Monday, October 9, 2017

Buzen Nagano Castle -Hedgehog like castle with numerous dry moats-

Buzen Nagano Castle

-Hedgehog like castle with numerous dry moats-



Name: Buzen Nagano castle (Buzen Nagano-jo)
Place: Nagano Kokurakita-ku KitaKyushu city, Fukuoka
Location: 33.80916759011942, 130.9101080190718
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 12th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Buzen Nagano castle (豊前長野城) is built at Shiroyama mountain, one of about 200 meter height from hillside in the southeastern part of current Kitakyushu city, just the above of Nagano tunnel of Higashi-Kyushu expressway. Castle site is an important point of transportation where Kokura plain and Sone plain, two of three plains which consist Kitakyushu city meet, and many roads and railways runs near the castle.

From ancient era, Kokura plain has been at a main route from Honshu mainland to Hakata city, the vice capital and prosperous trade port of Japan and western coast route of Kyushu island. On the other hand, Sone plain was a entrance to the eastern coast road toward Bungo province (Oita prefecture) or Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture). 

Therefore, this place was a diverging point of three roads toward Honshu mainland road, Dazaifu and western coast road, and eastern coast road. This also means the holder of this area had to prepare toward the attack from three directions. This geographic condition brings a characteristic shape of this castle famous as a castle like a hedgehog.

Origin of Nagano castle

The origin of Buzen Nagano castle is unknown but it is said that it was built by local lord Nagano clan in 12th century, Nagano clan was a tributary of Taira clan, a military noble which seized the authority of the nation in the middle of 12th century, based on the economic gain from foreign trades with Chinese Song dynasty from Hakata port. 

Considering the importance of the area to connect Honshu main land and Hakata city, and also monitors the marine route of Kanmon straight, it was highly probable for Taira clan to place their relatives at this place. But on the battle between Taira clan and its rival Minamoto clan, Nagano clan belonged to Minamoto clan and became a retainer of Kamakura Shogunate. 

During Kamakura Shogunate, Nagano clan spreads their territory around the south part of Kokura plain and Sone plain. During this process, Nagano clan might be mixed with local lords, thus the name of Nagano clan spreads around the area but its history became incomprehensible from this point.

Among the struggle of strong lords

After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Kyushu island was once seized by the South Court army but then captured by Muromachi Shogunate army under its brilliant general Sadayo Imagawa (1324-1420). After the return of Sadayo Imagawa, Ouchi clan which was the governor of Suo and Nagato province (Yamaguchi prefecture) proceeded into Kyushu island and held Buzen province and Hakata area. 

Ouchi clan conflicted against Shoni clan, which was a traditional lord of Chikuzen province (Fukuoka prefecture) and Otomo clan that was another traditional governor of Bungo province (Oita prefecture) both aimed Hakata city from westward and southward. But Ouchi clan rejected the attacks of both clan。

Under such situation, Nagano clan became one of the major local lords of Buzen province but could not evolve into an independent authority. Ouchi clan placed their important retainer Sugi clan as the deputy governor of Buzen province, and Nagano clan had to work for Ouchi clan as their retainer.

Growth and castles of Nagano clan

Under Ouchi clan, Nagano clan expanded their territory into the south half of Kokura plain along with Murasaki-gawa river and its tributaries. Nagano clan built many branch castles such as Omitsuga-take castle and Komitsuga-take castle were built at the westward mountain as a emergency forts, Hiehata-yama castle at southward and Horikoshi castle at northward.

However, the main base of Nagano clan was still Buzen Nagano castle. It is located at the center of the territory of Nagano clan, and has a good perspective throughout their territory. Furthermore, castle site has a suitable flat place at hillside to build hillside residence protected by surrounding hills. Of course Nagano castle had been reformed and expanded along with the development of the clan.

Structure of Nagano castle

Buzen Nagano castle spreads over two line of ridges like a shape of compass prolong toward northwest from its peak. Central area of the castle is a triangle shaped one of about 50 meter long and 20 meter wide, holds small basement of watchtower and gate area. As this part is the edge of the valley between two ridges, layer of flat terraces were built to protect the attack from the valley.

From this central area. lines of clay walls over 300 meter were built along with two ridges toward outer forts built at the edge of both ridge. At the tip of eastern ridge there is the secondary area of the castle which is about 20 meter long and 10 meter wide, also has a basement of watch tower. On the other hand, at the tip of western ridge there is outer area consist of layer of three terraces. 

As a characteristic element of Buzen Nagano castle, numerous vertical dry moat were built around the outer slope of V letter structure without gap, line a hedgehog. As the outside slope of the castle is not so steep, it might be built to prevent the climbing of the enemy and make it easy to hit enemy soldiers approach in a row. 

Especially the backside of central area which is connected to backside is the weak point of the castle, the slope of this area is securely protected by the combination of vertical dry moats over 50 meter long, looks like a waved galvanized steel plate. Secondary area is also guarded by dry moats, and total number of vertical moats exceeds 200. The number and size of motes are prominent only seen at Obasawa castle (Niigata prefecture).

Merciless attack from two lords

In 1551, the stability of Nagano clan was suddenly lost. At that year Ouchi clan was virtually ruined by the coup d'etat of their retainer Sue clan, and Sugi clan which was the deputy governor of Buzen province also was extinguished among the disorder. North part of Kyushu island became the target of conflict between Mouri clan which ruined Sue clan and became the ruler of Chugoku region, and Otomo clan grew into a strong warlord.

Territory of Nagano clan became a critical point of both of Mouri clan which tried to proceed from Moji area across Kanmon Straight and Otomo plan aimed to push out Mouri clan. As this area was far apart from the main base of both clans, if the one attacked the area with large army, local power had to face it without the reinforcement army from the other. Nagano clan tried to survive by dividing their clan into both side.

In 1566, Otomo clan sent large army to Nagano territory. Nagano clan besiege at Komitsuga-take castle, but had to surrender to Otomo clan. However, two years later, this time Mouri clan marched to Kyushu island with large army and attacked Nagano clan. Nagano clan besiege at Omitsuga-take castle and Komitsuga-take castle again, but both castle fell before Mouri army then many person and soldiers of Nagano clan was lost.

Survival as small lord

Finally in 1569 Mouri clan gave up the seizure of Hakata city and retreated from Kyushu island, but still held Moji area and Kokura area. Nagano clan barely survived as a small lord under Otomo clan, but Mouri clan and Otomo clan concentrated on another front thus Nagano clan was not involved further battle.

In 1578, Otomo clan suffered fatal defeat before Shimazu clan, the warlord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) at the battle of Mimikawa. Tanezane Akizuki (1548-1596), the lord of Chikuho area at Koshosan castle (Fukuoka prefecture) left Otomo clan and spread their territory at northeastern part of Kyushu island.

As the leader of Nagano clan at this time was originally the person of Akizuki clan, Nagano clan followed to Akizuki clan along with Takahashi clan which was the lord of Kokura castle. Akizuki clan temporally became a strong power of the area, and Nagano clan was appointed as the lord of Umagatake castle, an important castle of Nakatsu area.

End of clan and afterward

However, in 1587, central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) marched to Kyushu island to rescue Otomo clan and subjugate Shimazu clan. Akizuki clan tried to resist against Hideyoshi, but lost their branch castle Ganjaku castle in one day and surrendered. Nagano clan also followed to Hideyoshi but was expelled, thus the history of Nagano clan and Buzen Nagano castle ended at this point.

Now all building was lost and access road to castle is severely collapsed, but structure of the castle including characteristic vertical dry moats well remain in the forest and bush. A combination of massive line of dry moats and technically built line of clay walls shows strong will of Nagano clan to protect their castle by any means. 

But the history of Nagano clan also shows this hedgehog expanded spines to every direction could not protect itself from strong warlords like large and furious carnivorous animals. It is quite difficult to express waving impression of dry moats in monotonous photos, but it is quite vivid and powerful if actually seen. 


40 minutes walk or taxi ride from JR Kyushu Nippo Honsen line to Nagano Ryokuchi park. Enter Nagano Rindo (forest road) from backside of the park and pass under expressway then walk 15 minutes to the above of Nagano tunnel, but it might be impossible to access from forest road soon due to collapse of the road. Before the right turn curve the entrance is hidden by bush. 10 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Kokura-Higashi interchange to Nagano Ryokuchi park.

Related Castles

Obasawa Castle -Numerous dry moat defense line toward strong relative-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

No comments:

Post a Comment