Honshouji Castle

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The temple Honshōji militarised in the Sengoku Period as the power of its Shugo (provincial governor) wanned. The displacement of Shugo was a process seen throughout Japan, usually accomplished by what would become Daimyō, though in some cases Ikki (alliances) were formed by local samurai and other groups. In Mikawa the first part of the Sengoku Period saw power accrued by the local chapter of the religious Ikkō-ikki, and they fortified Honshōji, an Ôtani-ha Jōdoshin-shū temple, as a base of operations. Attracting the support of provincial samurai, monks and non-samurai laymen, by the mid-Sengoku Period Honshōji became a major military force in the province, along with Jōgūji (Jouguuji Castle) and Shōmanji (Shoumanji Fort). The Mikawa Ikkō-Ikki were eventually defeated by Matsudaira Motoyasu (later known as Tokugawa Ieyasu), with their final devestation coming at the Battle of Azukizaka in 1564. That conflict began due to a series of provocations from both sides, and the focal point was Jōgūji, but one of the Ikki's responses involved the garrison at Honshōji attacking a merchant there. The castle is also recorded in historical records as 本証寺城, using alternative kanji. Much of the temple was rebuilt in the Edo Period with patronage from the Shogunate, starting with Tokugawa Ietsuna, and the structures we see today are reconstructions dating to this time.

Visit Notes

Original travelogue entry (August, 2020):

Honshōjijō is both a castle site and a temple (edit: we may call this a jōkaku-garan (城郭伽藍)), a rare example of a fortified temple, the temple in this case being Honshōji. The temple-castle consisted of a system of moats, inner and outer, as well as dorui (earthen ramparts). Today the outer moat is mostly lost, but the inner moat is fairly well preserved, ringing most of the temple. The front gate of the temple is accessed via a bridge spanning this moat, and here there is a drum tower with adjoining walls. The drum tower, a designated cultural property, is built like a yagura (turret) on an ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) base, and so we see a typical castle vista, albeit on a more compact scale.

A network of dorui is located behind the temple's main hall. I could glimpse these ruins from the roadside but this area of the temple is not open to the public. When I visited, the temple's waterways - that is the former castle's moats - were busy with wildlife, including humungous toads which barked at me and ran up and down the banks. These black-skinned, football-sized critters may have been bullfrogs (non-indigenous to Japan).

The drum tower, an Edo Period reconstruction of a tower first erected in the Sengoku Period, dates to 1760. All structures at the temple date to the Edo Period (Hondō: 1663, Shōrō: 1703, Kyōzō: 1823, gates: around 1700), as they were each in turn rebuilt after becoming dilapidated. The structures adjacent to the moat have connections to the site's fortified past and this is evident in the looking, especially with the drum tower, but the current structures date to after the temple ceased to function as a fort, so perhaps calling them extant castle structures is improper, but they appear to qualify as reconstructions of castle structures, albeit proto-modern rather than modern! So, to clarify, I consider these castle structures, but not strictly original. That won't really matter to most people anyway. I recommend visiting this site if you're looking for something new in the area. I went expecting very little, so to see these castlesque buildings and toad-ruled moats was an unanticipated, enthralling adventure for me.

Update (June, 2023):

Honshōjijō is a partially extant fortified temple site in Nodera village in Anjō Municipality. This update follows my second visit to the site. On my second visit I was able to see the earthworks, dorui (earthen ramparts) and karabori (dry moats), at the rear of the temple which were formerly closed to the public. They are open now and guides give tours here owing to the ‘Ieyasu Boom’, and new public toilets and a carpark have been installed in a field outside of the temple.

The mizubori (water moats) were full of hasu (sacred lotus) in bloom (when I first visited there were much fewer of these plants and none were in bloom). The waters were thronging with zarigani (crayfish). The ushigaeru (bull frogs), an invasive species, I had seen during my last visit, were apparently absent, perhaps having been removed. The temple’s ecosystem is thriving again. A couple of new maps and explanation boards have been put up to better show the original layout of the temple-citadel, including a map which helpfully shows where the remaining segments of the outer moat were.

The precincts of Honshōji are protected as a national historic site (upgraded from prefectural historic site in 2015). The temple has important cultural properties, with the main hall being prefectural level cultural property, and the belfry, drum tower, storehouse and rear gate being municipal cultural property. The historic citadel spanned about 320m east-west and 310m north-south (33,000m²), and had a complex of inner and outer moats, with the still moat-ensconced inner bailey being about 100m on each side.

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  • Korou, 1760
  • Yagura
  • Temple Gate
  • Drum Tower
  • Mizubori and Ishigaki
  • Mizubori

Castle Profile
English Name Honshouji Castle
Japanese Name 本證寺城
Alternate Names 本証寺城
Founder Mikawa Ikkou-Ikki
Year Founded Sengoku Period
Castle Type Flatland
Castle Condition No main keep but other buildings
Designations has Important Cultural Properties, National Historic Site
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Artifacts Drum Tower, Mizubori, Dorui, Gates
Features gates, turrets, bridges, water moats, stone walls, walls
Visitor Information
Access Minami-Sakurai Station on the Meitetsu Nishio Line; 15 minute walk
Visitor Information 24/7 free; temple and farmland
Time Required 60 minutes
Website https://www.city.anjo.aichi.jp/shisei/shisetsu/kyoikushisetsu/maibun-sites-honsyouji.html
Location Anjo, Aichi Prefecture
Coordinates 34° 54' 0.47" N, 137° 5' 9.46" E
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Added to Jcastle 2020
Contributor ART
Admin Year Visited Viewer Contributed
Friends of JCastle
Jōkaku Hōrōki
Nippon Shiro Meguri

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13 months ago
Score 0++
Have updated description and highlight photo (the weather wasn't much better than during my first visit, but now there's more flowers!), and some other bits and bobs. Will add pictures of the recently made public earthworks at some point.


13 months ago
Score 0++
With the Ieyasu boom ongoing they've opened up the usually closed rear parts of the temple with the dorui and karabori. Will update soon.


29 months ago
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Added some co-ordinates