Sumpu Castle (sometimes spelled “Sunpu”) was an Japanese castle built by a shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in the central part of Suruga Province, present-day Shizuoka City, which lies about 150 km (about 93 miles) west of Tokyo. When the construction was completed in 1607, the castle was splendid, with its magnificent donjon (main castle tower), Ieyasu’s residential palace, turrets called yagura, superb gate structures, and a triple moat system.
Sadly, these structures were all burnt down in 1635. The palace, turrets, and gate structures were restored three years later, but the donjon never was. Then, major earthquakes in the 18th and 19th centuries ended up destroying almost all the structures in the castle grounds and inflicted major damage to the stone foundations. And later, the innermost moat was filled up by the 34th Infantry Regiment of Japanese Imperial Army when they used this place as an army post in 1896.
But since the end of World War Two, the castle has undergone various restoration projects: the East Gate and two turrets were reconstructed, and the excavation work began in August 2016 at the former site of the donjon. Now the former castle ground is called Sumpu Castle Park and is used by citizens as a recreation spot with multiple open areas for events. The park area also includes a children’s playground, a Japanese garden, and a lot of cherry trees that blossom in spring.
If you walk down the Miyuki-dori Street, one of the main arteries in the Shizuoka downtown area, you can see the outermost moat of the castle along the street beside you. You will also see the Shizuoka City Hall in front of you, which is an interesting structure with its unusual domed-roof “watchtower” section at the top, reminiscent of the buildings of 16th century’s Imperial Spain. Constructed in the 1930s, this City Hall structure was registered as a national cultural asset and is a kind of symbol of the city.
Crossing the moat, you are in the section of the castle called sannomaru (third enclosure) which used to be occupied by the houses of Ieyasu’s senior vassals. Now this section mainly has prefectural office buildings and other government-related buildings, including the offices of the District Legal Affairs Bureau, Shizuoka Prefectural Police Department, Shizuoka Tax Office, and Shizuoka District Court. The main building of the Shizuoka Prefectural Government dates back to 1937 and is also a registered national landmark. It is basically a western-style structure made of reinforced concrete, but its roof is covered with traditional Japanese kawara tiles. Combination of Western and Japanese style was in fashion at that time.
It may be surprising to know that this particular district centered around Sumpu Castle has been the political and administrative center of this region since the 14th century, well over 600 years. It was in 1586 that Tokugawa Ieyasu first entered Sumpu region officially and began constructing the “original Sumpu Castle,” which was much smaller in area than the extended 1607 version of the same castle. But before Ieyasu, this region had been governed by a clan called Imagawa for some 200 years. And according to studies by some researchers, it is highly likely that Imagawa’s headquarter was located within the grounds that subsequently became Sumpu Castle.
If you stand by the middle moat (second moat) and gaze at the superb turrets and extensive stone walls, you will realize how huge the castle grounds are. When I first saw it, I was awed and wondered how much man-power was used for the construction and how much sweat and how many tears were shed.
Tokugawa Ieyasu emerged the victor of the “civil war period” in 16th century Japan. After uniting the nation by conquering almost all the provinces, he was given the title of shogun and established a feudal government in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in 1603. But he did not stay there long.
In 1605, passing the title of shogun to his son, he returned to Sumpu where he had spent eleven years of his childhood, boyhood, and adolescent days as an Imagawa “hostage.” This “returning” might not have been called “retirement” because he still held his powers and continued to influence the central government in Edo.
Photographs: taken at Sumpu Castls Park,
by Koji Ikuma, with Fujifilm X-T1 & Flektogon 35mmF2.8