A powerful hilltop fortress that has housed brutal warlords for centuries, it was designed to deter bloodshed and chaos. However, a famous cat has managed to take over Japan’s last remaining mountain castle.
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, tucked away in the forested mountains of southern Japan, has never been a popular tourist destination despite its majestic appearance and extraordinary history.
Tourist officials in Takahashi, Japan, came up with a unique plan to draw people to the town and this castle just before the pandemic broke out. The Takahashi government hoped to attract media attention by entrusting the management of the castle to a cat named Sanjuro, who is orange and white.
Most cats’ daily activities consist of little more than sleeping, eating, and purring, earning them the reputation of being extremely low-key and unproductive. Sanjuro is one of a kind. Extensively various. His very name suggests as much. The Shinsengumi were a mysterious and brief Japanese police force formed in the 1860s to put down an uprising and execute dissidents; this cat is named after Sanjuro Tani, the fearsome warrior who led the Takahashi branch of the Shinsengumi.
Not content with that accolade alone, this cat has also been given ownership of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, a historic structure about 20 miles from Okayama. Officially, Sanjuro is known as “Lord of the Castle.” Even his own personal relics exist in his collection. A sheet of stamps with a paw print and a picture of Sanjuro lying on his back is available for purchase in Takahashi for $3.
On the canonical Bitchu Matsuyama Castle website, visitors can even ask Sanjuro questions. There, he details his July 2018 adventure through the forest after a major storm, during which he stumbled upon the castle. When Sanjuro disappeared in November 2018, he had become a popular figure among both castle regulars and visitors. When he turned up again the following month, the Takahashi authorities held a ceremony and made him a lord.
You can learn about Sanjuro’s routine and how to arrange to meet up with him on your next trip to Japan by reading his answers to these questions. To put it simply, “I live in the castle,” Sanjuro says. “At 10:00 and 14:00, I typically make rounds of the area within the castle’s walls. If you want to meet up with me, now is the time to do it! Know that how I’m feeling will determine where I go in the castle. Please inquire with my caretaker as to my whereabouts while I am on patrol.
Bitchu Matsuyama, Japan’s oldest mountain castle, is a prime example of the earliest styles of Japanese castles. They resembled miniature fortresses and had been designed for use in armed conflict. Not until the 16th century did the country’s castles start to be constructed on flatter land, eventually becoming the imposing administrative hubs of large towns. They were built for battle from the start. Almost 800 years ago, this castle was constructed on top of a 430-meter-high mountain as a fortress, and its high position and steep access paths still serve that purpose today.
An update from (@sanju ro_) on Twitter. This is a post by (@sanju ro_):
Even though European castles are widely regarded as symbols of power and prestige, unlike their European counterparts, most Japanese castles were not built with that purpose in mind. Instead, they were fortifications built during Japan’s bloody and disorderly Sengoku period. During the Warring States Period, which lasted from the mid-1400s to the late-1500s, Japan was in a constant state of upheaval.
During this time period, numerous warlords and influential families across the country fought one another for control of the country and its resources. From behind increasingly fortified castles, these titans issued orders as warfare and weaponry progressed. One of the most noticeable changes is the addition of stone walls to the perimeter. Their job was to defend the castles’ wooden facades from the new danger posed by European cannons in the 1500s.
At the height of their popularity in this century, more than a thousand castles stood across Japan. Only twelve castles are still standing in their original form today. The Bitchu-Matsuyama is one of the oldest buildings still standing.
Even though most of them are bigger, they all pale in comparison to Sanjuro’s fortress because of its breathtaking natural surroundings. You’ll need to walk up the hill for about 20 minutes from the parking lot to reach Bitchu Matsuyama castle. These trails wind through a beautiful forest at the peak of its autumn splendor, with trees displaying a rainbow of colors.
These days, instead of angry Samurai, a friendly cat with a lofty title, a growing fan base, and his very own line of stamps greets unexpected visitors. Sanjuro is the main man in Takahashi.
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