Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tsurugaoka Castle -Peaceful castle of domain of good governance-

Tsurugaoka Castle

-Peaceful castle of domain of good governance-



Name: Tsurugaoka castle (Tsurugaoka-jo)
Alias: Tsuruoka castle. Daihoji castle
Place: Baba-machi Tsuruoka city, Yamagata
Location: 38.72831713771078, 139.8254646028004
Type: Flat Castle
Built: Originally 12th century, expanded in 17th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and water moats 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Tsurugaoka castle (鶴ヶ岡城) is located at the center of Tsuruoka city, the one places at southern half of Shonai plain. Shonai plain is a large plain made by Mogamigawa river at the seaside of the Sea of Japan, and prospered as a large rice growing center and important port connected inner part of Dewa province (Yamagata prefecture) such as Yamagata city or Tendo city and marine transportation at Sea of Japan. The place of Tsuruoka city is not the center of Shonai plain, but the place is a meeting point of roads from Echigo province (Niigata prefecture), Yamagata plain and Shinjo basin.

Origin of Tsurugaoka castle

Tsurugaoka Castle was originally built as a residence of Daihoji clan in 13th century and was called as Daihoji castle, utilizing low height river terrace of Uchikawa river. Daihoji clan was a retainer of Kamakura Shogunate and originally named as Muto clan, and came to Shonai region as a local governor. 

Throughout Muromachi era Daihoji clan defeated surrounding small lords and became a small warlord, but since the beginning of 16th century the power of the clan significantly decreased due to internal conflict or opposition of retainers, and Daihoji clan moved its residence to Oura castle (Yamagata prefecture) at 5 kilometer north of Daihoji castle, a secure castle on the mountain.

Around 1570, under its leader Yoshiuji Daihoji (1551-1583), Daihoji clan aggressively expanded its territory around current Shonai area in cooperation with Honjo clan, a major retainer of Uesugi clan at the north edge of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). 

Transition of holders

But losing the support from Honjo clan, Yoshiuji was assassinated by its retainer being blamed for the burden of too much aggressive military operation. Yoshiaki Mogami (1546-1614), the warlord of Yamagata castle and who united Yamagata basin, attacked confused Daihoji clan and once captured Shonai area. 

However, in 1588, Shigenaga Honjo (1540-1614) assaulted Shonai plain as a relative of Daihoji clan, and broke Mogami army at the battle of Jyugorigahara in 1588. Shonai plain became the territory of Uesugi clan, but as a result of the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Uesugi clan lost Shonai plain and Yoshiaki Mogami became the lord of Shonai plain again. 

In 1603, Yoshiaki reformed Daihoji castle as a retirement place and named it as Tsurugaoka castle. After the death of Yoshiaki, Mogami clan was confiscated its territory due to internal conflict, and Sakai clan was transferred from Matsushiro castle (Nagano prefecture) and became the lord of the castle. 

Sakai clan was a descendant of Tadatsugu Sakai (1527-1596), who was the old and highest retainer of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the founder of Edo Shogunate. As a castle of distinguished and large hereditary lord, Sakai clan further expanded Tsurugaoka castle as a main base of Shonai domain.

Structure of Tsurugaoka castle

Tsurugaoka castle in Edo era mainly consist of three layer of square shaped area surrounded by clay walls and water moats. The central area is about 200 meter length square shaped area, and there was a complex main gate at the southeast corner of the area and a two layer turret at northwest corner. 

There was no main tower in this castle, but two story corner turret at the northwest corner was a substitute of main tower. Other corners were guarded by single layer turrent, and large palace of the lord existed all over the central area.

The secondary area is a narrow area wholly surrounds central area, and had a two layer turret at southeast corner and three gates. The third area spread vast area between two rivers run east and west of the castle, and residence of the lords and retainers or domain school were built in this area.

Sakai clan and Tsurugaoka castle

Rarely in Edo era, Sakai clan kept this area throughout Edo era without transfer. Status of the house of most important retainer of Ieyasu and large territory might make it difficult to move to different place. Shonai domain once fell in serious financial problem at the beginning of 18th century by famine, but due to its reform they restored the domain and well protected domain people from famines. 

At the beginning of 19th century Edo Shogunate planned to change Sakai clan to another clan, but domain people made direct opposition to Edo Shogunate even though serious punishment was expected, and this plan was finally cancelled. At the end of Edo Shogunate, Shonai domain resisted to Meiji new government and well fought, but finally surrendered to new government.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, the castle was abolished and all buildings were broken. Third area was also lost, but water moats and clay walls of central and secondary area considerably kept its shape, and these areas are used as shrine and park. Further in the third area buildings of domain school are kept as original. From plain and peaceful shape of the castle compared from its status and territory of the lord, good and kind governance of Shonai domain is imagined.


30 minutes walk from JR East Uetsu-Honsen line Tsuruoka station. 10 minutes drive from Yamagata Jidoshado Expressway Tsuruoka interchange.

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Yamagata  Castle -Huge castle built by lord of struggle and misfortune-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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