Thursday, November 15, 2018

Yoita Castle -Castle of chief magistrate good at administration and military-

Yoita Castle

-Castle of chief magistrate good at administration and military-



Name: Yoita castle (Yoita-jo)
Place: Yoita Yoita-cho Nagaoka city, Niigata
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 16th century
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and moats 

Brief History

Yoita castle (与板城) is located at Joyama mountain, one of about 100 meter in the north part of current Nagaoka city at the side of Shinano-gawa river. Castle site exists at the north edge of Higashi-Kubiki hills, which consist of three lines of hills spreads in parallel between Shinano-gawa river and the Sea of Japan which occupies half of Chuetsu area, the name of middle part of current Niigata prefecture.

As a concept, current Niigata prefecture has T shaped structure which consist of horizontal line of flat area along the coast and vertical line of valleys formed by Shinano-gawa river and Uono-gawa river. Castle site is at the meeting point of two lines, and it is an important point of communication in the area utilizing Shinano-gawa river.

Current Niigata city area is a vast flat lang but formerly in was a huge marsh formed by Shinano-gawa river and Agano-gawa river except for narrow lands near the coast and inner area. Yoita area is at the border of the land of Chuetsu area and marsh, and also could control two line of Yahiko mountains and Uonuma hills prolong into march area like scissors. From both of strategy and tactics it was a critical point of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture).

Origin of Yoita castle and Naoe clan

Precise year is unknown but Yoita castle was built by local lord Naoe clan in the latter half of 16th century. The origin of Naoe clan is also unknown but it might originally have territory at Naoetsu area, the place of current Joetsu city area. But later they moved northward to the downstream of Shinano-gawa river and served to Iinuma clan, an important retainer of Uesugi clan which was the governor of Echigo province.

Uesugi clan which was the governor of Echigo province was a branch family of Uesugi clan which was a Kanto-Kanrei, the general counsel of Kanto region. As a governor they had to reside at Joetsu area, the capital of the province in the south part of province, but also tried to keep the vertical line of T letter continued to Kanto region by placing their relatives and important retainers, facing strong local lords resided at both side of this line.

Iinuma clan was a hereditary retainer of Uesugi clan accompanied to Echigo province, and protected the end of this line at Moto-Yoita castle, at about 3 kilometer north from Yoita castle. But in the beginning of 16th century, Uesugi clan lost their authority during the conflict against Nagao clan, the deputy governor of province. At this conflict Iinuma clan was ruined by Nagao clan thus Naoe clan became the lord of Moto-Yoita castle.

Important retainer of Uesugi clan

In the middle of 16th century, Kagetsuna Naoe (1509-1577), the leader of Naoe clan, activated as an important retainer of Nagao clan. Especially Kagetsuna supported Kagetora Nagao (1530-1578, later Kenshin Uesugi) from first period, and conducted at politics, diplomacy and military actions as close retainer of Kenshin. 

Kagetsuna Naoe died in ill in 1577, and Nobutsuna Naoe (?-1581) who was a distant relative of Kenshin succeeded Naoe clan by marrying with Lady Osen (1557-1637), the daughter of Nobutsuna. It is said that around this time Naoe clan moved its main base from Moto-Yoita castle to Yoita castle, which is better place for defense and could make larger size flat areas.

After the death of Kenshin in 1578, there around an internal conflict for successor named “Otate no Ran” between two adopted sons of Kenshin, Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579). Nobutsuna Naoe belonged to Kagekatsu, and kept Yoita castle from attack of Kagetora side army thus contributed to the preservation of supply line of Kagekatsu. 

Nobutsuna became an important retainer of Kagekatsu who won the conflict and succeeded Uesugi clan, but accidentally died being involved in the conflict between retainers regarding reward. Kagekatsu sent his close retainer Kanetsugu Higuchi (1560-1620), a close retainer served to Kagekatsu from childhood at Sakado castle (Niigata prefecture). Kanetsugu Higuchi married with Lady Osen then renamed to Kanetsugu Naoe and became an important retainer at critical castle.

Structure of Yoita castle

Main part of Yoita castle are three large areas stands in line at the peak of the hill. Central area of the castle is a rectangular one of about 50 meter long and 20 mete wide, which has a clay wall that be the basement of watchtower at its backside. Front side of the area is a sheer cliff of over 10 meter, which resembles to Kasugayama castle (Niigata prefecture) which was the main base of Uesugi clan.

Ahead of wide and deep dry moat, two areas nearly 100 meter long exist. Surrounding these core areas, numerous small terraces were built on the slope. At the east of central area, there is large eastern area which might be added later and worked as entrance area. At the small valley at the root of eastern area, there is a ruin of well called as “Osen Ido”.

At the south of secondary and third area, ahead of huge dry moat of about 50 meter wide, there is a huge flat space named “Sennindamari” which is about 200 meter long and 100 meter wide. It might be gathering and training place of soldiers which shows the military presence of this castle. Total length of the castle is about 1 kilometer, and it shows Yoita castle is a critical base of Uesugi clan to manage whole part of the province from middle area.

Crisis of Uesugi clan after internal conflict

During the internal conflict between Kagekatsu Uesugi and Kagetora Uesugi, large local lords of middle part such as Kitajo clan or Kakizaki clan belonged to Kagetora and disappeared. On the other hand, local lords of upper part supported Kagetora and still remained. Even though being supported, they might be a potential obstruction for the authority of Kagekatsu.

Furthermore, among such lord of upper area, Shigeie Shibata (1547-1587) who was the lord of Shibata castle (Niigata prefecture) and activated the battle but was not rewarded raised his army in 1581. Shigeie had economic resource and secure terrain of water area of Niigata city area, and stoutly resisted against Kagekatsu.

Furthermore, the army of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) approached to Echigo province from westward. In 1582, Oda army captured Uozu castle, the last base of Uesugi clan in Ecchu province (Toyama prefecture), and Kagekatsu could not save it. Futhermore, another troop of Oda army intruded Echigo province from southward. At this point Uesugi clan was exactly forced to the corner.

One of three famous retainers of vassals

But just at this moment, Nobunaga died in the incident of Honnoji thus Oda army retreated. Uesugi clan miraculously survived, and coordinated with Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598), former general of Nobunaga and approached to next ruler. It became necessary to coordinate with Hideyoshi and their retainers, and Kagekatsu entrusted Kanetsugu for such negotiations thus became the chancellor of Uesugi clan.

On the other hand, Hideyoshi also tried to control large warlords through such important retainers. Kanetsugu became praised as three famous retainers of vassals, along with Takakage Kobayakawa (1533-1597) of Mouri clan and Naoshige Nabeshima (1538-1616) of Ryuzoji clan. Takakage and Naoshige were relative of their master and naturally had the right of administration, but Kanetsugu was not so and promoted only by his talent.

Under the agreement of Hideyoshi, Kagekatsu tried to unite Echigo again and strengthened pressure to Kageie Shibata. Facing tough enemy, Kanetsugu not only bravely fought in battle, but built canals for draining waters of marsh or turned retainers of Kageie to Kagekatsu. Finally Kagekatsu ruined Shibata clan in 1587 and united Echigo province again. Under Kagekatsu, Kanetsugu became to controll all function of the nation as chief magistrate.

Confrontation against Ieyasu Tokugawa

Under Toyotomi government, Uesugi clan was treated as one of five large feudal lords. Kanetsugu was nominated high class noble upper of ordinary warlords, and had relationship with Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief administrative staff of Hideyoshi. In 1598, Uesugi clan was moved to the lord of Aizu Wakamatsu castle (Fukushima prefecture) as a pillar of Tohoku region, and Kanetsugu became the lord of Yonezawa castle (Yamagata prefecture) with large territory.

But after the death of Hideyoshi in 1598, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the largest lord under Hideyoshi, activated for next ruler. Ieyasu accused Kagekatsu for non obedience and tried to subjugate with large army under the name of Toyotomi clan. But Kanetsugu expressed to clear refutation to Ieyasu and prepared the counter attack.

During the absence of Ieyasu for this campaign, in 1600, Mitsunari Ishida raised his army with Mouri clan and Ukita clan against Ieyasu. It is not clear there was an agreement between Mitsunari and Kanetsugu at this point. Looking at the raise of Mitsunari, Ieyasu returned his army to central area, and it seemed an opportunity for Uesugi clan to attack Ieyasu from backside.

Failure and recovery

But at this time Kagekatsu and Kanetsugu did not attack Ieyasu and prioritized the capture of Tohoku region from Date clan at Sendai area and Mogami clan at Yamagata area. The reason of this decision is still argued, but it seems Uesugi clan moved only one year ago could not chase Tokugawa army without stabilizing backside. Furthermore, Ieyasu and Mitsunari looked even and confrontation of two armies are expected to continue long time.

But this decision went wrong. Kanetsugu lead Uesugi army and attacked Mogami clan but could not beat them facing strong resistance. During such delay Ieyasu broke Misunari at the battle of Sekigahara in one day, and Uesugi clan fell into a critical situation. Finally Uesugi clan coordinated with Ieyasu, but their territory was decreased to one fourth, only to former territory of Kanetsugu.

The tactics of Kanetsugu was accused, and there was no need to directly communicate with central ruler. But Kanetsugu still worked for Uesugi clan which faced serious fiscal problem losing most part of territory, such as development of rivers and cultivation of waste lands. Furthermore, Kanetsugu also tried to restore Uesugi army which showed weakness at the battle against Mogami clan.

Afterward of Kanetsugu and yoita castle

As a result of his devotion, Uesugi clan solved its fiscal problem to some extent, and activated in the battle of Osaka castle occurred in1614 and 1615. Finally Kanetsugu left the world in 1620 looking at the stabilization of Uesugi clan, three years before his lord Kagekatsu Uesugi. Because of too much power and activity of Kanetsugu, there was no successor of Kanetsugu thus Naoe clan ended at this time.

Yoita castle was abolished at the move of Uesugi clan to Aizu Wakamatsu area in 1593. Under Edo Shogunate Yoita area became a part of Nagaoka domain of Nagaoka castle, but later became the place of small domain. Even today Yoita area keeps atmosphere of castle town with its folded road and traditional houses.

Now all building was lost but structure of the castle well remain over the hill. Structure of Yoita caslte is smaller than Kasugayama castle, but seems as secure and more progressive. The shape and geographical condition of Yoita castle surely expresses the shape of Kanetsugu, a powerful chancellor of Uesugi clan good at administration and military and devoted himself to the continuance of the clan among many difficulties.


30 minutes bus trip from JR East Shinetsu-Honsen line Nagaoka station. 15 minutes drive from Kanetsu Jidoshado Expressway Nakanoshima-Mitsuke interchange or Nagaoka-Kita smart interchange.

Related Castles

Kasugayama Castle (1) -Residence of "Dragon of Echigo"-
Sakado Castle -Suspension bridge in the sky-
Shibata Castle -Place of war and peace-
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle -White five-story main tower endured harsh battle-
Yonezawa Castle -Castle filled with statues and monuments-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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