Sunday, May 15, 2016

Arato Castle -Irreconciable conflict after god of war (7) assault of Hojo army-

Arato Castle

-Irreconciable conflict after god of war (7) assault of Hojo army-



Name: Arato castle (Arato-jo)
Place: Kandatsu Yuzawa town, Niigata
Location: 36.90779976186271, 138.79137032380615
Type: Hill Castle
Built: 1578
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Continued from Part 6

Arato castle (荒砥城) is located on a small triangle shaped hill just spreads northward to Shibahara-Toge pass of Mikuni-Kaido road, at the southern edge of Uonuma plain of current Niigata prefecture. Currently Shibahara tunnel is built exactly below of castle site, but formerly Mikuni-Kaido road passed just beside of the castle.

Mikuni-Kaido road is an important road which connects Kanto plain and Niigata area, and the road goes southward from Niigata plain along with Uono-gawa river by the end of Uonuma plain turns westward and passes Shibahara Toge pass then enters to the valley of Kiyotsu-gawa river.

Ahead of Shibahara-Toge pass the road climbs up the valley nearly 15kilometer toward Mikuni-Toge pass, passing famous ski resort Naeba area. Mikuni Toge pass is the border of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) and Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture), and also the one of Kanto region and Hokuriku region. 

Because of this geographic condition, castle site is a important control point of Mikuni Kaido road, especially preparing for invasion from Kanto region. Utilizing heavy snow and good access from Kanto region, today this area is developed as famous snow resorts such as Yuzawa ski slope or Naeba ski course.

Origin of Arato castle

Arato castle was built in 1578 by the army of Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), the adopted son of Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578) and the lord of Ueda Nagao clan resided at Sakado castle (Niigata prefecture). It is recorded that Arato castle was built only in half month due to its small size and rush construction.

In the latter half of 16th century, Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), a famous warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) who was called as the god of war, continuously made expeditions to Kanto region to confront with Hojo clan, which was the lord of Sagami province (Kanagawa prefecture) and seized major part of Kanto region.

Since the time of Kenshin many castles were built along Mikuni-Kaido road, but around this time Uesugi army only fought ahead of the border then these castles, such as Asakai Yorii castle at current Naeba town, are mainly used as a lodge for march and did not have secure defense facility.

Occurrence of internal conflict

However, after the death of Kenshin, an internal conflict called as “Otate no Ran” between two adopted son of Kenshin, it mean Kagekatsu Uesugi and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579) who was originally a person of Hojo clan. As Kagekatsu Uesugi was originally a person of Ueda Nagao clan, Uonuma area which was the territory of Ueda Nagao clan became the base of Kagekatsu Uesugi.

On the other hand, Kagetora Uesugi could ask the assistance from his family Hojo clan. Once Hojo clan decide to assist Kagetora Uesugi, they might send large army from Kanto region to Uonuma area across Mikuni Toge pass. It was definitely necessary to prevent Hojo army at Shibahara-Toge pass, to avoid the entrance into the main part of Uonuma basin.

In May 1578, Kagekatsu Uesugi who resided at Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture), the main base of Uesugi clan, and Kagetora Uesugi stayed at neighbor Otate castle (Niigata prefecture) finally broke and internal conflict started. Both army fought at short distance at current Joetsu city, and the attack of Kagetora failed then Kagekatsu gradually improved the situation.

Agreement with Kagekatsu Uesugi and Katsuyori Takeda

But Kagetora Uesugi asked assistance from surrounding warlords such as Hojo clan, Takeda clan or Ashina clan. Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), who was the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) and the successor of Shingen Takeda (1521-1573) that was the fatal rival of Kenshin Uesugi, allied with Hojo clan and became the brother in law.

Responding to the request from Hojo clan, Katsuyori Takeda lead large army and headed to Echigo province from Shinano province. Kagekatsu Uesugi was forced to the corner but negotiated with Katsuyori, then under condition of ceding territory and money Kagekatsu Uesugi could turn Katsuyori Takeda to his side and ally in June. 

Kagekatsu Uesugi could escape imminent crisis, but next had to prepare for the assault of Hojo clan which was far larger than Takeda army and the home of Kagetora Uesugi itself. Takeda clan turned to Kagetora for the fear of too strong Hojo clan which acquires Echigo province, but Hojo clan just intended so and had sufficient ability to do so.

Preparation for assault of Hojo army

However, at the beginning of the internal conflict, Hojo clan confronted with Satake army which was another strong warlord of Hitachi province (Ibaraki prefecture) in the south part of Shimotsuke province (Tochigi prefecture). Instead of moving their main army, for the moment Hojo clan ordered local lords of Kozuke province to assault Uonuma area which was the base of Kagekatsu Uesugi.

After the death of Kenshin Uesugi, commanders of Uesugi army at Kozuke province such as Takahiro Kitajo (1517?-1587?) at Umayabashi castle (Gunma prefecture, later Maebashi castle) or Shigechika Kawada (1531-1593) at Numata castle, belonged to Kagetora Uesugi and subordinated to Hojo clan, due to pressure from Hojo clan and no support from Echigo province.

As there were small combats between the supporters of Kagekatsu Uesugi and Kagetora Uesugi, Kagekatsu Uesugi expected the assault from Kozuke province and strengthened or built border castle such as Arato castle, Asagai Yorii castle at Yuzawa area of Suguro castle at the exit of Shimizu Toge pass in June.

Structure of Arato castle

The structure of Arato castle is planned to make resistance against dominant Hojo army march Mikuni-Kaido road with quite limited soldiers. Castle site hill is a triangle shaped one and the bottom line toward northwest faces Mikuni-Kaido road ahead of 100 meter long gentle slope. 

If there are many soldiers the castle might be extended toward the road, but castle size is limited conforming the number of guardians, probably 200 or 300 soldiers. Of course this number of troop might be broken by overwhelming Hojo army in one time, but it was necessary to delay the enemy at least one day, show the moral of the force and gives damage even if only a little.

Rough shape of Sakado castle like a compass. The central area of the castle is a square faced area of 40 meter long at the top of the hill. The back side of central area is directly connected to backside mountains with narrow ridge, thus this side is securely protected by wide dry moat, and guarding turret built over clay wall. At the side slope of the castle, vertical dry moats are built to prevent the movement of enemy toward backside.

At the north and east of central area, there are two outer area called as secondary area and third area at the both side of narrow valley. These two area are built as main combat front of the castle, and guarded by sheer clay wall and dry moat. At the entrance of these two areas there are combined gates with small buffer area named as "Umadashi", which might be used as a starting point of counterattack and to support friendly force to retreat into castle. 

Narrow paths at these two gates are 90 degree folded and climbs the height gap, to prevent dominant enemy which break outer age rushes into the castle. As there was no sufficient supply of bullet and gunpowder, usage of matchlock gun is not expected, then guardians are expected to attack the enemy proceeds narrow path by long spear. 

If pressure of enemy becomes weak, a counter attack force starts from both buffer area, quickly attacks the enemy and retreats, to make time and give damage to enemy as far as possible. Arato castle is a small castle of 100 meter long triangle, but its purified and consistent plan is an advanced one.

Intrusion of Hojo army into Uonuma area

As expected, Hojo army assaulted Echigo province in summer of 1578. Only consisted with local lords of Kozuke province, Hojo army easily broke the defense line of Kagekatsu Uesugi and rushed into Uonuma basin. In August Kabanosawa castle (Niigata prefecture) which was only 5 kilometer apart from Sakado castle fell then Arato castle might be lost earlier than that.

There is no record of battle at that time, but Ueda Nagao army was not expected to surrender then the castle might fall in short time battle. The sacrifice of Arato castle was small obstacle for Hojo army, but including preparation and postprocessing of the battle it might take several days. This was small but valuable time buying for Kagekatsu Uesugi army waiting for the winter.

Once Sakado castle was lost, Kagekatsu Uesugi lost its main territory and there would be no supply of materials or soldiers to Kasugayama castle. Furthermore, retainers of Kagekatsu except for Ueda Nagao clan look at inferior situation and might turn to Kagetora Uesugi. The army of Kagekatsu just before collapse then Kagekatsu was forced to the former again at more serious situation.

Result of battle and afterward

As a result, Sakado castle could stand for four months until the arrival of winter. Due to heavy snow main force of Hojo army could not enter to Echigo province, and Hojo army at Uonuma area reversely lost the supply from Kozuke province. Besieged at heavy snow with no supply, Hojo army lost morale and soldiers escaped.

Next February Kagekatsu Uesugi recovered Kabanosawa castle from Hojo clan, and also Arato castle. After the cease of internal conflict by the death of Kagetora Uesugi at that month, Hojo clan again crossed the border and attacked Arato castle. Arato castle fell in one day and most of soldiers and commanders of Arato castle died in the battle.

But without Kagetora Uesugi and its supporter, Hojo army had no reason to fight at Echigo province leaving Kanto region. Hojo army soon returned then Kagekatsu Uesugi recovered Arato castle again. Arato castle might be used as the border castle, but after the fall of Hojo clan in 1590 by central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) Arato castle might be abolished. 

Today no building remains but clay structure of the castle is well kept over the hill. Looking at narrow and winding road climbing into core area, it clearly shows the builder intention to prevent dominant enemy by small forces at any means. After twist and turns Uesugi clan could survive a feudal lord and continue till now, and the desperate sacrifice of guardians of Arato castle was surely rewarded. 

Continue to Part 8


15 minutes drive from Kanetsu-Jidoshado Expressway Yuzawa interchange to parking space at entrance of climbing road. 15 minutes walk from parking to hilltop castle.

Related Castles

Sakado Castle - Irreconciable conflict after god of war (8) suspension bridge in the sky-
Kasugayama Castle -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Samegao Castle -Tragic loser of internal conflict-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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