Friday, March 7, 2014

Aizu Wakamatsu Castle -White five-story main tower endured harsh battle-

Aizu Wakamatsu Castle

-White five-story main tower endured harsh battle-



Name: Aizu Wakamatsu Castle (Aizu Wakamatsu-jo /Wakamatsu-jo)
Alias: Turuga-jo, Kurokawa-jo
Place: Ohtemachi Aizu-Wakamatsu city, Fukushima
Location: 37.48789995076736, 139.92983877800782
Type: Flat castle
Built: Originally 14th century, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Turret (moved), stone walls, clay walls and moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles, Designated national historical site

Brief History

Aizu Wakamatsu castle (会津若松城) is located on the center of Aizu Wakamatsu city, placed  the in Aizu basin. Aizu Wakamatsu city is a central city of Aizu basin, and a connecting point of roads to Koriyama, Yonezawa and Niigata.

Ashina and Date period

Originally this area was governed by Ashina clan, a local lord moved from Sagami country (Kanagawa prefecture). In 1384 Ashina clan built Kurokawa castle in the central of Aizu basin, and used it as their residence since then. In the mid of 16th century, under Moriuji Ashina (1521-1580), Ashina clan became its peak period. 

Moriuji expanded his territory to east of Aizu basin or Echigo province (Niigata prefecture), conflicting other large lords such as Date clan or Uesugi clan. He also built Mukaihaguroyama castle, a huge mountain castle at 10 km south of Aizu Wakamatsu castle, as a military base of the clan. But due to the burden of continuous military action and internal conflict for the position of successor, after the death of Moriuji, Ashina clan rapidly declined. Finally Ashina clan was defeated at the battle of Suriagehara by Masamune Date (1567-1636), the warlord of Yonezawa castle in 1589, then disappeared from the history.

By beating Ashina clan Masamune seized all part of southern Tohoku region, but facing the pressure from central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) at the time of Odawara campaign, Masamune was forced to surrender to Hideyoshi in 1590. Aizu region was deprived from Masamune and he was transferred to Sendai area.

Period of Gamo clan and Uesugi clan

After Date clan, Ujisato Gamo (1556-1595), a brave general of Hideyoshi, was appointed as the governor of Aizu area and moved from Matsusaka Castle in Ise country (Mie prefecture). Being expected to watch Date clan, Ujisato transformed Kurokawa castle into a modern and large fortress, and renamed it as Aizu Wakamatsu castle. The basic structure of Aizu Wakamatsu castle is completed at the time of Ujisato.

Ujisato was evaluated his talent, but unfortunately died in ill at only 39 years old. Next to Ujisato, Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), an adopted son of famous warlord Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578) and the governor of Echigo country, was transferred from Kasugayama castle to Aizu region, as a restraint to Tokugawa clan in Kanto region and Date clan. Aizu Wakamatsu castle was already a large one, but Kagekatsu started to build his own castle named Kozashi castle at the outskirt of Aizu city in 1600, but had to cancel it due to the upcoming battle with Ieyasu.

Structure of Aizu Wakamatsu castle

Aizu Wakamatsu castle is built using small height continued from eastward. Main area of the castle consist of central area and three outer area located at west, north and east of central area. The planning of the castle was made by Masatada Sone (?-?), former retainer of Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), famous warlord of Kai country (Yamanashi prefecture), and this planning was affected by the method of castle building in Takeda clan.

The central area is a pentagon shaped square, and its size is about 200 meter length. Deep and wide water moat surrounds whole side, and east side of central area which connected to eastward height was securely separated by tall stone walls. Central area is separated into inner area and outer corridor, and at the northwest edge of inner area, there is the main tower of the castle. 

Originally Ujisato built a magnificent seven floor main tower with black wall and gold roofing tiles like Osaka castle of Toyotomi period, to show the authority of Toyotomi government toward whole Tohoku region. But later Kato clan reduced the floor of main tower into five story and painted the wall as white, which is the common style of main tower. This reform might be made by consideration to Edo Shogunate and to soften the military image of former tower.

As east of the central area is the front side of the castle, there side is guarded by secondary area and third area. Secondary area is largely consist of clay walls, but entrances were guarded by gates and stone walls. At the north side and west side of central area, there are Nishidemaru and Kitademaru, huge Umadashi (buffer area used as a point of counter attack) which were added at Kato period. Entrance from these areas into central area is protected by Masugata (composite gate), and from each entrance main tower is seen above the coercive stone walls. As the south side of the castle was guarded by river, there was no outer area at this side.

The total size of these major area reached 600 meter long and 400 meter width. And the castle and castle town was guarded by outer barrier and rivers which spread 1 kilometer square. The plan of the castle is comparatively simple, but deep moat and huge wall had sufficient defense ability as seen in later period.

Kagekatsu Uesugi and the battle of Sekigahara

Subsequent to Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, Ieyasu Tokugawa started to seize the next hegemony, and Date clan supported Tokugawa side. Facing this situation, as expected, Uesugi Clan accused Ieyasu for his action with former Toyotomi supporters in 1600. Ieyasu got approval to conquest Uesugi clan from Emperor and trooped toward Aizu area with other lords, and Kagekatsu fortified all Aizu region to confront this. 

But utilizing vacancy of central region, Toyotomi supporting lords lead by Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600) who was close to Kagekatsu's chancellor Kanetsugu Naoe (1559-1620), raised their army against Ieyasu to keep the structure of Toyotomi government. Ieyasu returned to central region then the battle of Sekigahara occurred, and Ieyasu won against Toyotomi side lords. As a result, Uesugi clan survived, but was transferred to Yonezawa castle (Yamagata prefecture) with quarter territory.

Lords of Aizu Wakamatsu castle during Edo era

After Uesugi’s transfer, Gamo clan once returned as a commander of the castle, but in 1627 Gamo clan was extinguished by having no successor, and Yoshiakira Kato (1563-1631), who was known as one of seven braves at the battle of Shizugatake in 1583, became the lord of Aizu Wakamatsu castle. Kato clan reformed Aizu Wakamatsu castle and built the basement of current Aizu Wakamatsu town, but his son Akinari Gamo (1592-1661) also lost his territory due to internal conflict with retainers.

In 1643 Masayuki Hoshina (later Matsudaira clan, 1611-1673), a younger brother of third  shogun Iemitsu Tokugawa, was appointed as a governor of Aizu domain. Masayuki promoted to Tairo (grand minister) at the time of fourth Shogun Ietsuna Tokugawa (1651-1680) and showed his political sense. At Aizu domain, Masayuki also made effort to the development of commerce and agriculture, and established domain school Nisshinkan. Masayuki also was fond of the philosophy of Zhu Xi, the school of Confucian which respects loyalty to the master and braveness. This mind affected the attitude of Aizu domain at the time of Meiji revolution.

Fierce battle against Meiji new government

The governance of Matsudaira clan continued to the end of Edo era. Katamori Matsudaira (1836-1893), the last lord of Matsudaira clan at the time of Meiji revolution, was enthusiastic Shogunate supporter, and appointed as a governor of Kyoto to suppress anti-shogunate movement. Using famous swordsman group Shinsen-gumi, Katamori suppressed many revolutionists of Choshu domain (Yamaguchi prefecture) and Satsuma domain (Kagoshima prefecture).

But Edo shogunate was defeated by anti Shogunate army at the battle of Toba Fushimi in 1868, then last shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa decided to return his government to new government, consist of Choshu and Satsuma people. Facing this situation, lords in Tohoku area made alliance to resist against new government army, and due to its house rank and power, Matsudaira clan became the leader of this resistance force. The battle between Aizu domain and new government army started in October

Matsudaira clan mobilized people and guarded their territory with former Shogunate soldiers, but overwhelming new government army equipped advanced weapons easily broke the border, then Aizu army retreated to Aizu Wakamatsu castle and besieged then. Among this confusion, there occurred the tragedy of Byakkotai, a troop of mobilized youth who killed themselves at Iimoriyama mountain, near the castle.

Aizu Wakamatsu castle had the secure wall but directly surrounded by hills, thus new government army avoided direct battle and attacked Aizu Wakamatsu castle by cannons from these hills. Aizu army firmly kept the castle for one month among falling shells of new government army, but due to cumulative damages and defeat of ally army, Katamori finally decided to surrender and opened the castle at November.

Afterward of castle

After the battle, damaged buildings were totally broken, except for one three story turret moved to Amidaji temple about 5 kilometer away from the castle. In 1965, an imitation of magnificent main tower with connecting corridor and gate were built, as a symbol of the city. In 1991, a turret and another connecting corridor were also reconstructed.


30 minutes walk from JR East Banetsu Saisen line Aizu Wakamatsu station. 15 minutes drive from Banetsu Jidoshado Expressway Aizu Wakamatsu interchange.

Related Castles

Matsusaka Castle -Magnificent castle built by general had both braveness and wisdom- 
Inawashiro Castle -Expansion and collapse of Ashina clan-
Kasugayama Castle -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Mukaihaguroyama Castle -Huge mountain castle prominent in Eastern Japan-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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