This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (門). 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:
I’ll stick with castles for the time being, as there are many types of gates associate to castles.
As one might expect, fortifications of all kinds require some sort of lookout post, which is typically a raised platform or tower. A Yagura (櫓) is a tower, and there are towers which also serve as gates, hence, Yaguramon:
The character yagura, (櫓) is an interesting one in that it combines tree/wood (木) on the left, and on the right we have fish (魚) over sayeth (曰). A speaking fish? No, it –魯– meant the repeated puckering of the mouth of a fish, a reference to stupidity and absurdity. However, when used in compounds with other elements, it connotes long and drawn out. A long and drawn out wooden thing then. Originally, ‘櫓‘ referred to a pair of wooden oars, however it came to mean tower or turret. Those meanings are a bit diverse, however with character that are a few thousand years old, that’s what you get sometimes. Yagura were not just an appurtenance of castles – a fire lookout tower is a hinomi-yagura (火の見櫓).
Yaguramon were most often associated with a type of gate we just looked at, the kōraimon. Together, these two gates formed a courtyard complex which is termed the masugatamon (桝形門) of a castle. Masugata (桝形) means shaped like a masu (桝). A masu is a square wooden measuring cup, like this:
The castle courtyard complex with the two gates, yaguramon and kōraimon, are arranged around a square, walled courtyard. The English term for the masugatamon is a ‘barbican gate complex‘. Usually the yaguramon is constructed 90˚ to the first gate, which is the kōraimon. Here’s a photo from the JAANUS site which shows the typical relationship between the two gates in the square courtyard, ‘a’ being the yaguramon, and ‘b’ the kōraimon:
Here’s a yaguramon at Matsudai Castle in Niigata Prefecture:
The same gate as part of the masugatamon complex:
A photomontage by cameraman Chee Hian of Matsuyama Castle, where the full panorama of the two gates and masugata are clearly seen:
The yaguramon at Saiki Castle (a remains) in Ōita Prefecture:
As you can see, yaguramon are two-story timber structures fitted in between runs of stone wall fortifications. Typically they are three bays in length, and in some configurations the castle’s stone walls provide ready walkable access into the second story – otherwise stairs or ladders are involved.
Here’s the one that remains from Ibariki Castle in Ōsaka:
A little curious as it doesn’t seem to have any upstairs view ports. Perhaps the boards in the upstairs wainscot can be slid aside for that purpose.
At Kawanoe Castle, where there is a – hold your nose – concrete re-creation of the 1337 original castle, there is an imposing yaguramon:
Another castle ruins, located in Nagasaki Prefecture, is that of Kane-ishi Castle, which has a rather tall yaguramon, a 1990 rebuild (this, the third rebuild after the original 1678 structure burned down in 1813, and its replacement having been torn down in 1919):
Yaguramon were sometimes plated with metal to give them better fire-resistance, like this example:
A closer look at the copper cladding:
Finally, a more primitive and archaic yagura gate, located in Ishikawa Prefecture at the remains of Torigoe Castle
The site lies at the top of a 312-meter high mountain, overlooking the Tedori River. There’s a good account of the structure in Steven Trumbull’s book Japanese Fortified Temples and Monasteries AD 710-1062
Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way. A detailed look at the many types of Japanese gates will continue. On to post 10.