Japanese Gate Typology (8)

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


Creating a typology of gates is slightly perilous in terms of the fact that gates themselves did no necessarily develop in any sort of linear, ordered pattern. Add to that the difficulty in classification which is akin to the problem of classifying Japanese joints. One can make classifications of gates based on number of posts, type of roof, function of the gate, social class to which a gate associates, and so forth. Some gates may have a supporting base that would ordinarily place it in one category, however have a type of roof which suggests another category. So far we’ve been generally considering gates in terms of an increasing level of relative complexity and an increase, more less, in the number of supporting posts. While I could readily continue in that vein, I will instead switch themes a bit and stick with gates which associate to castles for the time being.

Uzumimon (埋門)

Literally, the sunken () gate (). The plain verb uzumeru, or umeru, means to bury something, or sink it into a surrounding. An inlaid wood repair patch, or dutchman, is known in Japanese as an umeki. An uzumimon is a type of gate which is typically found sunken into the lower part of a castle’s stone wall, or an embankment containing a wall. There are two types of this gate, and usually these gates were a point of passage between two different ground levels in the castle. Thus, from the lower level the gate appears to be a full height gate in the wall, or just a hole in the stone wall, however from the inside upper level the gate opening appears to be somewhat buried in the ground. As part of a castle’s defense system, if under attack or siege the smaller form of this gate was intended to be filled in with soil and gravel. These gates are also found in a slightly different form within a castle’s mud wall, tsuiji, attached to a wooden framework and with a tiny hatch, or ‘hole-door’ fitted. This small opening could also be readily plugged up with stone and dirt if the need arose. It’s not really clear whether the term ‘uzumimon‘ is a reflection of the gate’s design to be plugged or filled in with dirt, or whether it refers to the gate itself filling in a gap in the stone wall. Some uzumimon are little more than a hole in the wall, while others are more complex timber structures with roofs added inside and out.

Here’s an example, from Himeji Castle:


The view of an uzumimon from within Sasayama Castle grounds, this one more a gate for a break in the stone wall, and not having the wall continue over the gate:


This castle was torn down in the Meiji restoration, however it has been rebuilt since 2000.

Another, from Nijō Castle in Kyōto:


Here’s an unusual one, in that the gate, once a part of Sekiyado Castle, is completely detached from the original site. The original site has a modern reconstruction of the castle in place, as part of a bid to boost local tourism. The remaining uzumimon now sits within a section of wooden fencing:


Let’s get in a little closer:


Another view, from the side:

Now the other side:

Another look:

So, in form this gate might be classified as something else entirely, however the functional usage, as a castle wall back gate, remains the key to the puzzle. I’m not sure if the roof is original or not, however I suspect it is not.

Here’s another, located at Tatsuno Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, another site of crumbling remains with modern reconstructions here and there, including the uzumimon:

This version of uzumimon is located at Nagoya Castle – the view is from the inside:


Last one, this is a uzumimon at Odawara Castle. as you can see, it lays on the castle side of the moat and is part of the entry compound. Normally one might expect to see a kōraimon in such a location:

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. There are many gates to be covered in this series yet, so I hope you’ll return to check them out. Comment always welcome. On to post 9

Anything to add?

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