Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Namioka Castle -Longest and fastest expedition by short lived brave general-

Namioka Castle

-Longest and fastest expedition by short lived brave general-



Name: Namioka castle (Namioka-jo)
Place: Namioka Aomori city, Aomori
Type: Flat Castle
Built: 15th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Namioka castle (浪岡城) is located at the river terrace of Namioka-gawa River, a tributary of Iwakigawa river in Namioka town. Namioka town places at the middle of Hirosaki city and Aomori city, two large cities of current Aomori prefecture. Namioka area is a pivot of Hirosaki plain covers western half of the prefecture, and also an entrance of the road from Aomori area or Hachinohe area, the middle part and eastern part of the prefecture.

Origin of Kitabatake clan

Namioka castle was built by Kitabatake clan, the house of military noble arouse at 14th century and is known for its two-time long expedition from Tohoku region to Kinki region. Japan is a small nation surrounded by seas, and there is no history of great expedition such as Alexander the Great of Mongolian Empire. 

But country land of Japan is separated by numerous mountains and rivers, and even though using a car it is still tough to run though the country without highways. But nearly 700 years ago, Kitabatake clan accomplished over 800 kilometer with large army, and that twice.

Kitabatake clan was a high class noble stem from Emperor Murakami (926-967). At the middle of 14th century they lived at Kitabatake area of Kyoto city, and named as their place. At the beginning of 14th century, Chikafusa Kitabatake (1293-1354), leader of the clan at that time, had an excellent political and literal skill and became the confidant of Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339), and promoted to Dainagon minister, one of the highest position of the noble. Later Chikafusa described "Jinno Shotoki", a famous book written to certify legitimacy of Emperor Godaigo at Oda castle (Ibaraki prefecture).

Talented young general of distinguished family

Akiie Kitabatake (1318-1338), the eldest son of Chikafusa, also had an excellent talent on military affairsand also was trusted by Emperor Gogaido from youth. When Emperor Godaigo beat Kamakura Shogunate and established his own government, Chikafusa was still only 15 years old but was appointed as a councilor of Imperial court, as an exceptional case. At that year Akiie was appointed as a governor of Tagajyo castle at current Sendai city, where was the center of Tohoku region, and moved there with Prince Noriyoshi (1328-1368, later Emperor Gomurakami) and Chikafusa.

Emperor Godaigo tried to manage the government like ancient Emperors, but also had to considerate the achievement of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), who had the highest status of Mimamoto clan and was a strong retainer of Kamakura Shogunate. In 1335, when remnants of Kamakura Shogunate made rebellion and occupied Kamakura city, Takauji voluntary attacked rebellion army without approval of Emperor Godaigo and beat it, then entered Kamakura city and started his own government. To restrain Takauji from backside, Emperor Godaigo appointed Chikafusa as Chinjyufu Shogun, the grand general of Tohoku region.

In November 1335, Emperor Godaigo ordered Yoshisada Nitta (1300-1338), who was another leader of Minamoto clan and actually defeated Kamakura Shogunate, to subjugate Takauji. Yoshisada and Takauji fought at current Hakone area, but Takauji defeated Yoshisada and seemed to make counter attack toward Kyoto city. 

Lightning expedition over 900 kilometer

Seeing that situation, in December 1335, Akiie raised his army of 50,000 soldiers at Tagajyo castle to attack Takauji from backside. 10 days after, Chikafusa marched over 400 kilometers and attacked vacant Kamakura city and occupied it just after New Year’s day of 1336. Furthermore Chikafusa made another 10 days march over another 500 kilometer and reached to Omi province (Shiga prefecture) and merged with generals of Emperor Godaigo side such as Yoshisada Nitta and Masashige Kusunoki (1294-1336).

This Godaigo side army beat Takauji at Kyoto city, and Takauji once escaped to Kyushu island. Akiie promoted to Great General and returned to Tagajyo castle. This time Akiie and his third son Akiyoshi Kitabatake (1326-1383) moved to Ise province (Mie prefecture) to support Emperor Godaigo from neighbor province, built Tamaru castle and stayed there. Later descendant of Akiyoshi became the governor of Ise province, and prospered at Okawachi castle until it was extinguished by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) in the latter half of 16th century.

Considering poor transportation method and bad roads at that time, this lightning march was a miracle achievement. Usually daily movement of medieval Japanese army was about 20 kilometer per day, but this time Akiie finally advanced 900 kilometer within 30 days, and average speed exceeded 30 kilometer per day. 

Probably utilizing horses bred at Tohoku region Chikafusa had good cavalry (unlike Western world Japanese small traditional horses was not good at charge but was useful to transport supplies), and Takauji did not grasp Kanto region and Tokai region well just after occupation of these areas. Furthermore Emperor Godaigo supporters made pressures to Takauji from backward, and Takauji did not have sufficient army to prevent Akiie. These elements enabled this lightning expedition.

Another expedition and death

But just after the return of Akiie Takauji restored his army at Kyushu island and stroke back to Kyoto city. Emperor Godaigo army intercepted Ashikaga army at Minatogawa in current Kobe city, but was defeated and Masashige died there. Takauji occupied Kyoto city again then raised his side Emperor Koumyou (1322-1380) and opened Muromachi Shogunate. Emperor Godaigo escaped to Yoshino area in the southern mountain area of Yamato province (Nara prefecture) and built his Imperial court in exile. 

In 1337, Akiie built Ryozen castle at the top of sheer Ryozen mountain in current Fukushima city and moved to there, considering his second expedition. In August of that year, Chikafusa raised his army and started his march again, and in December captured Kamakura city again. Next new year Akiie started Kamakura city and advanced to Owari province (Aichi prefecture), and defeated Ashikaga army at the battle of Aonohara on current Ogaki city.

But this time Takauji wholly seized western half of Japan and could put his whole army toward Akiie, and Akiie had to advance rejecting Takauji army spreads Kanto and Tokai region. Akiie could not coordinatewell with Yoshisada Nitta who stayed at Echizen province (Fukui prefecture) well, and had to attack Ashikaga army only by his own army. 

Akiie captured Yamato province and tried to attack Kyoto city from backside, but because of fatigue of continuous fight and no support, finally was defeated by Moronao Kou (?-1351), general of Ashikaga army, in the battle of Ishizu at current Sakai city and died there in May 1338. Akiie was just 20 year old at the time of his death, and his life was short but drastic like his expeditions. Godaigo side which lost prominent general could not reverse the situation again.

Fall and exile to frontier

After the death of Akiie, his younger brother Akinobu Kitabatake (?-?) who stayed at Yoshino court was appointed as his successor and transferred to Tohoku region. Akinobu once recovered Tagajyo castle but promptly lost it, and resisted against Ashikaga side army at Ryozen castle. 

Once utilizing internal conflict of Ashikaga clan Akinobu captured Tagajyo castle in 1551, but before the counter attack of Ashikaga army Akinobu could not keep it. Finally Akinobu lost Ryozen castle and became lost, and sons of Kitabatake clan ran away to far north area. They were said as the origin of Namioka clan that built Namioka castle.

After the fall of Kitabatake clan, in north part of Tohoku region Nanbu clan at Sannohe castle and Ando clan at Tosaminato port became two strong powers of current Aomori area. Even though lost is power, but Kitabatake clan formerly had a connection with both clan and worked as a buffer area of both clan. 

Probablly being support by inferior Ando clan, Kitabatake clan moved at the beginning of 15the century and named as Namioka clan, then built Namioka castle around 1470. Nanbu clan did not attack Namioka clan which still had a high authority, and Namioka clan could survive as a small lord between two large powers over 100 years.

Structure of Namioka castle

Namioka caslte is built over a edge of small height continued from eastward mountains along Namioka-gawa river. The shape of a narrow and long diamond shape of 800 meter long and 300 meter width, and centered on the Kitayakata (northern residence) area which might be the central area, outer areas such as Nishiyakata area (western residence), Higashi yakata (eastern residence), Uchiyakata (inner residence), Shinyakata (new residence) surrounded it. 

Each area was guarded by clay walls and separated by wide water moats directly connected to Namioka-gawa river. Uchiyakata at inner part is explained as the central area, but looking at the security and location, Kitayakata is thought to be the central area.

In central area there were several residences separated by fences and alleys crosses at right angle. It is said that this structure is built to guard the residences from attack, but seeing the restration model of central area it seems as if a part of Kyoto city. Kitabatake clan might be proud of the descendant of high class noble and built small Kyoto city inside this castle to show their authority.

Castle town spread around the castle, and Kitabatake clan also built many shrines and temples around the castle. Even though a small power, Namioka clan could built certain basement on this era and prospered in the former half of 16th century.

Disappearance of Namioka clan

But in the latter half of 16th century, this distinguish clan was involved in turbulence. In 1562, Tomomobu Namioka (?-1562), who was the distant relative of the clan and noble at Kawaragosho palace, suddenly revolted to the clan and killed Tomokazu Namioka (1532-1562), the leader of the clan. 

This revolt itself was suppressed soon, but Namioka clan significantly lost its power and its authority. Furthermore, Ando clan which supported Namioka clan also lost its power among the conflict with Nanbu clan.

In such situation, Tamenobu Oura (1550-1608, later Tamenobu Tsugaru) who was the general of Nanbu clan and commander of Oura castle, tried to seize Tsugaru region and become independent from Nanbu clan. At first Tamenobu captured Ishikawa castle in 1571 and Daikoji castle in 1576, then aimed at Namioka castle to shut the road from Nanbu territory.

Tamenobu connected to retainers of Namioka clan, and let his supporters infiltrate into castle town. One day in 1578, when the important retainer of Namioka clan was absent, Tamenobu suddenly attacked Namioka castle and forced the leader of Namioka clan to suicide. At this time the mainstream of Namioka clan was extinguished, but survived descendants served to Akita clan which was the descendant of Ando clan or Tsugaru clan. Later Tamenobu captured whole part of Tsugaru plain and built Hirosaki castle.

Afterward of the castle

Now all building was lost but shape of the castle still well exist next to Namioka river. Now it turns to dry land but wide moat separated by clay wall shows the past authority of noble family well until now. Plain and vacant areas of the castle in peaceful area does not match to the brave ancestor, but it was surely a memorial of Akiie Kitabatake.


20 minutes walk from JR East Ou-Honsen line Namioka station. 15 minutes drive from Tohoku Jidoshado Expressway Namioka interchange.

Related Castles

Okawachi Castle -A noble family disappeared into the history-
Tamaru Castle -Checkered life of Nobunaga’s second son who survived turbulent period-
Oda Castle -A traditional clan of indomitable-
Hirosaki Castle -Hirosaki Castle -Huge castle with original main tower at northern frontier-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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