Friday, May 23, 2014

Kawagoe Castle -Place of great leap of Hojo clan-

Kawagoe Castle

-Place of great leap of Hojo clan-



Name: Kawagoe castle (Kawagoe-jo)
Alias: Hatsukari-jo
Place: Kuruwa-machi Kawagoe city, Saitama
Location: 35.92448205713031, 139.49167648395076
Type: Flat castle
Built: Originally in 1547, expanded in 17th century
Remaining remnants: Primary area hall, clay walls and dry moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Kawagoe castle (川越城) is located on a slight elevation along with Shingashi river, at 1 kilometer apart from central Kagagoe city. Kawagoe is placed at the center of west half of Kanto plain, and being surrounded by multiple rivers such as Arakawa river and Irumagawa river, it was good place to defense and communication. 

Due to above geographical condition, Kawagoe city has been a center of Musashi province long time (Tokyo metropolis and Saitama prefecture) during medieval era (Edo city developed only after 1590’s).

Kawagoe castle before Hojo clan

Kawagoe castle was built by Dokan Ohta (1432-1486), a vassal of Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan in 1457 who was also built Edo castle (Tokyo metropolis). Situation of Kanto region of those days was complex, but roughly the following three powers conflicted each other, it means a) Koga Kubo house (Koga Highness), a branch house of Ashikaga Shogunate and representative of them in Kanto region, b) Yamanouchi Uesugi clan, a distant relative of Ashikaga shogunate and house of Kanto Kanrei (general governor of Kanto region), and c) Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan, another Uesugi clan and also had qualification for Kanto Kanrei.

Generally, Koga Kubo house held middle east part of Kanto plain east of current Arakawa river, Yamanouchi Uesugi clan seized current northern Saitama and Gunma prefecture, and Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan held current southern Saitama prefecture, Tokyo metropolis and Kanagawa prefecture.

Dokan Ohta was a brilliant commander and good castle builder. He built Kawagoe castle, Edo castle and Iwatsuki castle to guard the territory of Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan, but finally assassinated by his master who was cautious about his ambition in 1486. His tactics which was a complex of making defense line by castles and attack by mobile unit was later succeeded to Hojyo clan.

Rise of Hojo clan and repellence of ancient regime

Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan kept Kawagoe castle for several decades, but since the beginning of 16th century, Hojo clan which seized Izu province (Izu peninsula) started to advance to Kanto region. Hojo clan rapidly growth their territory utilizing conflicts between three powers, and Ujitsuna Hojo (1487-1541), second leader of Hojo clan, seized Edo castle in 1524 and Kawagoe castle in 1537.

Now that things have come to this pass, above three old powers of Kanto regions cooperated to reject Hojyo clan. Just in time, Ujitsuna died in 1541 and his son Ujiyasu Hojo (1515-1571) succeeded leader position in youth. In October 1545, ally of above three powers siege Kawagoe castle by 80,000 soldiers, and they also let Imagawa clan, the warlord of Suruga province (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture), to assault Hojo clan from backside.

The commander of Kawagoe castle was Tsunashige Hojo (1515-1587), a brave general and brother in law of Ujitsuna. He stand siege of large army with 3,000 solders for over half years. During this time, Ujitsuna moved to western border and made peace with Imagawa clan by coordination of Takeda clan, a warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture).

Night battle of Kawagoe castle

Next year Ujitsuna returned to Kawagoe castle with 8,000 soldiers but still incompetent with encircling force, thus he made the allied army relax guard by pretending to surrender. Then one night in April Ujiyasu and Tsunaghige attacked allied army simultaneously, and thoroughly defeated confused allied army. Tomosada Uesugi (1525-1546), leader of Ogigayatsu Uesugi clan died in the battle, and other two leaders run away from the castle.

With this as a turning point, old power of Kanto region got weakened and Hojyo clan became the ruler of Kanto region replacing them. This battle is called as Night battle of Kawagoe castle, and regarded on of three sudden attack of this era in which the winner overturned big difference of soldiers (other two were the battle of Itsukushima between Mouri clan and Sue clan in 1555, and the battle of Okehazama between Oda clan and Imagawa clan in 1560.)

During the period of Hojo clan Kawagoe castle had been one of major castles of Hojo clan between Edo castle and Musashi-Matsuyama castle (Saitama prefecture). When Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) intruded into Hojo territory with overwhelming army, Kawagoe well stood the attack of Uesugi army and became the starting point of counter attack. 

But when central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) attacked Hojo clan in 1590, Kawagoe castle fell without resistance. Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), who was appointed as a governor of Kanto region by Hideyoshi and later became founder of Edo shogunate, also thought Kawagoe castle as an important point to defend Edo city. Ieyasu appointed Shigetada Sakai (1549-1617), an old hereditary retainer, as a commander of the castle.

Kawagoe castle in Edo era

Throughout Edo era, Kawagoe Castle was thought as final defense line of Edo city along with Odawara castle, Sakura castle and Utsunomiya castle, and only relative house or important hereditary retainer were appointed as a governor of the castle. 

In 1639, Nobutsuna Matsudaira (1596-1662) was transferred to Kawagoe castle with larger territory as a reward of suppressing the rebellion of Shimabara (Nagasaki prefecture). Nobutsuna was a talented officer who served as chief minister (Rojyu Shuseki) and completed stable basis of Edo Shogunate. He also significantly expanded Kawagoe castle into a large castle with three turrets and 13 gates, and improved Kawagoe town as a town of commercial.

Originally a palace of castle was built in central area, but by the middle of Edo era it was lost and another palace was constructed at secondary area. But in 1846 this secondary area palace was burned down, thus new palace was made in central area again.This palace was a large one consisted of 16 buildings, reflecting the importance of the castle and governor.

Afterward of castle

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, most part of castle was broken and used as a ground for schools or houses. But front side buildings of central area palace was used as local government office, and remains until now. 

In addition to this, basement of Fujimi turret (substitute of main tower), part of clay walls surrounding central area or water moat next to main gate still exist around the former central area, and we can still imagine the shape of large castle guarded Edo city. Kawagoe city itself has many old houses, warehouses, temples and shrines, and it became a famous sightseeing site as an old town having atmosphere of Edo era.


20 minutes walk from JR East Kawagoe-sen line Kawagoe station, Tobu Tojo-sen line Kawagoe-shi station or Seibu Shinjuku-sen line Hon-Kawagoe station. 20 minutes drive from Kanetsu Jidoshado Expressway Kawagoe interchange.

Related Castles

Odawara Castle -Castle rejected two famous warlords-
Edo Castle (1) -Inner area built by talented general-
Musashi Matsuyama Castle -Gathering point of three powerful warlords-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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