Saturday, July 22, 2017

Misaka Castle -Highest and huge mountain castle at Misaka pass-

Misaka Castle

-Highest and huge mountain castle at Misaka pass-



Name: Misaka castle (Misaka-jo)
Place: Kawaguchi Fuji-Kawaguchiko town, Yamanashi
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: Expanded in 16th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Misaka castle (御坂城) is located at the top of Misaka-Toge pass, the one at about 1,500 meter above sea level at Misaka mountains between Kofu basin and Lake Kawaguchi-ko. Except for temporal watching point or signal fire basement, it is built at the highest  altitude among all Japanese castles which assumes continuous stationing of soldiers. The altitude of Kawaguchi-Ko area is already 800 meter above sea level, but the height of castle from hillside exceeds 500 meter and extraordinary one.

Misaka Toge pass had been an important pass of the route from Suruga province (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture) to Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) from ancient era. It is said that Yamato-Takeru, an mythical hero of ancient Japan, crossed Misaka-Toge pass at the return of his expedition to Eastern Japan toward Yamanashi area. 

Importance of Misaka-Toge pass

In 8th century this route crosses Misaka Toge pass and Kagosaka Toge pass was formally developed as national road "Kaiji" diverged from Tokaido road at current Ashigara area, and in medieval era it was used as "Kamakura-Oukan" which was the closest route to Kamakura city, the main base of Kamakura Shogunate.

From current perspective, it seems not necessary to cross such as high place and better to detour flat road. Actually trains and most frequently used road run along the valley of Fuji-kawa river. But in ancient era, people had to move by walk and the shortness of road was the first priority, even though passing tough pass. The walk is slow but relatively possible to handle steep slope.

Today we can easily detour this tough pass by car, but it might take additional one or two days. Misaka-Toge road is a tough road but it might be climbed within half day, and this time difference was important for governmental or military purpose which held limited baggage compared with commercial trip but needs quicker movement. Therefore, once the society became peace in Edo era, Misaka Toge pass lost its importance.

Origin of Misaka castle

The origin of Misaka castle is unknown but small fort might be built in medieval era. In the former half of 16th century, Takeda clan which was the governor of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) was intermittently in hostility against Hojo clan which was the lord of Sagami province (Kanagawa prefecture) or Imagawa clan of Suruga province (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture). 

At this time Hojo clan invaded into Lake Kawaguchi area several times. and reversely Takeda clan marched to the east part of Suruga province across Misaka Toge pass and Kagosaka Toge pass. Around this time Misaka castle might be used as a border castle against southward.

In 1554, Takeda clan, Imagawa clan and Hojo clan made triangle alliance, and the situation of Misaka pass once stabilized. In 1567 this alliance broke along with the invasion of Takeda clan into Imagawa clan, but Takeda clan quickly ruined weakened Imagawa clan and , then next suppressed Hojo clan and captured east end of Suruga province such as Fukasawa castle or Nagakubo castle which was at the exit of the route from Misaka Toge pass.

Disturbance of Kai province

However, on March 1582, before the attack of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) and its ally Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582) and his son died at the hillside of Tenmoku-san mountain and Takeda clan was ruined. Nobunaga placed his important retainers at former territory of Takeda clan.

But just three month later Nobunaga himself died in the incident of Honnoji, a coup d'?tat by his important general Mitsuhide Akechi (1521-1582). Looking at the death of Nobunaga, former retainers of Takeda clan raised then the lords appointed by Nobunaga escaped or were killed. Now former territory of Takeda clan such as Kai province or Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) became a vacant zone.

Looking at this opportunity, Ieyasu Tokugawa who barely survived the incident, advanced into Shinano province and Kai province utilizing former retainers of Takeda clan secretly sheltered under him. Ieyasu quickly seized Kofu basin and south part of Shinano prefecture, then gathered former retainers of Takeda clan.

Expansion by Hojo clan

On the other hand, Ujiyasu Hojo (1538-1590), the leader of Hojo clan, also looked at the death of Nobunaga and captured Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture) defeating Kazumasu Takigawa (1525-1586) who was the lord of province at the battle of Kanna-gawa river. Next main force of Hojo army entered Shinano province across Usui-Toge pass, and captured north part of Shinano province.

Looking at the march of Hojo clan, Tokugawa army retreated from middle part of Shinano province and tried to protect Hojo army at the northwest of Kai province. Tokugawa army stayed at Shinpu castle (Yamanashi prefecture), the former main base of Katsuyori Takeda, and faced overwhelming army of Hojo clan stayed northward. Now the campaign between Tokugawa army and Hojo army called as "Tensho Jingo no Hen" started.

At the same time, on the opposite side, Hojo army captured southeast part of Kai province including Lake Kawaguchi-ko area which was at the next of their territory. As Motosu castle (Yamanashi prefecture) of Lake Motosu area at the next of Lake Kagaguchi-ko area was seized by Tokugawa army, Lake Kawaguchi area became the border of both army and an important path for Hojo army to seize Kofu basin, the center of Kai province. Hojo army significantly expanded Misaka castle into huge fortress both for the purpose of attack and defense.

Structure of Misaka castle

As old Misaka-Toge pass road runs at the bottom of V letter like saddle point, castle structure spreads from the bottom to both side slope of the ridge. Misaka pass road crosses the castle at the middle part of the castle passing several small areas now used as a ground of shrine and former rest house. As the northward is enemy side, entrance from northward is securely protected by attacking point from upper side.

At the westward from the bottom, the a small square of 20 meter long with Umadashi-style gate might be used the commander of the castle stands at the next of the center point, and utilizing gentle slope a long and narrow space which is about 250 meter long and 20 meter wide continues toward backward. This area might be used as a lodging space of soldiers, and the end of this area is securely protected by layer of clay walls and dry moats/

On the other hand, as the eastward slope is a sheer slope which is not suitable for staying, it keeps rough terrain and might be used as a storage of supplies. But ahead of this side there is another pass might be used as a detour attack route, the edge of this side is securely protected by combination of large flat area, deep dry moat and forefront fort. 

As a result, the shape of Misaka castle is like a eagle or hawk which spreads both wing. Total length of the castle is about 1 kilometer long, and north line of which faces Kofu basin is securely protected by the line of deep dry moat and sheer clay walls. The long line of the castle might be well seen from Kofu basin, which appealed advanced technologies and power of Hojo clan to Kofu basin.

Defeat of Hojo army at actual battle

However, at the time of disturbance, each warlord had to show the actual strength at last to capture the territory, in addition to its culture and technology. And for this viewpoint, in spite of its advancement and organization ability, Hojo clan sometimes suffered defeats at actual battle before smaller enemies, such as Takeda clan at its last decade, Satomi clan or Satake clan.

Looking at the deadlock of main armies at the northwest of Kofu basin, to make the situation advance, Hojo army sent 10,000 soldiers lead by Ujitada Hojo (?-1593) from Misaka castle toward Kofu basin, to attack Tokugawa army from backside. Tokugawa army at this area only had 2,000 soldiers, but was lead by brave general Mototada Torii (1539-1600) later made heroic death at the battle of Fushimi castle (Kyoto prefecture) before the battle of Sekigahara.

Mototada Torii intercepted Hojo army at the mouth of narrow valley of Kurokoma to spare its inferior situation. Even though less number, Tokugawa army was a well experienced army during the unification campaign of Nobunaga Oda, and finally drove back Hojo army with casualties. Hojo army failed to capture Kofu basin or connect to its main army.

End of campaign and afterward

Because of the brave fight of Mototada, Tokugawa army could hold Kofu basin and continue the confrontation against the main army of Hojo clan. Furthermore, Masayuki Sanada (1547-1611) who was the lord of Ueda area turned from Hojo army to Tokugawa army and shut the supply route at Usui Toge pass. 

Beside, looking at the absence of Hojo main army, anti Hojo lords such as Satake clan or Utsunomiya clan tried to attack the castles of Hojo clan. Looking at this situation, Hojo clan and Tokugawa clan finally reconciled, and whole part of Kai province belonged to Tokugawa army. As both side of the castle became the territory of Tokugawa clan, Misaka castle lost its function and might be used only as a small gate of the pass.

Today all building was lost but line of clay walls and dry moats well remain at the both side of the pass. Huge structure of the castle spreads at such inconvenient height shows the superiority of Hojo clan for castle construction and logistics. 

But at the same time,. it also shows the anxiety of the slight weakness of Hojo army which emerged at the battle of Kurokoma. Hojo army attempted the proverb of Sun Tzu "win without a fight " with this castle, but their intention did not realize as expected. The bird shape of the castle still looks down Kofu basin today without their master. 


80 minutes walk from Tenka Chaya restaurant, at the southern exit of Misaka tunnel at old route of Route 137, climb up from the side of tunnel to ridge line and walk westward across Misaka-yama mountain. Preparation of mountain walking is necessary.

Related Castles

Shinpu Castle -Castle built by tragic brave successor of Shingen-
Motosu Castle -Castle built by lava stones in deep forest-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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