Monday, October 13, 2014

Samegao Castle -Tragic loser of internal conflict-

Samegao Castle

-Tragic loser of internal conflict-



Name: Sameao castle (Samegao-jo)
Place: Yukimori Myoko city, Niigata
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 15th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Samegao castle (鮫ヶ尾城) is located at Jyoyama 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), then Samegao castle was the final defense line of Takada plain toward southward along with Torisaka castle (Myoko city) or Mikaburi castle (Jyoetsu city). 

Lower part of Jyoyama hill is Hida ruins, a ruin of large hill village of 1800 years ago which was encircled by clay walls and moats, thus this place was a military base both at ancient era and medieval era (visitors can access to the castle from historical park of Hida ruins) .

Construction and expansion 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 15th century. 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 dominace of north part of Shinano prefecture. 

After the fourth battle at Kawanakajima in 1560, Shingen substantially seized current Nagano city area. Kasugayama castle (Joetsu city), the residence of Kanshin is only 50 kilometer apart from Nagano area, 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 country, there was a risk of sudden attack from Shingen to Kasugayama castle before reinforcement from other area of Echigo country arrived. Thus Shingen strengthened castles guarded Takada plain including Samegao castle in 1570’s, along with the remaining castles in Shinano country such as Iiyama castle.

Samegao castle mainly consist of three parts, it mean main 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. Main area consist of several terraces of about 50 meter long, and north edge of central area was separated steep dry moats from outside. East area is thought as main entrance to the castle, and dry moats and terraces intermittently separate the long ridge continued from hillside. South area might be the rear gate of the castle, and small terraces was built like step. The total size of the castle exceeded 300 meter long, and this castle was one of the relatively large castles in this area.

Two adopted son of Kenshin Uesugi

Samegao castle became famous at the time of “Otate no Ran”, an internal conflict for the successor of Kenshin. Kenshin was an enthusiastic Buddhist and did not marry like a monk, and replacing he had two adopted son. One was Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), a son of Masakage Nagao (1526-1564) and Sentoin, the sister of Kenshin. Masakage was from Ueda Nagao clan, a strong relative house of Uesugi clan and once opposed to Kenshin, but later made peace and married with his sister.

Another adopted son was Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579). Kagetora was seventh son of Ujiyasu Hojyo (1515-1571), a strong warlord of Kanto region. Kagetora once became an adopted son of Genan Hojyo (1493-1589) who managed Kozukue castle (Kanagawa prefecture), and was recorded as a good-looking guy. At first Kenshin and Ujiyasu fiercely fought for the hegemony of Kanto plain, but in 1568 Hojyo clan became hostile against former ally Shingen Takeda, thus Uesugi clan and Hojyo clan made alliance and Ujiyasu sent Kagetora to Kenshin. Later the alliance between both clan broke 1571, but Kenshin did not punish or send back Kagetora and still treated as adopted son. Kaenshi also let Kagetora marry with the sister of Kagekatsu. 

Internal conflict between two adopted son

Having two adopted son without real son was clearly a cause of internal conflict, but Kenshin did not decide the order of these two. In March 1578 Kenshin suddenly died before leaving for his campaign against Hojyo clan without stating his successor. To make the matter worse, Kagekatsu was son of Ueda Nagao clan but there was another strong relative Koshi Nagao clan and other non obedient local lords. On the other hand, Kagetora was a son of enemy country, and selecting Kagetora was substantially subordinate to Hojyo clan. Now the battle of quagmire between both party began

Just after the death of Kenshin, Kagekatsu seized main area of Kasugayama castle and succeeded the fund and government of Kenshin. Kagetora left Kasugayama castle and besieged at Otate residence at neighborhood, the residence of Norimasa Uesugi (1523-1579), the former Kanto Kanrei (general minister of Kanto region) refuge to Echigo country. Both party asked for assistance to retainer and surrounding warlords then Echigo country was divided into two powers.

Response to interference of external powers

As Kagekatsu seized Joetsu area including Kasugayama castle and close guard of Kenshin, Kagekatsu locally suppressed Kagetora at Otate residence. In response for this, Kagetora asked assistance to Ujimasa Hojyo (1538-1590), son of Ujiyasu, then Ujimasa prepared to send a reinforcement and also asked Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), son of Shingen and allied with Hojyo clan, to support Kagetora.

If attacked by two strong warlords there was no chance of winning for Kagekatsu. Thus Kagekatsu negotiated with Katsuyori under condition of compensation and cession of Uesugi territory at Kouzuke province (Gunma prefecture). At that time Katsuyori had financial problem due to continuous conflict with Oda clan and Tokugawa clan, and also feared the expansion of Hojyo clan in case Kagetora succeeded Uesugi clan. Thus Katsuyori finally made treaty with Kagekatsu and left Echigo province.

On the other hand, after the leave of Takeda clan, Hojo clan sent large reinforcement to Echigo country to rescue Kagetora. But Uonuma area, the entrance from Kanto region to Echigo country, was native place of Kagekatsu, and Kagekatsu army stand against large army of Hojo clan. In the meantime the winter came, and for fear of suspension of supply line Hojo army finally retreated to Kanto region without any achievement.

Settlement of internal conflict

Settling two danger from outside, Kagekatsu strengthened attack to Kagetora side. Major supporters of Kagetora such as Kagenobu Uesugi (?-1578) or Kagehiro Kitajo (1548-1579) was killed in the battle, and Katekatsu seized Chuetsu region, the connection route to Kanto region and blocked Kagetora. Kagetora suffered from lack of supply and his supporters began to leave him.

In April 1579, before next expedition of Hojyo clan after snow season, Kagekatsu made all-out attack to Otate residence. Kagetora could not stand any more and lost his family, then left Otate residence and escaped to Samegao castle. Samegao castle was held by Muhechika Horie (?-?) who supported Kagetora, and near to the border to Shinano province. 

But Kagenao already connected to Kagekatsu, then Kagenao left the castle and attacked Kagetora in the castle. Losing a ray of hope for escape, Kagetora killed himself at Samegao castle in March 1579, and a severe internal conflict continued over came to an end. From castle site trace of burnt buildings and carbonized rice ball was excavated, and they show the fierce battle of this time.

Afterward of winner and castle

Uesugi clan significantly lost their power in this internal conflict, and due to the attack of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) Kagekatsu became at the corner of downfall in 1582. But due to the incident of Honnoji, a coup d’etat against Nobunaga in 1582, Kagekatsu barely survived and could continue the name of Uesugi clan. Katsuyori also broke with Hojo clan due to his action, and Takeda clan was exhausted by conflict with Hojyo clan and this became a cause of sudden extinction of the clan. As Samegao castle was close to the border to Takeda clan, if Katsuyori secretly rescued Kagetora and send him back to Hojo clan, the situation could be different.

After the battle Samegao castle might be abolished. After the extinction of Takeda clan, Oda clan occupied Shinano province and suppressed Uesugi clan from Shinano province, but there was no trace for reuse of Samegao castle. The shape of the castle remain on the hill, and is famous for the place of ending place of tragic loser of internal conflict. (visitors have to be cautious for bear in summer season)


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.

Related Castles

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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