Friday, October 2, 2015

Yatsushiro Castle -Castle of "Super Deformed" shape-

Yatsushiro Castle

-Castle of "Super Deformed" shape-



Name: Yatsushiro castle (Yatsushiro-jo)
Place: Matsue-Jomachi Yatsushiro city, Kumamoto
Location: 32.50771401011669, 130.5997109476603
Type: Flat Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls and water moats 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Yatsushiro castle (八代城) is located at the center of Yatsushiro city, at the north side of Kumagawa river. Yatsushiro city is a city located at the center of Yatsushiro plain, one located at the mouth of Kumagawa river. In contrast to Kumamoto city which locates at the middle north of Kumamoto prefecture and a meeting point of roads from north part of Kyushu island, Yatsushiro area places at south middle of the prefecture and connecting point toward south part of Kyushu island. 

Besides, being guarded by Amakusa island, Yatsushiro port was a good one with calm water. Because of this geographical condition, Yatsushiro area has been one of the most important point of Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture), along with Kumamoto area and Uto area between Kumamoto area and Yatsushiro area.

Origin of first Yatsushiro castle

As Yatsushiro port had prospered from ancient era, rulers of medieval clan such as Taira clan or Hojo clan which was the substantive leader of Kamakura Shogunate directly governed Yatsushiro area. After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) who beat Kamakura Shogunate gave Yatsushiro area to Nawa clan which supported his escape from Oki island when the Emperor was exiled. Nawa clan built first Yatsushiro castle on mountainous area at the east of the city.

When Emperor Godaigo and Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of Muromachi Shogunate conflicted, Emperor Godaigo sent Prince Kaneyoshi as a leader at Kyushu island in 1341, and Godaigo side army once captured Dazaifu town, the capital of Kyushu island. But facing the counter attack of Muromachi Shogunate Godaigo army lost their territory, and resisted against Shogunate army based on Yatsushiro town. But finally Yatsushiro castle fell in 1391, and Nawa clan surrendered to Muromachi Shogunate.

Nawa clan kept Yatsushiro area for one century, but in the beginning of 16th century Sagara clan which was the lord of Hitoyoshi castle (Kumamoto prefecture) expelled Nawa clan from Yatsushiro area and seized the city. In the latter half of 16th century Sagara clan lost Yatsushiro area and Minamata area by attack of Shimazu clan which was the lord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture), but soon Shimazu clan was also subjugated by central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) and lost this area in 1587.

Construction of second Yatsushiro castle

Hideyoshi once gave Higo province to his general Narimasa Sasa (1536-1588), but Narimasa’s strict land invastigation evoked broad rebellion of local lords. After the suppression Narimasa was forced to die taking its responsibility, and Hiro province was given to Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611) on north half and Yukinaga Konishi (1555-1600) at south half.

Yukinaga places his residence at Uto city, where was a connecting point of north half, south half and Amakusa peninsula. But Yatsushiro area was also an important area to Yukinaga, and Yatsushiro port was also an important port to Hideyoshi as a backside supply base. Hideyoshi ordered Yukinaga to build secure castle here then just after the entrance Yukinaga abolished old Yatsushiro castle and built second Yatsushiro castle named Mugishima castle at current sandbank of Kumagawa river. Mugushima castle was a first genuine Toyotomi- style castle fully covered by stone walls and had a main tower. 

Yukinaga governed south half of Higo province over 10 years, but after the death of Hideoshi, Yukinaga was defeated at the battle of Sekigahara along with Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), before Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616). Yukinaga was executed by Ieyasu along with Mitsunari, and south half of Higo province was given to Kiyomasa Kato.

Collapse of second castle and build of third castle

Kiyomasa Kato who became the lord of most part of Higo province built network of modern branch castles such as Nankan castle, Uchimaki castle, Uto castle, Sashiki castle, Minamata castle and Yatsushiro castle to guard his main base Kumamoto castle. Especially Yatsushiro castle was a headquarter to command south half of the province, thus Kiyomasa kept and expanded Mugishima castle. In 1616, Edo Shogunate published “Ikkoku Ichijo Rei” (one domain one castle) and Kato clan abolished many castles, but Yatsushiro castle was kept as an extraordinary case.

However, in 1620, because of severe eartyquake Mugishima castle stood at weak ground totally collapsed. Under investigation of ruin, collapsed wall of turret fell into the moat was found as it was. Principlly Yatsushiro castle might be abolished at this time, but considering existence of former castle and precaution against Shimazu clan which was still a substantial enemy of Edo Shogunate at Satsuma province, Edo Shogunate approved reconstruction of Yatsushiro castle. After two year construction, current Yatsushiro castle named as Matsue castle completed in 1622 under Tadahiro Kato (x-x), son of Kiyomasa.

This new Yatsushiro castle was built on the harder ground at the north side of Kumagawa river. As Kato clan was a master of castle construction and participated in many castle constructions under Edo Shogunate, Yatsushiro castle was built utilizing technology and experience held by the clan. Especially Kiyomasa was one of the main constructor of Nagoya castle (Aichi prefecture), planning of Yatsushiro castle was strongly effected by the one of Nagoya castle.

Structure of new Yatsushiro castle

The central area of Yatsushiro castie is about 150 meter long roughly square area surrounded by sheer stone walls and water moats. At the north corner of the area, main tower basement of 20 meter square and sub tower basement connected by corridor which was the same style of Nagoya castle is built. A five story six floor main tower, including one basement floor and with a two story sub tower, was built on this basement. This tower h was an extraordenary large one for branch castle, but was lost by fire in 1672 and never built again. Other than this central tower, many turrets stood together in this central area.

Main gate to entrance which is a masugata style combined gate is built at eastern line (current front gate at southern line was later built as an entrance to shrine breaking former wall), and backside gate with staggered path places at the next of main tower. Because of size limitation some gate and turret are omitted but overall structure quire resembles to the one of Nagoya castle. As large size parts are packed up into a small size area, Yatsushiro castle looks like as if  “Super Deformed” (a comical Japanese anime characters having small body with large face).

Outside of central area, secondary area, third area and Kitanomaru area surrounds central area in circular of 500 meter long. If these outer areas are rotated 90 degrees to right angle, this also looks like the outer area of Nagoya castle. Different from central area, outer areas are mainly protected by low stone walls and fences, as Yatsushiro castle is just a branch castle. Outer barrier guarded whole castle and castle town from Kumagawa river to northward. 

Afterward of Yatsushiro castle

In 1632, Kato clan was expelled because of its internal conflict, and Hosokawa clan which was the lord of Buzen province (eastern half of Fukuoka prefecture) at Kokura castle became the lord of Higo province. Hosokawa clan also kept Yatsushiro castle and once used it as a retirement place of Tadaoki Hosokawa (1563-1646), a retired leader who virrually established the domain. After the death of Tadaoki, Matsui clan which was the important retainer of Hosokawa clan managed Yatsushiro castle by the end of Edo era.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, all building was broken and outer area was also lost. But central area turned into a ground of Yatsushirogu shrine which commemorates Prince Kaneyoshi and Kikuchi clan, then stone walls of the area is well kept in the city. Beside this, former tea house of the lord remains just at the north of the castle with a beautiful garden. Yatsushiro castle is not so large castle but there is no building exceeds the height of stone wall, visitors can simply enjoy powerful stone walls built by master of castle construction. It is possible to walk around the edge of stone wall, but there is no fence and it is necessary to take care not to fall.


30 minutes walk from JR Kyushu Kagoshima Honsen line Yatsushiro station. 20 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Yatsushiro interchange.

Related Castles

Sashiki Castle -Small masterpiece of excellent castle builder-
Hitoyoshi Castle -Renovated condominium of long lived clan-
Kumamoto Castle -Complete style of Japanese castle as military fortress-
Nagoya Castle -First residence of future ruler-
Uto Castle -Two adjacent castles of different style-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

Mugishima Castle

Yatsushiro Castle


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