Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tateyama Castle (Dewa) -Progressive castles of conservative lords (2)-

Tateyama Castle (Dewa)

-Progressive castles of conservative lords (2)-



Name: Tateyama castle (Tateyama-jo)
Place: Tateyama Yonezawa city, Yamagata
Location: 37.91254834843058, 140.0639094399701
Type: Hill Castle
Built: 15th century?
Remaining remnants: Stone walls, clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Tateyama castle (舘山城) is located at Tateyama hill, one of about 50 meter height from hillside at the southwestern corner of Yonezawa basin. Yonezawa basin is an oblong shaped one of about 30 kilometer long and 10 kilometer wide at the south edge of current Yamagata prefecture, at the center of south half of Tohoku region even though being surrounded by sheer mountains.

Castle hill exist at the merging point of Omono-gawa river and Otaru-gawa river, upper streams of Mogami-gawa river which forms Yonezawa basin and Yamagata basin. These two rivers are not only natural barriers to protect the hill, but also the routes toward Aizu-Wakamatsu area through Otoge pass or Hibara toge pass, respectively. Furthermore, castle site itself is separated by small valley from the main part of Yonezawa basin, thus it is a suitable place to build the residence of medieval lord.

Yonezawa basin and Nagai clan

The origin of Tateyama castle is not clear but considering its good location there might be a castle from early period, at the time of Nagai clan. Nagai clan was a descendant of Hiromoto Oe (1148-1225), a talented administrator at the beginning of Kamakura Era and also an ancestor of Mouri clan, later became the ruler of Chugoku region.

Hiromoto gave his manor at Yonezawa basin to one of his sons then they became the local lord and renamed to Nagai clan. Nagai clan built their main base Yonezawa castle (Yamagata prefecture) at the center of flat area in the south half of the basin at 4 kilometer east from Tateyama castle, but this might be a simple residence and an administrative place of peace time.

At the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Nagai clan consistently supported the North Court and Muromachi Shogunate then kept as the lord of Yonezawa basin. On the other hand, at current Fukushima basin at the east of Yonezawa basin, Date clan which supported the South Court gradually grew their power as the main force of the Court.

Capture by Date clan

However, at the end of 14th century, looking at the decline of the South Court, Date clan turned to Muromachi Shogunate and captured the territory of the South Court at their territory. Next Date clan intruded into Yonezawa basin and suppressed Nagai clan by both of military power and plots. Finally Date clan ruined Nagai clan in 1385 and captured Yonezawa basin.

Date clan kept their main base at Fukushima basin over 150 years after that, but in the middle of 16th century, Harumune Date (1519-1578) who won the internal conflict against his father Tanemune Date (1488-1565) and grasped the authority of Date clan moved their main base from Kori Nishiyama castle (Fukushima prefecture) to Yonezawa castle.

It might be performed to leave old structures of the clan and change the atmosphere. But in addition to the after trouble of the internal conflict, Ashina clan at Aizu basin and Mogami clan at Yamagata basin both left weakened Date clan and grew to an independent lord. Especially Ashina clan which was the lord of Kurokawa castle (later Aizu Wakamatsu castle, Fukushima prefecture) rapidly united Aizu basin under Moriuji Ashina (1521-1580) then grew to a strong warlord equivalent to Date clan.

Back up castle of Yonezawa castle

To cope with internal and external threats, Yonezawa castle might be too small and not secure. Similar to other traditional lords such as Takeda clan or Imagawa clan, Date clan might use Yonezawa castle as their formal main base but also renovated Tateyama castle into the military base and evacuation place in case of emergency.

Date clan slowly recovered from the damage of internal conflict at the time of Terumune Date (1544-1585), and its rival Ashina clan significantly declined by internal conflicts after the death of Moriuji. In 1584, Terumune gave the leader position to his son Masamune Date (1567-1636), and lived at Tateyama castle as his retirement place, probably considering the intrusion to Aizu basin. 

But Terumune was assassinated by Nihonmatsu clan at that year then Tateyama castle was not so used at this time. In 1589 Masamune finally ruined Ashina clan at the battle of Suriagehara and moved his main base to Kurokawa castle, former main base of Ashina clan. As a communication route of Aizu basin and Yonezawa basin, the importance of Tateyama castle did not change.

Change of holders

However, in 1591, Masamune lost Aizu basin and Yonezawa basin by the order of central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), the both area were given to Ujisato Gamo (1556-1595), a talented lord under Hideyoshi. Ujisato also placed his main base at Aizu Wakamatsu castle, and renovated branch castles around his vast territory. But Tateyama castle might be not reformed at this time.

After the death of Ujisato in 1595, Hideyoshi gave the territory of Gamo clan to Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), the lord of Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture). Kagekatsu was an adopted son and successor of Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), who was originally the lord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) and praised as the god of the war.

As Kenshin had a traditional sense of value and succeeded “Kanto Kanrei” position, the highest class retainer of Muromachi Shogunate in Kanto region, Uesugi clan was quite conservative at castle building. Aside from border castles which needed practicality, their major castles are old fashioned one built by clay walls.

In 1600, as a result of the battle of Sekigahara, the territory of Uesugi clan was decreased only to Yonezawa basin and Fukushima basin by Edo Shogunate. Uesugi clan moved their main base to Yonezawa castle, but they were surrounded by larger lords such as Gamo clan returned to Aizu basin, Date clan or Mogami clan and still in tension.

Structure of Tateyama castle

To compliment the weakness of Yonezawa castle, Uesugi clan reformed Tateyama castle into the last fortress. However, although Tateyama castle is built over the tip of peninsular like plateau with sheer cliff, the backside of the castle was a weak point of the castle connecting with higher ground. To cope with this weakness, Uesugi clan used advanced technology such as stone walls to Tateyama castle/.

The central area of Tateyama castle is a triangle shaped one of about 100 meter long and 50 meter wide spreads toward east and west. Its western line which faces secondary area is a front line, and is protected by huge clay wall of 10 meter wide and 5 meter tall, originally covered by stone walls.

At the north edge of this clay wall, there was the main gate of the area. It was a Masugata-style combined gate with buffer area, and is securely protected by stone walls. Stones used for stone walls are well shaped and clearly different from cobbles used by Date clan or roughly shaped stones by Gamo clan, thus only Uesugi clan could built it at the beginning of 17th century.

Secondary area is a clearly square shaped area of 50 meter long, also has a huge clay wall and deep dry moat at its western line. Outside of secondary area, combination of clay walls, dry moats and watching towers protected the front line of the castle. Surrounding castle hill, there were many flat spaces and forts used by retainers.

Afterward of castle

It is not clear why Uesugi clan had fiscal problem by the significant decrease of territory and kept its main base Yonezawa castle quite simple reformed Tateyama castle in advanced style, but there might be an external and internal tension after the political defeat of the battle of Sekigahara and had to show the power of the lord.

In 1615, Ikkoku Ichijo Rei (one domain one castle rule) was published, and Tateyama castle might be abolished around this time. By this time the disorder of the clan ceased, and there was no necessary to keep military bases under limited budget. Stone walls of the castle were broken and thrown into the ground.

Now all building was lost but structures of the castle well remain over the hill, along with the root of stone walls found by excavation. Now at the tip of the castle, an old hydro power plant operates utilizing the water of the river and height difference. Even though small one, but genuine stone build gates shows the hidden technology of Uesugi clan behind of its traditional atmosphere only shown in the case of necessity.


20 minutes walk from JR East Maisaka line Nishi-Yonezawa station. 20 minutes drive from Tohoku Chuo Jidoshado Expressway Yonezawa-Chuo interchange or Yonezawa-Kita interchange.

Related Castles

Yonezawa Castle -Castle filled with statues and monuments-
Kori Nishiyama Castle -Five time relocations in 70 years-
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle -White five-story main tower endured harsh battle-
Kasugayama Castle (1) -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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