Have you ever seen a fortress shaped like a star? There are two known citadels or fortresses with this form in Japan. There is one in Hakodate, Hokkaido (northern Japan) and one in Saku, Nagano (central Japan). This kind of fortress is also called a ‘trace Italienne’ or ‘bastion fort’ in the West; in Japan, it is called a ‘Goryokaku’ (pentagonal). This type of fortress is built this way to serve as a protection, and it worked especially well for battlefields dominated by cannons. Let’s learn more about these structures.
The city of Hakodate is the gateway of Hokkaido. It is a very beautiful city with a lot of attractions. One of those is the Goryokaku, which is shaped like a five point star. It was built by the Tokugawa Shogunate in order to protect Hakodate from a possible Russian invasion. It is designed according to the European archetype and was the main citadel for the short-lived ‘Republic of Ezo’, which was situated in the area of present-day Hokkaido. A fierce battle called the ‘Boshin War’ was fought at this place, which led to the abolishment of the Shogunate and restoration of the Imperial rule. Nowadays, this Goryokaku is a wonderful park full of cherry trees and is definitely worth a visit for the many tourists that come here daily. There is also a two-storey tower that serves as an observatory in the vicinity of the park, from where you can catch a good view of the Goryokaku.
The other bastion fort is where Tatsuoka Castle is situated which was built by Matsudaira Norikata, a Daimyo (a feudal lord who was subordinate to the Shogun). He was one of the founders of the Japanese Red Cross Society, which is now headed honorarily by Empress Michiko. He was inspired by Western style fortification methods and was responsible for building the five point star fortress in Saku, Nagano. This castle is now in ruins, and only a few remnants remain such as the Shinto shrine and a farmers guild.
These are the two fortresses shaped like a star in Japan. The fortresses are the only old fortresses in Japan that have been built using a Western military style. Of these two, only the Hakodate Goryokaku is in a good condition. However, depending on where you are in Japan, both of these fortresses deserve a visit, as they are such unique historical and architectural sites.