Sunday, March 1, 2015

Iwaya Castle (Chikuzen) -Heroic death of brave general-

Iwaya Castle (Chikuzen)

-Heroic death of brave general-



Name: Iwaya castle (Iwaya-jo)
Place: Kanzeonji Dazaifu city, Fukuoka
Location: 33.526180176824475, 130.52098941027725
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats

Brief History

Iwaya castle (岩屋城) is located at the top of Iwayayama mountain, one of about 300 meter height at the south of Fukuoka city. Iwayayama mountain is a branch peak at the southern slope of Shioujiyama mountain, a huge mountain of about 3 kilometer diamater. 

In ancient era Onojyo castle, a huge Chosen style medieval castle, was built by Yamato dynasty all over the hilltop area of Shioujiyama mountain, and Iwaya castle spread at the saddle point between the peak of Iwayayama mountain and former clay wall of Ono castle. Same as Ono castle, Iwaya castle was an important castle to protect Fukuoka cit. a large commercial city from ancient era, from attack of southward.

Origin of Takahashi clan and Iwaya castle

Precise year is unknown but Iwaya castle might be built by Takahashi clan at the former half of 16th century. Takahashi clan was originally a local lord of this area, but at the middle of 16th century the clan lost its leader without successor. Takahashi clan adopted Akitane Takahashi (1529-1579), an important retainer of Otomo clan which was the governor of Bungo province (Oita prefecture) and dominated whole north half of Kyushu island. Akitane was originally a person of Ichimada clan, a tributary of Otomo clan, and made many achievements for Otomo clan at various battles. Akitane lived Houmanyama castle at the opposite of Iwaya castle, and built Iwaya castle as its branch castle.

But in 1562, Akitane suddenly left Otomo clan and turned to Mouri clan, a warlord of Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture) which expanded their power to northeast part of Kyushu island, along with neighbor lords such as Akizuki clan or Ryuzoji clan. Yoshishige Otomo (1530-1587, known as his Buddhist name Sorin) was a talented and ambitious warlord, but he was also a tyranny person and frequently arose dissatisfaction of retainers. 

In addition to this, Akitane's relatives were formerly killed by Yoshishige for the reason of rebellion, and Akitane had a grunge to Yoshishige.  At the same time, Akitoshi Tachibana (1521-1568), another important retainer of Otomo clan revolted against Yoshishige at Tachibanayama castle at the northeast of Fukuoka city, and dominance of Otomo clan was close to collapse. 

Recover of Iwaya castle by Otomo clan

Seeing this severe situation, Yoshishige tried to recover Fukuoka area with all his strength. Yoshishige organized a large army and order his bravest general Akitsura Bekki (1513-1585, later Tachibana Dosetsu) as a commander of this army. Tachibana clan and Takahashi clan besieged at secure castles, and being surrounded by local enemy lords and main force of Mouri army, Otomo army faced hard battles. 

But Akitsura captured castles such as Houmanyama castle, Iwaya castle and Tachibanayama castle one by one, and rejected main force of Mouri clan at the battle of Tadaragahama in 1569. Mouri clan finally retreated from Kyushu island because of the attack of former Amago restoration army supported by Otomo clan, and Otomo clan at last secured Fukuoka area.

Yoshishige placed Akitsura Bekki at the general commander of Fukuoka area and placed him at Tachibanayama castle and let him succeed Tachibana clan. Along with this succession Akitsura renamed to Dosetsu Tachibana. Yoshishige also appointed Jyoun Takahashi (1548-1585) as a vice commander of this area, and placed as a lord of Takahashi clan at Houmanyama castle. 

Brave and honest general

Jyoun Takahashi was originally a son of Akimasa Yoshihiro (1519-1571), an important retainer of Otomo clan, and named as Shigemasa Yoshihiro. Akimasa was one of the highest class retainer of Otomo clan and activated at the battle against Mouri clan. Jyoun was also a brave general from his youth, and was also a honest person. According to "Meisho Genkoroku", tales of generals summarized in Edo era, Jyoun once engaged with a daughter of colleague general, but later she lost her beauty in ill. Her brother hesitated to let Jyoun marry with her, but Jyoun did not break his promise and married with her.

Dosetsu made versatile activities at many battles and enhanced the name of Otomo c around north part of Kyushu island, and Jyoun well supported Dosetsu. As Dosetsu did not have son, Dosetsu asked Jyoun to adopt his son Muneshige Takahashi (1567-1643, at first named as Munetora), and because of eager ask of Dosetsu finally Jyoun became an adopted son of Dosetsu. 

Munetora later grown up and named as Muneshige Tachibana, and became a brave general equivalent to his two fathers. This talented three generation of Tachibana and Takahashi clan is prominent and equivalent to three generations of Sanada clan in eastern Japan.

Fall of Otomo clan and struggle of two generals

But peak period of Otomo clan did not long. From 1560's Shimazu clan, a warlord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture), steadily grow and expanded into Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture) or Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture). As Ito clan, the governor of Hyuga province subordinated to Otomo clan was expelled by Shimazu clan, Yoshishige sent a large army to beat Shimazu clan. But Otomo army suffered fatal defeat by Shimazu clan at the battle of Mimikawa in 1578, and Otomo clan started to decline.

Hearing the news of defeat of Otomo clan, many local lords at north part of Otomo clan simultaneously revolted to weakened Otomo clan. At the northeast part Akizuki clan once followed to Otomo clan revolted, and at northwest part Takanobu Ryuzoji (1529-1584), a brave lord of Hizen province (Saga prefecture) who was called as "the bear of Hizen", also left Otomo clan. 

Takanobu quickly grasped Hizen province or Chikugo province (south part of Fukuoka prefecture) originally held by Otomo clan, and tried to enter into Fukuoka area. But among this severe situation Dosetsu and Jyoun firmly served loyally to Otomo clan, and struggled to protect Fukuoka clan in inferior situation without reinforcement from main force of Otomo clan. In 1584 Takanobu Ryuzoji was defeated and died at the battle of Okitanawate, and Dosetsu and Jyoun once recovered Chikugo province from Ryuzoji clan.

Invasion of Shimazu clan

But in 1585, Dosetsu died in ill during the siege to Nekoo castle in Chikugo province. Otomo army lost the last pillar depressed, and Shimazu clan now grasped Ryuzoji clan started its all out attack to Otomo clan. Main force of Shimazu clan invaded Bungo province from southward, and detached force aimed at Fukuoka area from Chikugo province. 

Yoshishige Otomo was now encircled at his residence Usuki castle (Oita prefecture) asked assistance to central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598). This time Yoshishige Otomo recommended Jyoun to Hideyoshi as a truly trusted general with royalty and braveness, and Jyoun became a direct general of Hideyoshi.

Shimazu clan anticipated conflict with Hideyoshi accelarated its invasion to Otomo clan, to seize Kyushu island before arrival of Hideyoshi. In 1586 summer, Shimazu army of 30,000 soldiers lead by Tadanaga Shimazu (1551-1610) advanced into Fukuoka area. Many local lords turned to Shimazu clan, and Otomo clan only had Tachibanayama castle, Houmanyama castle and Iwaya castle with only 3,000 soldiers. Hideyoshi sent his military staff Yoshitaka Kuroda (1546-1604) to Jyoun and asked him to temporally retreat, but Jyoun decided to firmly resist against overwhelming Shimazu army.

Jyoun placed his son Munetora Tachibana at Tachibanayama castle at backside, and barricaded at Iwaya castle at frontside only with 762 soldiers. Iwayama castle was a small castle and less equipped compared with Tachibanayama castle or Houmanyama castle, but its backside was totally surrounded by sheer cliffs and the only attack route was narrow saddle point from Shioujiyama mountain. 

Looking at the situation that the reinforcement of Hideyoshi will arrive soon, Jyoun intentionally divided his force and stayed at Iwaya castle with small but ready to die soldiers, tempting Shimazu army attack to Iwaya castle to gain time and exact a heavy damage.

Battle of Iwaya castle

Shimazu army encircled Iwaya castle at the middle of July 1586 and recommended surrender to Jyoun, but Jyoun rejected this recommendation. Shimazu army immediately attacked Iwaya castle, but Jyoun and desperate soldiers firmly secured Iwaya castle. Being obstructed by secure terrain and resistance of defending soldiers, Shimazu clan could not capture Iwaya castle for two weeks and suffered severe damage.

Seeing this situation, Tadanaga Shimazu, commander of Shimazu army, praised Jyoun and recommended to make peace again. But Jyoun replied to Tadanaga that "Rise and fall of clan is inevitable, but changing my master at the fall of the clan is a shameful act. Life is transient but fame stays long, thus I never surrender to Shimazu clan". 

Finally Shimazu clan made all-out attack to Iwaya castle, and Jyoun was totally outnumbered but vigorously fought. But finally Jyoun lost most part of soldiers, thus left his farewell poem and killed himself at the top of watchtower. All of 762 soldiers died at the castle, without any refugee. Biography of Jyoun says "Jyoun was excellent general who was brave and good at plots, kind to retainer and well rewarded to achievement, and disinterested". 

Afterward of clan and Iwaya castle

Owing to this resistance of Jyoun over his life, Shimazu army suffered over 4,000 casualties to capture this small castle. Shimazu army next fell Houmanyama castle and encircled Tachibanayama castle where Muneshige Tachibana stayed, but severely damaged Shimazu army could not attack Tachibanayama castle and just stayed for a month. 

In the meantime vanguard of Toyotomi army finally landed into Kyushu island, and Shimazu army gave up attack of Tachibanayama castle and retreated. Munetora promptly chased retreating Shimazu army and recovered Houmanyama castle and Iwaya castle. After the surrender of Shimazu clan, Muneshige was appointed as a lord of Yamagawa castle (Fukuoka prefecture), and Iwaya castle was abolished at that time. Brave fight of Jyoun saved Tachibana clan and Takahashi clan as intended, and further assisted comeback of Munetora once lost the position of feudal lord 30 years later.

Now most part of the castle was lost or hided in the forest, but small terrace of central area and secondary area still remain at the peak. In the central area there was a ruin of the watchtower basement, and a memorial praising brave death of Jyoun stands, and tomb of Jyoun also exists at the secondary area. 

It is incredible to resist against overwhelming army with such poor defense facility, and this exactly shows prominent loyalty and braveness of Jyoun. We can still imagine the shape of Jyoun who looked down the large force of Shimazu army filled whole hillside area from the central area.


30 minutes walk from Nishitetsu Dazaifu line Dazaifu station. 30 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Dazaifu interchange. At the middle of climbing route of Shioujiyama mountain from Dazaifu shrine to the peak.

Related Castles

Onojo Castle -Fortress complex protected vice capital of ancient Japan-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

1 comment:

  1. Thankyou again. Iwaya and Tachibana castles interest me very much. I live in Hakata so they are my local castles. I want to make a blog page about them, so can I ask where you got the information from to tell their story. I would like to study more about them. May I also use your text for my blog? Regards