Japanese Gate Typology (12)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon


I mentioned a couple of posts back that there is a fundamental problem with typology, a classification scheme, in that there is a tug of war between making things fit into a set number of categories, or allowing the number of categories to expand, possibly to the point at which having categories does not serve to clarify things any. Today’s post deals with a gate type that overlaps into more than one category.

Taikomon (太鼓門 )

Literally, rotund () drum () gate ().  The second character, drum (), is a pictograph of a hand holding a stick on the right side (), and a pictograph of a round drum with decorations on top to the left side ().

Taiko, as most readers are aware I’m sure, are Japanese wooden drums, some of which can be rather large:

(image from Wikipedia) .

Taiko drums, in the era of feudalism, were often used to motivate troops, to help set a marching pace, and to call out orders or announcements. Approaching or entering a battle, the taiko yaku (drummer) was responsible for setting the marching pace, usually with six paces per beat of the drum (beat-2-3-4-5-6, beat-2-3-4-5-6).

The taikomon is not, however, a structure similar in form to the drums, rather it is a gate with a second floor in which drums are located. It is similar then to a bell tower, in that the purpose of the structure is to produce sound, and just as there are bell towers and bell tower gates, there are drum towers and drum tower gates. In common with bell towers, taiko drum towers were used to mark/tell the time at selected intervals, such as every six hours.

There are taikomon which look very similar to the bell tower gates with flared skirts, hakama-goshi, below, like this one at Chōrakuji (長楽寺):

Given the military connection to the drumming, one might expect to find these drumming towers at castles, and sure enough that is the case, here at Matsushiro-jō (松代城):

Another one at Tsuchiura-jō (土浦城), this gate built in 1656:

The castle was decommissioned in 1873, the moats filled in and many of the buildings razed.

Here’s a look at the framing on the underside of the gate:

One might notice that a two-story castle gate has already been covered in this series, namely the yaguramon, or ‘tower gate’. As one might suppose, a drum tower and a watch tower share duties in terms of being tall places from which to view the surroundings. As a result, we could also call the above gate a yaguramon. In fact, the above gate is generally referred to as a taiko-yagura-mon, or taikomon-yagura.

In fact, there was a yaguramon shown in that previous posting which is also a taikomon – at Matsudai Castle:

Hikone Castle (彦根城) in Shiga Prefecture is one of only four in Japan listed as a national treasure. Originally completed in 1622, it was slated to be demolished like the rest of the castles in the Meiji period, however a personal request from the Emperor Meiji kept the castle from being taken down. The taikomon-yagura of this castle is designated by the Japanese government as an important cultural asset:

A picture from the inside of the tower gate reveals some sweet bowed-log work, koya-gumi:

Matsuyama Castle’s gate, also shown in a previous post on yaguramon, can also be described as a taikomon. Originally built in the Meiji period and later destroyed, it has been rebuilt in the early 1970’s:

A closer look at the underpinnings, from the exit side:

A castle with a similar name to the preceding one is Matsumoto Castle (松本城), and it also has a taikomon-yagura:

From the courtyard, or masugata, side:

A look at the room inside the tower:

That, I think, wraps up a look at towers which also serve as gates, however there are some other types two-story gates yet to be examined in this series. I hope you’ll stay tuned. On to post 13

4 Replies to “Japanese Gate Typology (12)”

  1. Dean,

    oh boy, I think a detailed coffee table book on Japanese gates would be great idea! I won't be tackling such a project anytime soon though, as I have enough on my plate for the next while!

    Thanks for your comment.


  2. Chris,
    Do you know if the acoustic qualities of taikomon where taken in account during the design.
    I have wondered about this regarding bell towers as well.

    Just read about your operation. I hope you have recovered well.

  3. Hello Mathieu,

    thanks for your comment. I don't really know any specifics in that regards, but i wouldn't be surprised to lean that there were some subtleties to the design for acoustic reasons.

    I'm recovering well from my operation -thanks for asking.


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