Saturday, September 17, 2016

Hanao Castle -Huge castle with stone wall like water slider-

Hanao Castle

-Huge castle with stone wall like water slider-



Name: Hanao castle (Hanao-jo)
Place: Kumade Hachimannishi-Ku Kitakyushu city, Fukuoka
Location: 33.84958214008884, 130.7831760895487
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Hanao castle (花尾城) is located at Hanaoyama mountain, one of about 350 meter height over sea level in the south part of Kitakyushu city. Castle site is the southern edge of Kokura plain, and a northwestern corner of mountainous area which divides coastal area toward Nakatsu city and Chikuho area. Now Sarakurayama mountain which is at the next of Hanaoyama mountain is famous as a viewpoint of night view of Kitakyushu city toward Kanmon straight, and Hanao castle is also has a wide perspective of the area.

Origin of Aso clan

Precise year is unknown but Hanao castle might be built in 14th century by local lord Aso clan. Aso clan was originally a tributary of Utsunomiya clan, a major Samurai clan at Kanto region which was a descendant of Soen Fujiwara (1033-1111), who was a descendant of central noble Fujiwara clan and activated at the battle of Zen-Kunen from 1051 to 1062. 

Around the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate in 1192, Yoritomo Mimamoto (1147-1199) who ruined Taira clan and captured the territory of Taira clan in Kyushu island, at first given current Kitakyushu area to his secretary Shokan. Later Iemasa Utsunomiya (?-?), who was a marriage relative of Shokan, succeeded this area and named as Yamaga clan. Aso clan was tributary of this Yamaga clan.

Build of Hanao castle

After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Kyushu island was involved in the battle of South Court of Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) and North Court supported by Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358) who left Emperor Godaigo and opened Muromachi Shogunate. Emperor Godaigo sent Prince Kaneyoshi (1329-1383) as the lord of Kyushu island, then South court and Muromachi Shogunate continued fierce battle in Kyushu island over 50 years.

At this battle Yamaga clan belonged to South Court army but Aso clan supported Muromachi Shogunate. In the latter half of 14th century, Sasayo Imagawa (1326-1420) who was appointed as general commander of Kyushu island from Muromachi Shogunate broke South Court army and captured Kyushu island, thus Yamaga clan disappeared and Aso clan succeeded their territory. 

Aso clan built Hanao castle as their main base at this time. There was already Hobashirayama castle at the backside higher mountain which was used at rebel of remnant of Kamakura Shogunate in 1334, but considering inconvenience of Hobashirayama castle at higher mountain, Aso clan might construct new castle at more convenient but also secure place. 

Structure of Aso castle

Hanao castle spreads over narrow and long mountain continues east and west ward nearly one kilometer. In spite of medieval mountain castle at sheer mountain, each terrace of the castle is well formed. Central area of the castle is a rectangular area of 100 meter long and 20 meter wide at the peak of the mountain, with the basement of watchtower at eastern end. 

At the north slope of central area, there is a parallel line of stone wall continues over 50 meter downward toward the stone built well like a water slider, which is the most spectacular remnant of Hanao castle. This stone wall is built at a sheer slope, and worked as a wall to protect its water source and also stone steps to access the ruin. Surely there is no water source at hilltop area, and it is necessary to protect the way to water source at any means.

At the west ridge from central area, terraces such as secondary area, third area and fourth area is built in line like a tiered platform. Side walls of these area might be covered by stone walls, and had a primitive stile Masugata style gate with folded path. Especially the entrance from a shortcut route toward third area is securely protected by stone built basement of guarding turret.

On the other hand, east side from central area is a backside of the castle protected by huge dry moat of 15 meter depth and 20 meter wide. Ahead of this huge dry moat, there is a long and narrow area has a name of riding area, and ahead of that there is a eastern front fort. Side walls of each areas are covered by numerous vertical dry moat like a waving galvanized sheet, well seen defense facility at northeastern part of Kyushu island. Total size of the castle reaches to 1,000 meter, and incredibly large one as a castle of local lord.

Turmoil of struggle of surrounding lords

During Muromachi era, current Kitakyushu area did not have strong warlord and became the target of struggle between surrounding warlords. In the latter half of 14th century, Ouchi clan which was a strong governor of Suo province and Nagato province (Yamaguchi prefecture) proceeded into Kyushu island and beat Shoni clan then captured Hakata city. Aso clan subordinated to Ouchi clan, and suppressed internal conflict occurred at Hanao castle in 1478 under the support of Ouchi clan.

In the former half of 16th century, Ouchi clan became one of the strongest lord of Japan from the wealth earned from trade with China and Korea. But in 1551, because of the incident of Daineiji, a coup d'etat by their general Harukata Sue (1521-1555), Ouchi clan substantially fell and significantly lost their power.

Looking at this vacancy of the power, Mouri clan who ruined Harukata Sue and captured former territory of Ochi clan, and Otomo clan which was the lord of Bungo province (Oita prefecture) fiercely fought for the north part of Kitakyushu region. At first Yoshishige Otomo (1530-1587), the leader of Otomo clan, captured Hakata city beating remaining Shoni clan. But Motonari Mouri (1497-1571), who was one of the intelligent lord, tried to reverse the situation by plot.

Mouri army captured Moji castle which was the entrance of Kyushu island united former retainers of Ouchi clan such as Akizuki clan or Aso clan, and turned important retainers of Otomo clan at this area such as Akitoshi Tachibana (?-1568) at Tachibanayama castle or Akitane Takahashi (1529-1579) at Homanyama castle. 

Both army continued total war over 10 years, and Hanao castle became the important connecting point of Mouri army between Moji castle and Tachibanayama castle. But finally the plot of Yoshishige Otomo supporting rebellion at Mouri territory, Mouri army retreated from Kyushu island in 1569. Aso clan subordinated to Otomo clan and became their retainer.

End of long history

Otomo clan once captured north half of Kyushu island but rapidly fall after the defeat at the battle of Mimikawa against Shimazu clan in 1578. Shimazu clan which also beat another strong lord Takanobu Ryuzoji (1529-1584) made a total attack toward Otomo clan and Otomo clan was forced to the corner, but just at that time central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) landed large army to Kyushu island to subjugate Shimazu clan. 

After the fierce battle Shimazu clan surrendered to Hideyoshi, and Kyushu island became the territory of Hideyoshi. At this time Aso clan followed to Hideyoshi and left Hanao castle, then became the retainer of Takakage Kobayakawa (1533-1597), the chancellor of Mouri clan who managed Hakata city. 

It is said that Hanao castle was abolished at this time, but considering its location Aso castle might be used under Kobayakawa clan. At least the stone wall of the hillside residence of the lord at northwestern hillside has a technology of Toyotomi period with a Jenga line corner stones. Anyway Kuroda clan seized this area after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 newly built Kurosaki castle near the coast, Hanao castle was abandoned at this time.

Afterward of castle

Now all building was lost but structures of the castle well remain on the mountain. Although it is not so famous, but long continuing terraces of the castle with remaining stone walls here and there, protection of water source and deep dry moat is worth to see. Even though a genuine mountain castle, it has a so-so access rouge by bus and well prepared climbing road as a hiking road.


Hanao-Nishitozanguchi bus stop of Nishitetsu-bus from JR Kyushu Kagoshima-Honsen line Kurosaki station. 15 minutes drive from Kitakyushu City Highway Kurosaki interchange to nearest parking at northeastern hillside of Gotosan mountain. 40 minutes from hillside entrance of hiking course to hilltop castle.

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Pictures (click to enlarge)


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