Monday, October 13, 2014

Samegao Castle -Irreconciable conflict after god of war (12) tragic end of internal conflict-

Samegao Castle

-Irreconciable conflict after god of war (12) tragic end of internal conflict-



Name: Samegao castle (Samegao-jo)
Place: Yukimori Myoko city, Niigata
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 15th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Continued from Part 11

Samegao castle (鮫ヶ尾城) is located at Joyama hill, a low but wide hill of 180 meter height located at western edge of Takada plain. The site of the castle is the bottle neck place at the south end of Takada plain connected to Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) and Samegao castle was the final defense line of Takada plain toward southward along with Myoko Torisaka castle (Myoko city) or Mikaburi castle (Joetsu city). 

Lower part of Joyama hill is Hida ruins, a ruin of large hill village of 1800 years ago which held over 200 houses was encircled by clay walls and moats. Furthermore, at hills around Joyama hill there are groups of over 100 old tombs of same age, thus this place prospered both of ancient era and medieval era as a communication route from Shinano province to coast area.

Origin of Samegao castle

The precise year of construction is unknown, but considering small unshaped main areas and importance of location, the castle might exist at least from the beginning of 16th century. In the beginning of 16th century Tamekage Nagao (1486-1543), the deputy governor of Echigo province raised against the governor Uesugi clan and seized Joetsu area, then Samegao castle might be improved as a branch castle of the area around this time.

Since the middle of 16th century Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), a warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture), expanded their territory into Shinano province, thus Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) and Shingen fiercely fought at Kawanakajima (Nagano prefecture) for the dominance of north part of Shinano province. 

After the fourth battle at Kawanakajima in 1560, Shingen substantially seized current Nagano city area. Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture), the main base of Uesugi clan is only 50 kilometer apart from the border to Shinano province, and even though it was high land area but there was no obstruction between both area. 

As Takada plain is separated from other area of Echigo province, there was a risk of sudden attack from Shingen to Kasugayama castle before reinforcement from other area of Echigo province arrived. Thus Kenshin Uesugi strengthened castles guarded Takada plain including Samegao castle in 1570’s, along with the remaining castles in Shinano province such as Iiyama castle.

Structure of Samegao castle

Samegao castle mainly consist of three parts, it mean core areas at the top of the hill, east areas along with the long ridge spread to east ward, and south area guarded short and steep ridge at southward. Core part consists of central area which is about 50 meter long and separated into upper half and lower half at the peak of the mountain.

At the south of central area, secondary area and third area both are about 50 meter long is built at the slope. Below of third area there is a gate of the castle from south part of the castle having many small terraces built at steep slope. At the north of central area, two large areas of about 50 meter long are built three deep and wide dry moats which area over 10 meter wide and 100 meter long sharply cut the line of ridge.

At the east of central area, terraces are built at several places of gentle and long ridge comes up from hillside. As this side is most easy to approach, layers of dry moats protect the entrance of this area. Total size of the castle is over 500 meter long, and the size and defense structure of the castle is sufficient as the south gate of Kasugayama castle.

Outbreak of internal conflict

Samegao castle became famous at the time of “Otate no Ran”, an internal conflict between two adopted son of Kenshin Uesugi . One was Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), a son of Masakage Nagao (1526-1564) who was the lord of Ueda Nagao clan that was the branch family of Uesugi clan, and Sentoin, the elder sister of Kenshin. 

Another adopted son was Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579) who came from Hojo clan, the warlord of Sagami province (Kanagawa prefecture) and seized most part of Kanto region. Uesugi clan and Hojo clan fiercely fought for Kanto region but temporally allied in 1568, then Kagetora was sent to Uesugi clan. Soon Uesugi clan and Hojo clan broke but Kenshin did not kill or return Kagetora and kept as an adopted son.

Having two adopted son without real son is clearly cause of internal conflict, but Kenshin did not decide the order of these two. In March 1578 Kenshin suddenly died without deciding this successor, then being affected by the conflict between retainers Kagekatsu Uesugi and Kagetora Uesugi started internal conflict named as “Otate no Ran”.

Process of conflict

Kagekatsu Uesugi seized Kasugayama castle, the main base of Uesugi clan, and achieved the support of over half retainer of Uesugi clan. On the other hand, Kagetora Uesugi besieged at neighbor Otate castle (Niigata prefecture) was supported only by middle part of the province, but also assisted by his home Hojo clan and its ally Takeda clan.

As the army of Uesugi clan was divided, if Takeda clan and Hojo clan participated in the army of Kagetora Uesugi, there was no possibility of win for Kagekatsu Uesugi. But Kagekatsu Uesugi could turn Takeda clan by negotiation to his side, and also drove back the assault of Hojo army to his native place Uonuma area by secure Sakado castle (Niigata prefecture) and heavy snow in winter season.

Once the assault of Hojo army stopped by snow in October 1578, Kagekatsu Uesugi made physical attack to Otate castle and shut of supply line to Kagetora Uesugi, before the arrival of spring which enables next assault of Hojo clan. Until February 1579, Kagetora Uesugi lost its major commander Kagehiro Kitajo (1548-1579) and supply line then its army collapsed.

Tragic death of son

In the beginning of March, there became no possibility of winning for Kagetora Uesugi. Kagetora Uesugi asked coordination with Kagekatsu Uesugi under the mediation of Norimasa Uesugi (1523-1579), who was the former Kanto Kanrei ran to Echigo province and a guest of Uesugi clan. Kagekatsu once agreed the ally under the condition of accepting Domanmaru Uesugi (1571-1579), the son of Kagetora Uesugi, as a hostage.

However, Norimasa Uesugi and Domanmaru Uesugi headed to Kasugayama castle were assassinated on the way. It could be due to confusion but is said as intentional incident by Kagekatsu Uesugi, to eliminate the root of internal conflict. The mother of Domanmaru was sister of Kagekatsu Uesugi, then Domanmaru had qualification of blood line different from Kagetora Uesugi who was an outsider.

Kagetora Uesugi who heard the death of his son gave up the resistance and decided to run to his home Hojo clan through Shinano province. Shinano province was held by Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), who turned to Kagekatsu Uesugi but married with the person of Hojo clan and nominally still allied with Hojo clan then was thought to support the escape of Kagetora Uesugi.

Escape to Samegao castle

In the middle of March, Kagetora Uesugi and his army left Otate castle in midnight and headed to Samegao castle at the middle of Joetsu area and Shinano province. The wife of Kagetora Uesugi who was the sister of Kagekatsu Uesugi declined the advisory of surrender from her brother and killed herself. 

Suffered from the chase of Kagekatsu Uesugi, owing to desperate combat of his retainers Kagetora Uesugi barely arrived at Samegao castle. Munechika Horie (?-?), the commander of Samegao castle, belonged to Kagetora Uesugi and accepted him but secretly turned to Kagekatsu Uesugi. 

It is said that Munechika Horie felt sorry for exhausted Kagetora Uesugi on the run, but Kagekatsu Uesugi might order Munechika Horie to accept Kagetora Uesugi at Samegao castle, in order to prevent direct escape of Kagetora Uesugi to Shinano province. Once Kagetora entered Shinano province, it might be difficult to request Takeda clan to capture even though under alliance.

Tragic end of Kagetora Uesugi

At the same time Hojo army assaulted to Uonuma area again and fell Arato castle (Niigata prefecture) at the border of Mikuni-Toge pass. But the main army of Hojo clan did not move then Hojo army soon retreated and this attack could not move the situation. 

At last, in response to the attack of Kagekatsu Uesugi, the soldiers of Munechika Horie opened the castle and burnt the building of the castle. Kagetora Uesugi and his retainers stayed at secondary area of the castle desperately fought against the enemy but finally Kagetora Uesugi killed himself at burning castle. At the castle burnt rice bowl and finery were excavated and showed the scene of end of Kagetora Uesugi.

Now the internal conflict of Uesugi clan had ended one year after the death of Kenshin Uesugi. But Uesugi clan suffered severe damage and was forced to the corner by the invasion of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582). Due to the death of Nobunaga in the incident of Honnoji Uesugi clan barely survived, but did not show the legendary strength at the time of Kenshin and its retainers again.

Afterward of castle

After the battle Samegao castle might be abolished. After the extinction of Takeda clan in 1582 by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), Oda army suppressed Uesugi clan from Shinano province but there was no record for reuse of Samegao castle. Memory of cruel internal conflict and too large size without clear defense line prevent the use of castle.

Today no building remains but structure of the castle well remains on the mountain. From castle the spectacular view of Takada plain toward the Sea of Japan is well seen, but the direction of Shinano province is blocked by snowy mountains. In the peaceful time this view is wonderful one, but at the end of internal conflict this might only bring the memory of defeats and end of future to the tragic loser.

Continue to Part 13


40 minutes walk from Echigo Tokimeki Tetsudo line Kita-Arai station. 20 minutes drive from Joshinetsu Jidoshado Expressway Joetsu-Takada interchange. 30 minutes walk from hillside parking to hilltop castle.

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Pictures (click to enlarge)

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