Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kitsuki Castle -Castle with traditional samurai town-

Kitsuki Castle

-Castle with traditional samurai town-



Name: Kitsuki castle (Kitsuki-jo)
Alias: Katsuyama-jo
Place: Kitsuki Kitsuki city, Oita
Location: 33.41506153694409, 131.6274005382326
Type: Hill castle
Built: Originally 1393, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls

Brief History

Kitsuki castle (杵築城) is located on a hill named Shiroyama at the seashore of Kitsuki city, the one at the root of Kunisaki peninsula in the north part of Bungo province (Oita prefecture). Kitsuki city stands at the middle of the road from Kokura city to Oita city along the eastern coast of Kyushu peninsula, and also has a good port inside Morie bay. Because of its location Kitsuki city has been the center of northern part of Bungo province. Kitsuki city also spreads over the height surrounded by the mouth of Yasakagawa river and Takayamagawa river, and being guarded by rivers and sea it is an appropriate place to build a castle.

Origin and structure of Kitsuki castle

Kitsuki castle was built by local lord Kitsuki clan in 1394. Kitsuki clan was a branch family of Otomo clan, a traditional clan served as the governor of Bungo province from 13th century. Originally Kitsuki clan resided at Takenoo castle locates at 10 kilometer upstream from current central Kitsuki city, but later to grasp Kitsuki port and town directly they built new castle and moved there.

Kitsuki castle spread a long and narrow hill of 200 meter long. Because of land reclamation now this hill is surrounded by land, but formerly it was totally encircled by rivers and sea except for its western edge connecting to the town. The height of the hill is only about 20 meter or 30 meter high, but being guarded by sheer cliff it was an impregnable castle.

Since the beginning of 16th century, Otomo clan grew into a warlord and started to expand its territory toward surrounding nation. At the time of Yoshishige Otomo (1530-1587, known as his Buddhist name Sorin), Otomo clan directly or indirectly controlled northern half of Kyushu island and became the regional ruler. Shigenao Kitsuki (?-1580), leader of Kitsuki clan, became an important retainer of Yoshishige and participated in administration.

Fall of Otomo clan

But despite of its territory, Otomo clan kept traditional feudal structure and was not fully centralized. They had many talented generals and administrators, but too much relied on their agreement and could not react quickly. Their leader Sorin Otomo was a progressive lord who was interested in Catholic and Western culture, but his radical belief brought confusion and discontent of generals and people.

Among such situation, Shimazu clan which was the governor of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) survived their long internal conflict and restored their situation. Being lead their talented leader Takahisa Shimazu (1514-1571) and four excellent sons Yoshihisa Shimazu (1533-1611), Yoshihiro Shimazu (1535-1619), Toshihisa Shimazu (1537-1592) and Iehisa Shimazu (1547-1587), Shimazu clan beat Kimotsuki clan and seized Osumi procince (eastern half of Kagoshima prefecture), and started to advance toward north.

At that time Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture) was governed by Ito clan which subordinated to Otomo clan. In 1560's Ito clan struggled against intrusion of Shimazu clan, but finally was defeated and escaped from their residence Tonogori castle in 1577. In response to this,  Yoshihige sent large army to beat Shimazu clan which stayed at Takajo castle at that year. But because of internal discord between generals and ambush tactics of Shimazu clan, Otomo clan suffered severe defeat at the battle of Mimikawa and lost their army and authority.

Battle against Shimazu clan

Seeing such situation, local lords such as Ryuzoji clan formerly obeyed to Otomo clan left them all at once, and Otomo clan fell into tough situation. Some generals such as Dosetsu Tachibana (1513-1585) bravely fought to keep the clan, but Shimazu clan beat Ryuzoji clan at the battle of Okitanawate in 1584 and seized southern half of Kyushu island, then aimed the unification of whole Kyushu island.

In 1587, Shimazu clan made a total attack against Otomo clan. Weakened Otomo clan could not stop it any more and lost their capital Funai town (current Oita city). But Sorin himself besieged at Usuki castle and desperately stood against attack of Shimazu clan. 

Shimazu clan also sent their brave general Tadamoto Niiro (1526-1611) to Kitsuke castle. But Shigenao Kitsuki (1528-1593) firmly defended Kitsuki castle and finally kept it after two month siege. Since then Kitsuki castle was called as Katsuyama castle, means victory hill.

Otomo clan barely survived by the campaign of central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) against Shimazu clan, but was finally expelled by Hideyoshi because of their failure in campaign in 1593. At this time being despair about hard luck of their master, Kitsuki family killed themselves and closed history as a lord of Kitsuke castle. 

Afterward of the castle

After Otomo clan, Nagafusa Sugihara (1574-1629), a marriage relative of Hideyoshi, was appointed as a lord of Kitsuki castle. Nagafusa built hillside residence at the north of the hill and transferred the function of the castle to hillside area. At the beginning of Edo era once Kitsuki castle was held by Tadaoki Hosokawa (1563-1646) who was the lord of Kokura castle (Fukuoka prefecture), but after the movement of Hosokawa clan to Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture), hereditary retainers of Edo Shogunate held the castle. Finally Matsudaira clan which was the relative of Shogun kept the castle by the end of Edo era.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution all building was lost and hillside residence was turned into local government office of schools. But hilltop area still well keep its shape, and an imitation of main tower was built in 1970.

Outside of the castle, house of retainers spread over two long hill and castle town spread along the valley between two hill. These retainers houses are guarded by stone walls and fences, intended to work as a defense line against the enemy intrudes into the castle through valley area. 

As castle town has limited land and is apart from railway station, castle town was not so developed and still keeps old atmosphere. Combination of stone paved slopes and old wooden fences is a beautiful scenery with Japanese traditional atmosphere, and now Kitsuki town becomes a famous sightseeing place. 


Bus from JR Kyushu Nippo Honsen line Kitsuki station. 10 minutes drive from Oita Kuko Doro (Oita Airport Expressway) Kitsuki interchange.

Pictures (click to enlarge)

Kitsuki Castle

Kitsuki Town

No comments:

Post a Comment