Friday, July 15, 2016

Moridera Castle -Expansion and reform on short-lived castle-

Moridera Castle

-Expansion and reform on short-lived castle-



Name: Moridera castle (Moridera-jo)
Alias: Yunoyama-jo (Yunoyama-castle)
Place: Moridera Himi city, Toyama
Location: 36.90942428260132, 136.95820449043384
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Moridera castle (森寺城) is located on Gotenyama hill, one of 100 meter height from hillside in the north part of current Himi city. At the root of Noto peninsula, a line of Hodatsu hills spreads from northeast to southwest ward, and this line is used as a border of Ecchu province (Toyama prefecture) and Noto province (northern part of Ishikawa prefecture). 

Castle site is a south edge of the hill faces the valley of Ao-gawa river, and this valley is used as a crossing route of the hill over Arayama-toge pass from Himi area to Nanao area. Therefore, it is an appropriate place to control the communication between both provinces.

Furthermore, Nanao castle (Ishikawa prefecture), the core castle of Noto province, is located at the north edge of Hodatsu hill and only 10 kilometer apart from the border. This distance is only half-day march, and for Nanao castle, it was necessary to stop the enemy at the hill. In contrast to this, for attack side, this place can be a good forward base to siege the castle. Because of such reasons, distant from central area of Ecchu province, Moridera castle experienced short but bold life.

Origin of Moridera castle

Precise year is unknown but Moridera castle might be built at the beginning of 16th century. At that time Ecchu province was nominally held by Hatakeyama clan, a high class retainer of Muromachi Shogunate, but their power was limited and the province was substantially divided by deputy governors such as Jinbou clan and Shiina clan. Along with the weakness of governor’s authority, the rise of Ikko Ikki army which consists of believers of Ikkoshu, an active denomination of Japanese Buddhism, also brought instability to the province.

Contrary to this, Noto province opposite of Hodatsu hills was governed by Noto Hatakeyama clan, a branch family of Hatakeyama clan. Apart from the general image on Noto-Hatakeyama clan, around this time this Hatakeyama clan prospered under Yoshifusa Hatakeyama (1491-1545). Yoshifusa strengthened his power and built Nanao castle, a huge mountain castle regarded as one of five brilliant medieval mountain castles as his residence. 

Yoshifusa also looked at turbulence of Ecchu province, advanced to Ecchu province to support his distant relative and secure the backside of Nanao castle. As a base in Ecchu province, Yoshifusa newly built Moridera castle and at first this castle was called as Yunoyama castle. At this time Moridera castle might consist of only core areas of current castle.

Front base of Uesugi army

After the death of Yoshifusa, Noto-Hatakeyama clan also lost its authority under continuous internal conflicts of important retainers. Leader of Hatakeyama clan fall into a puppet and province was managed by oligarchy of strong local lords such as Nukui clan, Yusa clan or Cho clan. 

Noto-Hatakeyama clan lost the power to intervene to Ecchu province, and Moridera castle was involved in this internal conflict. In 1557 Nukui clan who rebelled to Hatakeyama clan won at this castle against Hatakeyama army, and in 1568 leader of Hatakeyama clan expelled from Nanao castle once occupied this castle.

But at the same time, Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) who was praised as a god of war, started expansion into Ecchu province and Kaga province. After continuous fierce fight against local lords and Ikko Ikki army, Kenshin captured Ecchu province by 1576. Next target of Kenshin was Noto province and Nanao castle, then Kenshin might capture Moridera castle at that year. Next Kenshin encircled Nanao castle, and after one year siege Nanao castle finally fell in 1577.

Situation of Noto province was not stable, as a part of former retainers of Hatakeyama clan kept resistance against Kenshin Uesugi in cooperation with central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582). To keep the supply line from Ecchu province to Nanao castle, Uesugi army might expand Moridera castle. Huge dry moat and clay wall of narrow point protected by vertical dry moat at the north of central area, and layer of terraces at the north edge of the castle might be used as a camp of soldiers might be built under Uesugi clan.

Seizure by Oda clan and reform into modern castle

However, after one year from capture of Nanao castle, Kenshin Uesugi suddenly died in ill, and his two successors Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579) started internal conflict for next leader named as “Otate no Ran”. 

Looking at this opportunity, Katsuie Shibata (1521-1583), the regional commander of Hokuriku region under Nobunaga Oda, gradually proceeded into Kaga province toward north breaking Uesugi army and Ikko Ikki rebellion. In 1579, Moridera castle was captured by Oda side army lead by Ujiharu Jinbou (1528-1592) and Tsuratatsu Cho (1546-1619), along with Ao castle only several kilometer apart from Moridera castle. Next year Oda army lead by Katsuie Shibata fell Nanao castle held by Uesugi army.

Nobunaga gave Ecchu province to Narimasa Sassa (1536-1588), a former royal guard then promoted general under Katsuie Shibata. To fight with Uesugi army and still occupied eastern part of Ecchu province and restrain local lords, Narimasa placed his main base at Toyama castle but reformed mountain castles of Ecchu province such as Masuyama castle or Asahiyama castle. Moridera castle was also reformed into a modern base at this time.

Structure of Moridera castle

Moridera castle is built on a flask shaped triangle hill of 300 meter wide and 800 meter long. Core part of the castle is a triangle shaped height of 100 meter long at the middle of the hill. Southwestern corner of this triangle is the central area of this castle, separated by a line of reversed La shaped stone wall, which is only 50 centimeter height but 100 meter long. There might be a residence of the commander of Moridera castle. Remaining part of the height is secondary area, and there is a ruin of large well whose diameter is about five meter.

There are two roads to this core part from north and from south. Entrances into core area from these roads are decorated by stone walls which consist rough stones. Especially the north one of the main route which has a magnificent slope of 5 meter wide and 50 meter long, having stone wall at core area side. 

Bottle neck of the hill at the north of the central area is a battle front of the castle and protected by combination of tall clay wall and dry moat. Ahead of this narrow point, there is a combination of terraces named as Terasaka-Yashiki, might be used as residence of retainers. The north edge of this area is the border of the castle and protected by layers of dry moats.

South part of the hill is separated into two ridges at the both side of small valley. This valley might be used as an approach route to the castle, thus two ridges named as Kanatoyama and Nozaki-Yashiki are used as independent front forts. Other than two forts, layers of terraces are built at side utilizing undulation of terrain, to use as a camping space of soldiers and protect entrance of enemy. 

Total size of Moridera castle is reached over 800 meter, and even though not having clear plan, it is equivalent to other large size mountain castles of Ecchu province such as Ecchu Matsukura castle or Masuyama castle. Especially Moridera castle is rare mountain castle has stone walls, and it is unclear why this castle is so decorated under the situation that Noto province and Nanao castle is also held by Oda clan, but it might be targeted to Isuirugi mountain temple at the north of Moridera castle which had many obedient monk soldiers.

Final usage and abolishment

In 1582, Nobunaga Oda died in the incident of Honnoji, a coup d’?tat by his regional commander Mitsuhide Akechi (1528-1582). After the fall of Mitsuhide, former two commander of Nobunaga it mean Hideyoshi Hashiba (1537-1598, later Hideyoshi Toyotomi) and Katsuie Shibata fought for next hegemony. Hideyoshi broke Katsuie at the battle of Shizugatake in 1583, and Narimasa was not directly involved in this battle but did not like Hideyoshi. 

In 1584, looking at the conflict between Hideyoshi and Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), former ally of Nobunaga and lord of Mikawa province (eastern part of Aichi prefecture), Narimasa raised his army against Toshiie Maeda (1539-1598), former colleague of Narimasa and lord of Kanazawa castle and Noto province but belonged to Hideyoshi. To prevent the attack of Maeda army from Noto province during attack to Kanazawa castle, Narimasa reformed Moridera castle again as a military base. Line of clay wall at western line of the castle which directly faces the road from Noto province might be built at this time.

In summer, Narimasa crossed the border to Kaga province and attacked Suemori castle at the middle of Kanazawa castle and Nanao castle, but could not fall it and returned. Narimasa retreated from Moridera castle and Ao castle at neighbor place to secure his main base Toyama castle. Next year Hideyoshi attacked Narimasa by overwhelming army, thus Narimasa surrendered to Hideyoshi. Ecchu province was given to Toshiie Maeda, and Moridera castle lost strategic reason of existence this time. Just after that Moridera castle might be abolished.

Afterward of castle

Now all building was lost and structures of castles were broken at the time of abolishment, but clay walls and dry moats of the castle still remain on the hill along partially remaining stone walls. Different from gentle exterior of the hill, once enter inside combination of mannish sheer clay walls and deep dry moats, and elegant stone walls at entrance and central area brings unique atmosphere to visitors. Different elements of the castle shows unchanged importance of this castle for holders, even though a short live less than 100 years. 


20 minutes drive from Noetsu Jidoshado Expressway to hillside parking via prefectual road 18. Be careful that access road to the parking at backside of castle is quite narrow and difficult to pass oncoming car.

Related Castles

Masuyama Castle -Massive clay walls and dry moats on mountain-
Matsukura Castle (Ecchu) -Castle of definite defense line-
Ao Castle -Castle managed by willful but brave general-
Nanao Castle -"Frost fills encampment and autumn air is purified"-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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