Like most of Amakusa, Tomioka (an island peninsula jutting out from the North-West tip of the Amakusa District) is well known for its beaches and during the summer, it attracts many beach-goers hoping to soak up the sun. If the idea of a week spent lying on a beach isn’t entertainment enough for you, fear not – as well as swimming in the sea and doing a spot of sunbathing, Tomioka offers one other attraction for history-hungry travellers. The Tomioka Castle and Visitors Center is just a stone’s throw away from the main beaches and makes for a pleasant way to get out of the sun for an hour and do something educational.
Tomioka Castle was built by Terasawa Hirotaka in 1602, Lord of Amakusa after the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. The main castle was known as the ‘Flying Crane Castle’ and the smaller castle was called the ‘Lying Dragon Castle’. When the Shimabara Rebellion broke out in 1637, the castle, which was considered a focal point of the shogunate, was attacked three times by the rioters, but the castle remained protected and undefeated. After the rebellion ended, Amakusa was ruled by Yamazaki Ieharu who was a skillful castle builder. The territory and lands of the castle were expanded upon and the castle was much repaired in this time. The castle prospered for seventy years but was destroyed by Toda Tadamasa in 1670. Even after this time, Tomioka played an important part of the administration of the Amakusa District until the final days of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
While there is little left to see of the original structures on the grounds of the Tomioka Castle, museums and statues have been recently added to enhance the experience of tourists visiting the area. In 2005, thanks to donations from the Japanese Lottery Association, the ‘Committee for the Tomioka Castle Monument’ were able to commission four magnificent statues to decorate the grounds.
The four statues are impressions of important historical figures related to Tomioka. Suzuki Shigenari was the first intendant in Amakusa – he arranged the administrative organisation in the agricultural district and reconstructed shrines and temples, cultivated wasteland and promoted accepting immigrants to the area. He felt particularly strongly about the amount that common people were being taxed and submitted a report asking for a 50% reduction to tax rates. When his proposal was rejected, he committed hara-kiri (seppuku – ritual suicide) to protest. After his death, the tax was eventually lowered.
His brother was Suzuki Shosan, who was most well known for his works as a priest. He travelled all over the nation promoting an ascetic life. A famous quote of his reads ‘The teaching of the Buddha is not a special one. Applying yourself to your business for the world and other people leads to the teaching of the Buddha.’
Katsu Kaishu was devoted to fixing the problems left behind after the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, and was a master of Sakamoto Ryoma. He taught at the Nagasaki Naval Training School and visited Tomioka several times in the 1850s.
The final statue is a likeness of Rai Sanyo, a writer and poet who was much impressed by the beauty of Amakusa, particularly the view of the sea. His famous verse from ‘Spend the Night on the Amakusa Sea’ is well known throughout Japan:
Is that a cloud or a mountain?
Land of Wu in China or land of Yue?
Water and sky, distinguished clearly, stretch as if a blue hair is stretched.
Coming all the way from Kyoto and staying on the boat in the Amakusa Sea, the evening haze veils the small windows of the boat quietly, and the sun is gradually setting in the west sea. Just then I saw a big fish jumping over the waves.
There is the evening star in the sky, illuminating the boat.
It is very bright like the moon.
The visitors centre is located within the castle grounds – there isn’t much to see but, like the castle grounds, it is free to enter. The visitors centre is open from 9:00 – 4:45 and is closed on Wednesdays. There is a car park and directions for getting to the castle to be found on the website.
As far as Japanese castles go, Tomioka won’t be making anyone’s Top Twenty list anytime soon, but if you happen to be in the area and want something else to do then I do recommend a visit – if for nothing else than to stand next to those four famous statues and take in the view that they look out over day after day. I highly recommend approaching the castle from the North-Eastern side of Tomioka island and climbing up the steps cloaked with bright red torii – the most eye-catching scene of the whole island.