Saturday, May 27, 2017

Noshima Castle -Ship like castle of sea clan lived at swift tide-

Noshima Castle

-Ship like castle of sea clan lived at swift tide-



Name: Noshima castle (Noshima-jo)
Place: Miyakubocho Imabari city, Ehime
Type: Hill Castle
Built: Around 1500
Remaining remnants: Clay walls 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Noshima castle (能島城) spreads over whole part of Noshima island, a three fin propeller like shaped island of 200 meter diameter exists at the middle of narrow straight between Hakata-jima island and Ujima island. Noshima island is located just at the south of Funaori-Seto sea route, which has been the major sea route at Geiyo islands runs straightly between Omishima island and Hakata-jima island or Ujima island.  

There are three route of bridges between Honshu mainland and Shikoku island across Seto-Naikai sea, it mean Naruto Kobe route passes Awaji island, Kojima-Sakaide route runs over Shiwaku island, and Imabari-Onomichi route crosses Geiyo-Shoto island. All of these routes are built using three group of small islands of Setonaikai sea, as it is impossible to built one direct connecting bridge because of technical and budget limitation.

Sea clans at Seto-Naikai sea

In medieval era, of course there was no bridge, but these small island were also used as a crossing route between both side. Additionally, these island became a safe anchorage for ships to pass typhoons or storm. On the other hand, narrow straights between island brings swift current, and every ship needed navigator to pass these area. Furthermore, it was possible to control marine transportation between Kinki region and western Japan, by shutting limited control points.

Because of these reason, sea clan had prospered at these islands from ancient era. In peace time, people of these sea clans engaged in marine transportation and commerce, and also acted as navigators of passing ships with tolls. In wartime, utilizing high skilled shippers these clans turned to the navy and attacked enemy area from sea and obstructed supply transportation of enemy. 

People around Geiyo islands, Shiwaku islands and Awaji island were called as Murakami navy, Shiwaku navy and Awa navy respectively. These people are often called as pirates, but it was totally different from so called pirates such as Caribbean pirates but more closer to Vikings, and had played important roles in the history.

Seto-Naikai sea in ancient era

In 939, Sumitomo Fujiwara (893-941) who was a distant relative of Fujiwara clan which was the highest noble family, gathered local sea people and rebelled to the government. As it occurred simultaneously with the rebellion of Masakado Taira (?-940) and it was difficult to defeat marine people hided at island, it took two years to suppress this rebellion.

After the fall of Sumitomo Fujiwara defiant activities of sea clans still continued, but since 11th century Taira clan became the governor of western Japan controlled these sea clans and controlled Setonaikai sea. Maritime trade of Setonaikai sea toward continent became an economic base of Taira clan, and based on its wealth Kiyomori Taira (1118-1181), the leader of Taira clan, became the grand minister and established his government prior to Kamakura Shogunate.

At the conflict between Taira clan and Minamoto clan after the death of Kiyomori, sea clans at Setonaikai sea at first supported Taira clan. But after the defeat of Taira clan at the battle of Yashima, these clans turned to Minamoto clan, and contributed to the victory of Minamoto clan at the battle of Dannoura, a large naval battle occurred at narrow path of Kanmon straight.

Three houses of Murakami clan

After the fall of Taira clan, Kamakura Shogunate let the control of Setonaikai sea to Kono clan, a local lord which belonged to Minamoto clan and became the governor of Iyo province (Ehime prefecture). At the same time, people of Murakami clan which was a distant relative of Minamoto clan and lived at north part of Shinano province (Nagano prefecture), moved to Setonaikai sea and lived at small island. 

Later Murakami clan divided into three houses, which were Innoshima Murakami family which lived at Innoshima island in the north part of islands, Noshima Murakami family resided at Noshima island, and Kurushima Murakami family stayed at Kurushima castle of Kurushima island at the south edge of straight. These three families cooperatively controlled naval supremacy of Setonaikai sea.

Because of its geographical condition, Kurushima Murakami clan which was the closest to Shikoku island had a deep relationship with Kono clan, which was the governor of Iyo province (Ehime prefecture), and Innoshima Murakami clan also belonged to Mouri clan which held Onomichi area, the opposite shore of Innoshima island. Contrary to this, Noshima Murakami family kept relatively neutral position at the center of the straight.

Development of Noshima Murakami clan

In 15th century, Noshima Murakami clan activated at all around of Seto-Naikai sea, supporting Muromachi Shogunate. In 1499 Yoshitane Ashikaga (1466-1523), the 10th Shogun of Muromachi Shogunate but was expelled from Kyoto city facing the coup d'?tat of Hosokawa clan, failed in the counterattack to Hosokawa clan and headed to Ouchi clan, the warlord of Suo province (Yamaguchi prefecture). 

At this time Masafusa Murakami (1431-1515), the leader of Noshima Murakami clan, welcomed Yoshitane at Noshima island. Furthermore, next year when Ouchi clan marched to Kyoto city with Yoshitane Ashikaga, Masafusa Murakami followed this expedition and activated at both sea and land. Masafusa Murakami also built Noshima castle as the main base of Noshima Murakami clan.

Structure of Noshima castle

Noshima castle is built shaping Noshima island into several terraces. Central area of the castle is a rectangular area of about 20 meter long and 10 meter side, which might have main building . At the three ridges from east, west and south from central area, secondary area, third area and outer area were built respectively. Seen from outside, its exterior seems as a ship with a layer of flat terraces like a deck and bridge.

Between secondary area and outer area, a crescent shaped flat terraces was built by reclamation, which might be used as a ground of residence. As only north shore of the island is not affected by swift current, this part is used as an anchorage and there still remain holes at the rock which used to build piles tying ropes to fix ships.

At the south of outer area, ahead of narrow straight, there is a small island named Taizaki island which was used for outer fort. It is said that Noshima castle and this outer fort was connected by bridge. Total size of the castle is about 200 meter diameter and seems too small as a main base of Noshima Murakami clan, the largest sea clan in Japan.

For this point, they had their large residence at Miyakubo area of Hakatajima island where sightseeing ship starts and lived there in peacetime. Shipyards, workshops and warehouses were built at next Ujima island, and watching place was built Michika-jima island just at the straight. Noshima castle is used as a symbol of Murakami clan and reception hall in peacetime, and also as an evacuation place in wartime.

Peak period of Murakami clan

In the middle of 16th century, along with the rise of marine transportation, Murakami clan prospered as the largest sea clan and was recorded so by Christian missionary who passed this area. But different from former period, the freedom of Noshima Murakami clan was gradually lost by the strengthening land powers. 

At the battle of Itsukushima in 1551 between Harukata Sue (1521-1555) and Motonari Mouri (1497-1571), as Harukata tried to deprive the right of Murakami clan, Takeyoshi Murakami (1533-1604), the leader of Noshima Murakami clan, supported Motonari Mouri along with Innnoshima Murakami clan and Kurushima Murakami clan.

At this battle Murakami navy encircled Itsukushima island and prevented the escaped of Harukata who was broken by the sudden attack of Motonari. Succeeding to this, Takeyoshi Murakami also cooperated with Motonari who marched to Yamaguchi city, the main base of Harukata, and also prevented the leave of enemy. 

Pressures from land powers

But at the both edge of Seto-Naikai sea, Otomo clan which was the lord of Bungo province (Oita prefecture) and Miyoshi clan at Awa province (Tokushima prefecture) became strong. Noshima Murakami clan tried to keep neutral between these clan, but was attacked by Mouri clan then was forced to cooperate with Mouri clan.

After that Noshima Murakami clan became the navy of Mouri clan. At the first battle at  the mouth of Kizu-gawa river occurred in 1576, Noshima Murakami navy gave fatal damage to Kuki navy under by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) and succeeded to supply foods to Honganji temple encircled by Nobunaga.

But Nobunaga restored Kuki navy with six large ships protected by iron sheet, and broke Murakami navy at the second battle occurred in 1578. Since then, Hideyoshi Hashiba (1537-1598, later Hideyoshi Toyotomi), the regional commander of Nobunaga, started his campaign against Mouri clan.

Hideyoshi tried to turn Murakami navies to his side, then Kurushima Murakami clan actually changed to Hideyoshi. Noshima Murakami army stayed at Mouri clan and captured Kurushima island where was the main base of Kurushima Murakami clan, but at the death of Nobunaga Oda in 1582, Hideyoshi and Mouri clan coordinated at superiority of Hideyoshi.

End of history as sea clan and afterward of castle

Hideyoshi who became the next ruler angered at Noshima Murakami clan which attacked Kurushima Murakami clan, and forced Noshima Murakami clan to leave Noshima island. Furthermore, Hideyoshi who thought the marine transportation of Seto-Naikai sea as lifeline of his government for both of economy and foreign expansion, strictly banned the activity of sea clan including charging guarding fees in 1588.

After that Noshima Murakami clan was punished for charging fees, and was forced to leave Seto-Naikai sea then moved to the territory of Mouri clan. After the death of Hideyoshi at the battle of Sekigahara occurred in 1600, Motoyoshi Murakami (1553-1600), the next leader of Murakami clan, attacked Masaki castle (Ehime prefecture) under Mouri clan but died there. Noshima Murakami clan barely survived as the naval officer of Hagi domain held by Mouri clan.

After the leave of Noshima Murakami clan, Noshima castle was abolished. As Noshima island was inconvenient because of its small size and surrounding swift current, Noshima island has been kept as uninhabited. 

Formerly the exterior was only seen from sightseeing ship, but along with the nomination of Murakami Navy as a cultural heritage of Japan, it became possible to land to Noshima island by guide tour. Swirling tide seen from castle site exactly shows turbulent history of Noshima Murakami clan, once prospered as the largest sea clan in Japan but finally disappeared by the pressure of land powers. 


15 minutes drive from Shimanami-Kaido Expressway Oshima-Kita interchange to sightseeing ship port at Miyaura port. Exterior is seen from tide sightseeing ship everyday but only landed by guide tour held at only weekend needs prior booking.

Related Castles

Kurushima Castle -Island base of sea clan protected by swift current-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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