Monday, December 26, 2016

Sugaya Castle -Well-built clay castle without clear holder-

Sugaya Castle

-Well-built clay castle without clear holder-



Name: Sugaya castle (Sugaya-Yakata)
Place: Sugaya Ranzan town, Saitama
Location: 36.035203272664006, 139.32245869316793
Type: Flat Castle
Built: Unknown
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Sugaya Castle (菅谷舘) is built on the river terrace of Tokigawa river near the center of Ranzan town, the one exists in the middle part of current Saitama prefecture. Tokigawa river is a large tributary of Arakawa river which flows from Chichibu mountain along with its tributary Tsukikawa river, and have valleys at upstream. Sugaya Castle is located near the merging point of Tokigawa river and Tsukikawa river, and was an important place for river transportation.

Along with this geographical condition, in medieval era, the western route of Kamakura Kaido road which connected various area of Kanto region and Kamakura city, the main base of Kamakura Shogunate, passed just next of Sugaya Castle. As a structure of Kanto plain, major part of current Gunma prefecture such as Maebashi area or Ota area is at the northwestern edge of Kanto plain and just at the north of Kamakura city.

Because of this positional relationship, different from current traffic network which passes Tokyo metropolis, old Kamakura Kaido road run along with edge of Chichibu mountain and linearly connected Kamakura area and Maebashi area north and southward. Sugaya area is the connecting point of north and southward Kamakura Kaido road, and east and westward river transportation line, thus it was an appropriate point to control the traffic and store materials.

Unknown origin of Sugaya castle

The origin of Sugaya Castle is totally unknown. except for a tradition that this was originally a residence of Shigetada Hatakeyama (1164-1205), a famous Samurai at the beginning of Kamakura Shogunate. Shigetada Hatakeyama was a local lord who was the descendent of Chichibu clan, and one of the local Samurai groups spread around Kanto plain.

At the conflict between Taira clan and Minamoto clan, Shigetada Hatakeyama at first belonged to Taira clan, but later served to Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of Kamakura Shogunate who once lost at the battle of Ishibashiyama but later regained his power and captured Kanto region.

Shigetada who served to Yoritomo activated at many battles against Yoshinaka Minamoto (1154-1184) or Taira clan. At the battle of Ujigawa-river, Shigetada crossed stream of Ujigawa river as a vanguard of Yoshitsune Minamoto (1159-1189), the younger brother of Yoritomo and talented general. After that Shigetada was described at many battles such as the battle of Ichinotani or Yashima in military tales but it is unknown if these stories are true or not.

Legend of ideal Samurai

In addition to the braveness, Shigetada was also famous for his honest character and culture. At the battle against Oshu Fujiwara clan, Shigetada not only broke the vanguard of Oshu Fujiwara clan at the battle of Atsukashiyama, but also deeply trusted by captured enemy generals. 

Furthermore, it is also recorded Shigetada accompanied with Shizuka-Gozen (1165-1221), a captured concubine of Yoshitsune Minamoto who played Japanese dance before Yoritomo Minamoto. As above, Shigetada Hatakeyama was praised as an ideal Samurai of the time.

But after the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate, Hatakeyama clan was involved into severe political conflict of Shogunate. In 1203 Yoshikazu Hiki (?-1203), neighbor local lord was extinguished by Hojo clan which attempted to seize the power at Shogunate. 

In 1204, Hojo clan next aimed at Shigetada Hatakeyama, then made a false charge of rebellion to Shigetada and made fake order to Shigetada to visit Kamakura city. Shigetada. Shigetada left Sugaya Castle and went ahead to Kamakura city, but were   assaulted at current Yokohama city and died there. 

However, because of his popularity Kamakura Shogunate did not erase Hatakeyama clan then let the relative of Shogun to succeed the name of Hatakeyama clan. It is not clear if Shigetada Hatakeyama held his residence at current Sugaya Castle, but considering its location there might be something related to Shigetada at this place.

Expected usage under Hojo clan

After the long time, in the former half of 16th century, western part of current Saitama prefecture became the battlefield between Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan which was the lord of current Tokyo metropolis and Kanagawa prefecture, and Yamanouchi Uesugi clan which was the house of Kanto-Kanrei (general governor of Kanto region) and held northwestern part of Kanto region.

Both party conflicted nearly 50 years and many castle of Hiki area such as Hachigata castle, Musashi-Matsuyama castle or Sugiyama Castle were built or expanded during this battle. But before the pressure of rising Hojo clan which was the lord of Odawara castle (Kanagawa castle), Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan was ruined at the battle of Kawagoe castle occurred in 1546, and Yamanouchi Uesugi clan was also expelled from Kanto region. 

Hojo clan captured current Saitama prefecture placed their relative Ujikuni Hojo (1541-1597) as the commander of Hachigata castle and regional commander in north part of Kanto region. By a curious coincidence, Hojo clan had a same structure as Kamakura Shogunate for the point that governed whole part of Kanto plain from the southwestern edge. Because of this, Kamakura Kaido road was an important road for Hojo clan which connected their main base Odawara castle to their major branch castles such as Takiyama castle or Hachigata castle.

By 1570, Hojo clan pushed out Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) who made long expedition to Musashi province (Tokyo metropolis and Saitama prefecture), and stabilized local dominance. Instead of secure but narrow mountain castle, Hojo clan might have needed more large and convenient base at this area. Sugaya Castle might be built under such circumstance.

Structure of Sugaya castle

Sugaya Castle is built utilizing the river terraces separated by two valleys. Central area of the castle is a rectangular shaped area of 200 meter long and 100 meter wide, being surrounded by nearly five meter tall huge clay wall. Entrance of this area is built at the middle of north line, and being protected by projection at the side of the gate.

From south to west and north of central area, secondary area and South area surround the central area. In front of central area there is a small area separated by dry moat, and this might be a center gate of the castle. Outside of these area, outer areas such as third area or Western area are built toward north, the front line of the castle. 

Total size of Sugaya Castle is about 500 meter long square and quite huge at this area. Well planned structure of the castle with advanced technologies such as Masugata gate or folded clay wall, and its huge size are totally different from the castle at the age of Shigetada Hatakeyama. Only Hojo clan could built such a castle.

Well made castle without clear history

But in spite of fineness, there is no record for the lord or commander of Sugaya castle. Hojo clan at late period developed highly organizational military structure, and their local based might be managed by not particular local lord but rotation of several generals such as current companies. The inconsistency of magnificent castle ruin and no information of holders might bring the legend of Shigetada Hatakeyama to this castle.

Same as its origin, its end is also unclear. After the fall of Hojo clan in 1590, next lord Tokugawa clan placed their main base at Edo castle, thus the importance of Kamakura Kaido road significantly declined then Sugaya Castle might cease its history. 

Now castle site is used as a park and ground of local museum, but major part of clay walls and dry moats well remain all around of the castle. Today Sugaya Castle is nominated as a national historical site as "Castles and residences at Hiki area", along with Musashi-Matsuyama castle, Sugiyama castle and Ogura castle. In spite of the lack of historical information, well made structure of the castle has a sufficient value only by itself.


15 minutes walk from Tobu Tojosen line Musashi-Ranzan station. 15 minutes drive from Kanetsu-Jidoshado Expressway Higashi-Matsuyama interchange.

Related Castles

Ogura Castle -Mountain castle with brick wall at beautiful valley-
Musashi Matsuyama castle -Gathering point of three powerful warlords-
Sugiyama Castle -Masterpiece of tactical level castle-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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