Goryokaku Fort

From Jcastle.info



If you look at this picture and the next one you should be able to see that this fort has a star shape. The Tokugawa shogunate began construction of this castle in 1857 and completed it in 1864. This was the first Western (specifically, Vauban) style fortress in Japan. This style was also popular in Europe at the time for it's ability to withstand damage from modern weapons.

After Japan was forced to open up trading with other countries by the US, the Tokugawa Shogunate opened ports in Hakodate and Shimoda. This fort at Hakodate was designed to defend the city from any Northern threats. Upon completion a government office was established inside which controlled all of Hokkaido.

During the Boshin War (1867-1869) rebel Shogunate forces battled with the Imperial forces after the return of power to the Emperor. The Shogunate forces eventually retreated to Hakodate where they took control of Goryokaku and the Hakodate War began. A year later the last of the rebels surrendered to Imperial forces, thus concluding the last remnant of Feudal Japan.

Visit Notes

This may not fit in with the other castles on this site because it is more of a modern fort than a Sengoku or Edo period castle. It had no significant buildings beyond these walls and moats. It was the location of the last battle of the Edo period, so it has significance for that period of history.

  • Best view of Goryokaku
  • entrance, moats, and bridge
  • moats, park and city
  • moat and park
  • entrance
  • Stone walls
  • atop one of the stone walls
  • Stone Walls
  • Stone walls
  • interior stone wall
  • stone wall with numbered stones
  • stone walls
  • Bugyosho
  • Bugyosho, from the side
  • Bugyosho
  • Model of the Goryokaku Fort

Castle Profile
English Name Goryokaku Fort
Japanese Name 五稜郭
Alternate Names Kameda Government Office (Kameda Oyakusho Dorui), Ryuya Castle
Founder Ayasaburo Takeda
Year Founded 1864
Castle Type Flatland
Castle Condition No main keep but other buildings
Designations Top 100 Castles, National Historic Site, Special Historic Site
Historical Period Edo Period
Features water moats, stone walls
Visitor Information
Access Bus or streetcar from Hakodate station
Visitor Information
Time Required
Website http://www.hakodate.or.jp/guide/modules/map/index.php?lid=721&cid=41
Location Hakodate, Hokkaido
Coordinates 41° 47' 48.77" N, 140° 45' 24.30" E
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Added to Jcastle 2002
Contributor Eric
Admin Year Visited 2002
Admin Visits July 21, 2002

(17 votes)
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76 months ago
Score 2++

Before the fall of the Shogunate the Tokugawa regime made attempts to develop Japan as a modern power, particularly, militarily. This led to the construction of the bastion forts which can be found in Hokkaidō, of which Goryōkaku is the largest, a five-point star built in 1855 by architect Takeda Ayasaburō. Two Shiryōkaku (four point star forts) also remain in good condition in Hakodate and Hokuto. A three point star fort and seven point star fort are also said to have been built but whilst their location is known it is unclear as to what their exact layout was. In addition to these bastion forts, Benten-daiba, a coastal fortification, was constructed in Hakodate Bay. Goryōkaku's rare (in Japan) star shape is best appreciated from above by visiting the nearby Goryōkaku observation tower which offers views of Hakodate. The former town hall of Hakodate, the government hall of Ezo, has been reconstructed at the center of the fort exactly as it was at the end of the Edo Period.


Goryōkaku was built in 1855 to secure Japan's hold on Hokkaidō, especially in view of encroaching Western powers, like neighbouring Russia. It was designed by Takeda Ayasaburō who had studied French bastion forts. In 1868 Tokugawa Loyalist forces retreated from the mainland where they had been pushed back by the Imperial Army of the new Meiji Oligarchy. The loyalists, by this time led by Shogunate admiral Enomoto Takeaki, along with a small navy and army of 3,000 and a handful of French military advisors who were to lead the army, invaded Hokkaidō. Upon arriving in Hokkaidō the Loyalists occupied Goryōkaku and conquered Matsumaejō. They began fortifying the area in preparation for the arrival of Imperial forces. The Imperial Navy arrived in Hokkaidō waters but the Loyalists had planned a surprise assault, led by Hijikata Toshizō. However they were foiled by bad weather and the Imperial Navy turned gatling gun fire on them from their iron-clad warship (purchased from France). The Imperial Army invaded Hokkaidō with a force of 7,000. Goryōkaku was defended by 800 die-hard Loyalists. By this time the Frenchmen had fled. As the Imperial Army marched on Hokkaidō, Hijikata engaged them in battle: charging into action he was gunned down. Though hampered, with overwhelming force the Imperial Army besieged Goryōkaku and after a week of fighting negotiations followed and Enomoto surrendered unconditionally.

The Loyalist occupation of Ezo (later known as Hokkaidō) is sometimes referred to as the Republic of Ezo, making it Japan's first (and only) republic, Wikipedia tells us, and first democracy no less. This, in short, goes beyond the truth. Whilst French advisers in Hakodate foisted upon their Japanese clients their own ideas about founding a new state and one decision was agreed by the consensus of several hundred disenfranchised samurai (and not peasants of course), and the leader of the Frenchmen, Jules Brunet, was lauded for his attempts to create an oasis of French political ideals in the Far East, in reality this so-called "republic" existed only in the dreams of Brunet and imagination of the French public who subsequently popularised the idea to a Western audience. A constitution was written up, by the French, and Enomoto made "President" (Japanese: Sōsai), despite his leadership being already beyond dispute and unchallenged, and any semblance to a republic or democracy ended there. The Frenchmen did not stay to defend their fledgling state onto which they projected their own ideals, but fled back to Yokohama at the first sighting of the Imperial Navy. In reality, Enomoto and his men were samurai who believed in the old ways and professed undying loyalty to their lordships, the Tokugawa. In fact, they intended to establish not a republic but a feudal domain in Ezo's untamed wilderness and Enomoto, who still recognised the Emperor's traditional sovereignty over all Japan, requested to his monarch that Ezo be given over to the Tokugawa so that they may serve his Imperial Majesty as gate-keepers at Japan's northern frontier. The state was not a republic to the Japanese soldiers there, and they would've invited members of the Tokugawa clan to inhabit Ezo, subjugated the peasantry and indigenous Ainu, enfranchised the bushi as landowners and continued to consider themselves part of Japan, loyal to the Emperor, albeit autonomous of the new Meiji Oligarchy - but with the government's permission. No secessionist state would ask permission of the Fatherland to develop the land and keep the old traditions alive. The intention was to expand Japan's frontier whilst maintaining feudal-style power for the old Tokugawa leadership. Enomoto never declared independence nor used the word "republic" to describe Ezo according to contemporary sources. This talk of a republic was nothing but the fancy of Westerners.


111 months ago
Score 0++
Yesterday evening was chilly, but this morning the weather was already nice to visit this site. I took the streetcar from the Hakodate station to the Goryogakukoenmae. One ride is 230¥. From there it's about 1km to the Goryogaku tower. The entrance fee to the observatory is 840¥. You have a good view of the fort and of the city. After that i walked all around the site before entering the park. Like Kris said, there are numerous explanation boards all over the site. The entrance fee to the magistrate's office is 500¥. It's a very well reconstructed building. There is only one original structure. It's the white building on the photo, a little bit to the left of the centre. It's a storehouse and it's closed to the public. Since the weather was nice, i liked to stroll around.

Anonymous user #1

157 months ago
Score 0++
My Shinsengumi-loving friend made me promise to go to Hakodate one day; it was awesome. We went to Goryokaku twice. It is very well sign-posted, well kept and had lot of good explanations in English. The new Bugyosho reconstruction is very well done but the explanations seemed a bit white-washed - they politely refrained from labeling uncomfortable things. Goryokaku Tower has good but not perfect views of the star-shaped outline; still it more than makes up for it in amusing miniature dioramas and being a Hijikata-themed omiyage samurai paradise to the North. Even if you aren`t interested, the impression of cannon tracks in a muddy slope is still a stirring sight. Also, this is the only castle I have seen so far that has a character goods line of itself as a flying squid-fighting space fortress.


159 months ago
Score 0++
Palace/Administration buildings reconstructed in 2010. Enormous, 20+ tatami rooms