Ashikaga Clan Residence
-Residence and castle-
Name: Ashikaga Clan Residence (Ashikagashi Yakata)
Place: Ietomicho Ashikaga city, Tochigi
Type: Plain Castle
Built: 12th century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and water moats, buildings of Bannaji temple
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles, National Treasure (as Bannaji)
Ashikaga clan residence (Ashikagashi Yakata) is a ruin of old residence of Ashikaga clan, a powerful lord of this area around 11 century. It located at the north of Watarasegawa river in Ashikaga city, in western edge of Shimotsuke country (Tochigi prefecture). Ashikaga area. This residence is a square place of 200m length surrounded by clay wall and water moat, and there are four gates at the middle of each side.
Ashikaga clan was originally stem from Minamoto clan, a descendant of Emperor and became the leader of Samurai group. Yoshiyasu Ashikaga (1127-1157), origin of Ashikaga clan was the brother of the ancestor of Nitta clan, a fateful rival at the time of extinction of Kanakura shogunate. Also Ashikaga clan was close to Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), who established Kamakura Shogunate.
Yoshikane Ashikaga (1154-1199), third leader of the clan, worked well at establishment of Kamakura shogunate and also had marriage with Hojyo clan, vassal of Kamakura shogunate, thus Ashikaga clan kept high authority during Kamakura era.
At the time of establishment of Kamakura shogunate, Ashikaga clan moved their residence to Kamakura city, the capital of Kamakura shogunate, and closed their original residence. They built Bannaji temple as the commemorating temple of their ancestor using their old residence, and this temple is applicable to ruin of Ahikaga Clan Residence.
At the extinction of Kamakura shogunate, Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), leader of the clan at that time, left Kamakura shogunate and supported anti Shogunate movement of Emperor Godaigo. But later Takauji became opposed to Emperor Godaigo, expelled him and built his own Muromachi Shogunate in 1336. Muromachi shogunate continued over 200 years, but finally collapsed by Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) in 1573.
Residence and castle
Generally it is difficult to precisely classify castle and residence. House of upper class people usually had security facilities such as moats and clay walls common to castle, and even if military base there was some residence if it was planned to continue certain period. According to my personal view, if the object has only one area and minimum facility only to separate inside and outside this might be a resience, and contrary to this, if the object had plural areas and complex defense facility this might be a castle. In this meaning, Tsutsujigasaki palace of Kai country (Yamanashi prefecture) was at first a residence but improved to a castle.
In western world, residence and castles merged from early stage and even small lords built clear castle with tall stone walls and towers as their residence. Contrary to this, in Japan, many lords still build residence with only low clay walls and narrow water moats, and they built their evacuation place at the backside hill separately (Ashikaga clan built Ryogaiyama castle as their evacuation place, at the 1km north of this residence). It might be from the difference between Western world in which serious battle between different races frequently occurred and Japanese world in which merely basically only skirmish among same culture existed.
But as time passes, conflicts between warlords became serious, and along with improvement of technology and strengthened authority, large warlords could build huge castles including there palace. Now in Japan residence and castle merged into one element by the end of 16th century.
Based on above meaning, Ashikaga clan residence had only one area and surrounded by small clay malls and moats, thus the character is more close to residence. But it size of 200 meter length is by far large as residence at that time, and shows the power of Ashikaga clan. As there is no remaining other residence of such class traditional lord at this time, thus this site has high value and is nominated as one of 100 famous Japanese castles.
Further, inside the residence there remain building of Bannaji temple which was built in 13th century and recently nominated as National Treasure, and next to the residence there also is ruin of Ashikaga School (Ashikaga Gakko), a historical school praised as “University of Kanto region” by Francisco de Xavier (1506-1552), a Spanish missionary who brought Cathoric to Japan. Even though this site is a bit different from other ordinary castles, it is also worth for visiting.
Chihaya Castle -"Kongosan still stands"-