197.Shibushi Castle part1

A castle on the Shirasu Plateau, built near an important port

Location and History

Shibushi has been Important Port

Shibushi City, which is located in the eastern part of Kagoshima Prefecture, may have kind of a unique name even in Japanese. This is because when you say the city’s name in Japanese, you will say “SHI-BU-SHI-SHI(city)” which may be difficult to pronounce. This phrase is sometimes used as an example of a Japanese tongue twister like “Shibushi-shi, Shibushi-cho, Shibushi, no, Shibushi-shiyakusho, no, Shibushi-shisho” which means “The Shibushi branch office of the Shibushi city hall, Shibushi, Shibushi Town, Shibushi City”. If you want to understand why it’s called “Shibushi”, you can find it refers to “Present, Cloth and Present” in Japanese. It is said to originate from the legend of the ancient Emperor Tenchi visiting. He was presented cloths from both upper-class and lower-class people, he was very pleased and came up with the name. We are uncertain if the legends are true but the land does have a long history.

The range of Shibushi City and the location of the castle

The signboard of the Shibushi branch office of the Shibushi city hall at the site  (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Another feature of the city is Shibushi Port which is designated as a Major Port and a Core International Port. If you go around the port area, you can see huge amount of containers and wood, and some ferries such as Sunflower. The port has actually been prospering since the end of the Ancient Times when some manors in the southern Kyushu Region were developed. International trading was also done during the Middle Ages, which made lords around the area rich. That’s why they wanted to possess the area and they often battled each other over it. Shibushi Castle was a mountain castle for the base to govern the area.

The Sunflower ferry in port

One of Southern Kyushu type Castles

Shibushi Castle also had an important feature as one of the Southern Kyushu type castles which were built on the Shirasu Plateau looking like a mountain or hill in the area. The plateau has been made from volcanic ash caused by ancient eruptions. Its soil is fragile and can easily collapse to form cliffs. Warriors in the area often used this to build their castles because it was easy for them to process natural terrain for strong defensive systems such as deep moats and high walls. Some popular examples of that type castles were Chiran, Sadowara, Obi and Shibushi.

The ruins of Chiran Castle
The ruins of Sadowara Castle
The ruins of Obi Castle

The relief map around the castle

For example, if you are in Shibushi Port and look back at the inland area, you will see the long lying cliffs set back from the coastline. The lords in Shibushi built their castles one by one using that natural terrain. In fact, Shibushi Castle is the generic name of four local castles, Uchijo, Matsuojo, Takajo, and Shinjo. It is said that the Nirei Clan first built Matsuojo in the 14th Century, followed by Uchijo, used as the Hatakeyama and the Niro Clan’s home base in the 16th Century. By then, Takajo and Shinjo were also built as outer compounds for the other two castles. The lord of Shibushi Castle changed again and again to the Kimotsuki Clan and finally the Shimazu Clan. This was because the area around the castle was attractive so it became a battle field between great warlords, the Ito Clan in the north and the Shimazu Clan in the south. Some lords of the castle changed loyalty between the two great lords.

A view of the long lying cliffs of the Shirasu Plateau from Shibushi Port
The aerial photo of the local four castle in Shibushi Castle, from the signboard at the site (adding the red Englich letters)

Strong Defense system using Shirasu Plateau

At the peak of the castle, the main Uchijo had a very complex defensive system. The original Shirasu plateau was cut by three dry moat lines lengthwise and five dry moat lines crosswise. The remaining parts of the plateau became enclosures independently, surrounded by earthen walls and fences. These enclosures had turrets, barracks and residences to maintain and protect the castle. If visitors or enemies wanted to enter the enclosures, they needed to go from the bottom of the moat and pass the defensive gateway of the enclosure. Enemies at the bottom would be attacked from far above by defenders at the enclosures.

The miniature model of Uchijo, exhibited by Shibushi City Center for Archaeological operations
the part of the Main Enclosure from the miniature model above

The lords of the castle usually lived in the residence at the foot and used the castle in the cases of emergency such as a battle. However, the excavation team found in the castle ruins, expensive trading items from overseas such as Ceramic ware as well as daily necessities like domestic pottery, coins, and bullets. These items show that the castle was used for a long time and involved with Shibushi Port where the international trading was done. The castle was finally abandoned by the last owner, the Shimazu Clan due to the Law of One Castle per Province, issued by the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1615.

The ruins of Shibushi Castle (the Main Enclosure)

To be continued in “Shibushi Castle Part2”

197.志布志城 その1






志布志市役所志布志支所に掲げられた看板 (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)















15.Ashikaga Clan Hall Part3

The hall survived because it became a temple.


Ashikaga School

The Ashikaga School is next to Bannaji Temple in the southeast. The school teaching Confucianism was said to be moved to the current place during the Muromachi Period and have as many as 3,000 students during the Sengoku Period. Its remaining buildings are few such as the Confucian Shrine and some gates, but other parts including the school buildings, earthen walls and water moats were recently restored. You may feel it is more likely to look like a warrior’s hall than the temple.

The map around the castle

The remaining Nyutoku-mon Gate of Ashikaga School
The Confucian Shrine of Ashikaga School
The restored school building of Ashikaga School
The restored earthen walls and water moats surround the school

Ruins of Kabasaki Temple

The ruins of Kabasaki Temple (the current Kabasaki Hachimangu Shrine) are about 5km away from Bannaji Temple in the northeast. Kabasaki Temple had been originally built by Yoshikane Ashikaga as his retreat, and considered the holy of the hollies for his clan. However, it declined after the Meiji Restoration for the same reason as Bannaji Temple with the only one building remaining. The site was recently excavated and has been developing as a historical site by officials. There, you can see the foundations of its buildings such as the Multi-Treasure Pagoda and the Mausoleum. That’s why there might have been similar scenery to Bannaji Temple in the past. In addition, restored stone steps go down from the ruins to the restored Pure Land style pond garden. The style refers to the builder who wanted to create a Pure Land in his garden so that they could go the real Pure Land after their death. The garden probably shows Yoshikane’s religious faith.

The shrine building
The ruins of the Multi-Treasure Pagoda
The ruins of the Mausoleum
The restored Pure Land style pond garden
The restored stone steps (on the right)

My Impression

I had little complex impression about Ashikaga Clan Hall when I visited the ruins. They don’t have outstanding items for a castle, instead, they remained as a temple. If the hall continued to be used as the hall, it wouldn’t have survived until now because of some battles or conversions. Hence, I understood that it is rare to see such many old remaining buildings in one place as the hall was turned into the temple.

The main building of Bannaji Temple

How to get There

If you want to visit Ashikaga Clan Hall Ruins by car, it is about a 15-minute drive away from Ashikaga IC on the Kita-Kanto Expressway. There is a parking lot for visitors of the tourist information center in Ashikaga City, called Taiheikikan, near the ruins. It would be better to use a car if you also want to visit Kabasaki Temple Ruins.
If you want to use public transportation, it takes about 10 to 15 minutes on foot from JR Ashikaga Station or Tobu Ashikagashi Station.
From Tokyo to JR Ashikaga Station: Take the Tohoku Shinkansen super express and transfer to the Ryomo line at Oyama Station.
From Tokyo to Tobu Ashikagashi Station: Take the JR Ueno-Tokyo Line from Tokyo Station and transfer to the Ryomo limited express on the Tobu Isesaki Line at Kitasenju Station.

That’s all. Thank you.
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