Castles are some of Japan's most iconic structures and popular tourist destinations. They are prominent symbols of local, regional and national identity recognised both at home and abroad. Castles occupy large areas of land at the centre of most Japanese cities, shaping the urban space. Many castles have their roots in the period of civil war that ended in the early seventeenth century, and now house museums, parks and reconstructions of historic buildings. The current heritage status of Japan's castles obscures their troubled modern history. During the imperial period (1868–1945), the vast majority of pre-modern castles were abandoned, dismantled or destroyed before being rediscovered and reinvented as physical links to an idealised martial past. Japan's most important castles were converted to host military garrisons that dominated city centres and caused conflict with civilian groups. Various interests competed for control and access, and castles became sites of convergence between civilian and military agendas in the 1920s and 1930s. This paper argues that castles contributed both symbolically and physically to the militarisation of Japanese society in the imperial period. The study of these unique urban spaces provides new approaches to understanding militarism, continuity and change in modern Japan.
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