Saturday, October 20, 2018

Hirai Castle -Castle of authority who lost everything throughout life-

Hirai Castle

-Castle of authority who lost everything throughout life-



Name: Hirai castle (Hirai-jo)
Place: Nishi-Hirai, Fujioka city, Gunma
Type: Flat castle and mountain Castle
Built: 15th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Hirai castle (平井城) consists of Hirai castle and Hirai Kanayama castle at the southwest from current Fujioka city central. Castle site is the point where Ayu-kawa river which is a tributary of Kabura-kawa river flows from Chichibu Mountains to Kanto plain. Erosion of Ayu-kawa river works as natural moat of two castles.

It seems Hirai area is apart from center of Gunma prefecture such as Takasaki area or Maebashi area and just aside of the mountain, but this area is an important point where Shimonita-Kaido road and Jukkoku-Kaido road both connected Saki region of Nagano prefecture to Kanto region. Even now many trains and roads run around Fujioka city.

Origin of Hirai castle and Uesugi clan

Precise year is unknown but Hirai castle might be built in the former half of 15th century by Uesugi clan, which was Kanto Kanrei, a general counsel of Muromachi Shogunate in Kanto Region. Uesugi clan was originally a middle-class noble resided at Tanba province (Kyoto prefecture), but later became a retainer of Kamakura Shogunate.

As the mother of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of Muromachi Shogunate, was a person of Uesugi clan, Uesugi clan became an important retainer of Muromachi Shogunate. Because of the distance between Kanto region and Kyoto city, Muromachi Shogunate placed their relative as Kamakura Kubo, a hereditary representative of Shogunate at Kanto region,

But at the same time, Shogunate also tried to control Kamakura Kubo not to leave from Shogunate. For this purpose, Shogunate placed Kanto Kanrei as the counsel of Kamakura Kubo, and directly nominated it by Shogunate. 

Conflict with Kamakura Kubo and build of Hirai castle

At first Kanto Kanrei was held by several clans but the monopolized by Yamanouchi Uesugi clan and the structure of Ashikaga clan at Kamakura Kubo and Uesugi clan of Kanto Kanrei. Kanto Kanrei had military command to the lords in Kanto region thus it became one of the highest statuses in Muromachi Shogunate.

But this diarchy held inherent instability between Kamakura Kubo which tied to reject the interference from Muromachi Shogunate and Kanto Kanrei connected to Shogunate. In 1438, there arose a rumor that Kamakura Kubo Mochiuji Ashikaga (1398-1439) would kill Kanto Kanrei, thus Norizane Uesugi (1410?-1466?), the leader of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan and Kanto Kanrei, escaped from Kamakura city to his territory Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture).

It is said that Hirai castle was built by Nagao clan, a high-class retainer of Uesugi clan at this time. As Kamakura Kubo tried to subjugate Uesugi clan and sent their army to Hirai castle, Norizane Uesugi asked assistance to Muromachi Shogunate, thus Shogunate sent army of surrounding lords as reinforcement. These army fell Kamakura city then Mochiuji killed himself and once situation became stabilized.

Long campaign against Kamakura Kubo and Kageharu Nagao

However, in 1455, Shigeuji Ashikaga (1438-1497), son of Mochiuji and returned to Kamakura Kubo under the support of Uesugi clan, assassinated next Kanto Kanrei Noritada Uesugi (1433-1455). Uesugi clan raised their army against Kanto Kanrei under the support from Shogunate and pushed out Shigeuji from Kamakura city but Shigeuji moved his main base to Koga castle and continued his military action.

In the mean time, at Kyoto city where was the capital of Ashikaga Shogunate there arouse Onin no Ran, and Shogunate could not intervene to Kanto region. In addition to this, Kageharu Nagao (1443-1514) who was an important retainer of Uesugi clan but could not succeed the chancellor of Uesugi clan raised his army against Uesugi clan. Both side did not have decisive power then the conflict continued over 30 years.

Facing the rebellion of Kageharu Nagao, Dokan Ota (1432-1486), an important retainer of Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan, a branch family of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan, firmly secured south half of Musashi province (Tokyo metropolis and Saitama prefecture) such as Edo castle (Tokyo metropolis) or Kawagoe castle (Saitama prefecture) and defeated Kageharu, but this meant Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan captured the territory of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan and became independent power.

Decline of both Uesugi clan and rise of Hojo clan

After the cease of rebellion of Kageharu Nagao, this time the conflict arose between Yamanouchi Uesugi clan and Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan. The conflict continued long time involving surrounding warlords and Kageharu Nagao who returned to Kanto region, but finally ceased at the superior of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan. But utilizing this conflict, Soun Hojo (1456-1519) who seized Izu province (Izu peninsula) captured Odawara castle (Kanagawa prefecture) and entered into Kanto region.

Furthermore, in 1510, Akisada Uesugi (1454-1510), the leader of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan, intruded into Echigo province to revenge the death of his younger brother Fusayoshi Uesugi (1474-1507) who killed himself by the rebellion of his deputy governor Tamekage Nagao (1486-1543). But facing the counter attack of Tamekage, Akisada also killed himself then the power and authority of Uesugi clan significantly declined.

Moreover, After the death of Akisada, there were internal conflict for successor in two generations, and this was fatal to Uesugi clan. At that time Hojo clan gradually expanded their territory and captured Sagami province defeating Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan and finally captured Edo castle, most important castle in Kanto region. 

At last in 1546, ancient regime of Kanto region including Koga Kubo highness, Yamanouchi Uesugi clan and Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan allied and encircled Hojo army at Kawagoe castle (Saitama prefecture). But unprepared allied army faced despaired night attack of Hojo army and suffered fatal defeat then  Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan ruined by the death of their leader. 

Norimasa Uesugi (1523-1579), the leader of Yamanouchi Uesugi clan, barely left the battlefield and could return to Hirai castle. But Uesugi clan fell into local lord of Kozuke province and had to face the power of Hojo clan which seizure Musashi province. Norimasa enhanced his main base Hirai castle expecting the invasion of Hojo clan.

Structure of Hirai castle

Hirai castle is a flat castle built at left riverside of Ayu-kawa river. Central area of the castle is about 100 meter long square shaped area surrounded by clay wall, having secondary area at its west and third area at the north. The size of outer wall is about 700 meter long and 300 meter wide, which might include castle town.

Hirai caste is a mountain castle built as an inner castle at 2 kilometer southwest from Hirai castle. Castle mountain is about 150 meter height from hillside, and core area of the castle spreads over its main ridge spreads east and westward. Central area is a triangle shaped one of 40 meter long at the peak, and several terraces are built at both side of central area.

A ridge spreads toward north from central area is a main route from Hirai castle. Over 10 areas are built on the gentle slope of long continuing ridge, and at the tip of the ridge there is a remnant of barrack gate which is secured by stone wall. Total size of Hirai Kanayama castle is about 400 meter long and 300 meter wide, and its size and structure shows the authority and power of Uesugi clan even though declining.

Loss of Hirai castle and successor

Even though losing his army at Kawagoe castle, Norimasa Uesugi still had the fame as Kanto Kanrei and his territory around north half of Musashi province and Kozuke province. But facing the pressure from Hojo clan, major retainer of Musashi province such as Oishi clan at Takiyama castle (Tokyo metropolis) or Fujita clan at Hachigata castle (Saitama prefecture) turned to Hojo clan.

Furthermore, in 1547, Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture), intruded into Saku providence of Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) which was a backyard of Uesugi clan and attacked Uchiyama castle (Nagano prefecture). Norimasa sent reinforcement army but suffered severe defeat at the battle of Otaihara before Takeda army and this accelerated the fall of Uesugi clan.

In 1552, Hojo clan captured whole part of Musashi province at last advanced into Kozuke province. Major retainer of Uesugi clan soon turned to Hojo clan, and as Hirai castle located near the border to Musashi province, Norimasa could not hold Hirai castle and escaped it. At this time his three year old son was left and was captured by Hojo clan then killed. Norimasa lost his castle and son at once.

Exile to Echigo province

As there was no power to accept Norimasa in Kozuke province, Norimasa had to ask assistance to Kagetora Nagao (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province. Nagao clan was originally a retainer of Uesugi clan and grandfather of Norimasa was killed by the father of Kagetora but there was no other choice. 

Kagetora accepted Norimasa, and nominally became an adopted son of Norimasa. Kagetora renamed to Kenshin Uesugi, and had an authority to succeed Kanto Kanrei. In 1560, Kenshin intruded into Kanto region under the name of Kanto Kanrei, and once recovered major part of Kanto region from Hojo clan. Next year Norimasa handed over Kanto Kanrei to Kagetora at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and retired.

However, Kenshin could not hold Kanto region long time, and facing the counter attack of Hojo clan and Takeda clan, his territory of Kanto region steadily decreased in spite of continuous expedition. Norimasa could not return to Kanto region, and lived at Otate castle (Niigata prefecture) at the center of current Joetsu city. Narimasa lost Kanto Kanrei position but lived remaining life without fear.

Loss of everything throughout life

In 1578, Kenshin suddenly died in ill and there arouse internal conflict between his two adopted son Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579). Kagetora was a people of Hojo clan which was the enemy of Norimasa, but Kagetora who was pushed out from Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture) ran into Otate castle then Norimasa was forcedly involved into the conflict.

It seemed Kagetora who had a support from Hojo clan was superior, but Kagekatsu blocked the entrance of Hojo army then encircled Kagetora and Norimasa at Otate province. As Otate castle was just a residence and did not have much weapons and supplies, Kagetora fell into severe situation.

In the beginning of next year, Norimasa tried to visit the camp of Kagekatsu along with the son of Kagetora as a messenger for peace, but they lost their lives on the way by the army of Kagekatsu. Norimasa who once had one of the highest statuses under Muromachi Shogunate lost everything throughout his life, owing to both of misjudgments of himself or his ancestors, and irresistible change of the time.

Afterward of castle

After the leave of Norimasa, Hirai castle was not used anymore and abolished. Today hillside castle was largely destructed by development but shape of central area and surrounding moats slightly remains. On the other hand, mountain castle parts still have structures of clay wall and dry moat, with scarcely remaining stone walls.

Size of flat castle and structure of mountain castle shows this was exactly a main base of highest authority in Kanto region. But now it stands quietly apart from city area without any building, and it overwraps to the fate of last lord who without any building, and it reminds the fate of last lord who lost everything and unwillingly died at distant snowy province. 


15 minutes drive from Joshinetsu Jidoshado Expressway Yoshii interchange to the parking of Hirai castle. Another 10 minutes drive to the parking of Hirai Kanayama castle. 

Related Castles

Kawagoe Castle -Place of great leap of Hojo clan-
Kasugayama Castle (1) -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Otate castle -Irreconciable conflict after god of war (1) outbreak of conflict-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

Hirai Castle

Hirai Kanayama Castle

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