Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nanao Castle –"Frost fills encampment and autumn air is purified"-

Nanao Castle

-"Frost fills encampment and autumn air is purified"-



Name: Nanao castle (Nanao-jo)
Place: Kojo-cho Nanao city, Ishikawa
Location: 37.009055882817066, 136.98374888680695
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Nanao castle (七尾城) is located at Shiroyama mountain, one of 300 meter height at the south edge of current Nanao city from which Nanao city and Nanao gulf is well seen. 

Nanao area is the largest plain area of Noto province (Noto peninsula), and had been an important area from ancient era because it has a good port inside the gulf and connected to Kaga province (Ishikawa prefecture) or Echizen province (Fukui prefecture) with flat road. 

Due to its location, later Nanao port prospered in Edo era as a shipping point of Kitamaebune line, the coasting line of the Sea of japan. Nanao castle is a huge mountain castle spread all over the mountain, and regarded as one of the five large medieval mountain castles along with Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture), Odani castle and Kannonji castle (Shiga prefecture), and Gassan Toda castle (Shimane prefecture).

History of Hatakeyama clan

Nanao castle was originally built by Hatakeyama clan in 15th century. Hatakeyama clan was originally local retainer stem from Taira clan at current Saitama prefecture. Shigetada Hatakeyama (1164-1205), the leader of Hatakeyama clan, supported Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, and activated at many battles. 

But after the death of Yoritomo, Shigetada opposed to Hojo clan, the house of general minister of Kamakura Shogunate, and was ruined. Later Kamakura Shogunate which regretted extinction of the clan let a relative of Ashikaga clan succeed the name of Hatakeyama clan, thus Hatakeyama clan continued as a branch family of Ashikaga clan.

After the downfall of Kamakura Shogunate in 1333, Ashikaga clan established Muromashi Shogunate in 1336. As a branch family of Ashikaga clan, Hatakeyama clan became one of the three branch houses of Ashikaga clan which qualified for Kanrei (the grand minister), the highest retainer of Muromachi Shogunate, along with Shiba clan and Hosokawa clan. Hatakeyama clan became the retainer of Kii province (Wakayama prefecture) or Kawachi province (Osaka prefecture), important provinces of Kinki region near Kyoto area.

Prosper and fall of Noto Hatakeyama clan

In 1408, Mitsunori Hatakeyama (?-1432) , a relative of Hatakeyama clan, was newly appointed as the governor of Noto country and established his family Noto Hatakeyama clan. The main stream of Hatakeyama clan lost its power due to political conflict in the Shogunate, but distant from central area Noto Hatakeyama could continue as a house of governor of Noto province. 

By the end of 15th century Noto Hatakeyama clan established their authority and prospered with Nanao city. Yoshifusa Hatakeyama (1491-1545) was a talented lord and improved Hatakeyama clan into a warlord. Yoshifusa also expanded Nanao castle into a huge fortress.

But after the death of Mitsunori, Noto Hatakeyama clan also lost their power due to internal conflict, and became affected by seven major local retainers such as Yusa clan, Nukui clan or Cho clan. At the middle of 16th century Yoshitsuna Hatakeyama (?-1594), the grand son of Mitsunori, once withdraw the effect of seven major retainers and built centralized government, but was finally expelled by these retainers in 1566. After that Hatakeyama clan became the puppet of these retainers.

Structure of Nanao castle

Current style of Nanao castle completed in this area, and is highly effected by the structure of Hatakeyama clan. The central area stands at the top of the hill, and important retainers such as Yusa clan, Nukui clan and Cho clan had large residence at just below, backside and front side of the central area.

Other castles such as Odani castle also have also residence of important retainer inside the castle area, but the case of Nanao castle is extreme and lord at central area had to pass either of important retainers residence to go out. It seems as if lord of Hatakeyama clan was imprisoned by retainers in the castle.

Hlltop area continues along with the main ridge of the mountain over 500 meter. As one road from main entrance is directly connected to the terrace just below the core of the castle, the slope between core areas and this terrace was securely guarded by multilayered stone walls as there was still no technology to build a tall stone wall like Edo era at that time. 

Many terraces were built at neighbor ridges, and this became the origin of the name of Nanao castle (Nanao was named from seven ridges). The total size of the castle exceeded 1 kilometer square, and it was a huge fortress suitable for distinguished family of Muromachi Shogunate.

Difficulties of Hatakeyama clan

But in the latter half of 16th century, the situation of Hatakeyama clan became significantly severe. Originally Noto province was a small province with limited populations, and even though economically prospered there was not sufficient soldiers. 

Domestically dominant important retainers such as Yusa clan, Cho clan or Nukui clan seized the internal authority and continued endless internal conflicts, and non obedient leader of Hatakeyama clan was assassinated by them. 

Besides, Ikko Ikki rebellion by the believer of Ikkoshu, an denomination of Japanese Buddhism, brought instability to Noto country, Further, in Echigo province (Niigata prefecture), Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578) who was a genius of tactics and was called as “God of War” grew to superpower of Hokuriku region.

Siege by Kenshin Uesugi and fall of Nanao castle

In 1576, Kenshin who seized Ecchu country (Toyama prefecture) turned its army to Noto country and sieged Nanao castle. This time Hatakeyama clan and retainers cooperatively resisted against Kenshin and Nanao castle stand one year siege by Uesugi army. Finally Uesugi army once retreated to their territory in 1577 to prepare for the battle against Hojyo clan, a warlord of Sagami country (Kanagawa prefecture).

But the same year Kenshin assaulted Nanao castle again. This time plague spread in the castle and Haruoumaru Hatakeyama, the final leader of Hatakeyama clan, died in castle. Among the moral of defense significantly decreased, Cho clan firmly insisted resistance against Kenshin and asked assistance to central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582).

But Yusa clan connected to Kenshin, and they revolted in the castle with Nukui clan, then killed Cho clan people and open the castle. It is said that when heard surrender of the castle, Kenshin had a moon watching and recited a Chinese poem stating “Frost fills encampment and autumn air is purified. Several line of flying wild geese is seen at midnight. Echigo country has gained scenery of Noto country. And this reminds our home town and expedition”.

Afterward of castle

Kenshin kept Nanao castle for two years and placed Yusa clan as a commander of Nanao castle. But in 1578 Kenshin died in ill, and Uesugi clan significantly decerased its power due to an internal conflict after the death of Kenshin. Utilizing this opportunity, Nobunaga captured Nanao castle in 1581, and Yusa clan was killed by Tsuratatsu Cho (1549-1619) who survived under Nobunaga as a revenge. 

Later Nanao castle was managed by Toshiie Maeda (1538-1599), a general of Nobunaga, and Toshiie used Nanao castle for a while but newly built Komaruyama castle at the center of Nanao town. Toshiie moved to Komaruyama castle and later Kanazawa castle (Ishikawa prefecture), thus Nanao castle was abolished then.

All buildings were lost but the shape of the castle and magnificent multilayered stone walls protected the slope well remain. Magnificent view from top of the castle let us imagine the satisfaction of Kenshin by capturing this castle after long siege.


15 minutes bus ride from JR West Nanao-sen line Nanao station to hillside entrance of climbing road. 60 minutes walk from hillside entrance to hilltop castle. 15 minutes drive from Noetsu Jidoshado Expressway Nanao interchange to hilltop parking.

Related Castles

Kasugayama Castle -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Odani Castle -History of three generation of Azai clan-
Kannonji Castle -Strenght and weakness of Rokkaku clan-
Gassan Toda Castle -Rapid rise and fall of Amago clan-
Kanazawa Castle -Elegant castle of close friend of ruler-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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