Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tsugawa Castle -Lying dragon castle looking at west-

Tsugawa Castle

-Lying dragon castle looking at west-



Name: Tsugawa castle (Tsugawa-jo)
Alias: Kitsunemodori-jo (Fox returning castle)
Place: Tsunoshima Aga town, Niigata
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 13th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls and clay walls 

Brief History

Tsugawa castle (津川城) is located at the edge of Shiroyama mountain, a ridge of Kirinzan mountain beside Aganogawa river in Aga town. Kirinzan mountain has an eye catching shape like a lying dragon on water, and the site of Tsugawa castle is applicable to the nose of this dragon's head. The name "Kirin" means an imaginary creature like a dragon in China and Japan, although now it also means giraffe.

Aganogawa river (called as Aga river in Aizu basin) runs through the valley among mountainous area about 20 kilometers from Aizu basin to Niigata plain. Aga town is a small basin located at the middle of such valley, and Tsugawa area prospered as a connection point of river transportation and land transportation. Due to its location, Tsugawa area became the target of struggle between Ashina clan, the warlord of Aizu area and Uesugi clan, the one of Niigata plain. 

Tsugawa castle and Ashina clan

Aga town currently belongs to Niigata prefecture, but this was decided after Meiji revolution and historiaclly had the relationship with Aizu basin (Fukushima prefecture). The precise year of building of Tsugawa castle is unknown, but it is said that Ashina clan ordered their branch family Fujikura clan to build a castle at this place in 1252. Later Fujikura clan changed their name to Kanagami clan and served to Ashina clan as an important retainer. Ashina clan expanded Tsugawa castle as a west gate of Aizu basin from Niigata plain.

After 15th century, Ashina clan became a strong warlord around Aizu area. In 1560’s, utilizing trouble occurred at neighbor traditional large lords at Date clan, the warlord of Yonezawa castle (Yamagata prefecture) or Satake clan, the one of Hitachi country (Ibaraki prefecture), Moriuji Ashina (1521-1580), the leader of Ashina clan, rapidly expand their territory and Ashina clan became its peak. Moriharu Kanagami (1527-1589), the commander of Tsugawa castle, supported Moriuji and was praised his talent.

In 1578, Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the strong leader of Uesugi clan died without deciding his successor, and an internal conflict called as “Otate no Ran” occurred between his two adopted son, Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579). Moriuji at first supported Kagetora, and once Kaetora was defeated by Kagekatsu and died, Ashina clan individually intervened to Echigo country. Moriharu captured Yasuda castle (Niigata prefecture), and also supported Shigeie Shibata (1547-1587) , the commander of Shibata castle and who revolted to Uesugi clan.

Transition of holders

But when Moriuji died in 1580, Ashina clan rapidly lost power due to its internal conflict for successor of Moriuji. Under the pressure from Date clan, Moriharu lead confused Ashina clan and adopted next leader from Satake clan. But this raise further conflict, and finally in 1589 Ashina clan suffered a fatal defeat against Masamune Date (1567-1636), and the leader of Ashina clan left the Aizu basin. Moriharu Kanagami bravely fought at this battle and finally charged to Date army and died. By this defeat Ashina clan once the ruler of Aizu basin disappeared from the history.

Along with the extinction of Ashina clan Tsugawa castle was once captured by Date clan, but due to the order of central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi, Masamune lost Aizu basin and was transferred to current Sendai area. Hideyoshi placed his confident general Ujisato Gamo (1556-1595) as a lord of Aizu basin, for the purpose of pressure to other lords in Tohoku region. 

Ujisato expanded Aizu Wakamatsu castle and lived there, but his vast territory was separated by many mountains and prompt maneuver of army was difficult. Thus to cope with other lords and internal rebellion, Ujisato strengthened many castles such as Nihonmatsu castle or Inawashiro castle by advanced technology such as stone walls, to stand the base until the arrival of reinforcement in case.

Structure of Tsugawa castle

Tsugawa castle is thought to be reformed at this time by Gamo clan. The place of this castle is a long and narrow ridge of Kirinzan mountain, like a peninsula at the merging point of Aganogawa river and its tributary Tokonamigawa river. Backside of the castle is connected with the main peak of Kinrinzan mountain, but this mountain is so steep that it is said even foxes avoid to climb, thus it is virtually impossible to attack this castle from this side.

The central area of the castle is located at a small space at the edge of the hill, and there are several terraces at the halfway of the hill under the central area. Formerly the walls of these terraces were covered by stone walls, and two layer of stone walls guarded southern slope of the hill still well remain. Main route from outer area comes along the river to right under the castle, and steep and winding steps is connected to the main part of the castle. Other than this route, there was another path directly climb up from river side terrace. At the riverbed there are places used for residence of lord and retainers.

After the death of Ujisato Gamo, Hideyoshi moved Gamo clan to Utsunomiya castle and placed Kagekasu Uesugi as a lord of Aizu region. Kagekatsu appointed his general Nobuyoshi Fujita (1559-1616) as a commander of this castle, but Nobuyoshi became estranged with Kanetsugu Naoe (1560-1619), the chanseller of Kagekatsu. 

In 1600 Nobuyoshi left Uesugi clan and refuged to Tokugawa clan. At the same year Uesugi clan lost Aizu region as a result of the battle of Sekigahara, and Gamo clan returned to Aizu region. Gamo clan kept Tsugawa castle as a branch castle, but finally abolished it based on Ikkoku Ichijyo rei (one domain one castle rule) in 1627.

Afterward of castle

After the abolition of Tsugawa castle, Tsugawa town continued to prosper as one of the three major river port of Japan. Now all buildings of the castle was lost, but shape of castle well remain at the hill. Now there is no ship passing Aga river, but lying dragon mountain lost its lord is still looking at westward same as before. In autumn season castle site is covered by full of colored leaf like a fire.


20 minutes walk from JR East Banetsu Nishi-sen Tsugawa station. 15 minutes drive from Banetsu Jidoshado Expressway Tsugawa interchange. 20 minutes walk from entrance to hilltop castle.

Related Castles

Inawashiro Castle -Expansion and collapse of Ashina clan-
Nihonmatsu Castle -Castle held by famous lords and generals-
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle -White five-story main tower endured harsh battle-
Shibata Castle -Place of war and peace-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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