Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Matsushiro Castle -Important base used at fatal battle of two rivals-

Matsushiro Castle

-Important base used at fatal battle of two rivals-



Name: Matsushiro castle (Matsushiro-jo)
Alias: Kaizu castle (Kaizu-jo)
Place: Matsuchiro-cho Nagano city, Nagano
Type: Flat castle
Built: Around 1560
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats 
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Matsushiro castle (松代城) is located at plain land of central Matsushiro city, at the south of Chikuma-gawa (also called as Shinano-gawa) river, the longest river in Japan runs from eastern edge of Nagano prefecture to the middle part of Niigata prefecture through north part of Nagano prefecture including current Nagano city.

As steep mountains surround it backside and Chikumagawa river guards its front side, the site of the castle is an ideal place to build a castle. Furthermore, Matsushiro castle is within 10 kilometer from Zenkoji temple, a religious authority of this area and center of Nagano basin, thus it works as a base of regional administration.

Expansion of Takeda clan into north part of Shinano province

Matsushiro castle was originally built by Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), a warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) around 1560 as an advance position into north part of Shinano province (Nagano prefecture). After the succession of leader position of Takeda clan, Shingen aggressively expanded his territory and occupied south and middle part of Shinano province in 1540's, defeating Suwa clan and Ogasawara clan. 

At the same time Shingen captured Shiga area, the east edge of Shinano province, then aimed further expansion to northward along with Chikumagawa river. In front of Nagano basin there was a strong local lord Yoshikiyo Murakami (1501-1573) who reigned current Chikuma city and Ueda city from Katsurao castle (Nagano prefecture)

Murakami army was strong then Shingen suffered two time defeat at the battle of Uedagahara and the battle of Toishi castle (Nagano prefecture), the branch castle of Murakami clanBut Shingen captured Toishi castle by the plot of his general Yukitaka Sanada (1512-1574), and finally expelled Yoshikiyo from his residence in 1553. Now the way to Nagano basin opened for Shingen.

Start of the fatal battle 

Local lords of Shinano province suppressed by Shingen such as Ogasawara clan or Murakami clan asked for assistance to Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), another strong warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). Kenshin was a talented lord and praised as "god of war", but also a strict Buddhist and respected order and authority. Due to his character, Kenshin could not forgive Shingen who destroyed traditional order and expanded territory. 

Besides, Nagano basin is just 50 kilometer away from his main base Kasugayama Castle (Niigata prefecture) and there was only limited between these two area. Thus to protect his territory, Kenshin had to supported local lords at the north part of Shinano province. 

Based on this situation, just after the exile of Yoshikiyo Murakami, Kenshin sent a reinforcement army and once recovered former Murakami territory. But Shingen persuaded local lords to turn by pressure and interest, and gradually grew his territory during the absence of Kenshin. Now both warlord faced at the both side of Chikuma-gawa river, to capture the reign of Nagano basin.

Continuous battles between Shingen and Kenshin and Kaizu castle

It is generally said that there were five battles at Kawanakajima from 1553 to 1564 between Kenshin and Shingen, which is the name of the sandbank of Chikuma-gawa river . The first battle occurred in 1553, in whch Kenshin sent his army to recover deprived territory of Murakami clan. Yoshikiyo once recaptured Katsurao castle but lost it again, and could not return to the position of warlord any more.

Second battle occurred at 1555. This time Kenshin lead the army and marched to Zenkoji temple, which was an important temple of the area. In response to this Shingen also moved to Kawanakajima and both army faced over half year. Both army built many castles at surrounding hills and tried to keep their territory. 

After the long confrontation, Shingen and Kenshin made peace under coordination of Yoshimoto Imagawa (1520-1560), the warlord of Suruga province (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture) and returned to the territories.  

Build of Kaizu castle

Two years later Shingen captured Asahiyama castle, one of the major base of Uesugi clan at the backside mountain of current Nagano city, and Kenshin marched to Kawanakajima to recapture this castle. It also became long battle but Shingen avoided direct battle with Kenshin and could hold captured territory.

Shingen gradually gained Nagano basin thus needed regional base at this area. At first Shingen used mountain castles at higher place such as Amekazari castle or Kurahobe castle, but these castles were secure but inconvenient and could not store large army. 

Thus by 1560 Shingen newly built a new castle at plain area and named as Kaizu castle (海津城). Kaizu castle mainly consist of two layer of rectangle shaped areas like Matsumoto castle (Nagano prefecture), and stood just aside of Chikumagawa river. Both area were surrounded by water moats, and there were crescent moon style fort ("Umadashi") characteristic to Takeda castles in front of each gate. 

Fourth battle at Kawanakajima in 1561

In 1561, the most fierce and famous fourth battle occurred. This year Kenshin was appointed to Kanto Kanrei (general minister of Kanto region), the highest position of eastern countries, and advanced to Nagano area with firm will of recovery. Kenshin moved deep inside of Nagano area with 15,000 soldiers and stayed Saijyosan mountain, a hill just aside of Kaizu castle. Kenshin clearly aimed Kaizu castle as a base of this area.

In response to this, Shingen lead 20,000 troops and arrived at Kawanakajima. As Kenshin stayed on the hill, Kansuke Yamamoto (?-1560), the famous military staff of Shingen planned plot of woodpecker, it means by making sudden assault by detached army from backside and force Kenshin to go down, then make two way attack by detached force and main force.

But Kenshin detected the plot of Shingen by watching smoke of cooking, then secretly went down the hill and crossed Chikumagawa river then approached to the main army of Shingen. Next morning Kenshin attacked Shingen by whole army in deep mist, and as Shingen sent half of its army as detached force, outnumbered Takeda army was flustered.

Unclear result of long battle

Kenshin fiercely attacked Takeda army by rounding wheel formation, and killed many high class commanders of Takeda army such as Nobushige Takeda (1525-1561), the younger brother of Shingen and vice leader of Takeda clan. Kansuke Yamamoto felt responsible for the fault and charged to the enemy and also died. In the story, among the melee Kenshin encountered Shingen and struck seven times by sword, and Shingen protected himself by commanding baton.

However, several hours later detached force of Takeda army returned at the battlefield and assaulted Kenshin from backside, thus Kenshin finally retreated. Shingen suffered severe damage but finally seized Nagano area by this battle. Three years later the final fifth battle arose, but there was no actual combat. After that as Kenshin aimed at Kanto region and Hokuriku region, and Shingen turned to Tokai region, two great rivals did not meet any more.

The both rival fought over 10 year and this was praised as a good match. But both party consumed long time for local territory, and there might be little significance compared with work and time used for the battle. It is said that later ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) mentioned that both party performed meaningless battle for long time. Additionally, it is said that when Kenshin made treaty with Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), Kenshin sighed that if both party did not fight we could aim at the hegemony.

Transition of holders

After the battle of Kawanakajima, Shingen placed Masanobu Kosaka (1528-1578), one of four brilliant generals of Takeda clan along with Masakage Yamagata (1529-1575), Masatoyo Naito (1522-1575) and Nobuharu Baba (1515-1575), at Kaizu castle as a guard against Uesugi clan. Masanobu did not participate in the battle of Nagashino in which other three general died, and coordinated the treaty between Katsuyori and Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623). 

After the downfall of Takeda clan by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), Kaizu castle was temporally held by his general Nagayoshi Mori (1558-1582). But after the incident of Honnoji in 1582, a coup d'etat against Nobunaga, Nagayoshi retreated from Shinano province and Kagekatsu Uesugi seized Kaizu castle at that year. Kagekatsu kept Kaizu castle by his transfer to Aizu region in 1598.

After the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Kaizu castle temporally became the territory of Tadateru Matsudaira (1592-1683), the sixth son of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who opened Edo Shogunate and the lord of Takada castle (Niigata prefecture). But in 1616 Tadateru was punished by Shogunate and lost his territory including Kaizu castle.

Afterward of the castle

Later in 1622, Nobuyuki Sanada (1566-1658), the elder brother of famous general Nobushige Sanada (1567-1615, famous as Yukimura Sanada) and who was the lord of Ueda castle (Nagano prefecture) and Numata castle (Gunma prefecture), was transferred to Kaizu castle. Sanada clan renamed Kaizu castle as Matsushiro castle, and managed by the end of Edo era.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution all building were lost. But recently gates, fences and bridges were reconstructed and the castle recovered former shape. Additionally the residence of Sanada clan built at the end of Edo era still exist near the castle, which is valuable to keep the original shape of feudal lord's residence. Even though modernized, small but firm shape of the castle still retains the atmosphere of medieval castle at the time of fatal battle between Shingen and Kenshin.


30 minutes bus ride from JR East / Hokuriku Shinkansen / Shinano Tetsudo line Nagano station to (former) Matsushiro station bus stop. 15 minutes drive from Joshinetsu Jidoshado Expressway Nagano interchange.

Related Castles

Tsutsujigasaki Palace -Residence of "Tiger of Kai"-
Toishi Castle -Might and plot-
Katsurao Castle -Lone tiger lived on a cliff-
Kurahone Castle -Castle looked down backgammon like battlefield from far sky-
Ueda Castle -Beat overwhelming army twice with small troops-
Numata Castle -Respective choice of Sanada family-

Pictures (click to enlarge)


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