Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Iwakuni Castle -Castle has ambivalent faces-

Iwakuni Castle

-Castle has ambivalent faces-



Name: Iwakuni castle (Iwakuni-jo)
Place: Yokoyama Iwakuni city, Yamaguchi
Location: 34.175487361394524, 132.17489408119076
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 1608
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats 
Title: 100 famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Iwakuni castle (岩国城) is located at Shiroyama mountain, one of about 200 meter from its hillside at the west of current central Iwakuni city area. The place of Iwakuni castle is a curving point of Nishikigawa river like “Ω” letter facing northeast, and a long and steep mountain guarded is three dimensions by river is a suitable place to build a castle.

Character of Iwakuni area

Iwakuni area is a small delta of Nishikigawa area, and located at eastern border of Suo province (eastern half of Yamaguchi prefecture) just 10 kilometer away from next Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture). The place of Iwakuni castle is the border between hill area at northwest side and delta area at southeast side. 

Sanyodo way, a main route from central area such as Kyoto city pass straightly through hill area at northwest hillside of the castle, and commercial town and port existed at south east flat area of the castle. This structure still remain even now, and Sanyo highway and Shinkansen train passes through north east of the castle and there is Shin Iwaniku station there, but Route 2 and traditional railroad goes through Iwakuni city area at southeast hillside and it is quite complication for visitors. This ambivalent condition strongly affects the structure and fate of Iwakuni castle.

Iwakuni castle was newly built by Hiroie Kikkawa (1661-1625) as his residence in 1608. Hiroie was a son of Motoharu Kikkawa (1530-1586), who was the second son of Motonari Mouri (1497-1571), substantial founder of Mouri clan as a warlord, and known as a brave general. As Terumoto Mouri (1553-1625), leader of Mouri clan was grand son of Motonari, Hiroie was applicable to the cousin of Terumoto. As Takakage Kobayakawa (1533-1597), another talented uncle of Terumoto, did not have his real son, Hiroie became the highest retainer of Mouri clan, served as a commander of Gassan Toda castle (Shimane prefecture) and started to build Yonago castle (Tottori prefecture). 

Territory cut and continuation of Mouri clan

After the death of central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) in 1598, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the largest lord under Toyotomi government and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of the government, fought for next hegemony. As Mouri clan was second largest lord next to Ieyasu, Mitsunari asked Mouri clan to became the leader of his side, and Mouri army actually attacked Tokugawa army at Fushimi castle or castles of other lords belonged to Ieyasu.

But Hiroie secretly connected to Ieyasu. Originally Kikkawa family was not so trusted by Hideyoshi and Mitsunari, contrary to Kobayakawa clan who supported Hideyoshi. Furthermore, Hiroie thought Tokugawa side was superior to Ishida side, and considering limited talent of Terumoro Mouri clan could not serve as a leader and survive the turbulent period. At the main battle at Sekigahara, Mouri army placed at the backside mountain of Ieyasu and it was a opportune place to assault, but Hiroie prevented movement of Mouri army throughout the battle. 

As a result, Ieyasu beat Mitsunari at the battle and seized next hegemony. Ieyasu at first thought to confiscate all territory from Mouri clan and give Nagato and Suo province (Yamaguchi prefecture) to Hiroie, but Hiroie refused this plan and asked Ieyasu to preserve both provinces to Mouri clan. Ieyasu accepted this plan, and Mouri clan barely survived as a feudal lord under Tokugawa clan, even though only one fourth territory. Later Hiroie's action was seen as a betrayal to Mouri clan, but it might be uncertain if Mouri clan could survive in case of the fall of Ieyasu, among other strong warlords stem from Oda and Toyotomi government.

Structure of Iwakuni castle

Mouri clan moved to Suo and Nagato province placed Hiroie at the place of Iwakuni as Iwakuni domain, at the eastern border of their new territory, along with Chofu domain which was made at Shimonoseki area, where was the western border of the domain. Iwakuni is the most probable attack route from central area, and directly adjoined with the territory of Masanori Fukushima (1561-1624), who was known as a strong general. To secure this important border, Hiroie built new castle.

Iwakuni castle is built over narrow hill spreads from southwest ward to northeast ward. As north side slope directly faces Sanyodo way which might be main route of enemy, this side consist of three layer of terraces as a defense in depth, and had secure defense facilities such as turrets or vertical dry moats. On the other hand, south side slope directly faces hillside area and castle town, and this side could be guarded by structure of hillside area to some extent. Terraces at south side is narrow but has tall stone walls, and this structure gives dignified view looked up from castle town.

Central area of the castle is a rectangular area of 100 meter long and 50 meter wide, which has a combined gate at south side. Originally a three story four floor of main tower which was built by Nanbandukuri style (western castle tower style) which had the large floor larger than diminishing size like a tower at western castles, existed over the basement at the north edge of the area. 

This placement of main tower is intended to control the battle at north side slope, and to show the strong will and dignity of Mouri clan toward Sanindo way. Later this main tower and basement was totally demolished, and now replica of main tower was built at the south side of the central area, to be well seen from castle town at south side.

Secondary area is a square shaped area built at southwest of central area, and used as a main route from hillside through saddle point of the hill. As a area to guard the front gate, even though not so high seer stone wall surrounded whole line of the area. On the other hand, at opposite side of central area, there is a Kitanomaru area covers north edge of the castle. 

Kitanomaru is a large size flat area and might be intended as a warehouse and dwelling area at the battle. Mizunotekaku area covered north slope of these three areas, and north line of this area is securely separated from hillside by stone wall. There are two wells at this area which supplied water to the castle. Residence of the lord was built at hillside area at the south of the mountain between the mountain and Nishikigawa river.

Too early destruction of Iwakuni castle

As Iwakuni domain is a branch domain of Choshu domain with limited territory, Iwakuni castle is not so large castle of only 300 meter long and 100 meter wide. Even though being built at sheer mountain, because of its limited size and separation from hillside area, it is not certain how about was the utility of this castle at actual battle. Considering good looking main tower does not deserve to the castle, Iwakuni castle  was, if anything, a symbol rather than a fortress.

But therefore Iwakuni castle could keep as a element of the castle. In 1615, because of Ikkoku Ichijyo Rei (one domain one castle rule) published in that year, Iwakuni domain had to destruct Iwakuni castle only 8 years after completion. Chofu domain, another branch domain of Choshu domain broke their castle, and Choshu domain intended to control Iwakuni domain utilizing break of the castle. It was necessary to break the exterior of the castle to show the observation of the rule to Edo Shogunate, but on the other hand, it was also necessary to show the dignity to domain people, and to keep minimum military function in case of accident.

Reflecting this situation, break of Iwakuni castle was a halfway one. Eye catching main tower, main gate and north slope stone walls seen from Sanindo way was thoroughly destructed, but stone walls at other side facing south side castle town was mostly kept. Stone walls of secondary area which looks down main route through ridge is well kept, and minimum requirement as a secured area was virtually kept. 

Hillside residence and Kintaikyo bridge

After the break of Iwakuni castle, Iwakuni domain reformed their residence at hillside area into the domain office. In 1673, Iwakuni domain constructed famous Kinaikyo bridge, a Quintuplex beautiful wooden arch bridge of 200 meter long, to connect domain government area at the north of the Nishikigawa river and castle town at the south of the river. Combination of blue river, wooden arch of the bridge and hilltop castle is regarded as a famous scenery goes beyond the castle.

Throughout Edo era, hillside residence of Iwakuni castle had been used as a base of Iwakuni domain. At the end of Edo era, Choshu domain was attacked by huge army of Edo Shogunate in 1864 and 1866 twice , but the first time Choshu domain surrendered to Shogunate without actual fight, and at second battle Choshu army fought at narrow path of border and rejected Shogunate army, thus Iwakuni castle was not involved in the combat. 

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, all buildings at hillside area was broken, but clay walls and moats are still kept. In 1885, hillside area became Kikka park, and a turret like wooden building named Kinunkaku was built at the place of former turret at southwest corner. Furthermore in 1962, replica of main tower was built at hilltop area and used as a museum of local history, and in 1995 original main tower base broken and covered by sand was excavated and restored.

Scenery of Iwakuni castle

Now a ropeway connects hillside area and hilltop castle, and visitors can easily climb to hilltop castle ruin. Both of scenery of hilltop castle looked up from hillside area and one of hillside area looked down from hilltop castle are beautiful, and buildings such as Kintaikyo bridge, barrack gate of Kagawa clan which was the retainer of Iwakuni domain, and other old houses well keep old atmosphere of Samurai town. Especially in autumn, combination of blue river, brown wooden bridge, red colored reefs of mountain and white tower at the top of mountain is a magnificent view.


20 minutes walk from JR West Iwatoku line Nishiiwakuni station or bus from JR West Sanyo Honsen line Iwakuni station or Sanyo Shinkansen line Shiniwakuni station to hillside. Ropeway connects hilltop area and hillside area. 10 minutes drive from Sanyo Jidoshado Expressway Iwakuni interchange.

Related Castles

Hagi Castle -Beautiful combination of mountain, sea and stone walls-
Hiroshima Castle -Deviation from clan's tradition on castle-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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