Sunday, May 17, 2020

Shiratori Castle (Ecchu) -Fateful confrontation of former colleagues (3) across heavy snowy Tateyama Mountains-

Shiratori Castle (Ecchu)

-Fateful confrontation of former colleagues (3) across heavy snowy Tateyama Mountains-



Name: Shiratori castle (Shiratori-jo)
Place: Yoshidukuri Toyama city, Toyama
Location: 36.69782276034719, 137.16320048468734
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 12th century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Continued from Part 2

Shiratori castle (白鳥城) is located around the top of Shiroyama mountain, one of about 140 meter height from hillside at 2 kilometer west from current Toyama city central. Shiroyama mountain is a highest point of Kureha hills, one of about 5 kilometer long which separates Toyama plain into east part of Toyama area and west part of Imizu area.

Even though not so high, the structure of Kureha hills which is like a peninsular prolongs into flat area gives a good scenery of whole part of Toyama plain. In addition to this, the beautiful shape of Tateyama mountains is well seen without obstacles. Because of this condition and closeness to Toyama city, today the hill becomes a good hiking course of local residents.

Origin of Shiratori castle

Precise year is unknown but due to this geographic condition some castles might be built in medieval era. It is said that Kanehira Imai (1152-1184), a general of Yoshinaka Kiso (1154-1184), built a fort on the mountain during the capture of Hokuriku region. Actually the battle of Hannyano occurred not so far from the castle then there might be some kind of military camp at that time.

In Muromachi era, current Himi area, Takaoka area and Imizu area were governed by Jinbo clan, a deputy governor of Ecchu province (Toyama prefecture) under nominal governor Hatakeyama clan. On the other hand, current Toyama city area and eastward were held by Shiina clan, another deputy governor at Matsukura castle (Toyama prefecture).

Jinbo clan once lost its power by the attack of alliance of Shiina clan and Nagao clan, the deputy governor of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). But under Nagamoto Jinbo (?-?) Jinbo clan recovered its power and proceeded into Toyama city area, then Nagamoto built Toyama castle (Toyama prefecture) as his new main base.

Use by Jinbo clan and Uesugi clan

Around this time, Jinbo clan had three major castles at their territory, it mean Toyama castle, Moriyama castle (Toyama prefecture) at Himi area, and Masuyama castle at Tonami area. Shiratori castle existed at the center of these three castles, and worked as the communication center of Jinbo clan now captured two third of the province around 1550.

However in 1560, Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the leader of Nagao clan and praised as the god of the war, intruded into Ecchu province. Jinbo clan and their ally Ikko Ikki army were fatal enemy of Kenshin as they were the cause of the death of his grandfather. Kenshin fell Toyama castle and might capture Shiratori castle at this time.

Kenshin Uesugi who captured current Toyama area next fell into the struggle with Ikko Ikki army formed by believers of Ikkoshu, a denomination of Japanese Buddhism spread around Hokuriku region. In 1572, Ikko Ikki army assaulted Shiratori castle from westward and fell it, then next captured Toyama castle.

Looking at inferior situation, Kenshin Uesugi marched to Ecchu province with his main army. Kenshin broke Ikko Ikki army at the battle of Shiritarezaka, and recovered Toyama castle and Shiratori castle. As both of Jinbo clan and Shiina clan lost their power by attack of Kenshin, Kenshin finally seized most part of Ecchu province by 1575, and Shiratori castle might be used as a connecting base of Uesugi army.

Structure of Shiratori castle

Structure of Shiratori castle is half concentric circles style toward west, as east slope is quite sheer but west slope is gentle. Central area of the castle is a 50 meter long square one, which has a basement of watch tower at the middle of its east line and wholly surrounded by clay wall except for its east line.

Outside of central area, three terraces are built at south, west and northward at below layer. These areas are built to protect each gate of central area, and connected with narrow road to obstruct the movement of the enemy. Tip of these areas are protected by low height clay wall, to provide shooting position for matchlock gunner.

Ahead of this secondary area, third layer of terraces surrounds front side of the castle. This layer is the first defense line with dry moats and outer gates, and also separated into small compartment by dry moats and clay walls. Even though enemy enter into this part, they might not be able to move well and exposed to the attack from upward areas. 

Total size of the castle is about 300 meter long and 200 meter wide, and a medium size castle. But the structure of the castle is well planned, and use of combined gate and horizontal dry moat is the feature of Oda army. Current shape of the castle shows renovation after Uesugi clan.

Hold by Narimasa Sassa

In 1578, Kenshin Uesugi died in ill and Uesugi clan entered into severe internal conflict. Katsuie Shibata (1521-1583), the commander of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) gradually pushed up their front line against Ikko Ikki army and Uesugi clan. Katsuie Shibata captured Toyama castle by 1582 and placed his general Narimasa Sassa (1536-1588).

After the death of Nobunaga Oda in the incident of Honnoji in 1582, Hideyoshi Hashiba (1537-1598, later Hideyoshi Toyotomi) who broke Mitsuhide Akechi (1528-1582) at the battle of Yamazaki rose as next ruler. Katsuie Shibata raised his army against Hideyoshi but was broke at the battle of Shizugatake in 1583 and died.

As Narimasa stayed at Ecchu province preparing for Uesugi clan, Narimasa once kept the position of the lord of Ecchu province. But when Nobukatasu Oda (1558-1630), the second son of Nobunaga, and Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the former ally of Nobunaga, rose against Hideyoshi in 1584, Narimasa also opposed to Hideyoshi.

Inferior situation of Narimasa

Narimasa attacked Suemori castle (Ishikawa prefecture) held by Toshiie Maeda (1539-1599), who was former colleague of Narimasa but belonged to Hideyoshi. But Narimasa could not fall Suemori castle and no another opportunity to attack Toshiie, Narimasa returned his army before snow season.

At that time Ieyasu once achieved tactical victory at the battle of Nagakute toward Hideyoshi, but considering the difference of the size of economy and army further continuation of the battle was nearly impossible. Nobukatsu separately agreed with Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu did not formally do so but sent his son to Hideyoshi as a substantial hostage.

Narimasa who expected the attack of Hideyoshi next year tried to persuade Ieyasu to rise again. But roads to the territory of Ieyasu was wholly seized by his enemies. Anegakoji clan at Hida Takayama area still followed to Narimasa, but Kiso clan at the middle of Tokugawa territory and Anegakoji clan also belonged to Hideyoshi.

Desperate winter climbing

As there was only mountainous road directly crosses Tateyama mountain to Matsumoto area, Narimasa ventured a winter mountain climb. Of course Narimasa hired local resident, but it was colder period from now and no modern mountain gears. Experiencing many troubles, Narimasa crossed Zara-Toge pass and Harinoki-Toge pass at the both side of Lake Kurobe and could visit the territory of Ieyasu.

However, Ieyasu did not agree with Narimasa. Ieyasu once tactically broke Hideyoshi considered to follow to Hideyoshi keeping his reputation and had no intention of another gambling. Nobukatsu Oda also declined the request of Narimasa, then Narimasa had to return this hard road without achievement. This tour is named as "Sarasara-Goe".

On the other hand, after the ceasefire with Ieyasu, Hideyoshi separately broke enemies belonged to Ieyasu, such as Saika army or Negoro army in Kii province (Wakayama prefecture) in the spring in 1585, and Chosokabe clan which once seized most part of Shikoku island in early summer. Different from former autumn, now Hideyoshi could send his whole army to Narimasa.

Surrender to Hideyoshi and afterward

In the summer of 1585, finally Hideyoshi marched to Ecchu province with overwhelming army. Anegakoji clan which was the ally of Narimasa was already ruined by Nagachika Kanamori (1524-1608) and Narimasa was wholly surrounded by enemies. Considering inferior situation, Narimasa voluntary surrendered to Hideyoshi becoming a monk.

Hideyoshi forgave Narimasa but confiscated west half of the province then gave it to Toshiie Maeda. East half of the province was nominally belonged to Narimasa but was managed by Uesugi clan. It is said that Hideyoshi stayed at Shiratori castle during his march, but it is not clear if this tale is true or not.

As Shiratori castle became the border of the territory of Maeda clan, Shiratori castle was renovated by latest technology and kept for a while. But in 1595 remaining east half of the province was also given to Maeda clan, and the necessity of Shiratori castle significantly declined. Shiratori castle might be abolished around 1600.

Today no building is left but structure of castle mostly remained in spite of partial break by construction of the road and park. Good scenery of Toyama city and plain shows the importance of the castle to manage the plain. Also beautiful shape of showy Tateyama Mountains reminds desperate winter mountain climbing of Narimasa, and shape of retainers at Shiratori castle waiting for the safe return of their lord.

Continue to Part 4


40 minutes walk from JR West Takayama-Honsen line Nishitoyama station. 20 minutes drive from Hokuriku Jidoshado Expressway Toyama-Nishi interchange.

Related Castles

Suemori Castle (Noto) -Fateful confrontation of former colleagues (2) assault and counter attack-
Moriyama Castle (Ecchu) -Fateful confrontation of former colleagues (4) afterward of confrontation-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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