Monday, September 7, 2015

Usuki Castle -Fierce battle for fate and fame (2) Obstinacy of declined warlord-

Usuki Castle

-Fierce battle for fate and fame (2) Obstinacy of declined warlord-



Name: Usuki castle (Usuki-jo)
Alias: Nyujima-jo (Nyujima castle)
Place: Usuki Usuki city, Oita
Location: 33.122324711197045, 131.8023660853687
Type: Hill Castle
Built: 1562
Remaining remnants: Turrets, stone walls and moats 

Continued from Part 1

Brief History

Usuki castle (臼杵城) is located on a hill of 30 meter tall in the center of Usuki city, at the mouth of Usuki-gawa river. Before the land reclamation in modern era, this hill was totally separated by sea and called as Nyujima island, only connected to the land by only one bridge. 

Usuki city places at 10 kilometer southeast of Oita city, and different from flat Oita city, Usuki city is a natural fortress protected by mountains and rivers. Additionally Usuki area was developed by Otomo clan as a manner then it was a private property of the clan. About 10 kilometer west from city central, there is a stone carved Buddha nominated as national treasure.

Chaotic succession of Otomo clan

Usuki castle was built by Yoshishige Otomo (1530-1587), the leader of Otomo clan as his residence in 1562. After the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate in 1192, Yoshinao Otomo (1172-1223) was appointed as the governor of Bungo province. 

Since then Otomo clan gradually grew throughout Kamakura and Muromachi era, and once suffered from its internal conflict but at the time of Yoshinaga Otomo (1478-1518) and Yoshiaki Otomo (1502-1550), Otomo clan formed structure as a warlord and started expansion to surrounding provinces.

Yoshishige Otomo was the eldest son of Yoshiaki, but Yoshiaki attempted to succeed leader position to his younger brother and Otomo clan divided into Yoshiaki group and Yoshishige group. In 1550 Yoshiaki planned to purge Yoshishige supporters, but Yoshishige supporters knew this attempt then assaulted Yoshiaki and younger brother of Yoshishige. 

Yoshiaki was injured by this incident and died next day, stating pass the leader position to Yoshiaki. This incident is called as "Nikai Kuzure no Hen" (raid at second floor), and Yoshishige became the leader of Otomo clan. In 1562 Yoshishige built Usuki castle (called as Nyujima castle) as his residence.

Structure of Usuki castle

Usuki castle consist of hilltop area originally used as castle and hillside area later added. Hilltop area is built over a huge rocky hill of 300 meter long and 100 meter wide, and formerly totally surrounded by sea and seemed as if anchoring warship or lured fish. Hilltop area is divided into central area and secondary area, and these two areas were separated by dry moat and stone walls.

In front of central area facing the dry moat, a three story four floor main tower was built. Front side of the hill connecting to the land was covered by stone walls and protected by gate and turrets. At backside of the hill there was a gate to shipyard. Even though protected by sea this castle has only single layer defense line thus many turrets were built around the hill to strengthen defense ability.

Struggle for north Kyushu island

Yoshishige who succeeded leader position aggressively fought against surrounding warlords to expand territory. In 1551, Yoshitaka Ouchi (1507-1551) who was the strong warlord holds Chugoku region and north part of Kyushu island died by a coup d'etat by his important general Harukata Sue (1521-1555). Harukata asked Yoshishige to send his younger brother as a new leader of Ouchi clan, and Yoshishige agreed it and got prosperous Hakata port from Ouchi clan. 

Later Motonari Mouri (1497-1571), the warlord of Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture) beat Sue clan and Ouchi clan continuously invaded to north Kyushu region. Because of Motonari's conspiracy retainers of north Kyushu region such as Akitane Takahashi (1529-1579) or Akitoshi Tachibana (1521-1568) left Otomo clan and Otomo army was forced hard fights. 

But through tenacious battles by brave generals such as Dosetsu Tachibana (1513-1585) or Akimasa Yoshihiro (1519-1571) Otomo army gradually improved situation. Finally as a result of victory at the battle of Tatarahama in 1568 and backward disturbance strategy to Mouri clan such as supporting Amago restoration army or sending former Ouchi relative, Otomo clan pushed out Mouri clan from Kyushu island and secured Hakata city.

Peak period of Otomo clan

At the same time, Yoshishige expanded his power to other surrounding nations. Originally Chikugo province (south part of Fukuoka prefecture) had a relationship to Otomo clan, and Yoshishge formed these local retainers under Otomo clan. For Higo province, Yoshishige beat Kikuchi clan relating Nikai Kuzure no Hen, and indirectly held the province.  

At Hizen province (Saga prefecture), local lord Takanobu Ryuzoji (1529-1584) rapidly grew his power and did not follow to Otomo clan then Yoshishige sent large army to Saga castle in 1570. But before desperate counter attack of Takanobu Otomo army was broken at the battle of Imayama. However Otomo army was still strong then Ryuzoji clan nominally followed to Otomo clan. Around 1570, Yoshishige hold directly or indirectly the north half of Kyushu island and was at its peak.

In 1551, Spanish Catholic missionary Francisco de Xavier (1506-1552) came to Bungo province. Yoshishige interested in Christianity probably because of western technology and gains from foreign trade, but anyway Yoshishige allowed missionary in the territory. Funai city which was the capital of Otomo clan and Usuki port prospered from foreign trade, and Christian church and college was built.

Dream of Catholic kingdom

But in spite of its prosperity, Otomo clan had problems inside it. Otomo clan had many excellent generals and administrative staffs, but they were not so centralized and quick decision was impossible in case of emergency. Besides, strong position retainers sometimes conflict each other, and in some cases they rebelled to Yoshishige. Considering weak defense facility of Funai town, Yoshishige built Usuki castle and lived there.

Yoshishige was an aggressive and progressive lord interested in foreign culture, but tend to leave everything on these generals, and did not show clear policy as leader of the clan. Beside, seeing too much betrayal of retainers, Yoshishige seemed not manage retainers well. This loose structure of Otomo clan later became fatal deficiency on the conflict with strong enemy. 

In 1577, Yoshisuke Ito (1512-1585) who was the governor of Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture), was defeated by Shimazu clan which was the governor of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) and escaped to Yoshishige. At this time Yoshishige deeply believed Christianity and took baptism, then on this occasion Yoshishige planned to drive away Shimazu army from Hyuga province and build his ideal Catholic kingdom there, not in his own province but at occupied area. 

Turning point for collapse

Next year Yoshishige sent large army to Hyuga province, destroyed Tsuchimochi clan of Nobeoka area which turned to Shimazu clan then encircled Takajyo castle at the middle of province in October. Shimazu clan sent reinforce army to this, then both army faced both side of Komarugawa river. Otomo army was dominant to Shimazu army, then Yoshishige himself moved from Usuki castle to Nobeoka city with missionary and took mass.

But Yoshishige's belief in Christianity brought conflict between believers and non believers among retainers. Furthermore, Otomo army totally destroyed temples and shrines in the occupation area, but soldiers feel anxiety from this behavior and lost moral. Beside, among the absence of Yoshishige from front, generals of Otomo army could not unite its tactics. 

Under such condition the battle of Mimikawa against Shimazu army began. At first vanguard of Shimazu army attacked Otomo army but was defeated then commander of Shimazu army died. Otomo army looked at this crossed the river and attacked Shimazu army, but Shimazu army placed at the top of terrace securely stand it.

Among the long battle, detached force of Shimazu army run down the slope into backside of Otomo army, and guardian force of Takajo castle also attacked Otomo army from backside. Being captured at narrow place between river side and Komarugawa river, Otomo army collapsed and run away to their nation. Otomo clan lost many generals and soldiers at this battle, and the dream of Catholic kingdom totally disappeared.

Sudden fall of Otomo clan

After the defeat at the battle of Mimikawa, Otomo clan turned to severe situation. Inside of the clan rebel of important retainers such as Chikatsura Tabaru (?-1580) or Shotetsu Takita (?-1580) occurred, and Otomo clan barely settled them but lost soldiers and time. Utilizing this opportunity, local lords formerly followed to Otomo clan left them all at once, and especially Takanobu Ryuzoji rapidly grew and deprived Chikugo province from Otomo clan.

Now Kyushu island was separated into three large powers it mean Otomo clan, Ryuzoji clan and Shimazu clan, but Otomo clan was the weakest one. Shimazu clan avoided direct attack to Otomo clan this time and moved northward from Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture) then crashed with Ryuzoji clan. In 1584, Shimazu army broke Ryuzoji clan at the battle of Okitanawate then Takanobu Ryuzoji died in this battle, then  Shimazu clan established its dominance at Kyushu region.

After the death of Takanobu, Dosetsu Tachibana continued desperate battle to recover the territory of Otomo clan at Chikugo province and keep the front. But Dosetsu died in ill in 1585, and there was no obstacle to stop Shimazu clan any more. In 1586 Summer, Shimazu army started total attack against Otomo clan both at Chikuzen province (Fukuoka prefecture) and Bungo province. Otomo clan could not cope with it and asked assistance to central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598).

Desperate resistance against invasion

In Chikugo province, Shimazu army of 40,000 soldiers lead by Tadanaga Shimazu (1551-1560) broke Chikushi clan then attacked Iwaya castle (Fukuoka prefecture) held by Otomo clan But Joun Takahashi (1548-1586), firmly secured small Iwaya castle with 700 soldiers stood over half month and gave severe damage to Shimazu army. 

Finally Joun shared his fate with the castle, but soldiers and time consumed at this castle was irrecoverable for Shimazu clan. Next Shimazu army siege Tachibanaya castle guarded by Muneshige Tachibana (1567-1643), son of Joun and adopted son of Dosetsu Tachibana, but Muneshige also firmly secured the castle and Shimazu clan could not fell it. At that time Mouri army ordered by Hideyoshi landed to Kyushu island, then Shimazu army gave up the siege and retreated.

On the other hand, main force of Shimazu clan lead by Yoshihiro and Iehisa intruded into Bungo province, the main base of Otomo clan in October of 1586. Togamure castle (Oita prefecture) held by Koresada Saeki (1569-1618) or Oka castle (Oita prefecture) protected by Chikatsugu Shiga (1566-1660) stood against fierce attack of Shimazu army, but many castles surrendered or felt then Shimazu army entered into Bungo province. In December, a detached force of Iehisa Shimazu was sent to Usuki castle.  

Last pride of declined warlord

Because of the leave of retainers and defense of their main base Funai city, Yoshishige had only limited soldiers. But Yoshishige decided to resist against Shimazu army at this castle, then prepared for the arrival of Shimazu army. This island castle is connected to the mainland only by one narrow path, and as Saeki clan kept the marine supremacy at Saeki bay Shimazu army could not bring ships to Usuki castle.

Yoshishige attacked Shimazu army at outside of the castle by bronze cannons imported from foreign countries and called as "Kunikuzushi". Beside generals of Otomo clan such as Reinou Shibata (?-1586) who was prized as "Hercules of Bungo province" by missionaries charged into confused Shimazu army, and they gave damages to Shimazu army but Reinou lost his life in the battle.

Facing desperate resistance of Yoshishige, Shimazu army took precedence over the capture of Funai city, the capital of Bungo province. Shimazu army left small forces to watch Usuki castle and retreated then headed to Tsuruga castle. Yoshishige without  reserve did not chase Shimazu army, then Both army faced over three months until the retreat of Shimazu army in next March.

End of fierce battle and Otomo clan

Shimazu army headed to Funai town broke the reinforcement army from Toyotomi clan at the battle of Hetsugigawa, and fell Funai town. Yoshimune Otomo (1558-1605), son of Yoshishige and leader of Otomo clan, escaped to Takasakiyama castle (Oita prefecture) then moved Ryuo Castle of Buzen province and Funai town was totally destructed by Shimazu clan.

But due to the desperate resistance at various castles, the invasion of Shimazu clan stagnated at this point. Among such time, Hideyoshi lead huge army of 200,000 soldiers and landed Kyushu island in April 1587. Shimazu army retreated from Bungo province to secure their original territory, and Otomo clan barely survived just before the ruin.

Yoshishige Otomo saw the survival of Otomo clan died in ill one year after. But in 1593, Yoshimune Otomo was expelled by the failure at the battle, probably also considering the escape at the battle against Shimazu army. Later Yoshimune Otomo raised his army to restore the clan in 1600, but was defeated at the battle of Ishigakibaru and the history of Otomo clan ended.

Afterward of castle

After the expel of Otomo clan, Usuki castle was once managed by Fukuhara clan who became the lord of Oita Funai castle but later held by Kazuyoshi Ota (?-1617). Ota clan reformed and expanded Usuki castle, but at the time of the battle of Sekigahara, Ota clan belonged to Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600) and was expelled. Replacing Ota clan, Inaba clan which was the lord of Gujo Hachiman castle (Gifu prefecture) moved to Usuki castle and stayed by the end of Edo era.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution this castle was abolished and most buildings were lost, but two turret still remain as original. Now castle area was reclaimed and the castle totally lost its view as an island castle, but sheer cliff of the hill decorated with pine threes still keeps atmosphere of former period. Looking the long and narrow hill separated inside area, this castle seems as an private cathedral of Christian lord who dreamed building of Catholic kingdom.

Continue to Part 3


5 minutes walk from JR Kyushu Nippo Honsen line Usuki station.  10 minutes drive from Higashi-Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Usuki interchange.

Related Castles

Tsunomure Castle -Castle of impregnable like gallant horn-
Oita Funai Castle -Fossil of beautiful water castle-
Oka Castle -Magnificent castle with Western element on natural stronghold-
Iwaya Castle (Chikuzen) -Heroic death of brave general-
Tachibanayama Castle -Brave general regarded as incarnation of thunder-
Togamure Castle -Fierce battle for fate and fame (1) Outbreak of battle-
Tsuruga Castle (Bungo) -Fierce battle for fate and fame (3) Crushing defeat-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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