by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.13

The Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower in Kawagoe Castle

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower (Map E-3) in Kawagoe Castle. This is number thirteen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
Construction of Kawagoe Castle and the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
What is the meaning of "Kawagoe"? Some say that it is necessary to cross ("goe" means "cross") rivers (kawa) in order to enter the town, hence the name Kawagoe. At the end of the Heian Period (794-1192), Kawagoe Manor was established and one of the descendants of Emperor Kanmu came from Chichibu giving his name as "Mr. Kawagoe." About 300 years later, people were experiencing troubled times and a castle was also required in Kawagoe. So in 1457, UESUGI Mochitomo ordered OHTA Do-shin and his son, Do-kan, to build a castle in Kawagoe. It is said that the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower was not built when Kawagoe Castle was constructed.
Tokugawa Shoguns and Kawagoe
About 150 years after Kawagoe Castle was built came the Tokugawa Period. The first shogun was Ieyasu. The second was Hidetada and the third was Iemitsu. Ieyasu's base of operations was, of course, in Edo Castle. But he regarded Kawagoe as important and posted his right-hand daimyo (feudal lords) to Kawagoe. The daimyo had been his followers since before the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. As I have told you in previous stories, Buddhist High Priest Tenkai, one of Ieyasu's political advisers, was at the Ki-tain Temple at this time. I assume that Ieyasu went to the trouble of visiting Kawagoe, which was fortified by his trusted retainers, when he needed to discuss confidential issues.
Iemitsu and HAYASHI Razan
After Ieyasu passed away, his son, Hidetada, succeeded him. However, the firm Shogunate structure established by Ieyasu was well maintained by Hidetada and remained in a settled state. Hidetada's son, Iemitsu, who respected his grandfather greatly, tried to make the regime even more secure. One of his counselors was HAYASHI Razan, a scholar of the Chinese classics. Iemitsu visited Kawagoe nine times in total during his life. The following record exists from one of these visits: When Iemitsu visited Kawagoe in 1626. HAYASHI Razan attended him and stayed in Kawagoe Castle. He ascended to the top of a high tower, had a look around and composed a Chinese poem. In the Castle, there were three towers. It is assumed that the tower where he composed the poem was most likely the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower.
"View of Edo"
It is said that the "View of Edo," a pair of six-panel folding screens now stored at the National Museum of Japanese History in Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture, presents scenes from those days. Some say that the screens were created in order to praise and remember Iemitsu and his accomplishments. The left screen depicts Edo Castle and the town, while the right screen depicts Kawagoe Castle and its neighborhood. A tower can be seen on one of the walls surrounding Kawagoe Castle. It has a very simple structure with a ladder, like a watchtower. This could be the original style of the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower. Later, they say, a three-storey tower approximately 15.5m high was built. As Kawagoe Castle never had a donjon there is speculation that the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower was used as a donjon. (You can see a replica of the "View of Edo" in Kawagoe City Museum.)
The Meiji Period and the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
It is said that the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower was rebuilt several times but no historical records of these reconstructions exist. I assume that intentionally no drawings or descriptions of the tower, which also had a military function, were kept. When the Meiji Period started, the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower was destroyed to show loyalty to the new government and the Ontake Shrine was built in its place.
Discovery of Drawings of the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
In 1866, at the very end of the Edo Period, Lord MATSUDAIRA Yamatonokami was transferred to Maebashi. In 2001, two drawings were found in Maebashi City, Gunma Prefecture, in which the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower can be identified. They were kept by a descendant of Lord Matsudaira's retainer. The drawings depict a two-storey tower. Kawagoe City claims that there is more than 90% probability that they depict the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower in Kawagoe.
Reconstruction of the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
Kawagoe City conducted research into reconstructing the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower. Currently, the remains of the tower on which Iemitsu probably also stood, still soar near the Miyoshino Shrine, enveloped by high trees and with only old stone steps to tell us the history. I hope that the tower is reconstructed before long.
The stone monument to show the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
The stone monument to show the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower
The remains of the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower (stone steps)
The remains of the Mt. Fuji Viewing Tower (stone steps)
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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