Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tanaka Castle (Higo) -Rise for autonomy-

Tanaka Castle (Higo)

-Rise for autonomy-



Name: Tanaka castle (Tanaka-jo)
Alias: Wani-jo (Wani castle)
Place: Wani Nagomi town, Kumamoto
Location: 33.07846672338568, 130.59495232370935
Type: Hill Castle
Built: unknown, expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Tanaka castle (田中城) is located at a hill places at the merging point of Wanigawa river and Tomachigawa river, both are tributary of Kikuchigawa river. Place of Tanaka castle is the center of hilly area which divides Kurume plain and Kikuka basin, and formerly Buzen Kaido road, a main road connected Fukuoka area and Kumamoto area passed just south of Tanaka castle. Because of its geographical location Tanaka castle worked as northern gate of Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture), therefore was involved into severe battle.

Origin of Tanaka castle and Wani clan

Precise year is unknown but Takana castle was built as a residence of local lord Wani clan. Wani clan is a traditional clan from ancient era and said as a descendent of Emperor Kosho, one of the emperors of mythical era. Apart from its origin, Wani clan had a long history in Higo province along with Aso clan which was the lord of Aso mountain. 

In medieval era, there was no strong authority in Higo province. Unlike other provinces of Kyushu island, Higo province is divided into many small basin and plain, and many local lords governed each territoty. The governor of Higo province was Kikuchi clan, but at the time of conflict between Emperor Godaigo and Muromachi Shogunate in 14th ceutnry, Kikuchi clan worked as a main force of Emperor Godaigo in Kyushu region and was defeated by Muromachi Shogunate army thus significantly deceased its power. 

Kikuchi clan finally made peace with Muromachi Shogunate and kept the position of the governor, but in the latter half of 15th century internal conflicts occurred in the clan. Main stream of Kikuchi clan totally lost their power, and Kikuchi clan was governed by its large retainers such as Akaboshi clan, Kumabe clan or Jyo clan. Other than these clans, Aso clan in the eastern area and Sagara clan in the southern area were major large lords of the province, and these local lords followed strong external power and tried to keep their territory.

Movement of local lords of Higo province

At the middle of 16th century, Yoshishige Otomo (1530-1578), the governor of Bungo province (Oita prefecture), grew their power and became dominant in north and middle part of Kyushu island. Yoshishige intervened into Higo province and forced local lords of Higo province to follow to Otomo clan. But after 1560's Shimazu clan, the house of governor of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) rapidly became strong and grew their power into north ward. 

In 1578, Otomo army fought against Shimazu army at the battle of Mimikawa but suffered fatal defeat, and Otomo clan rapidly declined. Seeing the weakened Otomo clan Shimazu clan and Ryuzoji clan invaded Higo province from south and north respectively, but Shimazu clan defeated Ryuzoji clan at the battle of Okitanawate in 1584 and captured whole part of Higo province. Same as other local clans, Wani clan followed to Shimazu clan.

Shimazu clan fiercely attacked Otomo clan and seemed to unite Kyushu island. But due to the rescue request from Otomo clan, central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) started campaign against Kyushu island in 1586. In 1587 spring Hideyoshi who united major part of Japan mobilized over 100,000 army with advanced weapons, and quickly captured north part of Kyushu island defeating local lords supported Shimazu army. Shimazu army had brilliant generals strong soldiers then firmly resisted, but finally was outnumbered by Toyotomi army and surrendered to Hideyoshi in two months.

Forced land survey by Narimasa Sassa

At this time local lords of Higo province surrendered to Hideyoshi, and they were once approved to keep their territory. Hideyoshi placed Narimasa Sassa (1536-1588) as the governor of Higo province at Kumamoto castle and let him manage local lords. Narimasa was originally a commander of royal guard of former ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), and later became a lord of Toyama castle (Toyama prefecture). After the death of Nobunaga, Narimasa once strongly opposed to uprising Hideyoshi who became next ruler. But in 1585 Hideyoshi attacked Narimasa with large army, and Narimasa surrendered to Hideyoshi. Narimasa once retired, but Hideyoshi evaluated his braveness and talent then used Narimasa again.

It is said that Hideyoshi instructed Narimasa to refrain hasty policy during three years, but the truth of this story is unknown. Anyway Narimasa who entered Higo province and resided Kumamoto castle forcibly proceeded land survey. Like Domesday Book in England performed by King William, land survey clarified income of each land and military power, and let the authority directly grasp each lord and people. Former ruler Nobunaga Oda repeated land survey at occupied area, and Hideyoshi adopted same policy. 

But land survey was critical to local lords and attracted antipathy of them. Being grasped their land, local lords lost their autonomy and fall into mere magistrate of its land. Each lords and retainers became directly controlled by the governor and clan group became dismantled. Furthermore there were many ambiguous interests regarding the land which attributed to local lords, and such implied interests were deprived at the process of land survey.

Rebellion of local lords of Higo province

Narimasa once retired and lost his hereditary land and retainers, thus he had to hire new retainers and allocate lands to these retainers as soon as possible to keep their loyalty. But hasty start of land survey evoked antipathy against Narimasa, and finally Kumabe clan rejected land survey revolted in June 1587. Narimasa tried to suppress Kumabe clan, but mixed up Narimasa army did not work thus could not beat Kumabe clan. Seeing this situation, other local lords except for Sagara clan at Minamata basin made rebellion against Narimasa all at once, and Narimasa was encircled at Kumamoto castle and lost communication to outside of province. 

Wani clan participated this rebellion along with other local lords, and besieged at Tanaka castle with his relative Hebaru clan. Tanaka castle is located over the triangle shaped hill of 300 meter long and 100 meter wide at the merging point of two rivers like Y letter, and its back side was also separated by valley from backside mountain. The site of the castle was fully surrounded by rivers and damps, and it is a suitable place to defend. 

Central area of the castle is located at the highest point in the center of the hill. Originally the castle might have only several terraces, but considering the siege Wani clan built a large dry moat of 20 meter width surrounding western half of the hill. Some part of ridge remained outside of this dry moat and might be used as watching place. Many terraces were built all over the hill, to make place for garrison and prevent the enemy to climb up loose slope. Wani clan besieged at Tanaka castle with 1,000 soldiers and prepared for the attack of Toyotomi army. 

Battle of Tanaka castle and fall

Facing rebellion in Higo province, to keep his authority, Hideyoshi sent large army to Higo province and ordered solely annihilate this rebellion. To make connection to Narimasa stayed at Kumamoto castle, Toyotomi army consist of Mouri clan, Nabeshima clan and Tachibana clan marched into Higo province from northward in October and encircled Tanaka castle. 10,000 soldiers of Toyotomi army stayed at surrouding hills, and built fence all around the castle to shut the supply line. Location map of surrounding army is still left at Mouri clan and clearly shows the detail of the battle.

Wani clan firmly guarded the castle over 30 days, but utilizing supremacy of number and weapons, Toyotomi army gradually approached to the castle and captured outer area. After that Toyotomi side urged betrayal of defense side, and shaken Hebaru clan betrayed Wani clan and killed them, then opened Tanaka castle. 

After nearly 40 days the battle of Tanaka castle finished, and all generals including betrayed Hebaru clan was killed by order of Hideyoshi. Soon arter that other lords surrendered to Hideyoshi and rebellion has finished, and furious Hideyoshi forced Narimasa to suicide to take the responsibility of this incident. Higo province became governed by Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611) and Yukinaga Konishi (1555-1600) for its north half and south half respectively.

Now the site of Tanaka castle was improved as a historical park, and terraces and moats of the castle well remain all over the hill. Small but secure defense facilities shows the strong will of Wani clan to resist to the ruler to keep their pride and autonomy as medieval lord.


15 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Nankan interchange to hillside parking.

Related Castles

Kumamoto Castle -Complete style of Japanese castle as military fortress-
Toyama castle -Man of pride and honor resisted to ruler-
Kunohe Cast;e -Be against the world-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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