Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kurahone Castle -Castle looked down backgammon like battlefield from far sky-

Kurahone Castle

-Castle looked down backgammon like battlefield from far sky-



Name: Kurahone castle (Kurahono-jo)
Place: Matsuchirocho Nagano city, Nagano
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 15th century?
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Kurahone castle (鞍骨城) is located at the top of Kurahone-yama mountain, one of about 800 meter from sea level and over 400 meter from hillside at the south of Matsushiro town. Kurahone-yama mountain is a part of long line of mountain from Saijyosan mountain, Amagi-yama mountain to Zoyama mountain over 8 kilometer and highest point of this line. 

This place is at the south edge of Nagano plain which spreads from northeast to southwest ward, and also at a exit of mountainous road from Ueda area passing Shin-Jizo-toge pass. As the north slope of Kurahone castle is so sheer that enemy can't directly climb up to the castle, and from castle the scenery of Nagano plain is well seen. 

Origin of Kurahone castle

Precise year is unknown but Kurahone castle is said to be built by local lord Kiyono clan, a branch family of Murakami clan which was a strong local lord of Katsurao castle (Nagano prefecture). Originally Kiyono clan held their residence at Kiyono area, a flat place at the foot of Kurahone-yama mountain and protected its backside by "U" letter shaped mountain line and Chikuma-gawa river flows front side. At first, Kurahone castle might be a small evacuation place for Kiyono clan in case of emergency.

Kiyono clan prospered under Murakami clan, but since the middle of 16th century, Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture), intruded into Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) , beat the local lords such as Suwa clan or Ogasawara clan and captured southern half of the province by 1550. Shingen next aimed northern half of the province.

Seizure of Takeda army

Yoshikiyo Murakami (1501-1573), leader of Murakami clan, stubbornly resisted to invasion of Shingen, and broke Takeda army two times at the battle of Uedagahara and siege of Toishi castle (Nagano prefecture). But in 1550, Shingen fell Toishi castle which resisted physical attack of Takeda army by plot of his general Yukitaka Sanada (1513-1574, also called as Yukitsuna Sanada). 

Retainer of Murakami clan got distressed, and looking at this situation Takeda clan Looking at this chance, Yukitaka and other generals of Takeda clan urged retainers of Murakami clan to leave, and many retainers including Kiyono clan changed to Takeda side. Yoshikiyo became isolated finally gave up resistance and escaped to Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). Shingen now captured south half of Nagano basin, and used Kurahone castle as a regional headquarter.

But this was only just the start of long battle. Kenshin was originally close to Takanashi clan, the local lord at the north edge of Nagano basin now face pressure of Takeda clan. Furthermore, Nagano plain was only 50 kilometer apart from his main base Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture), and to let Shingen keep invasion is a risk to the security of his land. Kenshin decided to intervene to Nagano plain, and the campaign of Kawanakajima continued over 10 years had started.

Character of the battle of Kawanakajima

But different from general image, there was only a few field battle during the campaign, except for a famous one at the 4th battle. For Takeda side, this place was too far from his main base Yamanashi basin, and deep mountains obstructed movement of soldiers and supplies. 

On the other hand, it was not so difficult for Kenshin to march to here, but Kenshin had two fronts against Hojo clan in Kanto region and Takeda clan at Kawanakajima, thus there was a limited chance to send army to here. Furthermore, as both of Takeda clan and Uesugi clan were a typical feudal warlord, and the control of retainers might be stronger than ordinary lords but they could not force severe damage to retainers many times.

Because of such reasons, battle of Kawanakajima became a long-drawn battle. As there is a line of mountains at the both side of Chikuma-gawa river and flat land, both army built or strengthened castles at their own side then fixed their side, and if main army comes they make pressures to enemy castle and capture it with less damage if possible. From far sky, it might seem like backgammon game took long time, and Kurahone castle served as an important point of Takeda side.

Structure of Kurahone castle

Central area of Kurahone castle is a small square shaped flat space over corned shaped peak. Front side slope of central area is protected by stone wall consisted by small sliced stone pieces, built by local technology. Because of partial collapse it is difficult to grasp original shape, but there might be a small landing area and gate at the route from lower area. Eastside of central area is the backside of the castle, and this side is protected by combination of deep dry moat and sheer slope.

Outer areas of the castle spread to westward from central area. Between central area and deep dry moat at the middle of the castle, several terraces having stone walls are built digging the slope. Ahead of deep dry moat, a large flat area over 50 meter long are built utilizing gentle slope of the ridge, which might be built later as a camping and storage space. Western edge of central area is securely guarded by combination of two deep dry moats. Total size of the castle is about 300 meter long and average among mountain castles of this area.

Ahead of castle area, two dry moats are separately made, which might be used as a front line in castle of attack. There are several climbing road to castle from Saijo-san mountain and Amagi-yama mountain at northwest ward, from Kurashina area at southwest ward and Zoyama area at northeast ward. There are front forts such as Amagi castle, Washio castle and Takeyama castle, and these castles consisted securitized area over the mountain centered on Kurahone castle.

Only one decisive fight at 4th battle

Kenshin intruded into Nagano plain and attacked mountain castles including Kurahone castle built by Takeda army. But Kenshin could not show his talent of war praised as a god of war at castle siege, and Takada clan secured their castles. Contrary to this, utilizing the absence of Kenshin, Takeda clan made a plot and let the local lords of Kenshin side leave, then gradually expanded their territory. At last, in 1560 Shingen built Kaizu castle (current Matsushiro castle), a large and secure local base at plain, to fix the dominance of the area.

In response to this, next year Kenshin lead his army and marched to Nagano plain, and stayed at Saijosan mountain, the tip of the ridge from Kurahone castle. This was an unfavorable place for Kenshin being surrounded by Kurahone castle, Kaizu castle and Chikuma-gawa river, but Kenshin might intentionally place there to entice Takeda army and make decisive battle to turn over the situation.

Shingen stayed Hachimanpara, a flat area opposite of Chikuma-gawa river, had larger soldier then made detached force and attack Kenshin from backside. Shingen intended to push Uesugi army into the encirclement of Kurahone castle, Kaizu castle, detached force and his main force then exterminate, but Kenshin noticed this intention secretly went down from Saijo-san mountain and crossed Chikuma-gawa river, and made sudden attack to the main army of Shingen utilizing morning fog. 

As Shingen divided his army and smaller number of soldiers than Kenshin, then Kenshin made a immense damage to Takeda army including Nobushige Takeda (1525-1561), the trusted younger brother of Shingen, and Kansuke Yamamoto (1493-1561), the legendary military staff of Shingen and other generals. It is said that in the confused fight Kenshin directly slashed three times from the horseback, but Shingen sit on the military cheer defended it by his commanding rod. But soon detached force of Takeda army returned, then Kenshin became inferior left the battlefield.

After the banquet

At this fourth battle, both side suffered serious unexpected damage and did not directly fought again. Later front of Uesugi army changed to Ecchu province (Toyama prefecture) and one of Takeda army turned to Suruga province (Shizuoka prefecture), then both clan implicitly stooped the war and situation was fixed. Takeda army mainly used Kaizu castle as a local base because of convenience, but Kurahone castle was also kept. 

After the fall of Takeda clan in 1582, Uesugi clan once held Nagano plain but soon faced Hojo army marched from Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture) and seized eastern part of the province. Both army faced at Kawanakajima area then Uesugi army strengthened mountain castles including Kurahone castle surrounding Nagano plain again to stop Hojo army. 

But finally both army coordinated then no battle occurred. Around this time small mountain castle over distant mountain don't accommodate to modern combat with matchlock gun by large size army then Kurahone castle might be abolished soon.

Afterward of castle

Now all building is lost but structures of castle well remain on the mountain with partially remaining broken stone walls. From top of the castle, a wide scenery of Nagano plain surrounded by mountains and mountain castles is well seen, as a board of backgammon on which Shingen and Kenshin matched. 

Combination of several castles with deep clay walls and stone walls over the whole mountain shows clear strategy of Shingen which finally pushed out Kenshin from Nagano plain, in contrast to the castles of Uesugi clan at opposite which do not have clear relationship. It is necessary to walk long distance to reach to the castle, but it clearly shows hidden essence of the battle of Kawanakajima different from striking field battle. 


15 minutes drive from Joshinetsu-Jidoshado Expressway Nagano interchange to parking on Saijyosan hill. 90 minutes walk from parking to hilltop castle via Amagiyama-mountain. There is limited sign on the road and be careful not to lost in mountain.

Related Castles

Katsurao Castle -Lone tiger lived on a cliff-
Toishi Castle -Might and plot-
Matsushiro Castle -Important base used at fatal battle of two rivals-


Pictures (click to enlarge)


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