Kanazawa Castle-Secrets of the Beautiful Gates and Turrets -1-

Kanazawa Castle Park is a popular tourist spot in Kanazawa. The castle developed during the Edo period as the residence of the Maeda family of the Kaga domain, but most of its buildings were lost in repeated fires. In recent years, however, restoration and maintenance have progressed in line with historical facts.

Visiting the castle after learning about the distinctive structures and functions of the castle architecture will double your enjoyment of walking around Kanazawa Castle Park.

Full-scale castle construction began to take place in Japan from around the middle of the 7th century. The country underwent a shift from yamashiro, constructed in the mountains as a defense base, to hirajiro/hirajo, built on flat land as a political base. 

From the beginning of its history in 1546, Kanazawa Castle developed as the residence of the Maeda family of the Kaga domain. Following the end of the Edo period (1603–1868) ruled by samurais, it was used as a military site, like other castles, and many of its buildings were destroyed. It is now open to the public as Kanazawa Castle Park and a number of its historic buildings have been restored.

During the Edo period, Kanazawa Castle had at least 30 gates. In particular, “Ishikawa-mon Gate,”“Kahoku-mon Gate,”and “Hashizume-mon Gate”were collectively called “Sangomon,”meaning the three major gates.

Kanazawa Castle park, Ishikawa-mon Gate

Ishikawa-mon Gate

This gate was constructed in the middle of the Edo period and is designated as a National Important Cultural Property. While it is now the entrance to Kanazawa Castle Park, it used to function as a rear gate to the castle.

Kanazawa Castle Park, Kahoku-mon Gate

Kahoku-mon Gate

This gate essentially used to serve as the main gate of Kanazawa Castle and was restored in 2010. 

© Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League

Kanazawa Castle Park, Hashizume-mon Gate

Hashizume-mon Gate

This gate, which was restored in 2015, was used to strictly monitor the comings and goings of people as the last gate leading to Ninomaru Palace, which served as both the lord’s residence and a place of political affairs.

All three gates feature a “masu-shaped gate” structure designed to prevent enemies from intruding. A masu is a traditional Japanese square cup used for drinking sake. A masu-shaped gate consists of two gates installed at a right angle and connected by a fence, etc. with a square space like a masu in the middle.

A “masu-shaped gate”; Hashizume-mon Gate

Let’s think from the viewpoint of samurai corps trying to attack Kanazawa Castle.

After breaking through the first gate, you reach a dead end with fences, making it impossible to storm through sheer momentum by breaking through the next gate. As you stand there puzzled, your comrades fill up the square space and there is no room for you to move. You then experience a fierce attack from above with arrows or guns.

While the three major gates are beautifully shaped, the functional beauty of the defense can be observed when considering the flow lines in an attack on the castle. However, the Edo period was a peaceful time without any wars, and Kanazawa Castle was never actually attacked.

We’ve introduced the role of the three gates in this article, and in the next article we will introduce the role of the turrets.