kitchen is impressive and airy, with high ceilings supported by large wooden beams measuring about twelve metres in height.

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untitledThe kitchen displays a meal that would have been consumed by the lord and palace guests during Kato Kiyomasa’s time.

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The palace today offers visitors an opportunity to sample a meal of the Edo era in the exclusive restaurant on the upper floor.  Only fifty of these meals are made each day for visitors who order them in advance.

untitledMoving through the corridors of the palace, I am struck by the clean lines of the paper and wood that line the walls which make up the entire palace structure.

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Looking out the windows of the palace.

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A well located just outside the palace walls amongst the 120 wells that Kato Kiyomasa had constructed within the castle grounds.

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Not only was there fresh water available from the wells, Kato Kiyomasa had also ensured that his people would be fed and nourished by planting gingko trees on the castle grounds so that the gingko nuts could be harvested and eaten.  He furthered engineered the filling of the tatami mats not with rice straw as had been the tradition in Japan, but had ordered for vegetable stalks to be used so that not only did the tatami mats provide  insulation and comfort throughout the castle structures, they were also edible and could provide nutrition in times of need.

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Kato Kiyosama’s vision and expertise in castle building were so well-respected that he and his army were also commissioned and responsible for the building of Nagoya Castle and other fortresses throughout Japan.

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