Monday, February 24, 2020

Nishikata Castle -Castle of lord who brought fortune to others but not to himself-

Nishikata Castle

-Castle of lord who brought fortune to others but not to himself-



Name: Nishikata castle (Nishikata-jo)
Place: Nishikata-cho Tochigi city, Tochigi
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Nishikata castle (西方城) is located over Shiro-yama mountain, one of about 120 meter height from hillside at 15 kilometer southwest from current Utsunomiya city central. Shiro-yama mountain is an eastern end of Ashio Mountains which forms western border of corridor area of Utsunomiya, but its backside is separated by creeks and becomes an independent hill.

Nishikata area is an important place where Mibu-dori Road which spreads from Oyama city toward Nikko or Aizu area runs along with Ashio mountains and Reiheishi Kaido Road starts from Takasaki area which connects north-east part and north west part of Kanto plain meets. Even now Tohoku-Jidoshado Expressway, national roads and Tobu Nikko-sen line run near the castle site.

Origin of Nishikata castle

Precise year is unknown but Nishikata castle might be built by local lord Nishikata clan in 14th century. Nishikata clan is said as a branch family of Utsunomiya clan, the lord of Utsunomiya castle (Tochigi prefecture) which has a long history from its ancestor Soen Fujiwara (?-1111).

Utsunomiya clan was originally a religious leader of Futarasan Shrine at current Utsunomiya city, but increased its army and activated at the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate. Utsunomiya clan serves important roles at the Shogunate and was appointed as a commander toward the invasion of Yuan Dynasty in 1281.

After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Utsunomiya clan served to Muromachi Shogunate but lost its power during the conflict between the Shogunate and Kamakura Kubo, the representative of Shogunate in Kanto region. South part of Shimotsuke province (Tochigi prefecture) was seized Oyama clan, the lord of Oyama castle (Tochigi prefecture) and conflict with major retainer also occurred.

Nishikata area is a southern border of the territory of Utsunomiya clan toward Minagawa clan, the branch family of Oyama clan and reigned current Tochigi city area from Minagawa castle (Tochigi prefecture), at the opposite side of Nagano-gawa river. In the beginning of 16th century Utsunomiya clan and Minagawa clan actually fought, and Nishikata castle might have worked as front base toward Minagawa clan.

Structure of Nishikata castle

Nishikata castle has multi-layered structure with several expansions. At the top of the ridge central area, secondary area, third area and Kitanomaru area are straightly placed, and these areas might be original part of the castle. At the northwest corner three is small basement of probably two story main tower, and there might be a stone wall at the below of this main tower.

Outside of core areas, outer areas spread eastward to southward. This part mainly consists of small compartments connected by folded path gate, but north east terrace is larger one of about 100 meter long and 30 meter wide thus there might be hilltop residence of the lord. This area is wholly surrounded by the line of clay wall, which might be added later.

Furthermore, outside of this dry moat line, outer forts were built at south and east ridge. These areas are also protected by the combination of clay wall and dry moat, and might be a place of defense and counter attack for the enemy approaches from the ridge. There was same outer fort at the west of the central area but disappeared by the development of golf course. Total size of the castle is about 400 meter long and 200 meter wide, and its size and structure is prominent at the area along with Minagawa castle.

Difficulty of Utsunomiya clan

Utsunomiya clan once increased their power under Shigetsuna Utsunomiya (1468-1516) who ruined its domineering retainer Mumo clan and defeated other lords such as Ashina clan or Satake clan. But after the death of Shigetsuna, the power of Utsunomiya clan significantly declined again and it was controlled by important retainers such as Haga clan or Mibu clan in the middle of 16th century.

Furthermore, Hojo clan which was a warlord of Sagami province (Kanagawa prefecture) gradually grew its power toward Kanto region, in the conflict with Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) who tried to protect Kanto Kanrei, the traditional regime of Kanto region. 

Facing the invasion of Hojo clan, Utsunomiya clan allied with Oyama clan and Satake clan. But Oyama clan at the border toward Hojo clan could not stand the attack of Hojo clan and lost Oyama castle in 1576. Remaining two clan tried to cope with Hojo clan through ally with Takeda clan, the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) also conflicted with Hojo clan, but Takeda clan was ruined by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) in 1582.

Survival and sudden end of Utsunomiya clan

Just after the fall of Takeda clan, Nobunaga Oda also died in the incident of Honnoji. Hojo clan had no obstacle focused the invasion to remaining area of Kanto region, and the alliance of Satake clan and Utsunomiya clan barely rejected the invasion of Hojo clan at the battle of Numajiri in 1584 but important retainers such as Haga clan or Mibu clan turned to Hojo clan.

Utsunomiya clan which was forced to the corner left its main base Utsunomiya castle at flat area then moved to Tage castle (Tochigi prefecture), a huge mountain fortress. Around this time Nishikata castle was exposed to the attack of Hojo army but could stand it. Finally in 1590, next central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) ruined Hojo clan at Odawara campaign and Utsunomiya clan once could survive.

However in 1597, Utsunomiya clan was suddenly expelled and lost its territory by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The reason of this purge is not clear but continuing internal conflict of Utsunomiya clan might affect. Considering location of Utsunomiya toward Tohoku region, it was not permitted to be managed by unstable warlord.

Change of holders

Replacing Utsunomiya clan, Gamo clan which was originally a large lord of Aizu region under Ujisato Gamo (1556-1595) but also suffered internal conflict under next Hideyuki Gamo (1583-1612). At this time former territory of Oyama clan by managed by Yuki clan, which was inherited by Hideyasu Yuki (1574-1607), the third son of Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) who later established Edo Shogunate.

At this time it is not clear if Nishikata castle belonged to Gamo clan or Yuki clan, but Gamo clan reformed Kasama castle (Ibaraki prefecture) at the southeastern border into a modern castle with stone wall and line of dry moat, and considering slightly remaining remnant of stone wall and dry moat might also be brought by Gamo clan as a fortress at southwestern border.

After the death of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1597, Ieyasu Tokugawa won the battle of Sekigahara in 1600 and became the next ruler. Gamo clan returned as the lord of Aizu region, and Nobuyoshi Fujita (1559-1615) was appointed as the small lord of Nishikata castle.

Bring Numata castle to Sanada clan

Nobuyoshi Fujita was originally a person of Fujita clan, a large local lord of Hachigata castle (Saitama prefecture). When the power of Hojo clan reached to the north part of Musashi province (Tokyo metropolis and Saitama prefecture), Fujita clan followed to Hojo clan and adopted Ujikuni Hojo (1548-1597), but Ujikuni purged Shigetsura Yodo (?-1578), the leader of former Fujita clan and elder brother of Nobuyoshi.

After grow up Nobuyoshi was appointed as the commander of Numata castle (Gunma prefecture), an important castle in the north part of Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture). But Nobuyoshi who had a grudge on the purge of his brother turned to Masayuki Sanada (1547-1611), the commander of Takeda clan and opened Nunata castle. 

By capturing Numata castle, Sanada clan could firmly hold their territory from Ueda area to Numata area, and this brought their survival as an independent warlord after the fall of Takeda clan, and also activation of Masayuki or his son Nobushige Sanada (1570-1615) against Ieyasu Tokugawa later became famous in tales.

Save crisis of Uesugi clan

At the death of Nobunaga Oda in the incident of Honnoji, Nobuyoshi tried to deprive Numata castle once held by Oda army under the support of Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture). But Oda army returned Numata castle to Sanada clan thus Nobuyoshi escaped to Kagekatsu only by himself.

Nobuyoshi activated under Kagekatsu at the battle against Kageie Shibata (1547-1587) who rebelled against Kagekatsu and strongly defended his main base Shibata castle (Niigata prefecture). Nobuyoshi fell Niigata castle held by Shibata army by plot, and captured the control of water transportation at the area.

Next Nobuyoshi attacked Akatani castle (Niigata prefecture), an inland castle which connected Shibata castle and their supporter Ashina clan which was the lord of Aizu basin. Shibata army lost both of land and water supply line suffered loss of supply, and Nobuyoshi also fell Ijimino castle, another major castle of Shibata army. Shibata castle fell just after the loss of Ijimino castle.

At that time Kagekatsu followed to central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi, but if the rebel of Kageie Shibata last long Kagekatsu might be punished by loss of control to retainers, seen at other clans such as Utsunomiya clan. From that point the achievement of Nobuyoshi brought the survival of Uesugi clan, and Kagekatsu appointed Nobuyoshi as the commander of Tsugawa castle (Niigata prefecture), an important border castle toward Aizu basin.

Open road to hegemony for Ieyasu Tokugawa

In 1598, Kagekatsu Uesugi was moved to Aizu basin by Toyotomi government, but continuously held Tsugawa castle under Nobuyoshi Fujita. But after the death of Hideyoshi at that year, Uesugi clan opposed to Ieyasu Tokugawa, the largest lord under Toyotomi government, under its chancellor Kanetsugu Naoe (1560-1620).

Nobuyoshi opposed to the decision of Kanetsugu but was not accepted, then visited Ieyasu and tried to escape the break. But Nobuyoshi was accused to betray Uesugi clan, then actually exiled to Ieyasu and blamed Uesugi clan to prepare the battle. At this time his fellow Kunitoki Kurita (?-1600) at same opinion failed to escape and was killed.

Ieyasu raised his army by the reason to subjugate Uesugi clan, then broke Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600), the chief magistrate of Toyotomi government, at the battle of Sekigahara and established his hegemony. But Nobuyoshi temporally became the monk and did not participate in actual battle; he stayed only small lord of Nishikata castle.

End of unrewarded general and Nishikata castle

In 1615, after the end of the battle of Osaka castle against Toyotomi clan, Nobuyoshi was expelled and lost his territory. The reason of purge is not clear but along with the fixture of Edo Shogunate, loyalty to the master is more required and background of Nobuyoshi who changed his master several times might be seemed negative.

Furthermore, Uesugi clan made achievement in the battle of Osaka and was formerly forgiven by Edo Shogunate. Originally Uesugi clan had a high reputation from Kenshin Uesugi who was praised as the god of war, and rise of the reputation of Uesugi clan brought the fall of the name of Nobuyoshi. Nobuyoshi who was not rewarded and lost everything died in lonely, and Nishikata castle was also abolished.

Today outer area was broken by the constructions of golf courses but core part of the castle still well remains on the mountain. Although it has well planned structure and good size, popularity of the castle is low because of quite limited record of the castle and lord in the history. This situation of castle resembles to the last lord who has the talent and brought fortune to others but not to himself


30 minutes walk from Tobu Nikko-sen line Kanasaki station to entrance of climbing road at Jisshoji temple. 15 minutes drive from Kita-Kanto Jidoshado Expressway Tsuga interchange to parking near Jisshoji temple. 20 minutes walk from hillside to hilltop castle. 

Related Castles

Utsunomiya Castle -Castle with long history of disturbance-
Minagawa Castle -Castle consists of multilayered terraces-
Kasama Castle -Small main tower at large castle-
Hachigata Castle -Four brothers led Hojo clan-
Numata Castle -Respective choice of Sanada family-
Shibata Castle -Place of war and peace-
Tsugawa Castle -Lying dragon castle looking at west-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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