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Japanese Castles are basically pagodas?

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    Posted: 04 Jul 2015 at 04:29


I think the Japanese didn't actually get influenced by the western castle construction and people just called their architecture castles for some reason.  The Japanese castle is basically a 4 sided pagoda with a wide spandrel roof.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Jul 2015 at 05:27
I would look upon some account where a Japanese "castle" is attacked, and then look into the history of that particular castle.  or do a search for fortress.  A Japanese castle serves a military purpose, if I am correct, or at least a show of strength or wealth.  That is my understanding.  The first picture looks like a castle, the second is probably a temple, the third some kind of tower.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Jul 2015 at 09:11
I looked up castle in wikipedia.  The criteria is that it is privately owned, and fortified.  So it's like a fortified palace.  While that may be the case of castle as a category of defense the Japanese castle is still basically a pagoda but with 4 sides and a wide spandrel roof construction.  It doesn't resemble the "castle" meaning it's defense capabilities are different and their social order and methods of attack and exploiting weaknesses were different.

The Japanese word for castle comes from the Chinese word for city or cheng.  By the Chinese view the "cheng" was nothing more than the part which separated the outer residents from the inner residents or a division of the suburb and the urban proper.  In this view the metro area of a city is the cheng.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2015 at 05:56
I am not sure privately owned is a good criteria.  If a castle in the Middle Ages was owned by a Duke, is it "privately owned" or is it owned by the political class of the time, the aristocracy?  Technically, British 'citizens' are subjects of the Queen, is Buckingham palace "privately owned" or "publicly owned"?  Neither really makes sense.  In some ways the Queen is a very public figure as a symbol of the state.  But, ostensibly, she is in control and owns the palace "on the behalf of the public," but she is not accountable to the general public.
I am just saying that wikipedia is useful, but limited.  The term, "privately owned" can be misleading.

I think that a Japanese castle is pretty formidable from a defensive perspective, it probably wouldn't stand against siege engines, but then again in mountainous terrain, one wouldn't have to worry about that.  Fire might also be a problem.  Granted, my impressions of Japanese castles are from such 'esteemed' sources, such as manga (comic books) and Kurosawa movies.   But, I will try to find something more substantial to share.  
My guess is that any "castles" built in the Tokugawa shogunate are probably more like palaces because the shogun kept down the baronies (daimyos) and discouraged militant tendencies, focusing the samurai more in the direction of the arts, tea ceremony, calligraphy, painting, and on large, expensive ceremonial processions to Edo (Tokyo) and to Shogun, for the purpose of submission, but also to cost them a fortune and siphon of their wealth.  Unlike merchants, the samurai were also discouraged from business, thus one ends up with the image of the poor, but "noble" samurai.


Edited by franciscosan - 10 Jul 2015 at 05:58
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2015 at 06:43
Why should it be more of a "pagode" than any European Palace or other Building equipped with Towers are "churches"? Perhaps then we should include "skyscrapers" into the "church" category as well since both are high Buildings.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jul 2015 at 22:37
If you and a child were look at a salamander and he called a "lizard" or a "reptile," you might correct him and say that it is an amphibian, but then again, you might let it go.  The child is trying to figure out things for himself, and if you tell him, he may loose that particular opportunity.  He might even ask you, "is it a lizard, and instead of directly answering, you might tell him what a lizard is, what an amphibian is, and let him figure it out from there.  Likewise, if a Westerner is trying to understand Japanese castles and calls it a "pagoda" or, I would prefer, pagoda-like, one could either note the differences between castles and pagodas, or one could look at where the architectural similarities begin, but also eventually were they stop.  
I think "pagoda-like" is a useful way to start one's examination of Japanese castles, as long as one realizes in the end that it is a model which only to a limited degree resembles the reality of what Japanese castles are really like.  A native Japanese would probably not use such a model, but an outsider might usefully do so.  But, fantasus is correct in that the Japanese castle is a very different beast than a pagoda, despite for us certain resemblances, resemblances perhaps because they are both Japanese, not necessarily because castles are always pagoda-like.  Of course, pagodas exist throughout Asia, and so it makes sense that if there was an influence from one to the other, it would be from pagodas to castles.

'Himeji Castle is regarded as the finest surviving example of prototypical Japanese castle architecture, comprising a network of 83 buildings with advanced defensive systems from the feudal period. (3 moats, originally, maze of buildings)' wikipedia, a Japanese castle has both the aspects of a fortification, and of a palace.  'The top three Japanese castles are Himeji Castle, Matsumoto Castle and Kumamoto castle.'wp, 'In the Meiji period (1868-1912, the period of Western-style modernization) many Japanese castles were destroyed.'wp.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2015 at 11:50
What a wrongful misrepresentation of the situation.  The Japanese use the word Shiro which uses the Chinese character "Cheng" for adapting the structure and its purpose into official Japanese terminology.  The European are not in any way having more fidelity when trying to represent into the deeper nature of the Japanese castle because they are indeed taking only the central mounted defense into consideration when the Japanese castle in its entirety is the central part of the territory or even a city within a city.  This is the most typical understanding of the term "Cheng".  The central mounted defense should therefore be relegated to something other than a castle as it is only a part of the "Cheng" and naturally it fits into the paradigm of a pagoda whose central importance it utmost within a Chinese city.  The most famously reputed "castle" in Japan is the castle of Oda Nobunaga which was fitted with the actual reconstruction of Kinkaku temple.




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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2015 at 04:05
"Japanese Castles" might not be technically correct, but if you talk about "cheng" or "shiro" nobody in the West is going to understand what you are saying.  There is a coin dealer who decided to call "Byzantine," "Romaion," because the Eastern Roman Empire never called themselves Byzantine.  They called themselves "Roman," saying it in Greek, transliterated into "Romaion"  Of course, everybody else still calls the culture "Byzantine."  He also treats the word "style" idiosyncratically.

So what is the name of Nobunaga's castle?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2015 at 09:26
It is called Azuchi-Jo.  The Jo is the pronunciation of Shiro when you attach it to the place name but written out it is still using the character of Cheng.  The whole of the place is the reality.  The situation is kind of like St. Peter's Mount.  It is therefore ought to be thought of the Cheng of Azuchi meaning the Royal City of Azuchi.  Like the warring states in warring states period in China is stated to be like Chu Guo or State of Chu.  There is no name for the central main building per se though if it did it would probably given a nickname like the Keep of Heavenly Blossoms the same way pagodas and various buildings are given nicknames like the Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an which also happens to be four sided.

Edited by literaryClarity - 12 Jul 2015 at 09:29
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote caldrail Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2015 at 12:27
Modern japanese castles are recreations as the originals were demolished when Japan adopted western ideas about progress. Although the buiklding styles are similar, there's an important difference between castle and pagoda - the situation. A pagoda is merely there, a building, whereas a japanese caslte is placed in a defensible position with walls or obstructions to impede attackers, with a pagoda-like building on top for the castle lord to live in. This top building is none too defensoble as such, but may well incorporate sneaky things like squeaky floorboards, hidden passages, and so forth, in order to avoid assassinations and sneak attacks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jul 2015 at 00:24
A pagoda is defensible.  Being several stories taller than a typical Japanese central keep it too can contain passageways which lead to safety.  But these buildings are the focus of labor of the surrounding population.  It not only represented their work but continued to represent their existence.

While the life of the central building in a Japanese Cheng may last for a thousand or so years depending on the quality of wood and other materials it would hardly function as a centralized building if it were only thought of being a defensible position and a reinforced building.  Or maybe even as a ruin as western civilization likes to have ruins.  That is why I don't think of the Japanese central buildings as "castles" but rather they are more like pagodas within a renowned city, town, port, or village which represents the size of the population surrounding the keep.  Then the people realized that putting such a central building on a stone base would be integral to its design as it raises its overall height and affords it better military protection.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jul 2015 at 05:34
But "Cheng" is not a Japanese word.  Maybe it would be good to use the Japanese word for the Japanese structure, even if it is the Japanese version of a Chinese word.  If I started to talk about an English Kirche (church), one would be quite right to wonder why I don't just call it an English church.  You, literaryClarity, obviously have a deep connection with Chinese culture, but for an average Joe, calling the building a "cheng," does not bring up any useful associations.  It is a question of learning one strange (Chinese) word, or an other strange (Japanese) word.  since we are talking about a Japanese structure, it seems to me to make more sense, to use the Japanese word, instead of the Chinese one.

Okay, earlier you use the word "shiro" which you give as the Japanese equivalent to "Cheng."  Is there any advantage to calling the structure a "Japanese Cheng"? or is it just force of habit?  I know a little Japanese (5'6", just kidding), and "shiro" helps add to what I already know.


Edited by franciscosan - 25 Jul 2015 at 05:40
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jul 2015 at 10:06
The Japanese called it a Shiro but uses the word character Cheng.  Therefore the part that they focused on is the Cheng itself though there is a central building inside it.  What the English translation does by calling it a castle forces us to pay attention only to the central building.  But even in this case it doesn't seem to fit the idea of a stone masonry castle.  The term castle is fine only if you use it correctly otherwise your interpretation of the situation is off.  The people who built them obviously know what to focus on when using the terms so it is up to the translators to decide how best to describe the terms and not use one word labels as translations.  The central huge building is not the Shiro or Cheng.  Rather it is the whole inner sanctuary surrounding that central huge building that is the Cheng and the central building has various Japanese names also using Chinese characters.  It amounts to being a Tian Shou or a Sky Keep which might exude the idea of heavenly protection or a high and unreachable safehouse.  Think of Cheng or Shiro like the Forbidden City (the Zi Jin Cheng) or Purple Forbidden Sanctuary.  Inside the Forbidden City there is a huge central building called Hall of Supreme Harmony.  That is basically what is functioning as the Sky Keep, or in some other city, a pagoda.  Its function is to present grandeur to people who have to kowtow to the emperor.  It is even less defensible since it is really just a building with one floor where the emperor just meets staff  but doesn't live inside.  However it is mounted on a 3 tier pedestal to show more height.  You'll notice along the wall of the Forbidden City there are buildings mounted on the wall and this adds to the grandeur more than strategic defense.  So the Cheng or Shiro is all about grandeur and at the center of it is some masterpiece building.

I think in medieval European ideology the central building of importance might translate to either the royal palace or the clocktower.  In modern times this would basically be the inner heart of the city where the tallest structures are kept to boast of grandeur and for visitors to go ooh and ahhh.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jul 2015 at 10:13


The Neverending Story.  The Ivory Tower is the Sky Keep.  It protects the princess and she in turn protects the land.  Something like this is not a castle but more like a pagoda.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote literaryClarity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jul 2015 at 11:04
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

Why should it be more of a "pagode" than any European Palace or other Building equipped with Towers are "churches"? Perhaps then we should include "skyscrapers" into the "church" category as well since both are high Buildings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica
"The Latin word basilica (derived from Greek βασιλικὴ στοά, Royal Stoa, the tribunal chamber of a king) has three distinct applications in modern English. The word was originally used to describe an open, Roman, public court building, usually located adjacent to the forum of a Roman town. By extension it was applied to Christian buildings of the same form and continues to be used in an architectural sense to describe those buildings with a central nave and aisles. Later, the term came to refer specifically to a large and important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope."

Roman basilicas might appear to be different from medieval European castles in just the same way Chinese pagodas or pavilions were different from Japanese central keeps but ultimately I don't think it is true.  They are ultimately all buildings of central importance.  The Chinese pagoda is not really like the Roman basilica and the Japanese central keep is not really like the medieval European castle.  The Japanese central keep is relatively speaking more like the pagoda in its actual function as well as its shape if you remove the fact that it is defensibly reinforced and houses the royal family.  Japanese civilization can only have "castles".  They aren't really castles.

If in trying to substantiate something you use its secondary or tertiary characteristics then you neglect the thing's primary function situated at the top of the hierarchy.  A basilica can be used as a church should someone decide that a religious congregation can be held inside it but originally the basilica was not a church.  If an emperor put on armor and leads troops into battle he doesn't cease being an emperor and becomes another soldier.  Similarly we have to differentiate the manner of central importance of some central building before we decide to call it a castle and not a basilica as the term was originally intended for.

Therefore if you add a church tower to a castle the castle doesn't become a church because there is a still a castle and then there is a church fixture integrated to it.  On the other hand if you have a church and you add a bunch of walls around it then it doesn't become a castle.

So what I am reiterating is the thing that everyone keeps pointing to and calling Japanese castle has something else more significant to its purpose as a building than a castle and this is revealed by the fact that the "castle" is only one portion of the entire arena that is known as the Cheng or Shiro.  The huge building everyone looks at is in fact more like the Forbidden City's Hall of Supreme Harmony and shaped more or less like a pagoda and sits on top of a masonry structure.
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