-Castle like Hesperian Dragon guarded golden apple-
Name: Konomine castle (Konomine-jyo)
Place: Kamiunorei Yamaguchi city, Yamaguchi
Type: Mountain Castle
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and gate (Yamaguchi castle)
Konomine castle (高嶺城) locates at Konomine mountain, one of about 340 meter above sea level at the middle part of north edge of Yamaguchi city. Yamaguchi city is spreads along the valley of Fushinogawa river over 10 kilometer which flows in the middle of Yamaguchi prefecture. Although Yamaguchi area is apart from Shimonoseki area which is the economic center of the province or Ube area of industrial center along Setonaikai sea coast and small than these cities, but considering access to whole part of prefecture and historical circumstance, Yamaguchi city is a prefectural capital city.
Start of Western Kyoto city
Konomine castle was built by Yoshinaga Ouchi (1532-1557) , a substantial last leader of Ouchi clan, in 1557. Ouchi clan was a traditional family which claimed as a descendant of ruined Korean Peakche kingdom, and they supported Minamoto clan at the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate then became the local lord of Nagato province (western half of Yamaguchi prefecture).
After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, in the middle of 14th century, there was a long the conflict between Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) who lead anti Shogunate movement ,.and Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), a strong lord who supported Emperor at first but left and established his own Muromachi Shogunate. At this time Hiroyo Ouchi (1325-1380) at first belonged to Emperor side and captured Suo province (eastern half of Yamaguchi prefecture), considering dominance of Emperor side at north part of Kyushu region.
But later Mochiyo turned to Muromachi Shogunate and fixed their position as a strong lord. Around 1560, Hiroyo moved main base of Ouchi clan from current Hohu area to Yamaguchi area, where still was an undeveloped wilderness. It is said that Hiroyo chose Yamaguchi area as it resembles to Kyoto city, being a basin surrounded by mountains and a large river flows down in the middle of city. Of course it was not only a matter of exterior but also a practical purpose, such as mountains for security and river for water source and river transportation.
Growth of western strong lord
Based on this new main base, Ouchi clan gradually grew into a strong warlord. Yoshihiro Ouchi (1356-1400) activated at many battles under Yoshimitsu Ashikaga (1358-1408) and got large territory. Yoshihiro also focused to foreign trade with Chinese Ming dynasty or Korean Koryo kingdom, but was bewared for his power by Yoshimitsu then raised his army against Shogunate in 1400 but was defeated and died in the battle.
After this defeat Ouchi clan once lost their territory except for Suo province and Nagato province, but utilizing the conflict between Kyushu Tandai, the representative of Muromachi Shogunate at Kyushu island, and non obedient local retainers, Ouchi clan advanced into north part of Kyushu island such as current Kitakyushu area or Fukuoka area, fought with neighbor strong lords such as Otomo clan or Shoni clan, and virtually held this area. Ouchi clan also seized Hakata port, the largest trading port at that time, and earned huge profit from trade with China and Korea.
Being support by its wealth, in the latter half of 15th century, Ouchi clan aggressively tried to intervene into central area. At the time of tbe battle of Onin, a large size internal war continued from 1467 to 1477 occurred at Kyoto city, Masahiro Ouchi (1446-1495) became the main force of western army lead by Yamana clan and fiercely fought with eastern army lead by Hosokawa clan.
Peak period of Ouchi clan
In the beginning of 16th century, Ouchi clan became its peak period. In 1507, Yoshioki Ouchi (1477-1529), the successor of Masahiro, marched to Kyoto city with Yoshitane Ashikaga (1466-1523) who was the 10th Shogun of Muromachi Shogunate but was expelled by Hosokawa clan. Yoshioki arrived at Kyoto city placed Yoshitane as the Shogun again, and ruled the roost of Shogunate. This expedition might be performed not only by political reason, but also by economic reason to grasp Kinki region as a final consumption area of trade items and reject their rival Hosokawa clan from the trade.
Yoshioki stayed Kyoto city for 10 years and continuously fought with Hosokawa clan and Miyoshi clan which aimed at recovery of Kyoto city, but finally had to return because of dissatisfaction of retainers for long campaign and attack to vacant main territory by Tsunehisa Amago (1458-1541), the warlord of Izumo province (eastern half of Shimane prefecture). But after its return Ouchi army beat Shoni clan and captured most part of north part of Kyushu island, and Ouchi clan was regarded as the strongest warlord in western Japan.
Splendid city and residence
Being supported by their military and economic strength, Yamaguchi city which was the capital of Ouchi clan made an unprecedented prosperity and said as western Kyoto. Apart from war-tone Kyoto city, many nobles and cultural people visited Yamaguchi city and lived. Among them, Sesshu (1420-1506), a Zen monk and ink painter who studied at Ming dynasty, left excellent works around the territory of Otomo clan. Later Francisco de Xavier (1506-1552), the first Catholic missionary came to Japan, visited Yamaguchi city and built the first church here. Surely Yamaguchi city was an golden apple at this time.
Ouchi clan themselves built their residence at the middle north part of city central which was a rectangular of 1000 meter long and 700 meter wide separated by hills and mountains. This residence was a square shaped one of about 180 meter long, and imitated the palace of Shogun at Kyoto city. Along with the expansion of Ouchi clan, this residence became too narrow and later an annex called by Tsukiyamadate was built and used as a reception hall. As a result of excavation, ruin of huge splendid buildings and beautiful garden was found, which shows prosperity of Ouchi clan.
Sudden fall of Ouchi clan and Harukata Sue
But prosperity of Ouchi clan seemed everlasting suddenly ended. In 1551, among the conflict of front side generals and close administrative staffs, Yoshitaka Ouchi (1507-1551) faced the rebellion of Harukata Sue (1521-1555), the deputy governor of Suo province and commander of Suo Wakayama castle (Yamaguchi prefecture) who seized military power of Ouchi clan. Yoshitaka tried to escape to Iwami province (western part of Shimane prefecture) but could not sail because of heavy storm, then finally killed himself at Daineiji temple.
Harukata seized the power of Ouchi clan placed Yoshinaga Ouchi (1532-1557), an temporal adopted son of Yoshitaka. Yoshinaga was originally born at Otomo clan, the warlord of Bungo province (Oita prefecture) and long time rival of Ouchi clan. Yoshitaka once adopted Yoshinaga as a temporal son in case of no real son, but later his actual son Yoshitaka Ouchi (1545-1551) was born and this adoption was once cancelled. Yoshinaga once returned to Otomo clan, but as both Yoshitaka and Yoshinaga died in the rebellion, Harukata called Yoshinaga and placed him as a nominal leader.
But situation of Yoshinaga and Harukata became tough. Combination of stranger Yoshinaga and high-handed attitude of Harukata evoked dissatisfaction of other retainers, and many local lords such as Yoshimi clan at Tsuwano castle, or Motonari Mouri (1497-1571) who grew into a strong local lord of Aki Koriyama castle (Hiroshima prefecture), became to challenge against Harukata. In response to this Harulata lead large army to subjugate Motonari in 1555, but being tricked by the plot and tactics of Motomari, Harukata's army collapsed at the battle of Itsukushima island and Harukata died there.
Structure of Konomine castle
Now Yoshinaga stayed at Yamaguchi city had to protect his own golden apple from assaulting Mouri army like Hercules. Yoshinaga newly built Konomine castle at the top of Konomine mountain, a mountain plunged from north edge of the valley just next to the residence of Ouchi clan.
The castle continues from its peak in line along with significantly winding ridge, like a dragon or snake. Hilltop area is an ellipse shaped area of 60 meter diameter separated into two layer terraces, and the wall of upper terrace was protected by secure stone walls. Especially the stone wall of backside is a magnificent combination of three layer stone walls, like the mouth of the snake.
From central area, over 10 terraces continues along with winding ridge of the mountain toward south east. Bottle necks of the ridge is used as a gate, and wider area is processed to flat area and used as a residence of soldiers or storage space. At south eastern edge there was a main entrance of the castle, which was protected by combination of narrow terraces with height difference.
Occupation and usage by Mouri clan
But Motonari Mouri aggressively attacked castles of Ouchi clan, and remaining Sue army siege at Suo Wakayama castle opened their castle after one year siege. Next Migitakadake castle at Hohu city which was the main gate to Yamaguchi city also surrendered, then Mouri army intruded into Yamaguchi city in March 1557.
Konomine castle was still incomplete then Yoshinaga gave up resistance at this place and ran away to Katsuyama castle at Shimonoseki city. But finally Katsuyama castle was attacked by dominant Mouri army, then Yoshinaga killed himself at the castle then Ouchi clan formally ended it history at this point. Finally Yamaguchi city as a golden apple was seized by Hercules
Mouri clan entered Yamaguchi city used Konomine castle as one of the major base of Suo province and completed its construction decorating the castle with stone walls. Motonari placed his important retainer Tsuneyoshi Ichikawa (1520-1582) as a commander of Konomine castle.
Decline of Yamaguchi city
In 1569 Teruhiro Ouchi (1520-1569), a relative of Ouchi clan, was supported by Otomo clan and intruded into Yamaguchi city to restore Ouchi clan. But this time Tsuneyoshi well stood at Konomine castle with small soldiers until the arrival of reinforcement army. Finally Teruhiro was defeated by Mouri army and died.
But continuous battle at Yamaguchi city significantly ruined city itself. As Mouri clan had their main base in Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture), Yamaguchi city fell into a small regional city. In 1600, as a result of the battle of Sekigahara, Mouri clan lost Aki province and other eastern province and only kept Suo province and Nagato province.
At first Mouri clan thought to use Yamaguchi city as a capital, but as a result of consideration to Shogunate, Mouri clan finally built Hagi castle at distant area and used is as a main base. Additionally, as a result of Ikkoku Ichijo Rei (one castle one domain rule) published in 1616 Mouri clan had to abolish branch castles including Konomine castle, and after the cease of the rebellion of Shimabara, remaining castle ruins was totally destructed to prevent reuse at rebellion. Yamaguchi city and Konomine castle seemed to finish its role.
Another short term period of attention
But about 250 years later, Konomine castle and Yamaguchi city emerged to the stage again. In response to the arrival of foreign fleets and weakening of Shogunate, Choshu domain of Mouri clan opposed to Edo Shogunate which admits opening of the nation, and attacked foreign fleets by themselves.
Considering the battle with foreign fleet Hagi castle directly faced the ocean was not suitable, and also expected the battle against Shogunate army it was necessary to built a secure main base protected by terrain. In 1864 Mouri clan built Yamaguchi castle (called as Seijido) at eastern hillside of Konomine mountain in Western style, expected Konomine castle as a backside base. Many revolutionaries gathered at this Yamaguchi castle and Yamaguchi city became the center of the era again.
But this time Yamaguchi town and Konomine castle was not involved into the battle. Choshu domain changed its policy to collaborate with foreign countries and imported new weapons, then domain force and militia equipped superior weapons totally defeated overwhelming Shogunate force tried to intrude into Yamaguchi city from four roads in 1866. From this defeat Edo Shogunate totally lost its authority and this might lead sudden end of Edo Shogunate next year. After the Meiji revolution war, activists moved to new capital Tokyo city and Yamaguchi city returned to quiet city again in 10 years.
Afterward of castles
Today all building of Konomine castle was lost but a main gate of Yamaguchi castle still stands at east hillside of the mountain. Castle site becomes a casual hiking course, and stone wall at backside of central area well remains and slightly shows former exterior of the castle. From the third area whole shape of the Yamaguchi city is well seen, and also powerful shape of Konomine mountain is clearly seen. Even though not physically, Konomine castle still emotional support to the city with tradition and culture. Main gate of Yamaguchi castle remains at eastern hillside, and gate and garden of Ouchi clan residence were restored.
Suo Wakayama Castle -Straight shaped castle of straightforward character lord-
Aki Koriyama Castle -Proverb of three arrows-