Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Shibushi Castle -Condominium like castle separated by deep valley-

Shibushi Castle

-Condominium like castle separated by deep valley-



Name: Shibushi castle (Shibushi-jo)
Place: Shibushi-cho Shibushi city, Kagoshima
Location: 31.48322095174077, 131.1048794174218
Type: Hill Castle
Built: 14th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Shibushi castle (志布志城) is located over a long and narrow hill between Maekawa river and its tributary flow into Shibushi bay. at the east of current Shibushi city. Shibushi area stands at the eastern edge of Kimotsuki plain, the core area of Osumi peninsula, and has Shibushi port faces Shibushi bay. 

Shibushi port is a good port inside of quiet Shibushi bay guarded by small island and directly faces Pacific Ocean, thus it had been used as a trading port of Satsuma and Osumi province (Kagoshima prefecture) since ancient era. Kagoshima bay was already the center of Satsuma province but it was too inside the gulf and Shibushi port was more convenient for access.

Origin of Shibushi castle

Precise year is unknown but Shibushi castle was built by 14th century. In 1180's, just after the victory of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) who found Kamakura Shogunate against Taira clan, Yoritomo appointed his close retainer Tadahisa Shimazu (?-1227) as a governor of Satsuma province, Osumi province and Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture). Shimazu clan placed their branch family to these territories, and Niiro clan was placed as the lord of Shibushi area.

Niiro clan kept Shibushi castle and area by the beginning of 16th century, but was involved into the internal conflict of Shimazu clan and lost their territory in 1538. Shibushi castle was held by Shimazu clan, but utilizing still continuing internal conflict of Shimazu clan, Kimotsuki clan which was the local lord next to Shibushi area captured surrounding territory including Shibushi area. During such process, Shibushi castle was reformed and expanded into a secure castle.

Castles of South Kyushu island at Shirasu plateau

Shibushi castle consist of four separated castles surrounding current Shibushi town, and the primary castle is called as Uchijyo and spreads over rectangular shaped hill of 400 meter long, 150 meter wide and 50 meter high. These hills are Shirasu type plateau consist of thick layer of volcano ash spreads all over south part of Kyushu island, especially in Kagoshima prefecture. This Sirasu type plateau is made of small glass sand, and as long as dry it keep the shape but easily scraped by water. 

As rivers or water flows scoop out these Shirasu type plateaus, they are naturally separated by deep valley and sheer wall. Furthermore, because of its soft layer, they are easily dig or shaped by human power. Because of this, many castles in south half of Kyushu island has several areas at same level separated by deep valley. As warlords of these area are loose union and not so centralized, this equal level and diversified planning is suitable to this structure of clan.

Famous castles such as Hitoyoshi castle (Kumamoto prefecture) or Obi castle (Miyazaki castle) were originally this kind of castle, but as a residence of feudal domain modern structure such as stone wall or water moat are added and order of height are intentionally brought (Hitoyoshi castle disposed inner area at the same level of central area and moved retainers to hillside). But Shibushi castle keeps original style of this type castle and one of the most characteristic one along with Chiran castle (Kagoshima prefecture).

Structure of Shibushi castle

Shibushi castle spreads on a rectangular hill of 400 meter long and 150 meter wide continues from north to south. Central area of the castle is located at the highest point of the hill, about one third from south edge. In front of central area there are two lower terraces, and at the tip of the hill there is another large flat area named as Yaguraba (turret place).

Inside of central area, there are four lines of flat terraces. Each line has one or two flat area, and regularly separated by dry moats. Furthermore, two line of straight dry moat guards both side of the hill. Main gate of the castle was built at southwestern edge of the castle, and backside gate was built at its east side. Opposite of the western valley, there is another hill which is also used as a castle named Matsuo castle. At the valley between two castles, castle town existed toward seaside.

If we look at two dimensional plan of this castle, because of its rectangular shape and ordered arrangement of square shaped areas it looks like as if a plan of condominium. But when we actually visit Shibushi castle, different from above impression, each area is separated by wild and sheer walls over 10 meter maximum and connected by steep slope then it gives an impression of a jungle adventure.

Transition of holders and afterward

Based on Shibushi castle Niiro clan expanded their territory. But at the internal conflict of Shimazu clan between Takahisa Shimazu (1514-1571) and Sanehisa Shimazu (1512-1553), Niiro clan supported Takahisa but was attacked by supporters of Sanehisa and lost its territory. Tadamoto Niiro (1526-1611) who was later known as a brave general of Shimazu clan was born at branch family of this Niiro clan.

After the fall of Niiro clan, Shimazu clan once seized Shibushi castle. But utilizing the disorder of Shimazu clan, Kimotsuki clan which was a local lord of Osumi province (eastern half of Kagoshima prefecture) and resided at Kouyama castle just 15 kilometer away from Shibushi castle, attacked Shibushi castle and captured it in 1562. But Shimazu clan restored its situation and took back the castle from Kimotsuki clan in 1577. In Edo era Shibushi castle was abolished but it was treated as a base of local administration and guarded by retainers.

Now all building was lot but shape of castle including vertical clay wall and deep dry moat well remain on the hill. Investigation of the castle is proceeding and many items such as old coins or glass products were found, and it shows a prosperity of Shibushi town and Shibushi port as a center of marine transportation. Wild shape of the castle clearly shows the atmosphere of medieval area in this area and valuable as not seen in other place.


20 minute walk from JR Kyushu Nichinan-line Shibushi station. 20 minutes drive from Higashi-Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Nokata interchange.

Related Castles

Hitoyoshi Castle -Renovated condominium of long lived clan-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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