Not every city can boast of an Edo-period castle right in the middle of their downtown area, but Fukui is one of those that can. Diego sets out to view this historic landmark.
The express bus from Eihei-ji dropped me off near Fukui Station, where I spent a brief moment or two gawking at the transport hub’s west façade.
Dinosaurs on the walls, dinosaurs in the plaza … dinosaurs, dinosaurs, dinosaurs. I do owe the readership an explanation for that, but please be assured that the truth – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof – will be revealed in the next post.
Now then, there was still plenty of daylight left (high summer after all), so I switched back into castle-hunter mode and tracked down my next quarry: an ancient fortress mere minutes away from the train station.
Constructed in the early 1600s on the orders of Yūki Hideyasu, the second son of Tokugawa Ieyasu and first Lord of Fukui Domain, these stone walls and the moat that surrounds them are almost all that’s left of Fukui Castle (福井城, Fukui-jō). The main tower was lost during a 17th-century blaze, and many of the remaining wooden structures were pulled down during the nationwide castle purge that swept across Japan two centuries later as a result of the Meiji Restoration, with the last remnants succumbing to Allied firebombing during the Second World War. All this destruction left an empty plot of land within the forlorn stone walls, which would eventually become the site of the prefectural government’s modern – but depressingly bland – concrete headquarters.
Too bad about the loss of those historic structures…
…but at least we’ve still got the walls.
Inside those walls, standing on a pedestal of polished stone right in front of the prefectural government buildings, is a statue of the castle’s founder Yūki Hideyasu. I suppose it’s a small mercy that his face is turned away from the ugly piles of concrete that have sprouted up on the spot where his grand palace once stood.
Well, we’ve seen the “stones” referred to in this post’s title. What about the “sticks”?
As I rounded the south-western corner of the castle’s moat, I spied something strange that was going on a little further to the north.
On closer inspection, it emerged that a large section of the moat had been dammed off on either side and the water drained away. Earth-moving equipment had been brought in, and stones from disassembled parts of the wall were laid out in neat rows.
As I found out later, the prefectural government was (and, as of this writing, currently is) working on a reconstruction of the long-lost Yamazato-guchi-gomon, one of Fukui Castle’s major gates. This large-scale project is expected to continue until around 2017, though whether we’ll see a newly rebuilt portal by that time depends in no small part upon the success of their fund-raising efforts, as well as the findings of the preliminary archaeological/engineering work and the ease (or difficulty) with which the site can be safely prepared to receive the reconstructed building.
A sign posted near the work site included a CGI rendition of what the resurrected gate might look like. Check out the prefectural government’s site (link provided earlier) for more images, as well as project specifications and other information.
Actually, not everything in that image is yet-to-come. The gatehouse, yes – but the walls are here now, along with one other feature…
…the wooden bridge. (Now you’ve seen the “sticks” I mentioned in the title.)
Known as the Orōka-bashi – which means something like “Noble Corridor Bridge” – this elegant wooden crossing once linked Fukui Castle’s Nishi San-no-maru (one of the outer enceintes on the western side) with the innermost citadel and the main tower. The “noble”/”honourable” part of the Orōka-bashi‘s name likely refers to the fact that it was reserved for the exclusive use of the domain lord. Photographs showed that the bridge survived at least until the Meiji Era, but it was lost at some point thereafter, and didn’t get properly rebuilt until the early 2000s when the prefectural and city governments (as well as local residents who contributed their support) joined forces to raise an accurate reconstruction as part of Fukui Castle’s 400th anniversary celebrations.
Because of the construction works, I was unable to enter the innermost section of the castle from this side, which meant that I didn’t manage to see the ruins of the stone platform on which the soaring main tower once stood. It would have been possible to go there by passing through the southern entrance and cutting across the prefectural government compound, but I wasn’t in the mood to undertake the long detour.
No matter – that’s one more reason for me to make a return visit in the not-too-distant future, on top of my desire to see the Yamazato-guchi-gomon once it’s been fully rebuilt. I wish the government and people of Fukui all the best in this major endeavour, and I hope that they might go even further one day: that is, resurrect the castle’s main tower using historically accurate techniques and materials. (One chap has successfully made that attempt, at least in artistic form; click here to see the fruit of his efforts.)
And with that, I called it a day. Back to my hotel near Fukui Station, where I tucked into a complimentary light supper of curry rice (one of my favourite dishes)…
…before retiring for the night. Plenty more to see and do tomorrow, but as always…
…let’s save that story for the next post. (^_^)