Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ashigara Castle -Border barrier at Ashigara path-

Ashigara Castle

-Border barrier at Ashigara path-



Name: Ashigara Castle (Ashigara-jyo)
Place: Takenoshita Oyama town, Shizuoka / Yagurasawa Minami-Ashigara city, Kanagawa
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: Originally built in the former half of 16th century, expanded in 1580's
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats

Brief History

Ashigara castle (足柄城) is located at the top of Ashigara path, a path of 800 meter height above sea level at the north part of Hakone area and east of Mt. Fuji. Hakone area is a large caldera consist of 1,000 meter height mountains, and separates Sagami country (Kanagawa prefecture) and Suruga country (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture), To go to Kanto region from western area passengers have to pass the Hakone area by any route, and Hakone area had been a difficult path for communication of east and west area along the Pacific ocean.

Importance of Ashigara path

Currently main route of Hakone area is located at the west front of Hakone path, directly climb up from Mishima city to upper area along with current Route 1. This route was newly developed route after medieval era and suitable for movement of large parties, but passenger had to climb up and down steep slope. On the other hand, historically, passenger made detour to the north side of mountains along with current Route 246, and climb along the mountain stream and  passed Ashigaratoge path. This was a narrow and more distant way but it was easy to move due to more gentle slope. This Ashigara path was a formal route of ancient Japan, and even after Hakonetoge path way was developped still kept its position as an important route.

Historically the communication through Ashigara path was controlled by Ashigara path gate. In 15th centry, once Hojyo clan seized Sagami country, Hakone area became the border of Hojyo clan and Imagawa clan, a warlord of Suruga country. As Hojyo clan was originally a retainer of Imagawa clan the relationship of both clan was generally good, but sometimes they fiercely fought for east part of Suruga country, and in such case Hakone area became the front of both clan. In addition to this, a road from Kai country (Yamanashi prefecture) is connected to the north foot of Hakone area, and this area alco was the border to Takeda clan, a warlord of Kai country.

Strengthening of Ashigara castle

These three clans once made alliance at Zentokuji temple in 1553 and border area became peace, but in 1568 Takeda clan attacked weakened Imagawa clan and occupied Suruga country, and tension arouse at this area again. As Odawara castle, the main base of Hojyo clan is only 20km apart from Hakone area, security of Hakone area was vital matter to the clan. Hojyo clan originally built a small castle at the path in the former half of 16th century, but facing this situation they reformed this castle in 1570’s.

Further in 1582, Takeda clan was extinguished by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) and central powers directly expanded to this area. Although Hojyo clan allied with Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who seized Suruga country in the same year, but Hojyo clan had to guard their border more secure considering movement of Tokugawa clan or new ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1543-1598). Under such circumstance, in the latter half of 1580’s Hojyo clan made furtuer significant expansion Ashigara castle, along with Yamanaka castle guarded front side of Hakone path.

Finally Ashigara castle became a huge fortress of 500 meter length. Main areas consist of five areas spread from hilltop to Suruga side. Uphill road went along below of these areas, and enemy soldiers faced continuous attack from upper side to go through this road to the path. Edge of the castle was divided by huge clay wall and dry moat from external area, and each areas are also separated by retaining walls and moats. Opposite of central area there are another areas named Yamanokami Kuruwa, and at backside of path terraces are built for residence or posting place.  

Odawara campaign and afterward

In 1590, central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi finally started Odawara campaign and attacked Hojyo clan by a large army. In march Toyotomi army directly siege Yamanaka castle in only half day, and promptly advanced to Odawara castle, the residence of Hojyo clan. Due to this movement Ashigara castle lost its role and abandoned.

Now due to the road improvement facilities of outer areas were lost, but shape of main areas well remain on the ridge. In fine days, the beautiful shape of Mt. Fuji is seen from the ruin of the castle.


90 minutes walk from JR East Gotenba-sen line Ashigara station. 15 minutes walk from Hakone-Tozan bus Ashigara-Manyo Koen bus stop (be careful for limited number of service). 30 minutes drive from Tomei Expressway Gotenba interchange.

Related Castles

Yamanaka Castle -Fortress guarded western border of Hojyo territory-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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