Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Tomioka Castle -Abolished to save local people-

Tomioka Castle

-Abolished to save local people-



Name: Tomioka castle (Tomioka-jo)
Place: Tomioka Reihoku town, Kumamoto
Location: 32.529161764412656, 130.03169943689312
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 1602
Remaining remnants: Stone walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Tomioka castle (富岡城) is located on a hiii of about 70 meter height in a small island connected to the northwest corner of Shimoshima island, the largest island among Amakusa islands Amakusa islands is a group of over 20 islands spread around Arikake sea and Yatsushiro sea, between Shimabara peninsula and south half of Kumamoto prefecture.

These islands are totally separated by sea from Kyushu main island before the construction of bridge, people of the islands made living by fishery and marine transportation. As these island were separated but still accessible from Kyushu main island, intervention from main island was limited but drastic if occurred.

Amakusa islands at medieval era

In the medieval era, Amakusa islands was governed by several local lords and conflicted each other. Lords of Kamishima island which were closer to Kumamoto area was supported by Sagara clan, the warlord at Hitoyoshi castle (Kumamoto prefecture), and lords of Shimoshima island just at opposite shore of Shimabara peninsula were assisted by Arima clan, the lord at Hinoe castle (Nagasaki prefecture). 

As a result of conflicts, finally five major local lords called as “Amakusa Gonin Shu” (Five lords of Amakusa islands” joitly governed the island. Northwestern part of Shimoshima island was held by Shiki clan located at Shiki castle.

In 1587, central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) made an expedition against Shimazu clan, a warlord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) and seized most part of Kyushu island. Hideyoshi easily beat Shimazu clan, and confiscated territories occupied by Shimazu clan including Higo province and Amakusa island. Hideyoshi accepted five lords of Amakusa island, and attached to Yukinaga Konishi (1555-1600), a general of Toyotomi army who was given southern half of Higo province.

Spread of Catholic under Yukinaga Konishi

In 1589, Yukinaga started construction of his residence Uto castle, and ordered five lords to serve for it. But five lords denied it, then Yukinaga and Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611), another general of Hideyoshi who held north part of Higo province, jointly invaded into Amakusa island. Five lords of the island fell at this time, and Yukinaga became directly govern the island.

As Amakusa islands were close to Shimabara peninsula or Nagasaki peninsula where Catholic spread on and after 1560’s, many people became to believe Christianity. In addition to this, new lord Yukinaga Konishi was also a Christian who had the Christian name of Augustine, then Catholic in Amakusa islands further grew, and even Christian college was built in this area.

Seizure by Terasawa clan

After the death of Hideyoshi, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the largest lord under Toyotomi government, and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of government, fought for next hegemony. Yukinaga was close to Mitsunari and became one of the leaders of Ishida army, but was defeated at the battle of Sekigahara and executed. After Konishi clan, Ieyasu gave Amakusa island to Hirotaka Terasawa (1563-1633), the lord of Karatsu castle (Saga prefecture) as a distant territory.

To govern Amakusa island from distant Karatsu area, Hirotaka abolished former Shiki castle at main island and newly built a modern castle at the tip of Tomioka peninsula in 1602. Tomioka peninsula is an island of 500 meter diameter connected to the island by narrow sand bank of 50 meter wide like Mont Saint Michel, and is a suitable for defense. 

Tomioka area was the closest area from Karatsu castle which was the main base of Terasawa clan but it took several days to send a reinforcement by ship, thus it was necessary for this castle to stand for the attack of enemy during that time. Karatsu castle itself was built at the same condition island, and it might be a favor of Hirotaka.

Structure of Tomioka Castle

Hilltop area of Tomioka castle spreads over hilltop to hillside of the height at the front of peninsula Central area of the castle is small rectangular area of 50 meter long and 20 meter wide, at the top of the hill. There was no main tower but two floor barracks was built at this area as a main building. 

Secondary area is a large area of 70 meter long and 50 meter wide at the below level of central area. At south side of the area a secure main gate with folding path was built, being secured by guarding turret. On the other hand, north side wall of this area is a tall stone wall of about 10 meter tall. Ahead of secondary area, there is an additional area at the end of ridge, and front slope between secondary area gate and hillside main gate separated by vertical stone wall was used as a third area.

Hirotaka was a technocrat who served magistrate of Nagasaki port, and good at economy. He was also said as a rationalist, and developed industry in his territory. But Edo Shogunate gradually banned private foreign trade by feudal lords and directly managed them, and Hirotaka who wad the connection with foreign merchants from former job lost the source. Beside, not local economy of Shimabara islands might not  be understandable for smart Hirotaka. 

Prelude for rebellion

Originally Hirotaka received Amakusa island as a source of 42,000 Koku (unit by rice harvest), but actual production was far lower. However, Hirotaka had to serve military service or public construction to Shogunate based on nominal income. Because of above reasons, Hirotaka gradually collect higher tax, and this increased dissatisfaction of local people. 

Furthermore. Konishi clan disappeared as a result of the battle of Sekigahara, and massive number of unemployed Christian professional warriors were left. Under strict banning of Christianity, they hided at Amakusa islands. After the death of Hirotaka, his son Katataka Hirotaka (1609-1647) succeeded leader position in 1633. 

Katataka adopted same policy as his father, and discontent of residents became higher and higher. Furthermore, at the opposite of Shimabara straight, Matsukura clan made tyranny ignoring actual production of the land. Furthermore, after the cease of the battle of Osaka castle in 1615 the governance of Edo Shogunate became stable, and there was no hope for former retainers of Konishi clan to be hired as a high class soldiers and lived in despair.

Rise of rebellion and battle at castle

In 1637 October, representative of the pheasants of Amakusa islands and Shimabara peninsula met at an island at the middle of two area and decided to raise army. In November, just after the raise at Shimabara peninsula, over 10,000 people of Shimabara island took arms and assaulted lead by Tokusada Amakusa (1621-1638, known as Shiro Amakusa) who was a descendant of former Amakusa lord and nominal leader of rebellion army.

Shigetoshi Miyake (1581-1637), commander of Tomioka castle, left the castle to intercept the rebellion army but was defeated and died in the battle. Rebellion army with sore moral next attacked Tomioka castle, but Tomioka castle stood the fierce attack of rebellion army. At the same time rebellion army at Shimabara peninsula also could not fall Shimabara castle (Nagasaki prefecture), then two armies knew the arrival of punitive force by Edo Shogunate moved to the ruin of abolished ruin of Hara castle and besieged.

Rebellion army of 37,000 people lead by Tokitada Amakusa stood three month in Hara castle and killed Shigemasa Itakura (1588-1638), first general commander of subjugating force. But before the starvation tactics by Nobutuna Matsudaira (1596-1662), they lost the power to resist and finally Hara castle fell at the end of February. All people besieged at the castle shared their fate with the castle, and the largest rebellion by pheasant in Japanese history had ended. Tomioka castle surely the diffusion of the rebellion and achieved its role as intended.

Post war process and repairment

After the rebellion, Edo Shogunate confiscated Amakusa island from Katatada blaming the responsibility of rebellion. Katatada himself was not punished but lost the fame then finally suicide in 1647. After Katatada, Ieharu Yamazaki (1594-1648) who was the lord of Wakasa Onigajyo castle (Tottori prefecture) was appointed as a lord of Amakusa island. Ieharu was said as a talented castle builder, and was expected to repair Tomioka castle as a first step.

Along with the restoration of burnt down buildings, Ieharu built additional stone walls over the original one damaged in the battle, to conceal the trace of rebellion. Additionally, to keep away the enemy from the castle and keep water inside, Ieharu built a large straight bank at the hillside and made a pond inside that. Additionally, a large and secure front gate was built at the root of sandbank.

After the completion of renovation, Ieharu moved to Marugame castle (Kagawa prefecture) in 1641 and Shigenari Suzuki (1588-1653) who was the hereditary retainer of Edo Shogunate became the magistrate of the region. As the population of the islands significantly decreased by the effect of rebellion, Shigenori tried to invite people by tax deduction and restore the nation. But income standard for tax calculation was still too much, then it is said that Shigenari killed himself to appeal the necessity of tax reduction of this area to the half level.

Abolish to save people

In 1664, after Suzuki clan, Toda clan became the lord of Amakusa island. Even at this time, economy of Amakusa island still in slump. As long as being held by independent feudal domain, it was necessary to keep castle and pay various expenses for the operation of domain. Considering actual situation, it was impossible to run an independent domain by self financing at this area. 

Finally, Toda clan suggested that Amakusa area should be managed directly by the Shogunate forever, and Edo Shogunate accepted this policy. Furthermore, to save the cost for the preservation of the castle, Tomioka castle was abolished and destructed at this time, and it was praised as a good policy. After that Amakusa islands was managed by Shogunate and gradually recovered throughout Edo era.

Castle site became devastated after destruction, but based on the result of investigation buildings and stone walls at hilltop area was restored in 2005. White wall buildings looked up from hillside area is powerful one, even though a small castle. 

At the same time, the structure of this castle was excessive and too secure for this small island, and it might be surely unavoidable to reduce the burden of local people under severe situation. This castle is quite distant and takes time to visit (it takes over two and half hours drive from Kumamoto city), but it is a good place to think the role and necessity of the castle. 


150 minutes drive from Kumamoto city or 90 minutes drive from Uto city. It might be possible to visit by bus ride from Kumamoto station, Uto station or Amakusa airport to Hondo bus center and change to another bus bound for Tomioka port but will take long time.

Related Castles

Shimabara Castle -Highly complete castle isolated from local residents-
Hara Castle -Ruin of repose of souls-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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