Monday, April 21, 2014

Takatori Castle -Gigantic fortress on deep mountain-

Takatori Castle

-Gigantic fortress on deep mountain-



Name: Takatori castle (Takatori-jo)
Place: Takatori Takatori town, Nara
Location: 34.429747897077874, 135.82520781794193
Type: Mountain castle
Built: Originally 15th century, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Takatori Castle (高取城) is located on the middle and top Takatori mountain, which is several kilometer apart from central Takatori town. Takatori town is placed at the middle part of Yamato province (Nara prefecture), and the southern end of Nara basin. 

Takatori area is an entrance into southern mountainous area of Yamato country such as Yoshino and Totsugawa area, and also connected with Kii province (Wakayama prefecture) by Kinokawa river. Takatori castle is a gigantic mountain castle located on 583 meter height (390 meter from hillside), and regarded as one of the three famous modern mountain castles (other two are Iwamura castle in Gifu prefecture and Bicchu Matsuyama castle at Okayama prefecture).

Origin of Takatori castle

In medieval era, southern half of Nara basin was goverend by Ochi clan, a local clan of this area. For long time Ochi clan conflicted with Tsutsui clan at north half of Nara basin aiming at the hegemony of Yamato province.

But not only Ochi clan was inferior to Tsutsui clan but also Tsutsui clan was admitted as a governor of Yamato province by Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), the central ruler, thus Ochi clan had to subordinate to Tsutsui clan. Finally last leader of Ochi clan was assassinated probably by Tsutsui clan, and Ochi clan was extinguished. Takatori castle was originally built by Ochi clan in 15th century, but once it was broken by Oda army under castle centralizing policy.

Next ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) placed his trusted younger brother Hidenaga Toyotomi (1540-1591) as a governor of whole Yamato province, in replacement of Tsutsui clan. Yamato province is a large country lies next to Kyoto city and Osaka city, the political and economic source of Toyotomi government thus this province was a vital area to Toyotomi government.

Build of gigantic fortress

But southern mountainous area of Yamato province such as Yoshino area or Totsugawa area had been difficult area to control for central government. Being isolated by deep mountains, semi independent local lords divided these areas, and losers of central area sometimes ran away to such area aiming at their revival. 

There were only small number of people at narrow valley, and it was not efficient to place large army and govern such area. Furthermore Kii province connected to Yoshino area once subjugated to Toyotomi government, but still unstable by non obedient local lords and monk soldiers such as Saika or Negoro group. 

Hidenaga himself resided at Koriyama castle, where existed at the center of Nara basin, and built a secure defense line consist of Uda Matsuyama castle (Nara prefecture), Takatori castle and Wakayama castle (Wakayama prefecture) toward southward, to protect intrusion of rebellion army into vital area of Toyotomi government. As Hidenaga formerly governed mountainous area pf Sanin region, thus Hidenaga and his generals built many modern castles on mountain and protected, including famous Takeda castle (Hyogo prefecture).

Structure of Takatori castle

As Takatori castle was at the center of this defense line and expected front against rebellion army, thus Hidenaga significantly expanded Takatori castle into a huge fortress. 

Takatori castle was built by reforming existing large medieval mountain castle into modern castle. There are many such cases, but as stone walls had significantly higher defense ability but needed labor and expenses to build, in such case usually size of castle was reduced such as Bicchu Matsuyama castle (Okayama prefecture) or Tsuwano castle (Shimane prefecture). But because of the status of Hidenaga and strategic importance, Hidenaga reformed whole area of medieval castle into modern one. 

At the peak of the mountain, there is the central area (Honmaru) whose shape is a triangle of 100 meter length. At the north west corner there were a three story main tower with a two story sub tower. and two other corner turrets were built at remaining corner and all of them were connected by corridor barrack. The central area is guarded by tall stone wall, and especially the height of main tower basement exceeds 20 meter. Corridor area surrounded whole part of this central area.

In front of central area, there is a buffer area guarded by stone walls and barrack turret, and back side gate climbed up to this area. Ahead of this buffer area, there is the secondary area (Ninomaru) of about 100 meter long square, where hilltop palace of lord was built. Before the entrance of this secondary area there is the main gate (Otemon) area with combined gate, and they are the vital areas of the castle which size is about 200 meter long and 100 meter wide.

Size of Takatori castle

Outside of these vital areas, there are outer large areas such as the third area (Sannomaru) at north side, Tsubosakaguchi area at west side and Yoshinoguchi area at east side connected to paths from outside. As north side and west side of this castle faces castle town, stone walls at these side might be reformed later and looks newer.

On the other hand, Yoshinoguchi area at east side faces mountainous area and lost importance in Edo era, there remains old style stone walls built at the era of Hidenaga at this side. Especially stone wall in Yoshinoguchi area below the central area is the oldest one at this castle built by rough small stone walls with gentle slope.

Main road from castle town passes along north ridge of the mountain and continues over 1 kilometer. There existed several gates such as Ninomon gate, Yabamon gate, Matsunomon gate or Udamon gate, and all of them are secure gate of combined gate (Masugata) style with guarding turret. Along this main road long stone walls are built, and there were also a watch tower named Kunimi-Yagura aside of this main road. 

Totally, Takatori castle has over 30 areas spread from hilltop to hillside, and total length of stone walls reached 3 kilometer. The style of stone wall is the Nodura-dumi style, an old style consisted of rough stone walls, and especially stone walls of outer areas seems old one consist of smaller stones. Regarding buildings there were 27 turrets and 33 gates in the castle, and multiple layered white walls of turrets and fences seems like snows on the mountain. Truly Takatori castle was the largest and most magnificent mountain castle in Japan. 

Takatori Castle in Edo period

After the death of Hidenaga, Takatori castle was kept by small lords for about 50 years. In 1640, Iemasa Uemura (1589-1650) was promoted from retainer to feudal lord and appointed as a commander of this castle under Edo shogunate. Interestingly Uemura clan served as a guard of leader of Tokugawa clan in four generations.

At first Ujiaki Uemura (1520-1552) served as a guard of Kiyoyasu Tokugawa (1511-1535) and Hirotada Tokugawa (1526-1549), and when Kiyoyasu assassinated by his retainer at the siege of Moriyama castle, Ujiaki killed the murderer. His son Iesada Uemura (1541-1577) also guarded Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of Edo shogunate, and his grandson Ietsugu Uemura (1567-1599) was a page to Nobuyasu Tokugawa (1559,1579), who was first son of Ieyasu but later was forced to suicide.

Iemasa was a son of Ietsugu and also appointed as a page to Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632), the second Shogun. He promoted under Hidetada and third shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa (1604-1651), and became the commander of royal guard of Shogun. Evaluated history of loyalty of his house, finally he became a feudal lord.

As Uemura clan was a small lord, they only made minimum repair and did not modify the castle. Thus Takatori castle still keeps the original style of Hidenaga, including many old Noduradumi style stone wall (stone wall built by unshaped stones). As buildings were tend to be damaged because of height, Uemura clan had a permission of repair without prior approval of Edo Shogunate. But the castle was too distant from town and inconvenient, Uemura clan later built their residence near the town and usually stayed there.

Afterward of castle

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, all buildings of castle were broken. But the shape of huge fortress almost completely remains in the forest until now, and show us good example of technical structure of castles built at Toyotomi period.

 Compared with other famous mountain castles such as Takeda castle, Takatori castle is not so popular because it lacks picturesque looking as it is too large and mainly covered with woods, and also does not have good scenery of castle town. But as for the structure of the castle itself Takatori castle easily exceeded other castle, and long continuing stone walls in the mountain is quite forcible. An imitation of gate is built at hillside area using materials of demolished former gate.


60 minutes walk from Kintetsu Yoshino-sen line Tsubosakayama station. 40 minutes drive from Keinawa Jidoshado Expressway Gosho interchange. Cars can approach to just below of the castle through Gohyaku-Rakan-ji temple but parking space is limited.

Related Castles

Iwamura Castle -Castle of tragic female commander-
Bicchu Matsuyama Castle -Castle of struggle with original main tower-
Takeda Castle- Castle guarded vital areas of Toyotomi government-
Uda Matsuyama Castle -Fate of castle town without castle-
Wakayama Castle -Dragon on the back of Tiger Hill-
Koriyama Castle -Wise younger brother devoted his life to Hideyoshi-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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