Saturday, September 19, 2020

Asuke Castle -Castle relate to Imperial archers-

 Asuke Castle

-Castle relate to Imperial archers-



Name: Asuke castle (Asuke-jo)
Place: Asukecho Toyota city, Aichi
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century?
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Asuke Castle (足助城) is located over Mayumi-yama mountain, one of about 150 meter height from hillside at the east of current Asuke town. Asuke town is an important place of communication in the north part of Mikawa province (east half of Aichi prefecture) where Iida-Kaido road from Nagoya city and Asuke Kaido road from Okazaki city meets and headed toward Shinano province (Nagano prefecture). 

Today Asuke town is known for Korankei Valley, a famous site of autumn red reef covers the curved valley of Tomoe-gawa river. Historically this Tomoe-gawa river was used for river transportation of marine products such as salt and fishes from coast area of Mikawa-wan bay. Such items were brought by ships through Yahagi-gawa river and Tomoe-gawa river, then transferred to horseback and headed to Shinano province.

In Edo era Asuke town prospered as merchant and posting town aside of Iida Kaido road. In the narrow flat space between Asuke-gawa river and mountain many traditional merchant houses covered by plaster for fire protection still remain keeping the atmosphere of old time. The combination of the river, traditional town and nature of the valley make the town more attractive in combination.

Origin of Asuke castle and Asuke clan

Asuke castle might be built by local lord Asuke clan in 14th century as their branch castle. Asuke clan was originally a branch family of Yamada clan resided at Owari province (west half of Aichi prefecture), which was a distant branch family of Minamoto clan. Later Yamada clan moved to Asuke area in the latter half of 12th century and named as Asuke clan.

Asuke clan at first resided at Kibyu castle built over Shiroyama mountain at the west of Asuke town, but soon moved to Iimoriyama castle, which was located on Iimoriyama mountain at the center of the Asuke town. Asuke clan built branch castles at mountains surrounding Asuke town, and including Iimoriyama castle these castles were called as “Asuke Shichijo” (Asuke seven castles).

After the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate by Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199), as a branch family of Minamoto clan Asuke clan followed to Shogunate. But after the seizure of Shogunate by Hojo clan, Asuke clan became connected to the Imperial Household at Kyoto city. 

Legendary Imperial archer

At the battle of Jokyu between the Imperial Household and Kamakura Shogunate occurred in 1221, Shigenari Asuke (?-1221), the son of Shigehide Asuke (?-/) who was the leader of Asuke clan, participated in the army of the Imperial Household side and died in the battle. But main family of Asuke clan followed to Shogunate and survived this time.

About 100 years after, when Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) planned to raise the army against Shogunate in 1324, Sadachika Asuke (?-1324), the leader of Asuke clan, participated in the plot but was found and killed himself. After Sadachika, his son Shigenori Asuke (1292-1332) who was excellent for archery succeeded Asuke clan.

In 1331, Emperor Godaigo at last raised army against Shogunate and besieged Kasagi mountain at the south of Kyoto city. Responding the request of the Emperor Shigenori Asuke became the first visitor of Kasagi mountain then became the commander of Imperial army of 3,000 soldiers.

Brave fight at Kasagi mountain

In response to this, Kamakura Shogunate encircled Kasagi-yama mountain by thousands of soldiers. According to military tale “Taiheiki”, Shigenori Asuke introduced himself from the turret of mountain to overwhelming Shogunate army, and shot the commander of Shogunate army 200 meter apart by his three-man power strong bow.

The arrow excellently hit the enemy commander and killed. The younger brother of enemy commander wore layer of armors and provoked Shigenori Asuke that his arrow is not as strong as expected. Shigenori Asuke looked the intention of enemy and made stronger shot to the helmet instead of the army, then the younger brother of enemy general died along with his brother.

But before overwhelming army of Shogunate, Kasagi mountain finally fell then Emperor Godaigo was captured and exiled to Oki island. Shigenori Asuke was also captured and executed at the side of Kamo-gawa river of Kyoto city. After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Asuke clan still followed the South Court lead by Emperor Godaigo and fought with Muromachi Shogunate army but finally disappeared from Asuke area.

Rise of Suzuki clan at Asuke area

Instead of Asuke clan, Suzuki clan entered into Asuke area and became its lord in 15th century. Suzuki clan was a families of local lords widely spread between Yahagi-gawa river and Tomoe-gawa river in the north part of Mikawa province. It is recorded that Suzuki clan was originally came from Kii province (Wakayama prefecture) and moved to Mikawa province (east half of Aichi prefecture) around 14th century.

During 15th century, Suzuki clan gradually expanded from their original territory Yanami area near Kuragaike park toward surrounding area, such as Asuke area, Terabe area or Shachinomi area. Suzuki clan at Asuke area was a major line of Suzuki clan, and later Obara Suzuki clan which was the lord of Ichiba castle (Aichi prefecture) divided.

Suzuki clan seized Asuke area by the middle of 15th century, and built temples and shrines at Asuke town to achieve the support of local people. At the same time Suzuki clan chose Asuke castle as their main base, instead of Iimoriyama castle which located at an independent corned shape mountain held narrow area and no escape route.

Structure of Asuke castle

Asuke castle has “T” letter shaped structure consists of horizontal line faces the valley and vertical line connected to backside mountain. Central area of the castle is a narrow rectangular terrace of about 50 meter long and 15 meter wide, which has a small watching place at its south edge. Ruins of buildings were found by excavation and there might be main holes, watchtower and gate at this area.

Surrounding central area, Nishinomaru area, Minaminomaru area and corridor area which are circular connected below central area forms the core area of the castle. Nishinomaru area is the largest area of the castle that is about 50 meter long and 20 meter wide which might be used as camping space. Ahead of Nishinomaru area several terraces continues to the halfway of the hill but entrance is limited.

As the southward of central area is directly connected to backside mountain, this part is separated by wide dry moat. At the east of central area several small terraces were built at the slope. Total size of the castle is about 400 meter long and 200 meter wide, but compared with its total size actual area is not so large separated into small terraces.

Turbulence of Asuke area

Since the beginning of 16th century, Suzuki clan and Asuke castle became involved in the conflict. In 1525, Kiyoyasu Matsudaira (1511-1535), a young brilliant lord of Matsudaira clan, attacked Asuke castle then Suzuki clan followed to Matsudaira clan. But soon Kiyoyasu was assassinated and Matsudaira clan declined, then Suzuki clan followed Imagawa clan which was the warlord of Suruga province (middle part of Shizuoka prefecture) proceeded into Mikawa province.

In 1560, Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the grandson of Kiyoyasu Matsudaira, left Imagawa clan and became independent warlord. In 1564 Ieyasu attacked Asuke castle still belonged to Imagawa clan then Suzuki clan became the retainer of Ieyasu Tokugawa. 

In 1571, Ieyasu Tokugawa broke with Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) also held Shinano province (Nagano prefecture). At that year Shingen invaded into the north part of Mikawa province, then fell Asuke castle and placed his brother in law Nobuuji Shimojo (1529-1582) as the commander of Asuke castle.

Afterward of castle

Due to its location, Asuke castle could suppress both of Okazaki castle (Aichi prefecture), the main base of Tokugawa clan, and Owari province which was the territory of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), who was the ally of Ieyasu Tokugawa. Placement of relative showed the importance of Asuke castle for Takeda army.

After the death of Shingen Takeda in 1573, Nobuyasu Tokugawa (1559-1579), son of Ieyasu Tokugawa and commander of Okazaki castle, attacked Asuke castle and recovered it. Suzuki clan was placed as the commander of Asuke castle, and kept it until 1590 when Ieyasu Tokugawa was moved to Kanto region by Toyotomi government.

Now structure of castle well remain on the mountain and major buildings of the castle assumed from excavation were rebuilt. As one of relatively precisely rebuilt mountain castles such as Takene castle (Shizuoka prefecture), Arato castle (Nagano prefecture), Damine castle (Aichi iprefecture), Haga castle (Hyogo prefecture) castle site shows the image of medieval mountain castle.

Step like terraces of the castle seen ahead of wood fences well matches the scenery of Asuke valley and town seen below from castle. Legendary archers of Asuke clan might exercise archery looking at this scenery, as if they aim the town from hilltop castle.


30 minutes drive from Tokai-Kanjo Jidoshado Expressway Toyota-Kanpachi interchange to hilltop parking of Asuke Joseki Koen (Asuke castle park).

Related Castles

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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