Sunday, July 2, 2023

Zeze Castle -Last water castle at west coast of Lake Biwako-

Zeze Castle

–Last water castle at west coast of Lake Biwako-


Name: Zeze castle (Zeze-jo)
Place: Honmaru-cho Otsu city, Shiga
Location: 34.99492395588524, 135.89530561400554
Type: Flat Castle
Built: 1601
Remaining remnants: Gates and stone walls 

Brief History

Zeze castle (膳所城) is located at Zeze area that is east part of current Otsu city central. It was originally small cape named Zeze-saki protruding the south edge of the lake where the width of water becomes narrow and changes to Seta-gawa river. The castle stands at  a corridor between the lake and eastward mountain of Kyoto basin, and many roads and railroads pass through this narrow area.

As Tosando road and Tokaido road those are artery from Tokai region and Kanto region passed Seta-gawa river by Seta bridge at 2 kilomater south of this castle, then run along with the coast of lake, crossed the mountain and entered to the capital Kyoto city, Otsu area had been important east gate of Kyoto city. To control both of land transportation and water shipping, castles were built at lakeshore as water castles.

Water castles of Lake Biwako

During Oda government, Sakamoto castle and Seta castle were built at north and south edge of Otsu area. Sakamato castle was built to control Sakamoto town and Hieizan Enryakuji-temple, and also prepared for westbank road of the lake toward Hokuriku region. On the other hand, Seta castle that resided directly next of Seta bridge was used to control Seta bridge, and actually at the incident of Honnoji Yamaoka clan which was the lord of Seta castle burnt down Seta Bridge and it delayed move of Akechi army toward Omi province.

Toyotomi government merged these two castles and built Otsu castle at current Otsu port area. It was a magnificent castle that has an island like central area and three layer land area surrounded by water moats. Toyotomi government placed their trusted retainer at this castle, but at the battle of Sekigahara Kyogoku clan restraint large detached force of West army at this castle. Finally the castle opened but detached army could not participate in the main battle, then it contributed to the lose of West army lead to later extinction of Toyotomi clan.

Tokugawa clan won the battle of Sekigahara and became the ruler also had to keep Otsu area to protect capital Kyoto city with Imperial Household, and prepare for Toyotomi clan remaining at Osaka castle. But Otsu castle was severely damaged in the battle, had a image of former government, and was too close the backward mountain that enabled indirect attack by cannons. Considering these factors Tokugawa clan decided to build new castle at Zeze area that is closer to Seta bridge and has plenty space at front and backward.

Struture of castle

Due to similarity of geographic condition, the plan of Zeze castle is close to Otsu castle or Sakamoto castle those consist of island like central area and rectangular shaped land area separated by water moat. But central area of Zeze castle is larger than Otsu castle or Sakamoto castle and it could endure only by central area.

Central area is equivalent to current Zeze castle park and about 150 meter long square. It was originally separated into east half that was original central area and west half of secondary area but later it was connected to single enclosure. Four layer main tower and several turrets and gates are built at edge of the area.

Secondary area is a rectangular one of about 100 meter long and 50 meter width at south of central area, and third area existed at south of secondary area. Secondary area and third area are now connected and used for the ground water purification plant. In front of central area gate there was Umadashi buffer area, and outside that there was outer area of 300 meter long and 100 meter width enclosed by water moat used for residence of retainers.

Afterward of castle

As a east gate of Kyoto city, Edo Shogunate placed its hereditary retainers as lord of Zeze castle. After Meiji revolution this castle was abolished then buildings and stones were take away from castle site. Due to destruction and erosion central area became just a flat land but basement of stone walls slightly remain at lakeshore.

Original stone walls partially remains at outer wall of water purification plant of former secondary area and third area, and many gates are moved to neighbor shrines and still exist. Because of its flat shape water castle is easily disappear, but different from Sakamoto castle or Otsu castle completely disappeared, Zeze castle still has trace of former castle such as terrain or buildings.


15 minutes walk from Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto-sen line Zeze-Honmachi station. 15 minutes drive from Meihan Jidoshado Expressway Seta-Nishi interchange.

Related Castles


Pictures (click to enlarge)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Shinowaki Castle

–Castle of culture and combat-


Name: Shinowaki castle (Shinowaki-jo)
Place: Yamato-cho Gujo city, Gifu
Location: 35.807833549142046, 136.92553423876194
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Shinowaki castle (篠脇城) is placed over Shinowaki mountain, that is about 200 meter height from hillside at middle of the valley of Kurusu-gawa river which is a tributary of Nagara-gawa river. The valley itself is not so large but at middle of Gujo area and Shirotori area, those have large flat area and important road to outer areas, then it might be good point to manage whole part of Gujo area.

Precise year is unknown but the castle might be built in former half of 14th century by local lord To clan. To clan was a tributary of Chiba clan that was a large samurai group spread Shimousa province (north half of Chiba prefecture) and contributed to establishment of Kamakura Shogunate. To clan was originally a holder of To-sho manor near current Choshi city but later achieved another territory at Gujo area.

History of To clan

Taneyori To (1155-1228), the origin of To clan, was not only a brave leader of army but also sufficient knowledge on culture such as Japanese poem or calligraphy then participated in negotiation between Shogunate and nobles at Kyoto city. Later To clan have relationship with Japanese poets and learned interpretation of old Japanese poems. 

Later To clan was separated in the family at original territory of Shimoura province and the one at Gujo area, then due to closeness to Kyoto city the cultural history of To clan was inherited to Gujo area. To clan at Gujo area originally resided at Achiba castle (Gifu prefecture) at 5 kilometer north from Shinowaki castle but later moved to Shinowaki castle 

Structure of castle

Shinowaki castle is located over mountain between two valleys. As the size of mountain is not so large, the size of the castle is only about 80 meter long and 50 meter wide. Shape of core area is an oblong one, and divided into three layers. The highest one is 20 meter long square and main hall might be built at this castle. Southward of castle faces backward mountain is securely protected by thick dry moat that might used as watchtower basement and huge dry moat.

In addition to this, other directions of the castle is protected by vertical dry moats. Especially east and west line is wholly covered by combination of dry moats without gap, to prevent side attack and limit the enemy to front ward. This facility was frequently used by warlords of Hokuriku region such as Uesugi clan or Asakura clan then brought to north part of Mino province (Gifu prefecture) such as Takayama area or Gujo area.

This castle was an evacuation place of emergency then To clan normally resided at their hillside residence. At the flat area between the river and Shinowaki mountain there was a square shaped on of 60 meter long, which might have Japanese garden at backward of main hall. Retainer of To clan also might lived at southward of river.

Castle of culture and combat

In 15th century, Tsuneyori To (1401?-1484?) who was the leader of To clan fully learned the interpretation of Kokin Wakashu that was edited in 10th century then lectured it to Shogun or high class nobles. Especially lecture to professional poets Sogi (1421-1502) was regarded as legitimate lecture called as “Kokin Denju” continued to later generation.

But also at the same time, fall of authority of Muromachi Shogunate bring warfare to whole part of nation. Among the absence of Tsuneyori To due to the military operation in Kanto region, Myochin Saito (1411-1480), the deputy governor of Mino province, attacked Shinowaki castle and captured it. Tsuneyori wrote his sadness to the poem, then Myochn also familiar with culture heard it then request to exchange the poets between Tsuneyori. After exchange of poets Myochin returned Shinowaki castle to Tsuneyori.

Next in 1540, Asakura clan that was warlord of Echizen province (Fukui prefecture) became hostile to Saito clan of Mino province then intruded into Gujo area. To clan intercepted Asakura army at Shinowaki castle and rejected it, but this time the castle was significantly impaired. Facing this situation To clan moved their main base to Todonoyama castle (Gifu prefecture) at south of Gujo city central, that is securer castle at higher mountain. But Shinowaki castle might be used as front fort of To clan continuously by middle of 16th century.

Now no building remains but terraces and surrounding dry moats well remain at the peak of mountain. Vertical dry moats fully covers slope of castle well shows strong military pressure To clan faced, but remnant of pond of Japanese garden built at hillside residence also shows cultural background of the clan. Finally To clan disappeared taken over by their retainer Endo clan that became the lord of Gujo area, but remnant of Shinowaki castle well introduced the history of this lost clan.


20 minutes drive from Tokai-Hokuriku Jidoshado Expressway Gifu-Yamato interchange.

Related Castles


Pictures (click to enlarge)