Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kannonji Castle -History of warlord next to capital (2) economic strength and military weakness-

Kannonji Castle

-History of warlord next to capital (2) economic strength and military weakness-



Name: Kannonji castle (Kannonji-jo)
Alias: Sasaki-jo
Place: Azuchi-cho Omi-Hachiman city, Shiga
Location: 35.14577891291535, 136.15848192370356
Type: Mountain castle
Built: Originally 14th century, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls and clay walls
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Continued from Part 1

Kannonji Castle (観音寺城) is located on Kinugasa-yama 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 road to Hokuriku region and Tokaido road 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 province (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, utilizing the place of a mountainous temple Kannon-Seiji. Rokkaku clan was originally a branch house of Sasaki clan, the house of governor of Omi province stem from Sasaki clan, a military noble activated at Kamakura era.

Other than Rokkaku clan, Kyogoku clan, the house of governor of northern part of Omi province and nominal lord of Odani castle, or Amago clan, the governor of Izumo province (eastern part of Shimane prefecture) and lord of Gasasn Toda castle were also the branch family of Sasaki clan. Interestingly three of five largest medieval mountain castle relate to the descendants of Sasaki clan.

Growth of Rokkaku clan

Rokkaku clan had governed southern part of Omi province since 14th century, and at the period of Takayori Rokkaku (?-1520), significantly emerged its power. Takayori seized manors of nobles and temples in Omi province and Kannonji Castle was subjugated by Muromachi Shogunate. But Rokkaku clan this attack and established their authority, and intervened into conflicts 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 Ishidera town attached to Kannonji castle for the first time in Japan. 

Beside this, Sadayori supported 12th shogun of Muromachi Shogunate Yoshiharu Ashikaga (1511-1550) who was expelled from Kyoto city under the conflict against Miyoshi clan, and forced Hisamasa Azai (1526-1573), local lord of northern part of Omi province and the lord of Odani castle, to subordinate to Rokkaku clan.  

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 Kinugasa-yama 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 line  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. There are just straight line of stone walls and flat style gate, and  is no clear plan of defense line 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 province. 

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 

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 lord of Odani castle who attempted to become independent from Rokkaku clan, and had larger army but suffered defeated. Even though economically prospered, its military operation became out of date.

In response to this defeat, for the purpose of centralization Yoshikata killed a powerful retainer Goto clan, but it brought the antipathy of other retainers then Yoshikata and his son Yoshiharu were once expelled from Kannonji castle. Finally they compromised with retainers and returned to the castle, but Rokkaku clan significantly lost their authority.

Among this confusing situation, Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), the warlord of Owari protince (western part of Aichi prefecture) who captured Mino province (Gifu prefecture) defeating Saito clan, next attempted to advance to Kyoto under alliance with Nagamasa Azai clan in 1567. 

Fall of Kannonji castle and afterward

Yoshikata rejected the order of surrender from Nobunaga and tried to resist against Oda army. But Oda army attacked and occupied Mitsukuriyama Castle, a branch castle of Kannonji Castle. Viewed this situation from Kannonji Castle, Yoshikata gave up besiege and escaped from Kannonji castle, then ran to Mikumo castle (Shiga prefecture) at Koka area. In addition to military weakness of the castle, there was no supporting army to defend this.

Yoshikata retreated to Koga area, the southern mountainous part of the province, and tenaciously continued resistance against Nobunaga for several years from another base Mikumo castle. Resistance of Yoshikata sometimes fell Nobunaga into dangerous situation, but did not succeed then Rokkaku clan could not returen to Kannonji castle any more.

Kannonji castle might have been used by Oda clan for a while because it was suitable as a backup castle of Azuchi castle (Shiga prefectue), the main base of Nobunaga which did not have sufficient defense facility. But when Azuchi castle was abolished after the death of Nobunaga in incident of Honnoji in 1582, Kannonji castle was also abolished.

Today no building was left but magnificent structure of the castle well remain over the mountain. Secondary area becomes the ground of Kannon Seiji again, and many people visits to worship the temple. But apart from crowded temple area, line of huge stone walls quietly tells economic superiority and military weakness of Rokkaku clan. 

Continue to Part 3


30 minute walk from JR West Tokaido Honsen line Azuchi station to the entrance of climbing road at Kuwanomi-dera temple. 30 minutes drive from Meishin Expressway Yokaichi interchange to halfway parking but driveway is closed at winter season.

Related Castles

Kozutsumi Shiroyama Castle -History of warlord next to capital (1) independence from authority-
Mikumo Castle -History of warlord next to capital (3) end with arrival of new authority-
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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