History of Gifu Castle in Japan

Gifu Castle (岐阜城,) or Gifu-jō is a mountaintop castle (not at all unlike most European castles) located within the city of Gifu and it is one of the main symbols of the city as well as Gifu Prefecture. It was originally built by the Nikaidō clan[i] between 1201 and 1204 AD during the Kamakura Period[ii]. It was originally called Inabayama Castle (稲葉山城) and has undergone many repairs over the course of countless generations, and through those generations, the castle has accumulated a sizeable history as well.
As formidable as it appears and as famous as Gifu Castle is as a symbol of power and strength, it was once taken over by a group of only sixteen men. There is actually one incident in its history when it was in effect taken or captured by just one man! That man, Takenaka Hanbei went to the castle under the pretext of visiting his sick brother, Saitō Tatsuoki. In fact, he actually went there to kill his brother. When Hanbei attacked him, Tatsuoki was shocked, amazed and confused. He actually believed that an enemy army had come to attack him and fled into the night, leaving Hanbei able to lay claim to Gifu Castle with total ease!
Later on, Hanbei actually returned the castle to his brother, but by then Tatsuoki’s reputation had suffered immense damage. When Oda Nobunaga[iii] later attacked the same castle, many of Tatsuoki’s men remembered the previous incident and abandoned their posts, enabling Nobunaga to easily defeat Tatsuoki and claim Gifu Castle for his own. It was actually Nobunaga who renamed the castle “Gifu-jō” in keeping with the example found in Chinese culture, which was often adopted by Japanese culture. He then proceeded to renovate the castle, making it into something far more impressive than it had been. A Catholic Jesuit missionary from Portugal, Luis Frois, was invited to the castle by Nobunaga and in his writings of his time in Japan, had nothing but praise for the beauty of Gifu Castle.
It was in 1600, that the castle played what is perhaps its most important role. The Battle of Gifu Castle served as a prelude to the Battle of Sekigahara, the end of one era (Sengoku) and the beginning of another, the Tokugawa Period. That same year the castle was destroyed and a part of the structure was actually brought to Kanō Castle[iv] in the south to fortify that structure.
Regrettably, the current version of Gifu Castle is a cement structure that was built in the 1950s, the previous castle having been destroyed by fire bombings of Gifu during World War II. Some tourists complain that the interior is sterile and not in keeping with tradition, which may indeed be true, but consider its fate during the war and what resources (material and economic) were available in Japan at the time of its restoration. It is an imposing structure and within the current castle there are three floors with exhibits that represent the castle’s past, with maps, weapons, pictures and other artifacts for visitors to see and thus, recreate for themselves the story of Gifu-jō. On the top floor is an observation deck, which is open to the public and provides a fantastic view of the surrounding area including the Nagara River and Nagoya. At various times during the year the castle is also open to night viewing from the deck – something that should not be missed.
Near the castle, only a short walk (maybe 70 – 80 m) is a small museum and archive that contains even more artifacts from Gifu Castle and admittance to the museum is included in the admission fee to the castle itself. Also contained in the museum, which also contains pictures of castles throughout Japan, on the second floor, is a museum of musical instruments from Japan (historic and contemporary).

History of Gifu Castle in Japan


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