This blog kinda overlaps with my other articles on the Shimabara Rebellion and Hara Castle Ruins. You can find them here.
Shimabara castle was built by the right bastard, Matsukura Shigemasa from 1618 to 1624. Matsukura was a low level retainer in the province of Yamato. Somewhat a good fighter, he gained notability during the battle of Sekigahara and the Osaka campaign. For his merits the triumphant Tokugawa gave him the domain of Hizen in 1616. Hizen was a low level domain with only 43,000 koku and two castles, Hinoe and Hara.
In 1618 the Tokugawa Bakufu created a bill which only allowed one castle per domain. Matsukura in his right mind decided to scrap two perfectly good castles, namely Hinoe and Hara, and built himself a full on mansion, Shimabara. Not a bad idea for a new lord but completely stupid considering the cost of building Shimabara castle was going to cost twice as much as the value of his domain. Of course, he himself was not going to pay for such a grand castle, that was left up to the poor citizens of Hizen. Those of you who are familiar with the Shimabara Rebellion can see where I am going with this and those readers who don`t, please go to the links posted above. In the end, some clever people poisoned the fruitcake while he was staying at the famous Obama onsen town. However, his son Katsuie continued in his father`s footsteps which lead to the rebellion. After the rebellion Katsuie was ordered to Edo and beheaded. He was denied the option of seppuku due to his brutality and mismanagement of his domain. After that four samurai families managed Shimabara until 1871.
Since the construction of the castle, it had prospered as a political center of the feudal clan of Shimabara and as a castle of successive feudal lords for 250 years. In addition, with a foothold in military affairs, this castle took on an important duty as the behind-the-scene superintendent officers for Kyushu, particularly in the days of the Matsudaira rule. However, the glory days of feudal Japan were over and much of the feudal legacy were left to the elements.
Eventually, in disrepair, the land was sold off. The main enclosure became a farm for many years, with only the castle walls left behind. The outermost outworks (Sannomaru) became school land, and the first elementary school and Shimabara junior high school (Shimabara high school later) opened on the vast remains of this palace. A girls’ school and a business school, and the first junior high school were temporarily placed in this territory.
Shimabara citizens waited a long time for the revival of the castle, and eventually their zeal bore fruit. First, in 1960, ‘the west turret’ was restored, it was followed by ‘the castle tower’ in 1964. The castle building has since been made into the museum and exhibits historical documents, including Christian and local ones collected by the citizens. This is one of very few castle museums where visitors can take photos, well, when I went in 2019 I could.
Afterwards, in 1972, the turret of Tatsumi was restored and ‘West Seibo Memorial Hall’ was opened to exhibit the carvings and sculptures of Mr. Kitamura Seibo, who is a local person and also a winner of the Order of Culture. In addition, ‘The Sightseeing Revival Hall’ was opened to show the Unzen Fugen-dake disaster, with the help of images and various materials, in 1996.
Looking at Shimabara castle from the-front-gate (Otemon) is wonderful. We can enjoy a white five-tiered castle against the blue sky. From the moat, we can also see a tile-roofing white wall having crenels 15 meters above, three-layered Tatsumi Turret and West Turret further above. The five-tiered castle tower of all white coat soars to height of 35 meters. The stone wall stands almost in the perpendicular, drawing a loose curve, and is not daunted at all though 390 years have passed since its construction.
The secondary enclosure (Ninomaru) was connected with the passage bridge to the north side. In the further north, the third enclosure (Sannomaru) was located and the palace was also placed. The outer fence is 360 meters from east to west, and 1,260 meters from north to south. The surrounding circumference had a wall of 3,900 meters and 16 towers of various sizes were arranged at the key points. The houses for the upper samurai were placed inside and the ones for the lower samurai were outside. It was too much an impressible castle for a daimyo of 40,000 koku as mentioned above.
The present Shimabara Castle was restored in 1964, and it was rebuilt based on the records of the feudal clan diary and other documents or on the picture of the castle at the end of Taisho period. About 200,000 to 300,000 people a year come to visit it, and the castle has become a noted place for Shimabara sightseeing.