Field Report: Maruoka Castle and Kitanoshō Castle, Fukui, Japan (30 June 2015)

30Jun15 002 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

Diego visits two castles in the space of a single afternoon: one whose main tower still stands high above the ground, and one brought so low that not even its very foundations have survived intact.

I still had nearly the whole afternoon left after my morning excursion to the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, so I decided to invest those remaining hours into one of the things I love best: castle hunting.

A train ride plus a taxi trip brought me from Fukui to the quiet town, or rather former town, of Maruoka (“former” because it was consolidated into the city of Sakai a decade ago). The town’s main claim to fame is the historic treasure at its heart: Maruoka Castle.

Completed in 1576, Maruoka Castle is one of just 12 across Japan that still have their original tenshu, or main tower. Although the wooden structure collapsed during the 1948 Fukui earthquake, the subsequent restoration work managed to rescue about 80% of the original material so this special distinction was retained.

30Jun15 001 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

A scale model inside the main tower shows what the castle and the surrounding town looked like during the Edo Period. Other than the tenshu itself, virtually nothing of what you see here has survived to the present day.

30Jun15 003 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

Speaking of the interiors, the inside wasn’t all that different from what I’d seen at other castles…

30Jun15 004 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

…until I saw the wooden staircase leading up to the upper storeys. This was probably the steepest of its kind that I’d ever encountered, and proved quite a challenge to climb: no wonder ropes were installed to aid in the ascent.

30Jun15 005 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

After spending a few brief moments poking around on the second floor…

30Jun15 006 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

30Jun15 007 Japan Honshu Fukui Sakai Maruoka Castle

…I pressed on towards the third and highest storey, which offered great views of the surrounding town and countryside.

By the time I made it back to downtown Fukui, it was only mid-afternoon and there was plenty of time left to kill before my scheduled departure. I whittled down some of that surplus by walking a fairly short distance south-west of Fukui Station, to a tiny patch of park-like ground…

…where, centuries ago – years before even Fukui Castle (just a few blocks north of here) was even built – a mighty castle once stood.

I’ll leave this site and this site to tell the tale of the sad ruin we see before us, but suffice it to say that the mighty fortress of Kitanoshō Castle once dominated the landscape from this spot. Destroyed in 1583 (a mere eight years after it was originally built), and finally superseded by nearby Fukui Castle, Kitanoshō was so thoroughly obliterated that only a few stones remain to prove that it ever existed.

30Jun15 003 Japan Honshu Fukui Kitanosho Castle

An illustration posted nearby gives us an idea of what the castle may have looked like in its heyday. I’ve also seen older pictures of the site showing a large scale model of the tenshu standing on the grounds, although that model was no longer there when I swung by.

30Jun15 001 Japan Honshu Fukui Kitanosho Castle

And with that, my time in Fukui drew to a close. I stopped at a restaurant in Fukui Station for an early dinner of zaru rāmen made with Noto Nakajima greens…

30Jun15 001 Japan Honshu Fukui Station Zaru Ramen Noto Nakajima Greens

…before heading for the JR West platforms to await my train.

30Jun15 003 Japan Honshu Fukui Station JR West

30Jun15 002 Japan Honshu Fukui Station JR West

Ahh, Japan. I love how you keep things so nicely organised. As indicated by the writing on the coloured stripes, passengers taking the Shirasagi service should queue up along the orange line, whereas the blue line is reserved for the train I was about to take…

30Jun15 001 Japan Honshu Fukui Station JR West

…the 1830 Thunderbird 31 limited express bound for Kanazawa. This evening’s rolling stock was a 683 series EMU (the interior shots are of the Green Car).

After arriving at Kanazawa Station, I walked past the spanking new entrance to the station’s shinkansen platforms, currently the terminus of the Hokuriku Shinkansen line (which began service just a few months earlier). Work on extending the line to Fukui and beyond is already well under way, though the shinkansen isn’t due to venture past this point for several years yet.

30Jun15 001 Japan Honshu Kanazawa Station JR West Hokuriku Shinkansen Entrance

I would eventually pass through those ticket gates and try the new high-speed line for myself en route to the Japanese capital – but that experience, along with others in the fine old city of Kanazawa…

…is something we’ll talk about in the next few posts.



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