Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Shirakawa Castle -Castle of miraculous revivals-

Shirakawa Castle

-Castle of miraculous revivals-



Name: Shirakawa castle (Shirakawa-jo)
Alias: Shirakawa Komine castle
Place: Kakunai Shirakawa city, Fukushima
Location: 37.13325704961595, 140.21660659486042
Type: Hill castle
Built: Expanded in 1632
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Shirakawa castle (白河城, to distinguish from old Shirakawa castle, often called as Shirakawa Komine castle thus use this name hereafter) stands at Komine hill, one of about 20 meter height from hillside in the center of Shirakawa city. Komine hill stands at curving point of Abukumagawa river and being protected its front side by its tributary Yantagawa river, and in spite of its low height it has an ideal condition to build castle. 

Gate to Tohoku region

Shirakawa area is a small basin at the most upstream of Abukumagawa river, a large river flows from south part of current Fukushima prefecture toward Sendai area. Historical roads connected Kanto region and Tohoku region such as Tosando road in medieval era or Oshu Kaido road at Edo era went up north from Utsunomiya city along with Kinugawa river or Nakagawa river, passes the border path and enter Shirakawa basin, then accompanies with Abukumagawa river toward north. 

Because of this geographical condition, Shirakawa area had been considered as an important point as an entrance toward Tohoku region. In ancient era, a secure gate named "Shirakwa no Seki" was built along old road in south part of the city. Later along with the expansion of Yamato dynasty this gate lost its function, but Shirakawa area continuously was thought as the border of Tohoku region.

Origin of Shirakawa castle and Shirakawa Yuki clan

Precise year is unknown but Shirakawa Komine castle was built by local lord Yuki clan in 14th century. Yuki clan was originally a local samurai of Shimotsuke province (Tochigi prefecture), and served to Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) who was the founder of Kamakura Shogunate because a woman of Yuki clan was a nanny of Yoritomo. Yuki clan activated in many battles and achieved Shirakawa area other than their original territory, then they sent a relative to Shirakawa area. 

Later Yuki people at Shirakawa area formed Shirakawa Yuki clan, an independent family from their main family. Shirakawa Yuki clan built Karame castle at 3 kilometer southeast from Shirakawa Komine castle as their main base, and also used Shirakawa Komine castle as a branch castle. Shirakawa Komine castle was held by Komine clan, which was a branch family of Shirakawa Yuki clan, but both family closely contacted and developed the clan.

In the end of 15th century, at the period of Naotomo Yuki (?-?), Shirakawa Yuki clan became its peak period and exercised their power to surrounding lords and Shimotsuke province. But in the middle of 16th century, Shirakawa Yuki clan lost their power by internal conflict between main family and Komine clan, and was suppressed by strong surrounding lords such as Ashina clan or Satake clan. 

Fall of Shirakawa Yuki clan and transition of holders

Shirakawa Yuki clan belonged to Ashina clan and fought with Satake clan, but after the ruin of Satake clan in 1589, they belong to Masamune Date (1567-1636) who once united south part of Tohoku region. But at the time of Odawara campaign by central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), Shirakawa Yuki clan was blamed not to visit Hideyoshi to express subordination and expelled, then became the retainer of Masamune.

After the fall of Shirakawa Yuki clan, considering its geographical importance, Shirakawa Komine castle was directly managed by lord of Aizu area such as Gamo clan or Uesugi clan. Same as other branch castles of Gamo clan such as Nihonmatsu castle, Inawashiro castle or Miharu castle, Gamo clan might partially reformed Shirakawa Komine castle into a modern one with stone walls. Shirakawa Komine castle was held by Gamo clan till 1627, but Gamo clan moved to Matsuyama castle (Ehime prefecture) at that year.

Unfortunate son of Nobunaga's important retainer

After Gamo clan, Nagashige Niwa (1571-1637) was appointed as a lord of Shirakawa Komine castle by Edo Shogunate. Nagashige was an eldest son of Nagahide Niwa (1535-1585), who was an important retainer of former central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1538-1582). Nagahide served to Nobunaga from early days, and was not so prominent as other generals such as Hideyoshi Toyotomi or Katsuie Shibata (1521-1583), but his earnest and dependable character was praised as a rice which is indispensable. Nagahide also took charge of construction of Azuchi castle (Shiga prefecture), the main base of Nobunaga.

After the death of Nobunaga at incident of Honnoji in 1582, Nagahide supported Hideyoshi Toyotomi and contributed to his seizure of next hegemony. Hideyoshi rewarded to Nagahide with large territory, but after the death of Nagahide, Hideyoshi significantly decreased the territory of Nagashige who succeeded the leader position. 

Niwa clan was wealthy by fiscal management of its retainer Masaie Natsuka (1562-1600), but Hideyoshi also recruited Masaie and placed him as a high class administrative staff. Finally Niwa clan became a medium size lord of Komatsu castle (Ishikawa prefecture) at the death of Hideyoshi.

After the death of Hideyoshi, at the conflict between Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who was the largest lord under Toyotomi government, and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of Hideyoshi, Nagashige belonged to Ishida side by persuasion of Yoshitsugu Otani (1558-1600), a colleague of Mitsunari and commander of Tsuruga castle (Fukui prefecture).

Expulsion and revival

Nagashige belonged to Ishida side had to Maeda clan of Kaga domain, one of the largest lords at Kanazawa castle (Ishikawa prefecture) which belonged to Tokugawa side. In 1600 Maeda clan sent dominant army to Komatsu castle, but Nagashige well kept the castle and gave a damage to Maeda army by sudden attack. But Ieyasu defeated Mitsunari at the battle of Sekigahara, thus Nagashige was once expelled and lost his territory.

Nagashige once became unemployed, but three years after was hired by a counsel of Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the second Shogun of Edo Shogunate, along with Muneshige Tachibana (1567-1643) who also lost his territory after the battle of Sekigahara. 

Later Nagashige promoted to the lord of Tanagura castle (Fukushima prefecture) succeeding Muneshige Tachibana who moved to Yanagawa castle (Fukuoka prefecture) in 1622, and in 1627 Nagashige became the lord of Shirakawa castle with certain territory. Nagashige was not so prominent but was deeply trusted same as his father Nagahide Niwa.

Nagashige became the lord of Shirakawa domain significantly reformed Shirakawa Komine castle into a modern one. At this time build or reform of castle was strictly prohibited, and this renovation was performed under the order or acknowledgment of Edo Shogunate. It is said that Edo Shogunate supported Nagashige to build secure fortress toward large lords of Tohoku region such as Date clan or Uesugi clan, and intended to use the knowledge of Niwa clan on castle construction. After four years construction, total renovation of Shirakawa Komine castle had completed.

Structure of Shirakawa Komine castle

Core part of Shirakawa Komine castle stands at the edge of long and narrow hill of 500 meter long like a snake facing toward west. Central area at the head of the snake shaped hill is separated into two layer, and whole part of both layer was protected by tall stone walls with cranks. At the northeastern corner, there was a three story turret which was a substitute of main tower. As north and west line did not have sufficient depth, huge clay wall using original terrain protects these direction.

At the south of central area, ahead of wide water moat, there was a secondary area of 200 meter long and 100 meter wide which was used as a residence of the lord. From east to south of core areas, outer areas such as Takenomaru area and third area were placed as a front fort. 

Furthermore, as enemy is expected to attack from east, east side of the castle was protected by outer barrier. Tail part of snaked shaped hill is also protected by stone walls and used as a defense line toward north. Total size of the castle reached to 800 meter long square, and it was a magnificent fortress suitable as a gate of Tohoku region.

In 1643, Niwa clan was moved to Nihonmatsu castle (Fukushima prefecture) being  expected to build another castle. After Niwa clan, considering its geographical importance, hereditary retainers of Edo Shogunate were appointed as a lord of Shirakawa Komine castle. 

Regaining reputation of ousted strict politician

In 1783, Sadanobu Matsudaira (1759-1829) became the lord of Shirakawa Komine castle. Sadanobu was originally a distant relative of the house of Shogun and had the possibility to be the next Shogun, but confronted with Okitsugu Tanuma (1719-1788) who was at the position of grand minister and adopted positive fiscal policy, thus was pushed to Matsudaira clan. But Okitsugu lost his position by criticize for high price and bribery in 1787, then Sadanobu became the leader of next cabinet.

Sadanobu who became the leader started his reform of Kansei and concentrated on budget reduction and strengthening discipline. But his policy was also criticized as too strict, especially by people of Edo city. In 1793 Sadanobu was fired from the position of grand minister and returned to Shirakawa castle. 

Heartbroken Sadanobu made effort to administration of Shirakawa domain. At Shirakawa domain Sadanobu reduced unnecessary expenses and encouraged agriculture, and took care of welfare of domain people. Sadanobu also built Nanko park which is an artificial lake at the south of Shirakawa castle, for the purpose of front fort for Oshu Kaido way and public works for unemployed people. 

This park is also said as a first public park in Japan. Probably the polity of Sadanobu matched to the agricultural society of Shirakawa domain, not to economic society of Edo city. Anyway Sadanobu recovered his reputation as a good lord of Shirakawa domain.

Destruction and restoration

At the time of Meiji revolution, Shirakawa castle became the front of the battle between New Government army and anti new government army of Tohoku domains. In 1868, anti new government force captured vacant Shirakawa castle and tried to hold back New Government army comes from southward. But originally Shirakawa castle was built to face with northern lords comes from eastward along with Abukumagawa river, and southward was a backside not so secured.

New government army had lesser number of soldiers but had many cannons, and Shirakwa castle at the center of the valley of Abukumagawa river was a good target for cannon. New government army captured Shirakawa castle and rejected continuous counter attack of anti new government force, and finally seized this area. New government army could enter Tohoku region, and the tactics of anti new government alliance easily collapsed. 

Shirakawa Komine castle lost most part of buildings during this battle, and also good part of stone walls were broken at Meiji era. But in 1991, based on the result of old drawing and investigation, the three story turret of central area was restored along with the main gate just below the turret. These restored buildings were built in original wooden style, which was the first case of the movement of original reconstruction. After 120 years from the battle, Shirakawa castle partially recovered former shape.

However, in 2011, Shirakawa Komine castle suffered severe damage from great earthquake, and certain part of stone walls once collapsed. But restoration of stone wall was started at that year, and now the construction is still proceeding. Same as before, there might be a miraculous revival for the castle this time in several years.


10 minutes walk from JR East Tohoku Honsen line Shirakawa station (next station of JR East Tohoku Shinkansen line Shinshirakawa station). 10 minutes drive from Tohoku Jidoshado Expressway Shirakawa smart interchange. 

Related Castles

Nochiseyama Castle -General indispensable like rice-
Nihonmatsu Castle -Castle held by famous lords and generals-
Yanagawa Castle -Revival of general of braveness and recovery-
Tanagura Castle -Genuine worth of castle architect-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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