Appearances deceive at Hommaru Palace; outwardly it appears unadorned, but you’ll find a luxurious yet formal space once you step inside. It is an invaluable building where you can peek into the sort of space samurai used to reside in during the early Edo period. Hommaru Palace was built at a time when, despite Ieyasu Tokugawa’s successful unification of Japan, opposition still smoldered in every region of the country. He fastidiously obsessed over every detail and formality, for it was his way of showing authority in a period of uncertainty.

Past the entrance and into the inner chambers, the structure of the building slowly changes to reflect advancements in rank. Partition paintings displaying tigers, flowers, birds, and famous people morph into natural landscapes; the ceiling ornaments gradually become more complex and showy. The rooms that a given visitor could enter were strictly decided by their social standing. As a result, visitors to Hommaru Palace were overwhelmed by its glamor, which sorely reminded them of their place in the world.

Hommaru Palace served generally as a lord’s residence as well as a place to conduct affairs of state. However, in the case of Nagoya Castle, the first generation of Owari Province lords only lived there for a short time. This was because Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa shōgun, would need lodging on his way to Kyoto, the capital of Japan at the time. To accommodate his retainers and other relatives, an additional room was annexed, turning Hommaru Palace into the shōgun’s personal hotel. That is why Nagoya Castle’s lords resided instead at Ninomaru Palace, and the people who visited Hommaru during the Edo Period were, reportedly, very few. During World War II, Hommaru Palace was razed by air raids, but was rebuilt ten years later, and has been open to the public since 2018. It was reconstructed using the same techniques that were used 400 years ago, making it very close to what Iemitsu and his retainers would have seen in his day.

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