In 1608 Nabeshima Naoshige and his son Katsushige built Saga Castle from by expanding on and utilizing much of the former Muranaka Castle which belonged to the Sengoku period lords of the Ryuzoji clan. Saga Castle was plagued by fires. Between 1716-1736 most of the castle buildings including the main keep burned down. The main keep was never rebuilt but the palace and government buildings were rebuilt centering on the Ninomaru compound. In 1835 the Ninomaru Palace among other buildings burned down so they moved back to the Honmaru compound where a new palace was constructed. The extant Shachinomon gate and connected yagura date from this time period (1838) and the reconstructed palace also reflects the Honmaru palace from this period.
Much of the castle also burned down during the Saga Rebellion of 1874. The Honmaru Palace actually survived through the Meiji Period and was used as government offices and a school until it was dismantled in 1957.
Saga Castle is one of Kyūshū's premier castle sites. Sagajō's best feature, in my opinion, is the gigantic moat which surrounds it. About seven eighths of the main moat is retained, having not been filled in. Within this wide moat many waterways broke up the castle into multiple compounds; several of these smaller waterways are still visible today. The castle site proper is only a fraction of the land within this huge square moat, the rest having become part of Saga City.
The main area of the castle is surrounded mostly by ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) and large dorui (earthen ramparts), including the tenshudai (platform for donjon) and yaguradai (turret platforms). The southwest corner turret platform's stonework of roughly hexagonal dark and light blocks creates a nice patchwork effect out of the kikkōźumi kirikomihagi ishigaki (ramparts piled from precisely cut, tortoise shell shaped stone blocks).
Of extant structures Sagajō has the Shachinomon, a gatehouse with adjoining turret, (re-)built in 1836. Of reconstructions it has the honmaru goten (palatial residence of the castellan in the main bailey), reconstructed in 2004. The reconstruction is mostly historically accurate and incorporates some of the building materials of the original palace (these are full of nail marks and such, having been much abused during their time as part of a modern public building). In the reconstructed palace concrete foundations are used instead of stone. Some of the original stone foundations are kept in place beneath the structure. Additionally, the gozama part of the palace is supposed to be original (it has been extensively restored), having been relocated away from the castle for many decades and then returned when the rest was reconstructed.
Saga Castle Palace:
The honmaru goten, palatial residence of the lord of the castle in the main bailey, was built in 1838. After the abolition of the feudal system the surviving portions of Sagajō's honmaru goten were retained and used to host public facilities such as schools and a courthouse. This survival was somewhat miraculous because most of the castle was destroyed in the Saga Rebellion of 1874, including everything in the second and third baileys.
However, by degrees, the survivng goten was almost entirely lost. The structures were not appreciated so much for their historical value as for utility. In 1909 Akamatsu Elementary School was relocated to the site (there is still a small marker to commemorate its presence there now). Throughout this time palatial structures were gradually demolished and replaced with modern school buildings. In 1920 the genkan (entrance parlour) area of the palace was demolished. The palatial structures were gradually destroyed until only the gozama was left. The gozama had been the room used by the last lord of Sagajō, Nabeshima Naomasa, as his quarters, and so it was originally quite lavish. Structural alterations were made to the gozama between the period 1909 to 1939. Major repairs were carried out in 1921.
In 1958, a year after the Shachinomon was declared an important cultural property, the gozama was relocated from the honmaru to a nearby park where it served as a museum building. A scale model of the gozama was made at the school before it was transported away. This and photographs were used to confirm that the gozama went largely unchanged from that time. In 2004 the gozama was finally returned to the castle as part of the reconstructed palace. Reconstructed rooms at the palace include (I have dispened with the honourific prefixes): Genkan, Shikidai, Soto-shoin, Ryōrinoma, Nando, Shikumidokoro, Tamarinoma, and the Koshoin.
It may have been previously stated that the goten was demolished in 1958, but this is a (common?) misunderstanding based on the gozama's relocation at that time. In truth most of the goten had already been destroyed by that time. Castles with extant goten famously include Kakegawajō, Nijōjō, Kawagoejō, and Kōchijō. Sagajō was formerly in the club of other castles with relocated palatial structures, such as Edojō and Fukuijō, but now it has at least some original palatial... parts. Having a reconstructed palace means that it joins the likes of Sasayamajō and Nagoyajō.
Updated gallery and notes by ART.
Original photos donated by Daniel from Japanese Castle Explorer
|No main keep but other buildings
|Top 100 Castles, has Important Cultural Properties, Prefectural Historic Site
|Shachinomon and tsuzuki yagura
|gates, palace, stone walls, walls
|Saga Sta. (Nagasaki Line); 10 min bus.
|Museum: 9:30-18:00 (closed 12/29-1/1)
|Saga, Saga Prefecture
|33° 14' 44.20" N, 130° 18' 9.11" E
|Added to Jcastle
|Admin Year Visited