Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Kitabatake Clan Castles -Chain of tragedy-

Kitabatake Clan Castles

-Chain of tragedy-



Name: Kitabatake Clan Castles (Kitabatake-shi Jokan Ato)
Alias: Kiriyama-jo (Kiriyama castle), Tage-jo (Tage castle)
Place: Misugi-cho Tsu city, Mie
Location: 34.52389740282779, 136.28771339584566
Type: Mountain Castle, hilltop fort and hillside residence
Built: 14 to 15th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls, dry moats and ruin of garden 
Title: 100 more famous Japanese castles

Brief History

Kitabatake clan castles (北畠氏城館跡) is a main base of feudal lord Kitabatake clan consist of mountain castle, hill castle and hillside residence in the Misugi valley, at 15 kilometer west from current Matsusaka city. Misugi valley is a narrow one formed by Yatemata-gawa river, a major tributary of Kumozu-gawa river which flows into Ise-wan bay at current Tsu city.

Misugi valley itself is a small quiet valley but it locates at an important crossroad of Ise-Honkaido, an important road which connected current Nara prefecture and Ise shrine runs east and westward, and north and southward road from Tsu city toward Owase area. Later this area prospered as the posting town of the road, and there still remain traditional style lodges and merchant houses.

Origin of Kitabatake clan

Kitabatake clan castles might be built gradually from 14th century to 15th century by Kitabatake clan. Kitabatake clan was a high class noble stem from Emperor Murakami (926-967). At the middle of 14th century they lived at Kitabatake area of Kyoto city, and named as their place. 

At the beginning of 14th century, Chikafusa Kitabatake (1293-1354), leader of the clan at that time, had an excellent political and literal skill and became the confidant of Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339), and promoted to Dainagon minister, one of the highest position of the noble.

Akiie Kitabatake (1318-1338), the eldest son of Chikafusa, also had an excellent talent on military affairs and also was trusted by Emperor Gogaido from youth. When Emperor Godaigo ruined Kamakura Shogunate and established his own government, Chikafusa was still only 15 years old but was appointed as a councilor of Imperial court, as an exceptional case. 

Arrival of Kitabatake clan to Ise province

In 1335, Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358), a large lord of Kamakura Shogunate and once cooperated with Emperor Godaigo, raised against Emperor. At this time Akiie Kitabatake made long expedition over 600 kilometer from his post Tagajo castle (Miyagi prefecture) toward Kyoto city, and once broke Takauji and expelled him. But after the return of Akiie, Takauji returned to Kyoto city and broke Emperor's army at the battle of Minatogawa. Emperor Godaigo left Kyoto city and moved to Yoshino, then established South Court as a government in exile.

At the return of Akiie, Emperor Godaigo appointed Akiyoshi Kitabatake (1326-1383), the younger brother of Akiie, as the governor of Ise province (Mie prefecture). In medieval era Ise province was a rich province by not only with good cultivation but also prosperous trading ports such as Tsu port or Ominato port. 

Furthermore, there exists Ise Shrine which is a source of legitimacy of Imperial Household as its ancestor. After the failure of second expedition of Akiie toward Kyoto city and his death in 1358 the South Court became totally inferior to Muromachi Shogunate and was confined into narrow Yoshino area, but being helped by the support from Kitabatake clan it kept resistance against Shogunate and North Court then sometimes assaulted Kyoto city.

Turn to the governor under Muromachi Shogunate

Needless to say Muromachi Shogunate attacked Kitabatake clan at Ise province to shut down the supply to the South Court, but Akiyoshi Kitabatake drove back this attack and reversely expanded their territory. However, at the time of his son, Kitabatake clan coordinated with Muromachi Shogunate and continuously served as the governor of Ise province. 

At this point, there was an agreement that the place of Emperor were succeeded by the North Court and South Court in turn, but this agreement was not observed and the North Court kept the place of Emperor. Looking at this, Mitsumasa Kitabatake (?-1429), raised his army against Muromachi Shogunate again in 1429, but lost and died in the battle. Kitabatake clan lost current Tsu area, but barely continued.

Kitabatake clan once lost the power gradually recovered their power in the latter half of 15th century. Kitabatake clan placed their relatives at castles at coast area such as Okawachi castle or Tamaru castle, but their main base was still Tage palace, the hillside residence of Misugi area. Preparing for the battle, hilltop fort and mountain castle were built at the backside mountain.

Structure of castles

Mountain castle is called as Kiriyama castle at the top of Kiriyama mountain. At the top of the mountain there are two peaks at the north and south. The north peak is used as a core part of the castle. which consist of two large areas of about 50 meter long and 20 meter wide, being protected by clay wall and dry moats. Southern peak which can look down the valley might be used as a watching place.

Hilltop castle is built at the ridge just above of hillside residence. It consist of core part of about 40 meter long and 10 meter wide, along with small space at the south. The backside of the castle is protected by combination of two dry moats and tall clay wall, to prevent the attack of the enemy from backside climbing the slope.

Hillside residence is built at the flat area of about 150 meter long and 50 meter wide, which might be separated into several layers. The main building might exist at the ground of current Kitabatake Shrine, and the ruin of stone walls and stone steps  was found during excavation. At the edge of the area, there remains a ruin of beautiful Japanese garden with a pond and artificial hill.

Expansion and peak period

Succeeding the tradition of their ancestor, leaders of Kitabatake clan were good at both of military and cultural affairs. They were good at archery or sword, and both made good Japanese poems. In spite of small valley there were many ruins of temples, and this shows the prosperity of Kitabatake clan and its courtesy.

In the former half of 16th century, it was the peak period of Kitabatake clan. At the time of Harunori Kitabatake (1503-1563), Kitabtake clan captured Shima province (Toba peninsula) defeating Kuki clan, and also proceeded into Uda area of current Nara prefecture or Kumano area. Harunori also participated in the conflict of central area and gained the fame.

His son Tomonori Kitabatake (1528-1576) defeated Nagano clan which held current Tsu area, and sent his son Tomofuji Kitabatake (1552-1576) as an adopted son of Nagano clan. Three years later Tanefuji Nagano (1504-1562), the former leader of Nagano clan, died at the same day as his actual son, and it might be a purge by Kitabatake clan. Now Kitabatake clan seized middle part of Ise province and looked at the north part held by Kanbe clan or Seki clan.

Surrender to Nobunaga Oda and adoption

However, in 1568, Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) who was the warlord of Owari province (western half of Aichi prefecture) intruded into Ise province, as a preparation of his march toward Kyoto city. Kanbe clan surrendered to Nobunaga, and had to adopt Nobutaka Oda (1558-1583), the third son of Nobunaga, as their successor. Kitabatake clan lost the opportunity to unite Ise province and had to face with superior Oda army.

Next year Nobunaga who captured Kyoto city and established his hegemony intruded into Ise province with overwhelming army. Tomomasa Kozukuri (1530-?), the younger brother of Tomonori changed to Nobunaga and lead Oda army into the territory, thus Tomonori besiege at Okawachi castle which was a large castle protected by cliff and river.

Kitabatake army well stood the attack of overwhelming Oda army over 50 days, and finally Nobunaga and Tomonori agreed under the condition that Harunori adopted Nobukatsu Oda (1558-1630), the second son of Nobunaga, as his successor. Kitabatake clan barely survived, but experienced the same fact which forced to Nagano clan only 10 year after that.

Chain of tragedy

The succeeding progress was also the same as the one of Nagano clan. Harunori Kitabatake who dissatisfied with his status communicated with Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) who broke Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), an ally of Nobunaga, at the battle of Mikatagahara in 1572 and attempted to the march toward Kyoto city.

However, Shingen died in the ill during his march next year, and Nobunaga did not forgive the behavior of Harunori Kitabatake. In 1576, Nobunaga Oda ordered Nobukatsu Oda to purge the person of Kitabatake clan, and most person of Kitabatake clan were assassinated by Oda army at different places. It is said that as Tomonori Kitabatake was a swordsman, Nobukatsu made bribe to the close retainer of Tomonori to make his sword out of use.

But bribe and loyal retainers of Kitabatake clan attempted desperate resistance to Nobunaga. Retainers of Kitabatake clan gathered at Masanari Kitabatake (?-1576) survived at Kiriyama castle, and resisted 10 days against overwhelming Oda army. But finally all participants died in the battle, and Kiriyama castle was burnt down along with their master.

Afterward of castle

This kind of story of adoption and purge often seemed at another warlord, such as Kikkawa clan seized by Mouri clan or Fujita clan captured by Hojo clan. Especially Kitabatake clan was a traditional family with fame of ancestors, and Nobunaga could not ignore the influence of the influence of the clan. Actually Tomochika Kitabatake (?-1586), a distant relative of Kitabatake clan, raised two times gathering former retainers of Kitabatake clan. But this attempts failed and the history of Kitabatake clan came to the end.

After the fall, Kiriyama castle and its castle town were abolished. There remains no building but structures of the castle and residence are well kept because of no use at afterward and respect of local residents for Kitabatake clan. It was a valuable site as a ruin of main base of strong medieval warlord, along with Ichijodani ruins of Asakura clan.

Combination of ruin of splendid hillside palace with beautiful Japanese garden and secure mountain castle exactly the character of Kitabatake clan both good at military and culture. Now at the small valley the ruin conveys the history of Kitabatake clan as a loyal retainer of South Court and powerful governor of Ise province, including the chain of tragedy Kitabatake clan did and was done.


30 minutes walk from JR Central Meisho-sen line Ise-Okitsu station but the number of train is quite limited. 40 minutes drive from Ise-Jidoshado Expressway Hisai interchange or Matsusaka interchange. 15 minutes walk from hillside Kitabatake Shrine to hilltop fort, and another 20 minutes walk to hilltop castle.

Related Castles

Okawachi Castle -A noble family disappeared into history-
Tamaru Castle -Checkered life of Nobunaga’s second son who survived turbulent period-
Tagajo Castle -Vice capital of ancient Japan in fortress city-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

Hillside Residence

Hilltop fort

Mountain Castle

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