Castles still serve a valuable function. They inform us about ancient history, architecture, art, culture, and politics. They’re gathering places for friendly, informed tourists and for tourist dollars, helping support the local economy. And, in the case of Nagoya Castle, offer excellent soft serve green tea ice cream.
I had been to Nagoya Castle once before, decades ago. At that time, it was impressive but a bit tattered so yesterday, on our day off, I considered it more a destination of my walk—I needed to stretch my legs after all those hours in the plane—rather than as something I particularly wanted to see.
It turned out my route was a lot more circuitous than I planned. That will happen when you start out ninety degrees in the wrong direction.
It being a lovely fall day, however, I enjoyed whatever came my way. Walking through city streets and parks in a foreign country is always interesting, if occasionally bewildering.
Arriving at the castle entrance, one cannot be anything other than awestruck by the massive stone works that form the walls of the moats and base of the castle tower. The only places I’ve seen that might equal it are the Incan stone work in the mountains of Peru or the Etruscan walls in Umbria, Italy.
Things had certainly changed since my previous visit. Gardens had been re-landscaped. Extensive renovation had taken place. And most of all, the palace, which had been totally destroyed along with the original castle tower by American bombing in World War II, has been painstakingly reproduced in every detail. The beauty of the architecture and murals are as breathtaking a marvel of Japanese artistry and esthetic as the original apparently was.
The current, rebuilt castle tower looks like the 17th century original on the outside, but is of cement construction. Unlike the palace, which is a virtual recreation, the inside of the castle tower is simply a museum space of various interesting exhibits with photos and artifacts. One floor recreates a street scene in old Nagoya. Another has an impressive scale model of the entire city from the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Some of the exhibits have captioned photos of the castle pre- and post-bombing, and of pieces of artifacts seared by heat of the explosions. There is a subtle implication in much of it that the bombing of the castle, which had been designated a national treasure, was wastefully unnecessary.
Though it certainly was tragic that so much irreplaceable beauty was destroyed, one must also consider the original purpose of the castle. It was a military, government fortress in which endless wars of conquest and destruction were planned and executed. While Nagoya Castle had long abandoned that function, in a sense its bombing was a continuation of history more than a disruption of it. Poetic justice? Perhaps not. The real tragedy is war itself and the killing of innocent civilians because all castles, whether made of stone, sand or of metaphors, are eventually are swept away by the tide.