Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Kishidake Castle -Magnificent mountain castle with sad history-

Kishidake Castle

-Magnificent mountain castle with sad history-



Name: Kishidake castle / Kishitake castle (Kishidake-jo / Kishitake-jo)
Place: Ouchicho Karatsu city, Saga
Location: 33.35712736749309, 129.97627188446035
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Kishidake castle (岸岳城) is located at Kishidake mountain, one of about 250 meter tall from hillside at the root of Higashi-Matsuura peninsula in the north part of current Saga prefecture. Kishidake mountain places at the merging point of Matsuura-gawa river which flows into Karatsu-bay and its tributary Tokusue-gawa river, and at the middle of narrow flat area at the root of Higashi-Matsuura peninsula separated from Fukuoka plain, Saga plain and Sasebo area by mountains.

Higashi-Matsuura peninsula is a rectangular shaped one of 15 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide surrounded by winding rias coast. Utilizing good ports at rias coast Higashi-Matsuura peninsula prospered for fishery, and large ports such as Karatsu port or Imari port had been used as trading ports to the continent because of its geographical location as the shortest sea route passing Iki island and Tsushima island. Kishidake castle exists at the middle of Karatsu port and Imari port and also at the path to Saga plain then it was a good place to manage whole part of peninsula.

Origin of Matsura party

In medieval era, utilizing above conditions, northwestern coast area of Kyushu island was governed by Matsuura party which engaged in fishery and marine trade and worked as naval force in the battle. The origin of Matsuura party is unknown but is said as a descendant of Toru Minamoto (822-895), the son of Emperor Saga (786-842). Descendants of Toru Minamoto turned to samurai and became the leader of the navy at Setonaikai Sea, and one of their branch family moved to Matsuura area and named as Matsura party.

Matsura party communicated with local residents and widely spread into Higashi-Matsuura peninsula and Kita-Matsuura peninsula. Main family of Matsura clan resided at Kajitani castle at the west coast of Imari bay, and their branch families named as Hata clan, Sashi clan or Yamashiro clan from the name of territory. 

Among Matsuura party, lords of Higashi-Matsuura peninsula was called as Kami-Matsura To (upper Matsura party), and Hata clan which built Kishidake castle was the leader. On the other hand, lords at Kita-Matsuura party was said as Shimo-Matsura To (lower Matsura party), and originally lead by main family of Matsura clan but later replaced by Hirado Matsura clan later built Hirado castle (Nagasaki prefecture).

Prosperity of Hata clan

At the battle of Minamoto clan and Taira clan in the latter half of 12th century, Matsura party supported Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), the founder of Kamakura Shogunate, at the naval battle of Dannoura the contributed to the establishment of Shogunate. Furthermore, at the invasions of Chinese Yuan Dynasty and Korean Koryo Kingdom in 1274 and 1283, the territory of Matsura party suffered severe damage from invasion but Matsura party bravely fought and contributed the repulse of the enemy.

After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Hata clan survived turbulent period and grew into a major local lord in the area. As Ouchi clan, the warlord of Nagato province (Yamaguchi prefecture) and also held large territory at north part Kyushu island, only asked nominal subordination to Matsura party, Hata clan kept their autonomy. 

In the latter half of 15th century, Hata clan captured Iki island from other Matsura party then directly traded with the continent and gained substantial profit. Hata clan prospered as a strong warlord of the area, and expanded their residence Kishidake castle which originally built around 14th century into huge mountain castle. Along with Hata clan, Kishidake castle became the center in the north half of Hizen province (Saga prefecture), along with its branch castle Shishigajo castle.

Structure of Kishidake castle

Kishidake castle spreads over reverse J letter shaped long ridge of Kishidake mountain continues from northwest to southeast over 1 kilometer. At the northwest edge of the hill, there is a large stone with a hall, which is told to hold the flag of the clan. This area has a good scenery toward Karatsu area thus used as a watching place.

Ahead of the long and narrow path separated by natural rocks, there is dry moat made by digging rock which might be the outer gate of the castle. Inside of this dry moat, long and narrow third area  continues over 300 meter again toward secondary dry moat which has stone walls at both side.

Inside of this dry moat, secondary area which originally had stone wall at both slope prolonged over 200 meter. At the south end of secondary area, there is a ruin of destructed Masugata style complex gate which might be the main gate toward south, At the middle of secondary area, the ruin of well formed by stone walls still remains.

Ahead of secondary area, central area of over 100 meter long is built at the top of mountain. At the northern slope of central area there is a corridor area, and magnificent turret basement built by stone wall remains. At the eastern end of central area toward Sanzaemonmaru area stone wall well remain and keep the shape of the gate. Total length of the castle exceeds over 1 kilometer, and shows the prosperity of Hata clan.

Sudden fall of Hata clan

However, at the middle of 16th century, Hata clan significantly lost their power by internal conflict for successors. Kishidake castle was once deprived by opponent, and later Hata clan recovered it but lost Iki castle as an important source of wealth. Furthermore, Takanobu Ryuzoji (1529-1584) who was the lord of Saga castle drastically grew his power and intruded into north part of Hizen province, then Hata clan had to subordinate to Ryuzoji clan.

When Takanobu died at the battle of Okitanawate against Shimazu clan which was the warlord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture), Hata clan changed to Shimazu clan once seized most part of Kyushu island. But when central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) marched to Kyushu island and beat Shimazu clan in 1587, 

Hata clan was once approved to continue under coordination of Naoshige Nabeshima (1538-1618), the chancellor of Ryuzoji clan, but did not build good relationship with Hideyoshi. But seven years after, during foreign expedition, Hata clan was suddenly confiscated their territory and expelled by Hideyoshi Toyotomi blaming for non obedience in 1594. 

Sad tale of castle

Hideyoshi built Hizen Nagoya castle as main base for foreign campaign at the territory of Hata clan, thus Hata clan might dissatisfied this. On the other hand, Hideyoshi needed whole Higashi-Matsuura peninsula as a strategic base, and also wanted trade interest held by Hata clan. Furthermore, as a effect of long internal conflict, Hata clan could not make decision well.

The leader of Hata clan was sent to Hitachi province and died there. It is not clear if it is true or not, but there is a tale that at this time retainers of Hata clan who knew the impossibility of revival of Hata clan killed themselves near the castle in despair or gathered but were killed by Toyotomi army. Because of this tale, Kishidake castle was feared with sympathy to Hata clan.

The territory of Hata clan was held by Hirotaka Terasawa (1563-1633), a confident general of Hideyoshi. Hirotaka engaged in the construction of Hizen Nagoya castle and backside support of campaign, then achieved Higashi-Matsura peninsula as a territory. Kishidake castle might reformed under Terasawa clan into modern castle equips stone walls.

Afterward of castle

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, at the conflict between Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who was the largest lord under Toyotomi government and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief magistrate of Hideyoshi, Hirotaka Terasawa belonged to Ieyasu and became the feudal lord under Edo Shogunate. In 1602 Hirotaka started to build Karatsu castle (Saga prefecture) at the coast of Karatsu bay, and moved there in 1608 then Kishidake castle might be abolished at this time.

Now all building was lost but ruins of stone walls remain around the castle. Long continuing areas with broken large stones well shows the prosperity of Hata clan and importance of Kishidake castle under Toyotomi government. Today car road is connected to the halfway of the mountain, and it is rather easy to approach to the entrance of the castle, but the length from the entrance to central area is longer than approach route from parking to entrance. To remember Kishidake castle and Hata clan might be the best consolation to the clan disappeared by sad fate.


40 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Taku interchange to halfway parking enters from the side of Hata-Hachiman shrine at the northwest of Kishidake mountain. 

Related Castles

Shishigajo Castle -Fusion of wild rock and modern structure-
Karatsu Castle -Picturesque castle at the coast-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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