Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kannonji Castle -Strength and weakness of Rokkaku Clan-

Kannonji Castle

-Strength and weakness of Rokkaku Clan-



Name: Kannonji castle (Kannonji-jyo)
Alias: Sasaki-jyo
Place: Azuchicho Omi Hachiman city, Shiga
Type: Mountain castle
Built: Originally 14th century, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls and clay walls
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles, Designated national historical site

Brief History

Kannonji Castle (観音寺城) is located on Kinugasa Mountain, one of 400 meter height at Azuchi town. Azuchi town is located at the center of plain area at south shore of Lake Biwako, and this place is an important area which can control Nakasendo way to Eastern countries, Hokkokukaido way to Hokuriku region and Tokaido way to Tokai region in front of Kyoto. 

Kannonji castle is a mountain castle built by Rokkaku clan, a house of governor of southern part of Omi country (Shiga prefecture). Kannonji castle is a huge castle spread over the mountain, and regarded as one of five largest medieval mountain castles along with Nanao castle (Ishikawa prefecture), Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture), Odani castle (Shiga prefecture) and Gassan Toda castle (Shimane prefecture).

Precise year of building of Kannnonji Castle is unclear, but it is said to be built by Rokkaku clan in 14th century. Rokkaku clan was originally a branch house of Sasaki clan, a house of governor of Omi county. From Sasaki clan, other than Rokkaku clan, Kyogoku clan, the house of governor of northern part of Omi country, and Amago clan, the house later became a warlord of Izumo country (eastern part of Shimane prefecture) and, occurred respectively.

Growth of Rokkaku clan

Rokkaku clan had governed southern part of Omi country since 14th century, and at the period of Takayori Rokkaku (?-1520), significantly emerged its power. Takayori seized manors of nobles and temples in Omi country and Kannonji Castle was subjugated by current Shogun, but he drove back this attack and established his authority, and intervened into conflict of Muromachi shogunate and major lords.

Rokkaku clan became its peak at the period of Sadayori Rokkaku (1495-1552), son of Takayori. He is said to introduce Rakuichi Rakuza system (Permission of free commercial activity without participating in local guild) to town attached to Kannonji castle for the first time in Japan. Beside this, Sadayori supported 12th shogun of Muromachi shogunate Yoshiharu Ashikaga (1511-1550) with other large lords, and forced Hisamasa Azai (1526-1573), local lord of northern Omi country, to subordinate to him.  

Structure of Kannonji Castle

Based on its economic power, in the first half of 15th century, Rokkaku clan significantly expanded Kannonji castle to whole area of Eizan mountain. The major areas of the castle spread along with the southern slope of the ridges spread east and west ward from the highest position. Along the slope numerous terraces were built and used for the residence of Rokkaku clan and their retainers. 

Outer lines and gates of core area of the castle such as central area, Ikedamaru area or Hiraimaru area were guarded by stone walls. These stone walls were secure defense facility against outside, and showed the authority of Rokkaku clan inside. As technology of building stone walls had not fully developed, stone walls of Kannonji castle was not so high. But stone walls consist of huge and rough stones have a mysterious atmosphere such as Maya ruins. Besides, compared with later castles, Kannonji castle is said to just bring the town on the mountain, and there is no clear plan of defense and counter attack.

Now we can see the limited area near Kannon Shoji temple, but actual area of Kannonji  castle further spread into downward and eastward. Total area of the castle reached about 800 meter length and 400 meter length, and incredibly large as a residence of the governor of only one country. At the south hillside of the castle there was Ishidera town, a castle town of Kannonji castle. It is said that Rokkaku clan introduced "Rakuichi Rakuza" (free trade tax district) to this town for the first time in Japan. Besides, current Azuchi town was originally an outer port of Kannonji castle at Lake Biwako, before it became castle town of Azuchi castle.

Decline of Rokkaku clan and fall of the castle

But at the time of his son Yoshikata Rokkaku (1521-1598), Rokkaku clan started to decline. In 1560, Yoshikata fought with Nagamasa Azai (1545-1573), son of Hisamasa and attempted to become independent from Rokkaku clan, and defeated. In response to this, for the purpose of centralization Yoshikata killed a powerful retainer, but was expelled by other opposing retainers. Finally he compromised with retainers and returned to the castle, but his significantly lost his authority.

Among this confusing situation, Nobunaga Oda, a warlord of Owari country, attempted to advance to Kyoto alling with Azai clan in 1567. Yoshikata resisted this with other lords in Kyoto, but Oda army attacked and occupied Mitsukuriyama Castle, a branch castle of Kannonji Castle. Viewed this situation from Kannonji Castle, Yoshikata gave up action and refuged from Kannonji castle, and the governance of Rokkaku clan became an end. Even if having secure facility, there was no supporting army to defend this.

Yoshikata continued resistance against Nobunaga for several years, but this time he could not return to the castle. Kannonji castle might have been used for a while because it was a place looking down Azuchi castle, but was abolished with Azuchi castle in 1580’s. Now Kannon Shoji temple locates on the site of the castle, and is crowded with Pilgrims.

Related Castles

Azuchi Castle -Isolated heaven of Nobunaga-
Nanao Castle -"Frost fills encampment and autumn air is purified"-
Kasugayama Castle -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Odani Castle -History of three generations of Azai clan-
Gassan Toda Castle -Rapid rise and fall of Amago clan-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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