Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tagajo Castle -Vice capital of ancient Japan in fortress city-

Tagajo Castle

-Vice capital of ancient Japan in fortress city-



Name: Tagajo Castle (Tagajo-jo)
Place: Ichikawashiromae Tagajo city, Miyagi
Location: 38.30688988926087, 140.98888073062756
Type: Ancient Castle
Built: 724
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Tagajo castle (多賀城) is a Japanese ancient fortress city located at the height in Tagajo city, at 10 kilometer north east of Sendai city. This area is a hill country divides Sendai plain into north half and south half, and also close to Shiogama port, a natural good port used from ancient era. Tagajo castle was built on a projection of height at the south edge of hilly area, and surrounded by marsh and rivers it was an appropriate place for defense. 

Yamato dynasty and marginal people

Yamato dynasty, the origin of current Japan, might be an ally of local lords originally, but later took in other large local kingdoms such as Izumo kingdom (Shimane prefecture) or Kibi kingdom (Okayama prefecture), by the end of 4th century they seized most part of central Japan, from Kanto region to Chugoku region. But in Tohoku region and Kyushu region there were another group of people named Emishi in Tohoku region and Kumaso in Kyushu area, which did not obey to Yamato dynasty, thus Yamato dynasty performed operations in both area. 

In Kyushu island, the influence of Yamato dynasty reached to the south edge in 5th century, and although there was a rebellion in early 7th century, the situation became stable after that. On the other hand, in Tohoku region, the expansion of central power started earnestly in 8th century, after the domestic and foreign crisis of Yamato dynasty in the latter half of 7th century.

Vice capital of Japan in Tohoku region

Ancient Japan had frequently changed their capital before staying at Heiankyo (current Kyoto city) in 794, but all of these capitals located Kinki region. In addition to this, to reign distant area, there were two vice capital in Kyushu region and Tohoku region respectively built around 700 (Tagajyo was built in 724). The vice capital in Kyushu area was called as Dazaifu located at current Dazaifu city of Fukuoka prefecture. 

As Kyushu area became stable in early stage, Dazaifu worked as a communication window to foreign countries. There was a large guest house named Kourokan near the city, to host ambassadors from abroad. Of course Dazaifu was responsible for defense of western Japan, and there was Ono castle, a mountain castle used in case of incident near the city.

On the other hand, as conflict between Yamato dynasty and Emishi people continued long time, Tagajo was more close to military base. The shape of the castle is a square of 1km length, and securely guarded by thick clay walls of five meter tall. The east side of the castle faces connecting hills were carefully protected, and east side entrance was a built at the inside of hollow of the wall guarded by corner turret, unlike the entrance of other city. Central area of the castle was 100 meter square located at the center of the castle, and there were several buildings used for government office.

Outside the central area there were administrative offices or residence of officers, and a main road of over 20 meter width connected entrance of central area and south main gate. Castle town and national temple was built at the south of castle, and as conflict occurred at the northern area from this castle, north side of hill area was covered by many forts.

Usage and abolish

Based on Tagajo castle and Akita fort built at Sea of Japan side, Yamato dynasty gradually expanded their front into north. In 780, due to the rebellion of local commander Tagajo castle was once burned down, but quickly reconstructed. In 9th century, central government seized current Miyagi prefecture, and the front moved to Kitakami plain, current southern half of Iwate prefecture. 

Tamuramaro Sakanoue (758-811), who was appointed Seii Taishogun (General to subjugate merginal people, the origin of the name of later Shogun) in 797, beat the leader of local people Aterui in 801 (?-802) and built Izawa fort and Shiburi fort in Kitakami area, and seized current Iwate prefecture. The front became apart from Tagajo castle but the castle still had been used as main base in Tohoku region.

In 10th century, due to the collapse of ancient administrative system and rise of nobles and samurais, central government gave up direct rule of this area and changed to the indirect control of local lords through connecting high class central nobles and samurais. Tagajyo castle gradually ceased it operation and thought be abolished by the end of 11th century. After 11th century central government interfered the conflict between local lords and strengthened its controls to Tohoku region, and finally by the extinction of Oshu Fujiwara clan by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) in 1189, Tohoku region was uniformly controlled by central government same as other areas.

After abolish place of Tagajo castle returned to plain, but castle area had been preserved by local people. After World War 2 investigation of the castle started in 1961, and after 50 years the work still continues. Based on the result of investigation the shape of ancient city is gradually revealed, and as structure of other large city such as Kyoto, Nara or Dazaifu lies in the ground of current large city and might be destructed, Tagajyo city is a valuable example of ancient city and castle of Japan.   


15 minutes walk from JR East Tohoku-Honsen line Kokufu-Tagajo station. 10 minutes drive from Sanriku-Jidoshado Expressway Tagajo interchange.

Related Castles

Onojo Castle -Fortress complex protected vice capital of ancient Japan-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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