Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bicchu Matsuyama castle -Castle of struggle with original main tower-

Bicchu Matsuyama castle

-Castle of struggle with original main tower-



Name: Bicchu Matsuyama castle (Bicchu Matsuyama-jo)
Alias: Matsuyama castle, Takahashi castle
Place: Uchiyamashita Takahashi city, Okayama
Location: 34.80910840220331, 133.62260687035985
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: Originally 14th century, expanded in 16th and 17th century
Remaining remnants: Main tower, turret, stone walls, clay walls and dry moats
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Bicchu Matsuyama castle (備中松山城, the formal name is Matsuyama castle but to distinguish from Matsuyama castle at Ehime prefecture this castle is usually called as Bicchu Matsuyama castle) is located along the long edge of Gagyusan mountain, a mountain of 430 meter above sea level at the north of Matsuyama town, current Takahashi city.

Takahashi town is placed at a small basin beside Takahashigawa river, and had been a connecting point between Okayama city and Sanin area or a mountain path runs through east and west direction from Tsuyama city to Miyoshi city at middle part of Chugoku area. 

Bicchu Matsuyama castle is a large mountain castle used from medieval area until the end of Edo era, and regarded as three large modernized mountain castles along with Iwamura castle (Gifu prefecture) and Takatori castle (Nara prefecture). This castle also has an original main tower, and is regarded as one of 12 castles with original main tower.

Capture by Sho clan and Mimura clan

It is said that Bicchu Matsuyama castle was originally built by Akiba clan in 14th century, but the detail is unclear. In Muromachi era, Hosokawa clan was the governor of Bicchu country but they lost their power by the end of 15th century, and the power of local lords such as Sho clan or Mumura clan replacingly expanded. 

At the beginning of 16th century, Sho clan became the strongest lord of Bicchu province, and they occupied Bicchu Matsuyama castle in 1532. Sho clan expanded this castle into a large fortress and used as their main base, and aggressively moved their army to neighbor countries under Amago clan, a strong warlord of Izumo province (east part of Shimane prefecture).

But at the middle of 16th century, Amago clan was suppressed by Mouri clan, a warlord of Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture) and gradually lost their power. In line with this, in Bicchu province Mimura clan grew their power in cooperation with Mouri clan. Same as Sho clan, Iechika Mimura (1517-1566), leader of Mimura clan at that time, sent their army to neighbor countries and fought against Uragami clan which was a lord at Tenjinyama castle (Okayama prefecture) and their general Ukita clan. 

Iechika also suppressed Sho clan and captured Bicchu Matsuyama castle, but was finally assassinated by Naoie Ukita (1529-1582) who was the lord of Okayama castle by gunshot. This assassination left the grudge between Mimura clan and Ukita clan.

After the death of Iechika, Motochika Mimura (?-1575), son of Iechika, and Sho clan struggled for Matsuyama castle under the support of Mouri clan and Ukita clan respectively. Motochika attempted revenge match against Naoie Ukita but caused severe defeat at the battle of Myozenji in 1566. However, Motochika recovered this castle from Sho clan under the support of Mouri clan and became the commander. Motochika further expanded this castle into a huge fortress covered the whole Gagyusan mountain.

Structure of Bicchu Matsuyama castle

Bicchu Matsuyama castle mainly consist of three parts and total length of castle exceeds 1 kilometer. The most inner and highest part is called as Omatsuyama area, and main area at Mimura period existed here. Omatsuyama area consist of several large terraces, and separated by dry moats. Just before Omatsuyama area there is Tenjinmaru area, a middle part connecting Omatsuyama area and Komatsuyama area. 

Tenjinmaru area also consist of several terraces, and front side of this area is covered by old style stone walls. Both of Omatsuyama area and Tenjinmaru area have 200 meter length respectively and kept the style of medieval castle consist of clay walls and moats.

Before these areas there is another small peak named Komatsuyama, and this peak is also used as a Komatsuyama area which is recognized as current Bicchu Matsuyama castle today. As Komatsuyama area stands in front of the mountain and seen from castle town, only Komatsuyama area is reformed into a modern castle with stone walls in Edo era. Komatsuyama area has also 200 meter length, and it is 10 minutes walk between Komatsuyama area and Tenjinmaru area.

Disturbance of Bicchu country and later commanders

In 1573, Ukita clan left weakened Amago clan and suddenly allied with Mouri clan. Mimura clan could not accept to be the same side of mortal enemy, thus Iechika revolted to Mouri clan in cooperation with Oda clan. But Oda clan at this time was far from Mouri clan, and Iechika was attacked by overwhelming Mouri army in 1575. 

Motochika besieged at this castle and stand over half year, but being occupied all branch castles and lost their supply, then finally surrendered to Mouri clan. Motochika killed himself and Mimura clan extinguished. This battle is called as "Bicchu Heiran (disturbance of Bicchu province"). Note that Naoie Ukita left Mouri clan and changed to Oda clan four years later.

After the fall of castle, Mouri clan directly governed this castle until the battle of Sekigahara in 1600. As a result of the battle Mouri clan lost this castle, and Kobori clan became the commander of the castle. Masakazu Kobori (1579-1647) is known as a famous tea artist, constructor and gardener, reformed this castle and built the hillside palace but moved to Omi country in 1619. 

In 1642, Mizutani clan, a hereditary retainer of Tokugawa clan, was appointed as a lord of Bicchu Matsuyama domain. Mizutani clan improved Bicchu Matsuyama castle into current shape. The remaining main tower is said to be built by this Mizutani clan, but also said Mizutani clan just reformed existing main tower built at Kobori period. Considering the fact that the style of main tower is an old one and building of new castle was strictly prohibited at Mizutani era, the latter is more possible.

Remaining main tower and afterward of the castle

The remaining main tower was two layer, and the lowest one among remaining 12 original main towers. It is smaller than corner turrets of large castles, but inside that rooms for commander and shrine for guarding god of the castle are made and it is surely a main tower. The size of the basement is large compared with the current main tower, thus formerly there might be a three story main tower or the top floor was cut due to some reason. Other than main tower, another two story turret remains as original just behind the main tower.

During Edo era, as an important place of communication, hereditary retainers of Edo Shogunate served as commanders of the castle. Subsequent to Meiji revolution most buildings were lost, but main tower and one turret were left at the top of the mountain and survived. 

Currently destructed turrets, gates and walls at the central area were restored and the center of the castle recovered old shape. This castle is located at a distant area but having attractive points such as main tower, complex shape stone walls at entrance and inner medieval castle, then it is worth visiting for castle fans.


Bus from JR West Hakubi line Takahashi station. 40 minutes drive from Okayama JIdoshado Expressway Kayo interchange to halfway or hillside parking.  

Related Castles

Iwamura Castle -Castle of tragic female commander-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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