Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ako Castle -Castle famous for a story of loyal samurais-

Ako Castle

-Castle famous for a story of loyal samurais-



Name: Ako castle (Ako-jo)

Alias: Kariya-jo, Otaka-jo
Place: Kamikariya Ako city, Hyogo
Location: 34.746667471660004, 134.38932409801978
Type: Flat castle
Built: Originally 15th century, expanded in 17th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Ako castle (赤穂城) is located on the southern seashore of Ako city. Ako city is the western border of Harima province (southern part of Hyogo prefecture) toward Bizen province (Okayama prefecture), and historically known for salt production.

Build of Ako castle

Originally a small castle was built around here by local lord Oka clan in 15th century. In 1600, after the battle of Sekigahara, Terumasa Ikeda (1565-1613) became the lord of whole Harima province at Himeji castle. Ikeda clan opened a branch domain in Ako as a back up of their main domain and appointed his son Teruoki Ikeda (1611-1647) who was the former lord of Rikan castle (Hyogo prefecture). Teruoki built a simple castle around central area of current castle. 

After branch domain of Ikeda clan was closed in 1645, next time Asano clan, a branch family of Asano clan of Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture), moved from Kasama castle (Ibaraki prefecture) and became the lord (In Edo era, to prevent the extinction of domain due to having no successor, large loads usually established several branch domains for the spare of main family). 

Asano clan expanded Ako castle into a large one with three areas from 1648 to 1661. Being built by the relatives of large lords, the size of castle was large compared with its territory. Planned by military professionals, the shape of each area was a geometric pattern like stars. This shape is similar to the shape of Western fortress build by Vauvan in the same era, and might be affected by Western knowledge. Huge base for main tower was build but main tower itself was not constructed. This was virtually the final construction of large castle in Edo period, prior to the period of disturbance at mid 19th century.

Genroku Ako Incident

In 1701, at the period of fifth shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa (1646-1709), there was an accident attracted public attention, named “Genroku Ako Incident”. The origin of the accident was that Naganori Asano (1667-1701, known as Takuminokami), who was the lord of Ako castle, attacked Yoshihisa Kira (1641-1703, known as Kozukenosuke), a mand noble house and lecturer of courtesy by short sword, at the corridor of pine (Matsu no rouka) of the central area palace in Edo castle. 

The cause of this assault was unclear, but are said as 1) Kira ridiculed Asano upon his ignorance, 2) Kira postulated expensive bribe to Asano for teaching, 3) Terittories of Asano and Kira were both famous for the production of salt, and there was a commercial conflict between them, and so on.

Kira caught only slight injury but this was a fatal scandal in Samurai society. In the custom of loads and samurais at that time, in case of conflict, irrespective to wrongdoer or victim, both side were punished (Rule of Kenka Ryoseibai). But in this case, only Asano side was punished. Nagaakira was forced to suicide, Ako domain was dissolved and Ako castle was confiscated. On the other hand, there was no penalty for Kira side.

Having a grudge on this treatment, a part of former retainers of Asano clan attempted to revenge to Yoshihisa. Former chief retainer Yoshio Oishi (1659-1703, known as his middlename Kuranosuke, 1659-1703), pretended to gave up their revenge to easu the caution of Kira clan, and secretly prepared their action for one and half year.

Yoshio soothed hardliners who claimed prompt action and waited for the opportunity in tough economic situation, and finally on December 14th, 1702, 48 former retainer of Asano clan lead by Yoshio assaulted the residence of Yoshihisa Kira located at Ryogoku area of Tokyo city and killed him. Tsunanori Uesugi (1663-1704=, the leader of Uesugi clan which was the lord of Yonezawa castle was the son of Yoshihisa and their residence was next to Kira clan, thus Tsunanori tried to send their army to rescue his father. But important retainers of Uesugi clan opposed to this not to be involved in acccident, thus Tsunanori had to leave Yoshihisa to his fate.

Having revenged for their master, 47 retainers marched to Sengakuji temple where the tomb of their master resided and reported completion of their revenge. They were arrested by Shogunate, accepted capital punishment by Edo Shogunate and composedly died. Later this story became a play named “Chusin Gura” (A story of loyal retainers), and became popular among people.

Afterward of the castle

After Asano clan, Mori clan who was the descendant of the governor of Tsuyama castle (Okayama prefecture) mainly governed Ako castle. Subsequent to Meiji revolution outer areas and almost buildings were lost, but from 1960's buildings and structures of inner area have been restored continuously and the castle gradually recovers old shape. As Ako castle locates at seashore and there is no tall building around the castle, the castle is sometimes used as a filming spot of historical movies and dramas. In the third area there is a shrine commamorates 47 retainers of Asano clan, and a front gate of former residence of Yoshio Oishi still remains.


15 minutes walk from JR West Akosen line Banshu-Ako station. 15 minutes drive from Sanyo-Jidoshado Expressway Ako interchange.

Related Castles

Rikan Castle -Abandoned fortress in the sky-
Kasama Castle -Small main tower at large castle-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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