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-jyo)
Alias: Kaizu castle (Kaizu-jyo)
Place: Matsuchirocho Nagano city, Nagano
Type: Plain 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 Chikumagawa (also called as Shinanogawa) 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 country

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 part and middle part of Shinano country in 1540's, beating Suwa clan and Ogasawara clan. 

At the same time Shingen captured Shiga area, the east edge of Shinano country, 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) and Shingen suffered two defeats by him. But Shingen captured Toishi castle (Nagano prefecture), one of the major base of Murakami clan by plot of his general Yukitaka Sanada (1512-1574), and finally expelled Yoshikiyo from his residence Katsurao castle (Nagano prefecture)in 1553. Now the way to Nagano basin opened for Shingen.

Local lords of Shinano province suppressed by Shingen asked for assistance to Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), another strong warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). Kenshin was a talanted lord and said as "god of war", but also a strict Buddhist and respected order and authority. Due to his character, Kenshin could not bear 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 no obstacle between these two area. Thus to protect his territory, Kenshin had to supported local lords of north part of Shinano province. Based on this situation, Shingen and Kenshin fought fatal battle five times in 12 years at Nagano area, and this series of battle is famous as "the battle of Kawanakajima".

Continuous battles between Shingen and Kenshin and Kaizu castle

It is generally said that there were five battles at Kawanakajima from 1553 to 1564. At first in 1553, Yoshikiyo Murakami who was expelled from his territory asked assistance for Kenshin, and 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. 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 country. 

Two years later Shingen captured Asahiyama castle, one of the major base of Uesugi clan at this area, 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 area needed defense base at this area. At first Shingen used mountain castles such as Amekazari castle or Kurahobe castle, but these castles were 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 became 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 and force Kenshin to go down, then main force will attack Uesugi army.

But Kenshin detected the plot of Shingen by watching smoke of cooking, then secretly went down the hill and crossed Chikumagawa river then approached the main army of Shingen. Next morning Kenshin attacked Shingen in deep mist, and as Shingen sent half of its army as detached force, out numbered Takeda army was flustered. Kenshin fiercely attacked Takeda army by rounding wheel formation, and slew many high class commanders 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 stroke seven times by sword, and Shingen protected himself by commanding baton.

However, several hours later detached force of Takeda army arrived 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.

Afterward of Kaizu castle (Matsushiro castle)

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 country 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 become the territory of Tadateru Matsudaira (1592-1683), the sixth son of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) and commander of Takada castle (Niigata prefecture). Later in 1622, Nobuyuki Sanada (1566-1658), the elder brother of famous general Nobushige Sanada (1567-1615, famous as Yukimura Sanada) and 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. 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)

Hachimanpara Battlefield

Sanada clan residence

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