Friday, January 8, 2016

Sadowara Castle -Two-sided castle of two-sided domain-

Sadowara Castle

-Two-sided castle of two-sided domain--



Name: Sadowara castle (Sadowara-jo)
Place: Sadowara-cho Miyazaki city, Miyazaki
Location: 32.04715851157688, 131.42089556716545
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone wall, clay walls and dry moats 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Sadowara castle (佐土原城) is located at the top and hillside of Kakusyozan mountain, one of 100 meter height from hillside in the center of former Sadowara town, at 15 kilometer north from current Miyazaki city central.

A square shaped plateau of 10 kilometer long between Hitotsusegawa river and Oyodogawa river at the north of current Miyazaki city had been historically a base of Ito clan in medieval era, and Ito clan built many branch castles throughout this plateau to guard their main territory. 

The site of Sadowara castle is at the middle of north line of plateau, and at entrance of small valley spreads from Ichinosegawa river climbing into the top of plateau. Because of this geographical reason, Sadowara castle was most important front fort for Ito clan which seized major part of current Miyazaki prefecture in medieval era, along with Tonokori castle locates 5 kilometer west of Sadowara castle. It is thought Sadowara castle is used as a residence in peace time and administrative base to manage commercial town and river port, and Tonokori castle was a military base.

Origin of Sadowara castle

Precise year is unknown but Tonokori castle was built by Tajima clan, a branch family of Ito clan in 15th century. was a descendant of Suketsune Kudo (?-1193), who was a close retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199) but was killed in a famous revenge of Soga brothers that lost their father by assassination by Suketsune. Suketoki Ito (1185-1252). son of Suketsune, also served to Kamakura Shogunate and activated in many battles, they he got the territory of middle part of Hyuga province (Miyazaki prefecture) but still lived in Kamakura city.

In 14th century, because of the order of Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), the founder of Muromachi Shogunate, Sukeshige Ito, the leader of Ito clan, moved to Hyuga province and lived around current Miyazaki city. Ito clan made pressure to such branch families to unite, and in response to this, Tajima clan newly built a mountain castle at the edge of current Sadowara castle. But in the latter half of 15th century, Tajima clan was finally took over by main family of Ito clan along with Tonokori castle.

In the middle of 16th century, Yoshisuke Ito (1512-1585), new leader of Ito clan, used Sadowara castle as his main base replacing former main base Tonokori castle. As there was an internal conflict at succession of leader, and Tonokori castle located inside of plateau thus not suitable to build castle town. Sadowara area has a large flat area along the river then it was appropriate to build castle town and river port, and Kakusyozan mountain at the edge of the height could show the authority of the lord to castle town. 

Expansion as a main base of Ito clan

Utilizing the lost of former castle by fire in 1537, Yoshisuke significantly expanded Sadowara castle to the whole part of mountain and used it as his residence. Later Yoshisuke returned to Tonokori castle but Sadowara castle was kept as a vice capital. Sadowara castle and Tonokori castle is only 5 kilometer apart and these two castle worked collaboratively. Anyway Sadowara castle had a magnificent shape deserves as a main base of Ito clan.

Kakujyosan mountain has a shape of E letter 45 degree rotated to left and long ridge spreads to below. Vertical line of E letter is the top of the mountain and is divided into north half called as Honmaru area (central area) and Minaminoshiro area (south castle). 

Honmaru area consist of several terraces, and at the edge second layer terrace where is well seen from hillside there was a ruin of main tower basement. This basement was almost broken and covered with sands, but an old illustration of castle shows there was three story main tower, and an investigation based on this picture found this ruin. At the entrance of this central area there is a masugata style main gate with folded path. 

Minaminoshiro area is well shaped rectangular area surrounded by tall clay walls, and it might be used as a ground for the residence of lord and also worked as a front fort before central area. On the horizontal three ridges many terraces were built, and main route from hillside is a long path covered by clay wall connected to the southeast edge of Minaminoshiro area. Masuomaru area spreads southward ridge, and Bentenyama hill across the eastern hillside valley was also used as a front fort.

Fall of Ito clan

Based on Sadowara castle, Ito clan became its peak period. At northward, Ito clan beat small castles except for Tsuchimochi clan at Nobeoka area and expanded their territory near to the border to Bungo province (Oita prefecture). In southern part, Ito clan continuously attacked Obi castle, an important local area held by Shimazu clan, and utilizing internal conflicts in Shimazu clan, Yoshisuke finally captured Obi castle in 1569. Along with Obi castle Ito clan achieved Aburatsu port, and could get gains from foreign trade.

But under its prosperity, Ito clan became indulged in luxury, and unfortunately lacked next leader Yoshimasu Ito (1546-1569) in youth. Beside this, Shimazu clan once lost Obi area settled their internal conflict and regained their power, thus seek recovery of their lost territory. 

In 1572, Yoshimasu attacked Kakuto castle at southwestern part of province held by Shimazu clan, but faced ambush tactics of Shimazu clan and suffered severe defeat at the battle of Kizakibaru. Ito clan lost many soldiers and authority, and just 5 years after this defeat, Yoshimasu escaped from Tonokori castle before the attack of Shimazu clan and Ito clan ended its history as a warlord.

Brave father and son as commander

After the fall of Ito clan, Shimazu clan which captured Sadowara castle used it as an important defense place toward north. Shimazu clan placed Iehisa Shimazu (1547-1587), younger brother of the leader Yoshihisa Shimazu (1533-1611) and the youngest of famous Shimazu four brothers. 

Iehisa was excellent sense of tactics, and later broke the dominant army of Ryuzoji clan with small soldiers at the battle of Okitanawate in 1584, and also an advance troop of central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) lead by Hidehisa Sengoku (1552-1614) at the battle of Hetsugigawa. But just after the surrender of Shimazu clan to Hideyoshi in 1587, Iehisa suddenly died at Sadowara castle in ill. It is rumored that Toyotomi army poisoned Iehisa being afraid of his braveness and tactics.

After the death of Iehisa, his son Toyohisa Shimazu (1570-1600) succeeded Sadowara castle along with territory. Toyohisa was also a brave general equivalent to his father, and activated in many battles. After the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1598, in 1600, Shimazu clan was involved in the conflict between Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who was the largest lord under Toyotomi government and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of Hideyoshi. 

Heroic death at frontal breakthrough

In September, the decisive battle of Sekigahara occurred between both party, and Shimazu clan belonged to Mitsunari Ishida side with only 2,000 soldiers lead by Yoshihiro Shimazu (1535-1619), the younger brother of Yoshihisa Shimazu and a legendary strong commander.

But Mitsunari was defeated by Ieyasu at the battle, and Shimazu army calmly watched battlefield still remained but had to retreat before winning Tokugawa army. At this time Shimazu army attempted frontal breakthrough and desperately charged into dominant Tokugawa army. Shimazu army broke the advance guard of Tokugawa army, passed just side of the loyal guard of Ieyasu then passed the gap and escaped to the backside of Tokugawa army of 30,000 soldiers.

Of course Tokugawa army violently chased leaving Shimazu army, being lead by brave generals such as Naomasa Ii (1561-1602) or Tadakatsu Honda (1548-1610). To let the commander Yoshihiro Shimazu escape, many soldiers and generals including Toyohisa desperately fought with overwhelming Tokugawa army. Toyohisa with suicide corps o Shimazu army named Sutegamari injured Naomasa Ii with matchlock guns and let him retreat, but finally was annihilated. However, finally Yoshihiro could leave the battlefield and return to Satsuma province, and looking at this crazy fight of Shimazu army, Ieyasu could not punish Shimazu clan to avoid further quagmire battle.

Two-sided castle of two-sided domain-

After the battle of Sekigahara, Sadowara castle lost its lord was once confiscated by Edo Shogunate. But as a result of negotiation between Edo Shogunate and Shimazu clan, Sadowara area was newly given to Mochihisa Shimazu (1550-1610) who was a grandparents’ nephew from Toyohisa Shimazu by Edo Shogunate then Sadowara domain was established. This might be an intention of Edo Shogunate to make favor to Shimazu clan and place their relative as a direct lord to prevent their betrayal. Anyway Sadorawa domain had a dual face as a branch family of Shimazu clan and an independent lord appointed by Edo Shogunate. 

In 1611, Mochihisa reformed Sadowara castle into a modern castle equips main tower, turrets and fences. Traditionally Shimazu clan did not build main tower including their main base Kagoshima castle, and it was an exceptionally case that branch domain built main tower in spite of this attitude of Shimazu main family. Furthermore, an investigation found pieces of broken gold painted ceramic statue of grampus, like castles at central area. As the territory of Shimazu clan located at southern edge of Japan, the main tower of Sadowara castle was the southernmost main tower in Japan.

It was unknown why such main tower was built at only this castle in Shimazu territory, but this might be because of two sided character of Sadowara domain. As Sadowara area was the border of Shimazu territory from north part of Kyushu island and central area, Shimazu clan intended to show their authority and security at this castle. On the other hand, for internally, Sadowara clan tried to keep autonomy from Shimazu main family, and showed that they were an independently approved domain from Edo Shogunate by building central area style main tower.

Afterward of castle

But only after 14 years from construction, this main tower was broken along main tower basement. It was because of fiscal problem, but also there was no necessary to keep main tower anymore. Possibility of external conflict decreased in peace time, and narrow hilltop castle was inconvenient and demanded repairs. Sadowara domain abolished all hilltop area and newly built secondary area and third area at hillside, along with secondary area residence building. Sadowara domain kept Sadowara castle by the end of Edo era. When Shimazu clan raised their army against Edo Shogunate at Meiji Revolutional war, Sadowara domain naturally followed to Shimazu main family and fought with Shogunate.

Subsequent to Meiji revolution, Sadowara domain abolished Sadowara castle and built new castle at Hirose area in 1870. But next year Sadowara domain itself was abolished, thus this new castle was also broken. Now all building was lost but shape of hilltop area still remains, and secondary area residence was partially reconstructed in 1993. An combination of medieval style hilltop structure, central area style main tower basement and modern hillside area shows complex history and unchanged importance of Sadowara castle.


Bus ride from JR Kyushu Nippo-Honsen line Sadowara station. 10 minutes drive from Higashi-Kyushu Expressway Saito interchange.

Related Castles

Obi Castle -Castle with sacred atmosphere like temple or shrine-
Tonokori Castle -Huge main base of Ito clan spreads over plateau-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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