Saturday, September 5, 2020

Kitajo Castle - Irreconciable conflict after god of war (10) shaken by destiny-

Kitajo Castle

-Irreconciable conflict after god of war (10) shaken by destiny-



Name: Kitajo castle (Kitajo-jo)
Place: Kitajo Kashiwazaki city, Niigata
Location: 37.343323369867825, 138.62831756542576
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 14th century?
Remaining remnants: Gate (moved), clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Continued from Part 9

Kitajo castle (北条城) is located over Shiroyama mountain, one of about 120 meter height from hillside at the south edge of Nishiyama-Kyuryo hills, that prolongs northwest and southeastward over 30 kilometer long along with the coast line of Sea of Japan. Three directions of the castle are surrounded by Sabaishi-gawa river and its tributary Nagatori-gawa river like a natural water moat.

Kitajo area is a merging point of two rivers behind the narrow entrance between two mountains. Having large flat area and water source, it is a good place as a medieval manor. Furthermore, Sabaishi-gawa river and Nagatori-gawa river area the path to Nagaoka area across Tsukayama-toge pass and Joetsu area passing Takayanagi-town, respectively.

Origin of Kitajo castle and Kitajo clan

Precise year is unknown but Kitajo castle might be built in 14th century by local lord Mouri clan. Mouri clan was a same family as the Mouri clan which became large warlord of Chugoku region from Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture), and descendant of Hiromoto Oe (1148-1225), a high class retainer of Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-1199).

The main family of Oe clan declined as the result of the battle of Jokyu in 1221 and Hoya Gassen in 1247, but branch family named Mouri clan which resided at Hojo area of Echigo province was not involved into the battle and survived. Later branch family of Oe clan moved to Yoshida area and started its long history toward the ruler of Chugoku region, but main family of Mouri clan remained as the local lord of Echigo province.

In the former half of 14th century, among the conflict between Muromachi Shogunate and the South Court, Mouri clan expanded into surrounding area of Hojo area, then divided into Kitajo clan at Kitajo area and Yasuda clan resided at Yasuda castle (Niigata prefecture), only 2 kilometer apart from Kitajo area. 

Kitajo clan at first Nanjo area at the south of Nagatori-gawa river, but later built Kitajo castle as the main base of the clan. Throughout Muromachi era, Kitajo clan showed steadily growth in cooperation with Yasuda clan. Along with the growth of Kitajo clan, Kitajo castle might be expanded and strengthened.

Structure of Kitajo castle

Kitajo castle spreads over the ridge prolongs southward from the peak of the mountain. Core part of the castle is a line of three narrow and long terraces which are separated by huge dry moat at the north edge and south edge. Both side of the ridge is protected by layer of corridor terrace, and at the east of core area has a step like terraces toward halfway.

At the south of core area, front side forts divided into upper half and lower half by another huge dry moat spreads. Lower half of the area at the entrance from hillside is protected by triangle shaped sheer clay wall equipping vertical dry moats. This part has advanced defense facilities which might be added later period.

At the north of core area, another group of terraces spread toward the dry moat at the end of the castle. As this part is connected to higher backside mountains, this part is separated into small spaces to delay the attack of enemy from backside mountains. Total size of the castle is about 500 meter long and 300 meter wide, and the number of small terraces and size of dry moat are outstanding among neighbor castles.

General of braveness and betrayal

In the middle of 16th century, the leader of Kitajo clan was Takahiro Kitajo (1517?-1587?). Under Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the governor of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture), Takahiro Kitajo participated in many battles and showed his braveness.  But due to his strong and independent character, Takahiro repeatedly conflicted with his mater.

In 1554, due to the plot of Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) and fatal rival of Kenshin, Takahiro Kitajo raised against Kenshin Uesugi at Kitajo castle. Kenshin quickly encircled Kitajo castle, then Takahiro Kitajo surrendered to Kenshin and returned to the retainer of Kenshin.

Takahiro Kitajo was appointed as the commander of Umayabashi castle (Gunma prefecture, later Maebashi castle), an important base of Uesugi clan at Kozuke province (Gunma prefecture) in 1563. The braveness of Takahiro was necessary to compete with strong enemy Hojo clan, but his character was anxieties at distant area.

In 1567, this time Takahiro Kitajo coordinated with Hojo clan and revolted against Kenshin Uesugi again. But next year in 1578, Kenshin Uesugi and Hojo clan temporally allied, then Takahiro Kitajo returned to Uesugi clan. Evaluating his talent Kenshin forgave Takahiro again, then Takahiro again served as the commander of Uesugi army at Kozuke province.

Outbreak of internal conflict

In 1578, Kenshin Uesugi suddenly died in ill, and his two adopted son Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623) and Kagetora Uesugi (1554-1579) started internal conflict for successor named as “Otate-no-Ran”. Kagekatsu Uesugi was a person of Ueda Nagao clan, a relative of Kenshin, and Kagetora Uesugi came from Hojo clan.

Just after the death of Kenshin, Hojo clan which aimed the seize of whole part of Kanto region including Kozuke province approached to the commanders of Uesugi clan at the province, to expand their territory and support Kagetora Uesugi. Due to former relationship with Hojo clan, Takahiro Kitajo became the retainer of Hojo clan along with his original territory Kitajo castle.

As the main troop of Hojo army confronted the army of Satake clan, the warlord of Hitachi province (Ibaraki prefecture), Hojo clan ordered new retainers at Kozuke province including Takahiro Kitajo to organize the army and intrude into Uonuma area, the main territory of Kagekatsu Uesugi across Mikuni Toge pass.

Intrusion into Uonuma area

Hojo army lead by Takahiro Kitajo and his son Kagehiro Kitajo (1548-1579) broke the defense line of Ueda Nagao clan including Arato castle (Niigata prefecture) at the entrance of Uonuma basin. Next Hojo army captured Kabanosawa castle (Niigata prefecture) at 5 kilometer west from Sakado castle, the main base of Ueda Nagao clan. 

As the structure of Kabanosawa castle consists of huge dry moat and small terraces resembles to Kitajo castle, Takahiro Kitajo might reformed Kabanosawa castle at this time. Kagehiro Kitajo also known for braveness same as his father departed this army and returned to Kitajo castle, to protect his original territory and make contact to Kagetora Uesugi at Otate castle (Niigata prefecture) of Joetsu city.

However, before the desperate resistance of Ueda Nagao army besieged at secure Sakado castle, Hojo army could not fall Sakado castle until October, the arrival of heavy snow season. The main troop of Hojo clan gave up expedition to Echigo province, then Takahiro Kitajo was remained at Kabanosawa castle without support and supply.

Cease of internal conflict

Looking at the disappearance of threat of Hojo army, Kagekatsu Uesugi accelerated attack to the army of Kagetora Uesugi besieged at Otate castle. Kagehiro Kitajo entered Otate castle with his own army, but due to strengthened encirclement by Kagekatsu Uesugi, the supply of Kagetora Uesugi became short. To change the situation Kagetora attacked the siege of Kagekatsu but failed.

In February 1579, Kagekatsu Uesugi made total attack to Otate castle, before the arrival of spring. Kagehiro Kitajo was the core of the army of Kagetora Uesugi then became the first target of the attack, then was seriously injured at the battle and soon died. The loss of Kagehiro Kitajo was the last blow to Kagetora Uesugi and his army collapsed.

At the same time, the army of Ueda Nagao clan also made total attack to Kabanosawa castle. Being suffered by heavy snow without supply, soldiers of Hojo army ran away from castle then finally Takahiro Kitajo opened Kabanosawa castle and retreated to Kozuke province.

Frequent change of situation

Kagetora Uesugi lost both of his own army and support from Hojo clan left Otate castle and ran to Samageo castle (Niigata prefecture) at the border of Shinano province (Nagano prefecture). But facing the betrayal of commander, Kagetora Uesugi killed himself at Samegao castle in March 1578 then internal conflict of two adopted sons ended.

As Kagekatsu Uesugi allied with Katsuyori Takeda (1546-1582), the successor of Shingen Takeda, Takeda clan and Hojo clan once allied became broken, then Takeda clan already seized west half of Kozuke province started their plot to the east half of province including Umayabashi castle and Numata castle (Gunma prefecture).

Kagehiro Kitajo survived but strongly dissatisfied with the treatment of Hojo clan at Echigo province then turned to Takeda army and became its commander of Umayabashi castle in 1579. However Takeda clan was ruined by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) in 1582, thus Takahiro Kitajo again became the retainer of Hojo clan.

Afterward of Kitajo clan and castle

At that year Sanada clan which seized Numata castle left Hojo clan and turned to Uesugi clan, and Takahiro Kitajo accompanied with it and left Hojo clan. But Hojo army encircled Umayabashi castle then Takahiro Kitajo surrendered to Hojo clan and lost Umayabashi castle. After many turns Takahiro Kitajo died in ill in 1587, far away from its original territory Kitajo castle.

After the death of Kagehiro Kitajo, the territory of former Kitajo clan was given to Kiriyama clan who was the retainer of Kagekatsu Uesugi. Kitajo castle might be kept as the regional base for a while, but it was abolished in 1598 when Uesugi clan was transferred to Aizu basin by Toyotomi government.

Now no building except for the main gate of the castle moved to Zenkoji temple at hillside remains, but structure of the castle well remain over the mountain. Powerful defense structures such as huge dry moats and layered terraces match to brave lord who showed strong presence resisting against the destiny but finally disappeared in the history.

Continue to Part 11


10 minutes walk from JR East Shinetsu-Honsen line Kitajo station to the entrance of climbing road at the side of Senshoji temple. 20 minutes drive from Hokuriku Jidoshado Expressway Kashiwazaki interchange to parking of Senshoji temple. 20 minutes walk from hillside to hilltop castle.

Related Castles

Kabanosawa Castle - Irreconciable conflict after god of war (9) defense of hometown-
Arato Castle -Irreconciable conflict after god of war (7) assault of Hojo army-
Oma Castle - Irreconciable conflict after god of war (11) fixture of situation-

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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