Sunday, November 9, 2014

Shibata Castle -Place of war and peace-

Shibata Castle

-Place of war and peace-



Name: Shibata castle (Shibata-jo)
Place: Otemachi Shibata city, Niigata
Type: Flat Castle
Built: Originally unknown, expanded at the former half of 16th century
Remaining remnants: Gate, turret, stone walls and moats 
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Shibata castle (新発田城) is located at the center of Shibata city, the one placed at 20 kilometer eastward from Niigata city. Currently Shibata castle exists at inland area of Niigata plain, but historically most part of current Niigata city was a vast inner sea or marsh made by Shinano-gawa river and Agano-gawa river, and only sand bank spread at current seashore line. 

This inner sea was the important place of transportation which connected north half and south half of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture), Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) through Shinano-gawa river and Aizu region by Agano-gawa river.

Formerly Shibata town directly faced this inner sea, and it was a suitable place to manage this water transportation. Beside, guarded by vast inner sea and marsh, it was a good place to defense. At first Shibata castle was used as a residence and administrative place, and Ijimino castle near Shibata castle was used as a military base.

History of Shibata clan

Precise year is unknown but Shibata castle was originally built by a residence of Shibata clan in medieval era. Shibata clan was a descendant of Moritsuna Sasaki (1151-?), a retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) who was the founder of Kamakura Shogunate. Yukitsuna served to Yoritomo from his start up, and made achievement in many battles. As Moritsuna suppressed the rebellion at Echigo province, Sasaki clan had the territory of this province, and his descendants became major local lords of this area such as Shibota clan, Nakajo clan, or Takemata clan.

By the middle of Muromachi era, Shibata clan who seized water transportation of this area prospered and grew to the strongest lord of this area. The governor of Echigo province in Muromachi area was Uesugi clan, but they resided at current Joetsu city, the south edge of Echigo country and far from north half of the country. Local powerful lords of this area such as Shibata clan, Honjo clan, Irobe clan or Yasuga clan were called by “Agekitashu”, and kept semi independent from the governor. 

But at the middle of 16th century, Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the leader of Nagao clan which was the deputy governor of Echigo province and genius at war, united south half of Echigo province from Kasugayama castle and gave pressure to this region. As a result, large lords of this area including Shibata clan subordinated to Kenshin and became his retainer. Nagaatsu Shibata (1538-1580), the leader of Shibata clan at that time, was regarded as one of seven major generals of Uesugi clan and activated in many battles. 

Rebellion of Shigeie Shibata

In 1578, Kenshin died in ill without clarifying his successor between his two adopted son Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579), thus the internal conflict between both party named “Ogate no Ran” occurred. Nanagori supported Kagekatsu, and he negotiated neighbor local lords to belong to Kagekatsu. 

Naganori also drove back the army of surrounding warlords such as Ashina clan or Date clan who supported Kagetora without assistance from Kagekatsu, and negotiated with Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) and who at first supported Kagetora then let Katsuyori change to Kagekatsu side. Finally Kagekatsu won against Kagetora, and Shibata clan highly contributed to this victory.

But Naganori died in 1580, and Kagekatsu broke the promise of increasing territory of Shibata clan. Shibata clan was already so strong and further growth might threaten the authority of Kagekatsu. Beside, Uesugi clan lost power during internal conflict, and had to seize the water transportation of Niigata area to charge tax. Anyway Kagekatsu did not give any territory to Shigeie Shibata (1547-1587), son of Naganori, and just approved succession of the clan.

Facing this situation, Shigeie who was damaged his pride had dissatisfaction with Kagekatsu. Shigeie himself was a brave general same as his father, and activated in many battles. At the moment central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) suppressed Uesugi clan from westward, and detecting this information Nobunaga urged Kageie to revolt against Kagekatsu. 

In 1580, Kageie finally raised his army against Kagekatsu with his relatives and retainers. Shigeie captured Niigata area and built Niigata castle at seashore, to guard this area. Nobunaga also let Ashina clan, the warlord at Aizu region (Fukushima prefecture), to support Shigeie from Tsugawa castle.

Brave fight of Shigeie against Kagekatsu

Kagekatsu Uesugi tried to suppress this revolt, but being supported by Nobunaga and other surrounding lords such as Ashina clan and Date clan, Shigeie stubbornly fought against Kagekatsu. Kagekatsu had to cope with the invasion of Katsuie Shibata (1522-1583), regional commander of Nobunaga, and could not focus the subjugation of Shigeie. In 1582, Kagekatsu was surrounded by Shigeie Shibota from northward, Katsuie Shibata from westward and Nagayoshi Mori (1558-1584), another commander of Nobunaga from southward, and once was prepared for extinction.

But in June 1582, Nobunaga died at the incident of Honnoji, a coup d’etat by his general Mitsuhide Akechi (1528-1582). Katsuie and Nagayoshi retreated to protect his territory and Kagekatsu fortunately escaped the desperate situation. Kagekatsu made relationship with next ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), and now could focus on the battle with Shigeie.

Although the situation became inferior, Shigeie did not yield to Kagekatsu. Kagekatsu made fierce attack to Shibota territory every year, but utilizing terrain Shigeie firmly guarded his land. In 1583, Shigeie assaulted Kagekatsu who was retreating in the harsh and defeated Kagekatsu. Shigeie killed many generals of Kagekatsu, and once Kagekatsu became endangered. Due to this victory, Shigeie temporally expanded his power.

End of the rebellion

But the situation moved further worse for Shigeie. Kagekatsu became close to Toyotomi government, and challenge to Kagekatsu became the revolt to the central government. Further, there occurred conflict between Date clan and Ashina clan both formerly supported Shigeie, and Moritaka Ashina (1561-1584), the leader of Ashina clan who directly supported Kageie died in 1584. Shigeie became isolated at Niigata area, and loss of supply line lead to shortage of foods and fall of moral.

Hideyoshi knew the braveness of Shigeie recommended Shigeie to surrender to Kagekatsu, but Shigeie refused this offer saying “there is nothing to talk any more”. Finally Hideyoshi gave up the settlement and ordered Kagekatsu to destroy Shigeie in one year. Due to the brave fight of Kanetsugu Naoe (1559-1620) and other generals, Uesugi army gradually captured castles of Shibota clan, and in 1587 Uesugi clan fell Ijimino castle, another main castle of Shibota clan guarded by relative of Shigeie, by urging betrayal.

In the same year, Kagekatsu made an all-out attack to Shibota castle. Shigeie had the farewell party but heard the arrival of Uesugi army, left the castle riding on white horse and charged to Uesugi army with 700 soldiers. Shigeie rampaged in the Uesugi army and caused damage to them, but lost his soldiers and finally killed himself. After the death of Shigeie, it is said that a ghost of Shigeie riding on white horse appears at Shibota castle every night, and the person who saw this lost their life. Anyway the rebellion of Shigeie continued for seven years became an end.

Arrival of Mizoguchi clan

After the death of Shigeie, Kagekatsu Uesugi directly managed Shibota castle. But in 1598, Uesugi clan was moved to Aizu Wakamatsu castle at Aizu region (Fukushima prefecture), and Echigo country was divided by herediatary retainers of Hideyoshi. For Shibota castle, Hidekatsu Mizobuchi (1548-1610) became the commander of the castle.

Hidekatsu Mizoguchi was originally a retainer of Nagahide Niwa (1535-1585), an important retainer of Nobunaga Oda and large lord under Hideyoshi Toyotomi. After the death of Nagahide, Hidekatsu changed to the direct retainer of Hideyoshi and attached to Hidemasa Hori (1553-1590), a confident general of Hideyoshi. In 1598, along with the movement of Kagekatsu Uesugi to Aizu region, Naoyori Hori (1576-1606), the eldest son of Hidemasa, became the next governor of Echigo cougantry. Hidekatsu Mizoguchi also moved to Echigo country and became the lord of Shibata castle.

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, there occured the conflict between Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the largest lord under Toyotomi government, and Kagekatsu Uesugi. As Echigo province was former territory of Uesugi clan, Kagekatsu stirred up rebellion at Echigo province to obstruct Hori clan and Mizoguchi clan which supported Ieyasu. But Hori clan and Mizoguchi clan suppressed these rebellion, and were approved to keep their territory by Ieyasu who won at the battle of Sekigahara and became next ruler.

Expansion and structure of Shibata castle

As a ruler of domain, Mizoguchi clan newly built modern castle at the place of former residence of Shibata castle. Place of Shibata castle is a secure place surrounded by rivers, and also had a plenty room to build a castle town. Mizoguchi clan was a small domain, thus construction of castle processed in quite slow pace. Finally after about 50 year construction, Shibata castle finally completed in around 1650.

Central area of the castle located at the center of the castle is a pentagon shaped area of 100 meter length. This central area is surrounded by tall wall and is thought to keep the old shape of Shibata clan residence. Walls of south side and west side which faced main gate and castle town equipped tall stone walls. 

Turrets were built at each corner of central area, and at the edge of west sharp corner a three story turret used as a substitute of main tower existed. This three story turret has a characteristic roof, which is T shape. As a tradition of Japanese castle, buildings of Japanese castle has a pair of statue of grampus as a guardian at each side of gable. As this building has three gable edge, thus three statues of grampus was placed at the roof.

Secondary area is a triangle shaped area surrounding central area, and protected by clay walls. There are three gates at east, west and south of the area, and south gate was the front gate into the castle. Third area was located at the south of secondary area, spread to the direction of current Shibota station. Total size of castle was about 500 meter length and 200 meter width.

Afterward of Shibata castle

Rarely in Edo era, Mizoguchi clan was Tozama (a new comer to Edo Shogunate) lord but kept its territory by the end of Edo era without any transfer. Shibata domain focused on the reclamation for cultivation of wide marsh, and it is said that the rice harvest of domain reached over five times throughout Edo era. Furthermore based on the developed agriculture commercial and cultural activity also prospered in Shibota town. Shibata town became the place of peace, and current Shibata city still uses family crest of MIzoguchi clan as a mark of the city.

At the time of Meiji revolutional war, although surounding domain such as Aizu domain or Nagaoka domain made anti new government treaty and resisted (they were mainly hereditary retainers of Edo Shogunate), Shibata domain decided to support new government. Anti new government ally kept the leader of Shibata domain and tried to change their decision, but people of the domain kept their decision and fought with new government army.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution ,Shibata castle was abolished and destructed except for small part of central area, main gate of central area and one turret of secondary area. Castle site was transferred to Japanese Army base, probably considering local support to Meiji government at the time of revolution war. Subsequent to WW2 castle site was continuously used for the base of Japan Ground Self Defence Force, and most part of the castle including reconstructed three story turret is kept as off limit.

After 2000, as a revival project of the castle, three story turret and Tatsumi turret were reconstructed. Along with remaining main gate and moved secondary area turret, front side of the castle recovered former shape. Due to the scenery of the castle combined with JGSDF base, recently the castle is called as a castle of “Sengoku Jieitai” (SDF in the warring period), the title of famous Japanese movie in which SDF time trips to warring period and fights with warlords. 


20 minutes walk from JR East Uetsu Honsen line Shibata station. 20 minutes drive from Nihonkai Tohoku Jidoshado Expressway Seiro-Shibata interchange.

Related Castles

Kasugayama Castle -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Tsugawa Castle -Sheer cliff and stone wall-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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