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[Columns]Castles are in vogue.Become castle lords to support Kumamoto Castle.

   An unprecedented increase in the number of inbound tourists to Japan has rekindled interest in castles and ruins, which had somewhat fallen into oblivion over the years. In addition to the cultural heritages that have remained intact from the time of their construction, overseas tourists are flocking to castles that have been restored in the modern era. In Kansai, these include Himeji Castle—a national treasure in glowing pure white after its large-scale restoration work in the Heisei era, and Osaka Castle, which was restored during the Meiji and Showa periods.
   Self-proclaimed castle fans may scoff at this renewed popularity of castles. However, so-called new discoveries have emerged in various places as castles started attracting more public attention.
   Take the example of Osaka Castle, which is arguably the symbol of Naniwa (Osaka). A picture of Osaka Castle on a folding screen was recently discovered in Europe. It shows that the tower of Osaka Castle (restored in 1931), particularly the exterior colors, differs significantly from the tower originally built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
   The difference is said to have resulted from the significant changes made to the original Osaka Castle after it was burned down during the Siege of Osaka (1614–1615). When the second Tokugawa shogun, Hidetada, rebuilt the castle, he eradicated the image created during the Toyotomi era. Instead of the white walls that the castle has today, the original Osaka Castle seemed to have had a darker-colored exterior.
   After more than 400 years, research on the stone walls of the original Osaka Castle, published documents, and various academic research are slowly uncovering what the castle looked like when it was originally built. The picture on the folding screen has provided some “proof” for the tale that the Gokurakubashi Bridge, which according to one record was built by Hideyoshi within Osaka Castle, was relocated to Hogonji Temple on Chikubu Island in Lake Biwa. To reflect this, large-scale restoration and repair works are currently underway.
   Both Osaka Castle and Himeji Castle had close connections with Hideyoshi. Another well-known castle built by a feudal warlord who Hideyoshi took under his wing is today facing a crisis over its existence. It is Kumamoto Castle (Kumamoto City), left by Kato Kiyomasa. In stark contrast to the white exterior of Himeji Castle, Kumamoto Castle is well known as a black castle similar to the original Osaka Castle. 2008 marked the 400th anniversary of its construction, and 2.2 million people visited the castle that year, making it the most visited castle in Japan.
   In spring 2016, a series of earthquakes hit Kumamoto. The massive quakes with magnitudes of 6.5 and 7.3 and their aftershocks destroyed 13 structures completely or partially, including a tower that had been preserved since the castle’s original construction. Of the 78,000 square meters of stone walls, said by many to be the most beautiful stone walls in Japan, 26,000 square meters had collapsed. Access is currently prohibited to the entire site.
   The Kumamoto prefectural government, which works on post-earthquake reconstruction, and Kumamoto City, which manages the castle, announced that on the premise that priority be placed on helping those affected by the earthquakes, the complete repair of Kumamoto Castle would take 20 years and 63.4 billion yen (initial estimate), and so asked for donations from all over Japan.
   On November 1, 2016, the Kumamoto Castle Lordship system was launched as a fundraising idea. People who donate 10,000 yen or more will receive a certificate of lordship of Kumamoto Castle (with a photo). If they enter their name in the video corner at the resource center, their name will be displayed on a large screen as a lord of Kumamoto Castle, together with an image of the pre-earthquake castle. Photos can also be taken in front of the screen. Other privileges were also given to those becoming castle lords.
   Within a month, over 20,000 people had applied to be lords, quickly raising 200 million yen. Although it will take a long time before the beautiful castle is fully restored, Kumamoto City is currently working on the reconstruction of the city’s symbol, aiming to restore the tower and make parts of the castle open to the public in about three years’ time.
■ If you are interested in becoming a lord of the castle, please phone Kumamoto Castle Sogo Jimusho at 096-352-5900.
■ Information on the application procedure for becoming a lord is also available at Kumamoto Castle’s official website (http://www.manyou-kumamoto.jp/kumamoto-castle/en/).
(Moritatsu Tawara)

Osaka Castle
Himeji Castle