Jokamachi (城下町)

Jokamachi (castle towns) were cities that were established with the lord's castle in the center. After the Edo period, in some cases, a castle was not necessarily the center, but the jinya, a non-military governmental facility, was the center, and these were also called jokamachi.


Their establishment started in the Sengoku period (period of warring states) (Japan). They had a role as defensive facilities for the castle and also as a governmental city/commercial city as well. Famous examples during the Sengoku period are Ichijodani of the Asakura clan and Odawara of the Gohojo clan. Odawara had a small-scale standing force and it is known that it aimed for heinobunri (separation of the warrior class from farmers). The most important person in relation to the development of jokamachi in the early-modern times was Nobunaga ODA, and with the idea of serious heinobunri in mind, he gathered bushi (warriors) near his castle and established Rakuichi-rakuza (free markets and open guilds) in the city areas to stimulate the development of commerce and trade. Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI developed this further and the castle town of Osaka-jo Castle, which became the center of politics and economy under the Toyotomi government, became a center for riches and was very prosperous. It continued to be the center of commerce in the Edo period and was called the "Kitchen of the land."

Most walled cities in the world have a castle and town area surrounded by castle walls. However, in Japan, although there have been cities and towns such as Sakai City and Terauchi-cho which are surrounded by a moat and dirt mounds since early times, only the lord's residence castle was surrounded by a moat and castle wall and the town area itself was not surrounded by a castle wall in the initial jokamachi. However, as jokamachi developed in Japan, they increased in economic and political value and the necessity for their safeguard against war arose. Therefore, construction of Sogamae or surrounding the entire town with a moat and mounds increased and gradually the trend towards wall cities was seen. Major examples are Odawara-jo Castle of the Gohojo clan and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI's Osaka-jo Castle.

In the Edo period, the requirements as a defensive city waned and they became increasingly the center of politics and economics by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and Han (domain). Reasons for this were that there were no wars during the Edo period and that most clan families experienced the transfer of landownership, and other than Kokudaka (a system for determining land value for tribute purposes in the Edo period), there was little attachment to the land itself. Additionally, places that placed an emphasis on defensive ability as a castle retreat were not in places with good transportation, and as they started to increasingly become trade cities, Jinya instead of castles became the center of government.


By realigning nearby main route roads to pass through the joka (castle town), they wished for the traffic to pass the joka and stimulate commerce and industry. However, regardless of disadvantages/advantages geographically, main route roads did not go through the back of the castle but passed through the Ote side or front side of the castle to indicate the glory of the ruler.

Jokamachi have various aspects that increased city defenses. To prevent the invasion of enemies, they cleverly used geographical features such as rivers and dug moats, built dirt mounds and rock walls and in important places, there were strong castle gates such as Masugata-mon style gate. Within the joka, houses were located on both sides of the main route to make it hard to see the castle and made the distance to the castle longer by making many bends in the roads and dead-ends. Fences and wooden doors were made and they were closed and guarded during the night to prevent intruders. The moat was used as a canal and had an important role in the transport of goods.

The town distribution centered on the castle and had town districts for Samurai, Ashigaru (common foot soldier), townsmen, and temples. Samurai towns were where the large estates of retainers, the so called Buke yashiki (samurai residence), were located and in general, retainers with higher position had a closer location to the castle. These are reflected as current place names such as Sange, Kamiyashiki-cho, and Shimoyashiki-cho. Keihaimono (low-ranked people) such as Ashigaru were placed on the outside of the townsmen district and current place names include Ban-cho, Yumino-cho, and Teppo-cho.

The townsmen district was located outside of the Samurai towns and was the town for merchants and craftsmen. People from surrounding villages were moved into the joka and merchants and craftsmen were separated into their occupation. Current place names such as Gofuku-machi, Aburaya-cho, Daiku-cho, Kaji-machi, and Koya-machi are related to this. The area for townspeople was smaller than that for the Samurai and houses were built along the road without any gaps. Therefore the front width of the houses were narrow, but the house had depth and were like so-called 'sleeping places of an eel' and were two-storied. However, they used the upper story as storage space because living there would mean they would be looking down on the Daimyo.

The Teramachi was located at the outer rim of the jokamachi and spacious temples formed part of the city defenses.

Jokamachi that retain their old character

Currently in Japan, half of the cities with over 100,000 in population were originally jokamachi, but with large fires, war, and development, they have changed so much that it is rare to find jokamachi that reflect what they looked like in the past. Many of the towns that still retain their character before the Edo period are called Sho-kyoto (little Kyoto) and are tourist spots. In recent years, towns that retain their character from during the Edo period are called Ko-edo (little Edo) (originally meant Kawagoe City and a few other cities). Examples of old jokamachi that have been designated as Important Traditional Architecture Preservation Areas are listed below.

Naka-cho, Hirosaki City
Kakunodate-cho, Senboku City
Higashiyama Higashi
Sanmachi (Takayama City)
Iwamura-cho, Ena City
Hachiman Traditional Architecture Group Preservation Region, Omihachiman City
Matsuyama (Uda City)
Shinoyama City
Shikano (Tottori City)
Hagi City
Asakura City
Nichinan City (Obi)

Although there are few remaining buildings, many previous jokamachi still retain the mark of their jokamachi period in their road division and the like, and since the roads were made to prevent enemy invasion, in many cases, they are limiting automobile transportation. Many places that were the townspeople area during their jokamachi period are still currently the center of the city, and festivals and customs from that time still exist.

[Original Japanese]