Saturday, July 9, 2016

Katsurao Castle -Lone tiger lived on a cliff-

Katsurao Castle

-Lone tiger lived on a cliff-



Name: Katsurao castle (Katsurao-jo) / Kazurao castle /Kazurao-jo
Place: Sakaki Sakaki town, Nagano
Location: 36.4742643798535, 138.17150511728883
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Katsurao castle (葛尾城) is located at the top of Katsurao mountain, one of over 400 meter height continued from Gorigamine mountain at the backside of current Sakaki town. Sakaki town places at the curving point of Chikuma-gawa river (called as Shinano-gawa river at downstream) from eastbound to northbound, and also at the middle of Nagano basin and Ueda basin which are major basin of Nagano prefecture. 

Sakaki area is a small flat land of 3 kilometer long and 1 kilometer wide, but its four direction is wholly protected by Chikuma-gawa river and reverse “C” shaped mountains including Katsurao mountain and Kokuzosan mountain prolong toward the river. Site of Castle site is exactly the edge of upper line of this reverse “C”, and as castle site is where the ridge directly faces Chikumagawa river, the slope is quite sheer. In spite of its small size, Sakaki area was a important point connecting Nagano area, and Ueda area and Matsumoto area.

Origin of Katsurao castle

Precise year is unknown but Katsurao castle might be built as a main base of Murakami clan by the end of 14th century. Murakami clan was originally a descendant of Minamoto clan, which was the same family of Kamakura Shogunate. They had a long history since the advance of Yoshinaka Minamoto (1154-1184) toward Kyoto city, and activated at the overthrow of Kamakura Shogunate by Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) by fighting with Kamakura Shogunate side army at Shinano province.

Under Emperor Godaigo Murakami clan was nominated as the leader of local lord of the province, but at the internal conflict between the government of Emperor Godaigo and Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of Muromachi Shogunate, Murakami clan changed to Muromachi Shogunate side.

However, Muromachi Shogunate appointed Ogasawara clan as the governor of Shinano province and let them to manage whole part of Shinano province including Murakami clan, But Shinano province was separated into basins by mountains then Ogasawara clan could not establish uniform dominance. As a position of the leader of local lords, Murakami clan lead other local clans and strongly resisted to Ogasawara clan, thus the reign of Ogasawara clan was limited to Matsumoto basin. 

Fame of strong tiger

Since the latter half of 15th century, Murakami clan grew their power and conflicted with neighbor local lords such as Unno clan or Takanashi clan, and spread their territory under Yoshikiyo Murakami (1501-1573). As above in 1541, Murakami clan broke Unno clan and Sanada clan thus seized Sanadanosho area and Shiota area at the south of Chikuma-gawa river, which was traditionally the center of Shinano province. The braveness of Yoshikiyo like a strong tiger Murakami rang through the province.

At first Katsurao castle might be a small flat space on mountain as a evacuation space from their hillside residence, but later might be expanded into a large mountain castle along with the development of Murakami clan. Murakami clan also built mountain fort at high place of Kokuzosan mountain, thus protected whole part of their territory. Furthermore, Murakami clan advanced into Ueda basin used Toishi castle (Nagano prefecture) as a front fort.

Structure of Katsurao castle

Katsurao castle is built utilizing the small peak of Katsurao mountain and connecting long and narrow ridges spread north to Gorigamine mountain, southward and westward. Central area of the castle is a rectangular shaped flat space of 40 meter long and 15 meter wide spreads north and southward, with a slight height at the north edge might be used as a basement of watching tower. Utilizing terrain, front side and backside of the area is protected by massive sheer cliff and steep road to attack the intruder from upper side.

At the south of central area, secondary area and third area which are both flat space of 30 meter long square spread. On the other hand, the northward from central area is the weak point of Katsurao castle which is connected to higher place, thus this side is securely protected by combination of deep dry moats and clay walls. At the end of this north side ridge, there is a small basement protected by stone walls, like a small bridge. It seems there might be an outer gate of the castle, which might be added by Takeda clan or Hojo clan after the fall of Murakami clan.

To spare the narrow space of core area, front forts were built at each of three ridges several hundred mater away from core area. These forts are recognized as independent castles and named as "Hime fort " at southward of "Iwasaki fort" at westward, but by building these castles narrow but gentle slope of the ridge between core area and front forts could be used as a hosting space of soldiers. 

Especially Iwasaki port at western ridge has well formed shape and might be built after the fall of Murakami clan. Total size of Katsurao castle including front fort reached over 500 meter long and showed the power of Murakami clan. Residence of Murakami clan and castle town spreads southeastern hillside, and a steep climbing roads connected hilltop area and hillside town.  

Confrontation against Shingen Takeda

But just after the fall of Unno clan, Murakami clan itself had to face the attack of Takeda clan directly. Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), new leader of Takeda clan and lord of Tsutsujigasaki Palace (Yamanashi prefecture), aggressively attacked Shinano province, ruined Suwa clan in 1542 and captured Suwa providence. Next Shingen intruded into Saku region and captured it after a fierce battle by 1547. Now the territory of Murakami clan and Takeda clan adjoined at Ueda area.

In 1548, Shingen lead large army and advanced into Murakami territory, and Yoshikiyo Murakami intercepted at the western part of current Ueda city. Shingen forcefully attacked to Murakami army and broke its vanguard, but Yoshikiyo who was known as a brave general made counter attack to Takeda army dropped their guard and broke them. Shingen suffered severe defeat and lost his two veteran general Nobukata Itagaki (1499-1548) and Torayasu Amari (1498-1548) along with many soldiers, at this battle of Uedagahara. 

Two time victory against Shingen

But Shingen did not give up expansion and quickly restored situation. In 1550 Shingen ruined Ogasawara clan at Hayashi castle and captured Matsumoto area, to fix the backside. Just after that Shingen siege Toishi castle with 7,000 soldiers in September 1550, to suppress local lords under Murakami clan from backside. At this time Yoshikiyo left Toishi castle and attacked Takanashi clan, then there was only 1,000 soldier at Toishi castle.

However, Toishi castle was a secure fortress and Murakami army stood the siege of Takeda army over two week, and hearing this news Yoshikiyo promptly made peace with Takanashi clan and returned to Toishi castle. Takeda army consumed supplies fell into inferior situation then gave up the siege and tried to retreat, but furious Yoshikiyo fiercely chased Takeda army and gave serious damage. 

Takamatsu Yokota (1487-1500), who served rear guard of Takeda army, died in the battle. Throughout his 51 years life Shingen lost only three of 72 battles, and among this three defeat two was made by Yoshikiyo. Especially only Yoshikiyo could clearly broke Shingen at field battle. Shingen is nicknamed as the "Tiger of the Kai", but Yoshikiyo is more applicable to the nickname of the fierce tiger. 

Sudden fall of lone tiger

But as a crafty hunter, Shingen who could not shoot Yoshikiyo by force made a trap. Just the next year after the siege of Toishi castle, Yukitaka Sanada (1513-1574), an intelligent general of Shingen, fell Toishi castle by making betrayer in the castle. Shingen opened the way to the backward of Murakami territory passing Katsurao castle tempted retainer of Murakami clan. Because of loose dominance of the clan and fall of Toishi castle, they easily changed to the Shingen, and Yoshikiyo became a lone tiger.

Yoshikiyo still resisted to Shingen, but in 1553 Shingen made a total attack to Yoshikiyo then at last Yoshikiyo left Katsurao castle and escaped to Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) and fatal rival of Shingen. Lone tiger finally was pushed out from his mountain nest.

Even though lost everything, Yoshikiyo still fought with Shingen. Three month after the exile, Yoshikiyo broke Takeda army and recovered Katsurao castle under the support of Kenshin but soon lost again. Later Yoshikiyo was appointed as a commander of Nechi castle (Niigata prefecture) and became the general of Uesugi army, and is said to avenge by felling Nobushige Takeda (1525-1561), the younger brother of Shingen at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima.

Afterward of Murakami clan and Katsurao castle

Finally Yoshikiyo died abroad not seeing his native place again, but after the fall of Takeda clan in 1582, Uesugi plan captured current Nagano area and placed Kunikiyo Murakami (1546-1603, later renamed to Kagekuni Yamaura), son of Yoshikiyo, as a commander of Kaizu castle (later Matsushiro castle). At this time Sakaki area became the border to Matsumoto area held by Ogasawara clan and Ueda area managed by Sanada clan, thus Katsurao castle might be used as a border castle. 

In 1597, Uesugi clan was transferred to the lord of Aizu Wakamatsu castle (Fukushima prefecture) and Murakami clan accompanied this. After that Katsurao castle became a branch castle of Mori clan which became the lord of Kaizu castle, but might be abolished after the battle of Sekigahara. 

Now all building was lost but structure of the castle well remain on the mountain. As there is nearly 400 meter height difference from hillside, thus to climb the mountain, it is necessary to walk up hard climbing road over 60 minutes. There is a dart road to approach to the castle from backside, but it is risky to run this road by car because it is so narrow and rough road (webmaster actually had a flat tire on this road). The toughness of the castle for visitor and prominent view from hilltop castle is suitable as a nest of lone tiger.


15 minutes walk from Shinano-Tetsudo line Sakaki station to hillside entrance behind of Sakaki shrine. 15 minutes drive from Joshinetsu Expressway Sakaki interchange to hillside parking. 60 minutes walk from hillside entrance to hilltop castle. As above, backside dirt road is too rough and not recommended.

Related Castles

Toishi Castle -Might and plot-
Tsutsujigasaki Palace -Residence of "Tiger of Kai"-
Matsushiro Castle -Important base used at fatal battle of two rivals-

Pictures (click to enlarge)


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