Circles and Squares: Understanding the Azuchi Castle Tenshu within Japanese Warring-States Ideology

Dr Mark Erdmann1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Azuchi Castle was a watershed in Japanese visual culture. Completed in 1579 as the home of Oda Nobunaga and destroyed in 1582 in the wake of Nobunaga’s assassination, Azuchi was the first castle to de-emphasize military preparedness in lieu of opulent materials and visual impact. Azuchi’s form is today generally understood as a symbol of its master. However, this characterization fails to account for Azuchi’s unique attributes. In particular, the form of its tenshu, a towering edifice that rose seven-stories, is one-of-a-kind in the history of East Asian architecture.  This paper argues that the Azuchi tenshu and particularly its keep, a golden, square hall seated upon an octagonal hall, represents an adaptation of the architecture of sage kings of classical Chinese histories for the social and political context of Warring-States period Japan. Through an examination of the tenshu’s character, the castle complex, the etymology of tenshu, and Nobunaga’s Zen monk advisors, the long ignored Chinese roots of Azuchi Castle are made apparent. Azuchi’s tenshu was not just a reflection of Nobunaga, but a loud proclamation of Nobunaga as heir to a long history of Chinese and Japanese rulers.


Mark Erdmann specialises in Japanese pre-modern architecture and the intersection of space, painting, carpentry, and power. He received his doctorate from Harvard University and Masters from SOAS, University of London. He is currently working on a book on Azuchi Castle and translating the seventeenth-century secret carpenter manual Shōmei.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd