Saturday, September 13, 2014

Himeji Castle (1) -Castle of good combination of commander and staff

Himeji Castle (1)

-Castle of good combination of commander and staff-



Name: Himeji castle (Himeji-jo)
Alias: Shirasagi-jo (White egret castle)
Place: Honmahi Himeji city, Hyogo
Location: 34.83954692665762, 134.6940571768788
Type: Hill Castle
Built: Originally 14th century, expanded in 16th century and 17th century
Remaining remnants: Main tower, turrets, gates, fences, stone walls and moats
Title: World Heritage, 100 famous Japanese castles, 12 original main towers, National Treasure

Brief History

Himeji castle (姫路城) is located at Himeyama hill, one of 45 meter in the central area of Himeji city. Himeji area is in the middle of Harima province (southern part of Hyogo prefecture) with large plain area, thus historically this area had been the center of Harima province. Himeji area is also an important of communication where Sanyodo way, an artery connects Kyoto city and Kyushu region, and northward route into Sanin region through Takeda castle (Hyogo prefecture). 

Himeji castle under Kodera clan and Kuroda clan

Himeji castle was originally built by Norimura Akamatsu (1277-1350, famous as his Buddhist name Enshin), a local lord of Harima province, in 14th century. Akamatsu clan was originally a local retainer of Kamakura Shogunate, but Enshin participated in anti Kamakura Shogunate movement of Emperor Godaigo and then became the important retainer of Muromachi Shogunate. Enshin appointed Kodera clan, a branch family of Akamatsu clan, as the commander of the castle.

Akamatsu clan once fell due to Kakitsu no Ran (incident of Kakitsu) in 1441, their assassination of sixth shogun Yoshinori Ashikga (1394-1441), but after the battle of Onin (1467-1477) the clan came back to the governor of Harima province. After comeback Akamatsu clan located at Ojio castle (Hyoto prefecture), a mountain castle at 10km north of Himeji castle, and Himeji castle worked as a forefront to guard Ojio castle. Kodera clan continuously managed Himeji castle, but in 1519 they newly built Gochaku castle at 5 kilometer east of Himeji castle, and appointed Kuroda clan as a deputy commander of Himeji castle.

Kuroda clan was originally stem from Omi province (Shiga prefecture) but is said to come to came to Harima province at the beginning of 16th century. At the middle of 16th century, Mototaka Kuroda (1524-1585), the father of Yoshitaka Kuroda (1546-1604, famous as Kanbe), made achievement and married with woman of Kodera clan, then became the vassal of Kodera clan. In 1567, Mototaka retired and left the position to Yoshitaka Kuroda.

Encounter of Hideyoshi and Kanbe

When Yoshitaka succeeded the leader position, the power of Akamatsu clan significantly weakened, and conflicts between major retainers of Akamatsu clan occurred frequently. In 1569, Masahide Akamatsu (?-1570), a branch house of Akamatsu clan and commander of Tatsuno castle (Hyogo prefecture), attacked Himeji castle. Outnumbered Yoshitaka faced hard fight, but Yoshitaka lead his army and made sudden attack to loosened Akamatsu army and finally drove back this attack.

In 1570’s, Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), a warlord of Owari province (western half of Aichi prefecture) became the ruler of central area, stabilized eastern front and turned its interest to Chugoku region . In 1577 Nobunaga appointed his general Hideyoshi Hashiba (1537-1598, later Hideyoshi Toyotomi) as a regional commander, and Hideyoshi entered Harima country from Nagahama castle (Shiga prefecture).

Yoshitaka bet his future to Hideyoshi, and aggressively supported Hideyoshi entered Harima province and became his military staff, along with senior military staff Shigeharu Takenaka (1544-1579, famous as Hanbe) called as Hanbe. Due to the plot of two excellent military staffs, Hideyoshi once easily united Harima province in a year.

But in 1578, Nagaharu Bessho (1558-1580), the largest local lord of the province who held Miki castle (Hyogo prefecture), suddenly betrayed Hideyoshi. In addition to this, 5 month later, Murashige  Araki (1535-1586), a commander of Nobunaga and governor of Settsu province (north part of Osaka prefecture), also revolted to Nobunaga. 

Hideyoshi was in tough situation and Kodera clan, master of Yoshitaka and Mototaka Kuroda, father of Yoshitaka changed to revolt army. On the other hand Yoshitaka stayed at Hideyoshi, and was captured by Murashige Araki when Yoshitaka visited Arioka castle to stop his attempt. But Yoshitaka did not surrender to Muashige and was confiscated over one year in underground jail, and was finally rescued but seriously injured his knee.

Expansion of Hideyoshi and Himeji castle

By 1580, Hideyoshi finally broke Bessho clan and Araki clan loosing Shigeharu Takenaka in ill, then started to expand into west ward, the territory of Mouri clan. Yoshitaka hand over Himeji castle to Hideyoshi as his main base at Chugoku region, and Hideyoshi let Yoshitaka and Nagamasa Asano (1546-1610) to totally reform Himeji castle as his residence. 

Himeji Castle of this era only used eastern half of Himeyama hill and current Nishinomaru area might be mere flat space. Current east half of Himeyama hill consist of small terraces and is thought to keep the shape of Hideyoshi era. These areas were surrounded by stone walls, and a three story main tower is thought to be built at the site of current main tower. Stone wall of Hideyoshi era still remain in the lower half of the stone wall at Kamiyamazato area.

Hideyoshi resided Himeji castle and steadily expand his territory. In 1580 Hideyoshi captured Tajima province (north part of Hyoto prefecture), and next year sieged Tottori castle (Tottori prefecture) and also seized Inaba province (east half of Tottori prefecture). At the same time Naoie Ukita (1529-1582), a warlord seized Bizen province and Mimasaka province (Okayama prefecture) changed to Hideyoshi, and Hideyoshi gradually overcome Mouri clan.

Place for next hegemony

In 1582, Hideyoshi marched to Bicchu province (west half of Okayama prefecture) and sieged Bicchu Takamatsu castle (Okayama prefrecture). Based on the plan of Yoshitaka, Hideyoshi build a large embankment around the castle and made flood attack to the castle. At the same time Hideyoshi called reinforcement of Nobunaga to make decisive battle against Mouri clan, but on his way to Chugoku region Nobunaga died at Honnoji no Hen (the incident of Honnoji), a coup d’eta by his general Mitsuhide Akechi (1528-1582).

Hideyoshi and Yoshitaka acquired this information decided to make peace with Mouri clan concealing the death of Nobunaga and return to Kinki region to make revenge of Nobunaga. Kanbe made success negotiation with Mouri clan, and Toyotomi army moved 100 kilometer between Bicchu Takamatsu castle and Himeji castle in only two days, and Hideyoshi distributed all supplies at Himeji castle to his soldiers, to clarify that Hideyoshi would not return to Himeji castle before he beat Mitsuhide. 

In another two days Hideyoshi reached to Kinki region, and this quick movement of non damaged large army urged other generals of Oda army to support Hideyoshi. With overwhelming army Hideyoshi beat Mitsuhide at the battle of Yamazaki, and took a big step to the next hegemony. As above, Himeji caslte in 16th century was the stage of rapid progress of Hideyoshi collabolating with Yoshitaka Kuroda.

Continue to Himeji Castle Part 2


20 minutes walk from JR West Sanyo line /Sanyo Shinkansen line Himeji Station. 20 minutes drive from Sanyodo Expressway HImejihigashi interchange

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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