Sunday, January 17, 2016

Yanagawa Castle -Revival of general of braveness and honesty-

Yanagawa Castle

-Revival of general of braveness and honesty-



Name: Yanagawa castle (Yanagawa-jyo)
Place: Honjyocho Yanagawa city, Fukuoka
Type: Plain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Gates, stone walls and moats 

Brief History

Yanagawa castle is located at the center of Yanagawa city, a city in the south part of Fukuoka prefecture. Place of Yanagawa city is a meadow area surrounded by Chikugogawa river and Yabegawa river, and numerous creeks and canals run across the area like a spider web. Before land reclamation in Edo era, Yanagawa castle was surrounded by wide wetland and numerous creek, and it was an impregnable castle.

Origin of Yanagawa castle

Yanagawa castle was originally built by Kamachi clan, a local lord of this area. Kamachi clan is said that originally stem a traditional clan stem from Minamoto clan, but later succeeded by descendent of Utsunomiya clan, a traditional samurai of Kanto region who moved to this area in 14th century. 

The governor of Chikugo province (south part of Fukuoka prefecture) where Yanagawa castle locates was Otomo clan, the governor of Bungo province (Oita prefecture), but as Bungo province was distant from Chikugo province, Kamachi clan grew their power in Chikugo province and consist of party with many branch families. Otomo clan which was cautious about the power of Kamachi clan divided Kamachi clan into two houses and managed separately, but Kamachi clan was still the strongest power in Chikugo province.

In 1545, Ryuzoji clan which was the strong local lord of Hizen province (Saga prefecture), was attacked by his colleague. Being killed all his son and grandchild, Iekane Ryuzoji (1454-1546), the leader of Ryuzoji clan, escaped to Kamachi clan along with his great-grandchild Takanobu Ryuzoji (1529-1584). Next year being supported by Kamachi clan Iekane restored Ryuzoji clan and died just after, then Takanobu became the leader of Ryuzoji clan. But this was the beginning of tragedy of Kamachi clan.

Injustice of Takanobu Ryuzoji to Kamachi clan and retribution

Takanobu gradually grew his power in Hizen province, and stroke back the attack of Otomo clan but still followed to them. But in 1578, when Otomo clan suffered severe defeat at the battle of Mimikawa against Shimazu clan, the warlord of Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) and lost many generals and soldiers, Ryuzoji clan left weakened Otomo clan and expanded to surrounding provinces including Chikugo province.

Shigenami Kamachi (1547-1581), the leader of Kamachi clan, married with a daughter of Takanobu and followed to Ryuzoji clan. But Takanobu tried to seize the territory of Kamachi clan and gave pressure to Kamachi clan, then finally Kamachi clan decided to leave Ryuzoji clan. Takanobu siege Yanagawa castle with large army, but being protected wide march and many creeks, Ryuzoji clan could not fall the castle. 

Reluctantly Takanobu once made peace with Kamachi clan, but one day Takanobu invited Shigenami to a party. Shigenami expected a trap of Takanobu, but could not refuse and went to Saga castle, the residence of Ryuzoji clan. As expected Takanobu killed Shigenami and his fellows, then attacked Yanagawa castle again. Yanagawa castle who lost the leader could not stand the castle and at last opened to Ryuzoji clan. 

Ryuzoji clan killed remaining Kamachi people and seized Yanagawa castle, and wife of Shizunami who was the daughter of Takanobu killed herself resisting to ruthless action of his father. This treatment to Kamachi clan to which Ryuzoji clan had debt to obligation evoked repellence of other local lords and they needed several years to suppress rebellion of lords. Among this time Shimazu clan significantly expanded their power into northward, and finally Takanobu died at the battle of Okitanawate against Shimazu clan. 

Secure castle needed three years to fall

After the death of Takanobu, Ryuzoji clan barely continued places it's family at Yanagawa castle as a major base of Chikugo province. Utilizing this opportunity, in 1585 Otomo army lead by brave veteran general Dosetsu Tachibana (1513-1585) tried to recover Chikugo province, beating superior Ryuzoji army and captured castles in the north half of Chikugo province. 

Next Dosetsu encircled Yanagawa castle, but Yanagawa castle at that time was secure castle said as " it takes three years to fall Yanagawa castle, 3 months for Kumamoto castle (before the expansion), but only one day for Saga castle and Kurume castle", thus even brave Dosetsu could not capture it. During the siege aged Dosetsu became ill and finally died at a camp. In his will Dosetsu ordered bury his body facing Yanagawa castle, but his army brought his body to his residence.

For a while Yanagawa castle was kept by Ryuzoji clan which subordinated to Shimazu clan which almost united Kyushu island, but in 1587 central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) beat Shimazu clan at Kyushu campaign, and Shimazu clan lost all territory except for Satsuma province and Osumi province (Kagoshima prefecture). Yanagawa castle was given to Muneshige Tachibana (1567-1643), an adopted son of Dosetsu Tachibana.

Son of two brave fathers

Muneshige Tachibana was originally the son of Jyoun Takahashi (1548-1586), a brave general of Otomo army and colleague of Dosetsu. As Dosetsu did not have his own son,  Dosetsu at first placed his daughter Ginchiyo Tachibana (1569-1602) as a castle commander. Ginchiyo was a strong lady looked like his father but inevitably was anxious to lead retainers, thus Dosetsu entreated Jyoun to adopt Muneshige as a successor. As a result, Muneshige became an adopted son of Dosetsu and married with Ginchiyo.

Among the decline of Otomo clan, Dosetsu and Jyoun kept desperate effort to keep the territory against rising Ryuzoji clan or Shimazu clan. But as above Dosetsu died ill in 1585, and Shimazu clan expanded their power and became the final corner to unite Kyushu island. In 1586, whole Shimazu army started total attack toward Otomo clan from two directions, and Jyoun Takahashi besieged at Iwaya castle (Fukuoka prefecture) gave severe damage to Shimazu army but finally shared his fate with the castle after nearly one month battle.

But this brave fight of Jyoun made significant help to Muneshige. Shimazu army fell Iwaya castle next attacked Tachibanayama castle, the main base of Tachibana clan, but because of severe damage Shimazu army could not fell the castle and  only consumed time. Among such situation, central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) decided to march to Kyushu island to beat Shimazu clan, and Mouri army which was the vanguard of Toyotomi army landed. Looking at this situation, Shimazu army started to retreat.

Two peerless brave generals at east and west

Seeing this, Muneshige chased Shimazu army in high spirit and promptly recovered Iwaya castle and Homan castle deprived by Shimazu clan. When the main army of Hideyoshi arrived, Muneshige worked as a vanguard of western coast army, fell many castles and marched to Satsuma province (Kagoshima prefecture) where was the main territory of Shimazu clan. Otomo clan recommended Muneshige to Hideyoshi as "first class reciprocity and unequaled loyalty", then Muneshige became a direct retainer of Hideyoshi and became the lord of Yanagawa castle.

In 1587, large rebellion of local lord against Toyotomi government occurred at whole area of Higo province (Kumamoto prefecture), and Narimasa Sassa (1536-1588) could not settle it and was encircled in his main base Kumamoto castle. Hideyoshi ordered neighbor lord to suppress the rebellion and rescue Narimasa, thus Muneshige who was just next to Higo province attacked the rebel army as a vanguard. At this battle Muneshige made a significant achievement such as fighting 13 times and fell 7 castles in one day, and fell Tanaka castle which was the major base of rebellion army.

Hideyoshi highly praised Muneshige as "the bravest and loyalist general in Kyushu island", and also mentioned "there were two unrivaled strong general, Muneshige in western Japan and Tadakatsu Honda (1548-1610, the bravest general under Ieyasu Tokugawa) and let them meet. During the foreign expedition during 1590's, Muneshige broke dominant enemy again and again, and rescued friend army in crisis.

Defeat after faithful behavior

After the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who was the largest lord under Toyotomi government aimed at next hegemony, and Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of government, tried to stop it. In 1600, Mitsunari raised his army against Ieyasu along with other large lords such as Mouri clan or Ukita clan. As Muneshige was formerly rescued by the army of Hideyoshi, Muneshige rejected invitation from Ieyasu and belonged to Mitsunari.

Muneshige and Hidekane Mouri (1567-1601) attacked Otsu castle (Shiga prefecture) held by Takatsugu Kyogoku (1560-1609), and after 10 days battle let the castle open. But just at that time the decisive battle of Sekigahara between Ieyasu and Mitsunari occurred, and Mitsunari was defeated by Ieyasu and his army collapsed. It was a fatal loss for Mitsunari to lack Tachibana army of high moral at the battle.

Hearing the defeat of Mitsunari, Muneshige orderly came back to his territory. On the way of this return, Muneshige met Yoshihiro Shimazu (1535-1619) who made a frontal breakthrough at the battlefield of Sekigahara and escaped with small guards. Shimazu clan was the enemy of Muneshige's father, but Muneshige did not express a grudge and cooperatively returned to Kyushu island with Yoshihiro. 

When Muneshige returned to Yanagawa castle, Yanagawa castle was attacked by Ieyasu side lords such as Yoshitaka Kuroda (1546-1604), Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611) and Naoshige Nabeshima (1538-1618). Muneshige besieged at Yanagawa castle, but under coordination of Kiyomasa who valued Muneshige, Muneshige opened Yanagawa castle. Yoshihiro Shimazu who could return to Satsuma province sent a reinforce army but this arrived three days later after surrender.

Structure of Yanagawa castle

After the leave of Muneshige, Yoshimasa Tanaka (1548-1609) who captured escaping Mitsunari became the lord of whole Chikugo province including Yanagawa castle and Kurume castle (Fukuoka prefecture). Yoshimasa reformed Yanagawa castle into a modern one having stone walls, and also developed Yanagawa town.

Structure of reformed Yanagawa castle was quite simple. Central area and secondary area both are 100 meter long square shape area placed side by side for east and west direction, being surrounded by wide water moat. A five story main tower which had white exterior wall and many decorating roofs stood at southwestern corner of central area, along with three three-story turrets at other corners.

Outer area being separated by creeks surround these core areas, and total size of outer area reached 500 meter long square. This outer area is used as a residence of relatives of Tachibana clan and retainers, or storage space. At the southwestern corner of outer area, private residence of the lord named as "Ohana" was built. Yanagawa castle was protected three layer of large water moats and numerous small creeks, and was a impregnable castle. Tanaka clan held Yanagawa castle by 1620 but became extinct because of no successor.

Revival of honest general

On the other hand, Muneshige lost its territory became unemployed, rejecting invitation from other lords. Several years later, Tadakatsu Honda recommended Muneshige to Edo Shogunate then Muneshige was hired as a counselor. Later Muneshige became a small lord of Tanakura castle (Fukushima prefecture), and supported Hidetada Tokugawa (1579-1632) at the battle of Osaka castle.

In 1620, after the extinction of Tanaka clan which held whole Chikugo province at Yanagawa castle, Edo Shogunate placed Muneshige as next lord of Yanagawa castle, and Muneshige returned his old territory after 20 years. It was only Muneshige who lost the territory at the battle of Sekigahara and came back to former territory. When the rebel of Shimabara occurred in 1637, Muneshige participated in subjugating army and planned tactics same as young period and contributed to the victory.

According to "Meisho Genkoroku" which was a compilation of tales of generals published in 19th century, Muneshige received utmost tribute. It says that Muneshige's character was gentle and generous, and having natural virtue and did not behave arrogantly. Even though making achievement, he did not appeal it. Muneshige did not use apple polishers, banned luxury, cared local people and encouraged retainers. His tactic was naturally excellent both for frontal attack or sudden attack, and made victory every time". It might be too much deified, but revival of Muneshige was supported his excellent talent and character, in addition to the fame of his fathers.

Afterward of castle

Tachibana clan held Yanagawa castle by the end of Edo era. Subsequent to Meiji revolution, Yanagawa castle was abolished and main tower was lost by fire. Inner moat was totally reclaimed then central area and secondary area lost its shape, but ruin of main tower and small part of stone walls still remain in the ground of junior high school.

On the other hand, outer water moats are still well preserved, and used for sightseeing cruise course. Water moat is decorated by different kind of flowers for each season and enjoys the eye of visitors along with old buildings remain here and there in Yanagawa town. Quiet atmosphere of water moats well represents gentle but indomitable character of brave general. 


15 minutes walk from Nishitetsu Railway Tenjin-Omuta line Nishitetsu-Yanagawa station. 15 minutes drive from Kyushu Jidoshado Expressway Miyama-Yanagawa interchange.

Related Castles

Tachibanayama Castle -Brave general regarded as incarnation of thunder-
Iwaya Castle -Heroic death of brave general-
Kurume Castle -Castle of lords steadily climbed up the ladder-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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