Photo/IllutrationMakoto Kinoshita, senior curator at the Matsue History Museum, holds a copy of “Gokuhi Shokoku Shiro-zu,” an art book featuring 74 top secret drawings of castles across Japan. (Shinya Okudaira)

  • Photo/Illustraion

MATSUE--What were once top secret drawings of feudal castles have for the first time been compiled into an art book, now available from the Matsue History Museum here.

“Gokuhi Shokoku Shiro-zu” contains 74 full-color illustrations of castles across Japan drawn during the Edo Period (1603-1867) and owned by the museum.

It includes rare materials such as a drawing of the Sanada Maru fortification built in the south of Osaka Castle for the 1614 winter campaign of the Siege of Osaka and “Edo Hajime-zu,” one of the oldest illustrations depicting the ancient capital between 1607 and 1609 soon after Tokugawa Ieyasu built Edo Castle.

Many details remain unknown, such as why the illustrations were kept in Matsue and who drew them. But progress is being made through research by experts, museum officials said.

“We want many people to know the value of these rare materials by making them into a book,” said Makoto Kinoshita, senior curator at the museum.

The original drawings were donated to the city government in 1953 by a Matsue resident descended from a vassal serving for Matsue Domain in present-day Shimane Prefecture, according to museum officials.

They included 74 illustrations of 73 castles in the Tohoku to Kyushu regions, such as Aizu Castle (Fukushima Prefecture), Hagi Castle (Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Karatsu Castle (Saga Prefecture). There were two drawings marked “Shinshu Komuro.”

The drawings are about the same size, measuring 27.4 centimeters by 40 cm on average, all with creases that indicate the illustrations were previously folded in eight. One bag believed to have been used to contain the drawings has also been found.

When the drawings were donated, city officials apparently bound them by sewing them with thread on the right side after adding the front and back covers to keep them in booklet form. It was kept within the central area of the Matsue Castle compound.

The booklet was later passed on to the Matsue History Museum that opened in 2011, but officials did not check the content closely, partly because Matsue Castle is not included in the drawings.

However, the drawings began to attract attention from experts after members of the Yamanashi prefectural education board visited Matsue to conduct a survey on the illustration of Kofu Castle in 2016.

The A4-sized, 82-page side-fold book is priced at 3,000 yen ($26.60), excluding tax. It is sold at the museum’s shop, bookstores and online stores.