112.Kasama Castle Part1

Kasama is a local city, located in the central part of Ibaraki Prefecture and the northeastern part of the Kanto Region. It is known for Kasama Inari Shrine and Kasama Pottery, which attract many visitors. However, they became popular after the emergence of Kasama Castle.

Location and History

Tokitomo Kasama, Mysterious General builds Castle

Kasama is a local city, located in the central part of Ibaraki Prefecture and the northeastern part of the Kanto Region. It is known for Kasama Inari Shrine and Kasama Pottery, which attract many visitors. However, they became popular after the emergence of Kasama Castle.

Kasama Castle[/leaflet-marker]

It is uncertain how the castle was first built. The only record available is called Kasamajo-ki (meaning the Record of Kasama Castle), later written during the Edo Period. According to the record, the castle was first built in 1219 during the Kamakura Period by Tokitomo Kasama who was a relative of the Utsunomiya Clan, one of the most powerful clans in the region. There was the Shofukuji Temple on Sashiro-yama Mountain where Kasama Castle would be built. The temple prospered on the mountain with the One Hundred Quarters and had many monk soldiers to protect it. A fight broke out with a rival temple called Tokuzoji Temple and they were outnumbered, so it asked the Utsunomiya Clan for help. Tokitomo was sent by the clan and defeated the Tokuzoji Temple. He even banished the Shotokuji Temple from the mountain and built the Kasama Castle.

Sashiro-yama Mountain
The current Shofukuji Temple at the foot of the mountain
The signpost of the One Hundred Quarters Ruins

However, historians say, using fragments from other records, Tokitomo might have actually not been so radical. He was not only a warrior but also a medium class noble which other warriors rarely became. He was also highly educated and famous as a poet. There are also several remaining Buddha statues and sutras he donated to temples, which proved he was rich and religious. Overall, Tokitomo might have built the castle in a more coordinated manner. As a result, the Kasama Clan governed the castle and the area around for over 300 years until the Sengoku Period. The castle was thought to be a simple mountain castle, made of soil.

The Buddha statue Tokitomo donated to a local temple called Ishidera, quoted from the Kasama City Website
Rengeoin Temple at Kyoto where Tokitomo donated two other Buddha statues  (licensed by Akonnchiroll via Wikimedia Commons)

Satonari Gamo renovates Castle

The situation changed in the end of the 16th Century during the unification of Japan by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. The Kasama Clan declined and the Utsunomiya Clan was fired by Hideyoshi. Kasama Castle was followed by Satonari Gamo, a senior vassal of the Gamo Clan in 1598. The Gamo Clan served Hideyoshi for a long time and became one of the greatest lords in Japan. The clan also built or improved many castles like Matsusaka and Wakamatsu by building advanced items, such as high stone walls and Main Towers. The lord of the clan, Hideyuki Gamo lived in Utsunomiya Castle and one of his branch castles was Kasama Castle. Satonari improved Kasama Castle using the techniques and resources that the clan used. The Main Tower was built on the top of mountain with three-tier stone walls, called the Main Tower Enclosure. The Main and Second Enclosures were developed below the top and the route from the Main Gate to the top through these enclosures was built. Other stone walls were constructed along the route and each gate and enclosure was protected by an altered entrance or the Masugata system which refers to a square defensive space in the gate. The lord of the castle lived in the Main Hall in the Main Enclosure which also had several other turrets.

The ruins of Matsusaka Castle
Wakamatsu Castle
The miniature model of Kasama Castle, exhibited by Kasama History Exchange Center “Izutsuya”

Satonari developed Kasama Castle more in 1600 during a decisive battle when all the lords of Japan joined the Eastern Alliance or the Western Alliance. He joined the Eastern Alliance while the Satake Clan at Mito Castle in the neighboring area to the east of Kasama joined the Western Alliance. That’s why he needed to prepare to avoid the Satake Clan from invading. It is thought that Satonari built forts on three hills around the mountain and deep dry moats surrounding all the castle and the forts. The Eastern Alliance, which would be the Tokugawa Shogunate, finally won after nothing happened to Kasama Castle fortunately.

The ruins of Mito Castle
The dry moats surrounding the castle are put on the miniature model above as well
The remaining dry moats at the site

Other Clans like Asano and Makino follow Castle

The shogunate transferred the Gamo Clan to another in 1601. Since then, Kasama Castle and the area around it were considered as the Kasama Domain, but the lord’s clan changed 8 times. A major event for the castle happened when the Asano Clan governed the domain between 1622 and 1645. The second lord, Naganao Asano built suburban residences, in fact a new Main Hall, at the foot of the mountain, for the convenience of the government. An episode about it was that the residences were very large and surrounded by earthen walls and white mud walls, which looked like a new castle that the shogunate banned from being built. Naganao conveted the mud walls to hedge fences to hide and not to make it look like a castle before the shogunate heard about it. He was transferred to Ako Castle in 1645 and renovated it, so he seemed to like castle constructions. His grandchild was Naganori Asano who would cause the Ako Incident which is one of the most popular events of Japanese history.

The portrait of Naganao Asano, owned by Kagakuji Temple (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
The ruins of the suburban residences
The ruins of Ako Castle

The last clan to rule the Kasama Domain was the Makino Clan between 1747 and 1871, the longest and most stable period among the others. The Kasama Pottery started to be made and developed with the help from the domain during this period. In addition, the Kasama Inari Shrine also became popular during the Edo Period, which was visited by several clans governing the domain.

Part of the Illustration of Kasama Castle in Hitachi Province, exhibited by the National Archives of Japan
Kasama Potteries in the Kasama Pottery Cooperative Selling Center
The Worship Hall of Kasama Inari Shrine  (licensed by On-chan via Wikimedia Commons)

To be continued in “Kasama Castle Part2”

14.Mito Castle Part3

After seeing the restored Main Gate and Corner Turret, I would like the city to restore the Three-level Turret as the Main Tower of the castle as well.


Only Remaining building in Castle

Back to the central street, you can go further to the Main Enclosure. You may be surprised to see, in front of the enclosure, another but much deeper (22m) dry moat. It is now used as a ground for the Suigun Railway Line. Of course, it is the castle’s original. The enclosure has the only remaining building of the castle, Yakui-mon Gate which was said the Satake Clan had built. If it’s true, the gate might have been used as their Main Gate. Please make sure you don’t enter the school to stay where you are allowed to see it on the designated area around after crossing the Honjo-bashi Bridge over the moat.

The map around the castle, the broken red line shows the Sugiyama Slope and the broken blue line shows the Sakumachi Route

The large dry moat in front of the Main Enclosure
Its bottom has become a ground for the Suigun Railway Line
Going to the Main Enclosure over the bridge
The Yakui-mon Gate, the only remaining building of Mito Castle

Other Attractions in Second and Third Enclosures

There are two original back routes from the Second Enclosure, which we can still use, the Sugiyama-zaka Slope in the north and the Sakumachi Route in the south. Both routes have restored gates called Sugiyama-mon and Sakumachi-Sakashita-mon. If you walk down on the southern route to go back to Mito Station, you will see the large scale plateau on your right side, which is covered by concrete panels today. There was also the large Senba Lake on the left in the past, but it was reclaimed and reduced to the original western part around the Kairakuen Garden.

The restored Sugiyama-mon Gate
The restored Sakumachi-Sakashita-mon Gate
The southern side of the huge plateau

If you have time, you should consider visiting the large outer dry moat of the Third Enclosure, at the root of the plateau. It remains as it was and only the earthen walls go across the moat to the prefectural office which was the senior vassals’ residences. Overall, the castle was protected by the three huge moats.

The aerial photo of around the castle

The large outer dry moat of the Third Enclosure
The earthen bridge has become the entrance of the prefectural office

Later History

Even after the severe events in the early Meinji Era, the Three-level Turret in the Second Enclosure of Mito Castle, which was so great that it was once called “One of the 20 remaining main towers in Japan”, had still remained until World War II, but it was burned down by the Mito air raids in 1945. After World War II, the Kodokan area was designated as a Special National Historic Site in 1952. The other items, the earthen walls, dry moats, and Yakui-mon Gate has been designated as historic sites of Ibaraki Prefecture. Mito City has recently restored some castle buildings as we can see now.

The remaining earthen walls around the Yakui-mon Gate at the Main Enclosure
A inside view of the Main Gate

My Impression

After visiting the ruins of Mito Castle, I realized that strong castles don’t always need stone walls. This was proven not only by the past battles, but also by the two dry moats being used for the current transportation. In addition, seeing the restored Main Gate and Corner Turret, I would like the city to restore the Three-level Turret as the Main Tower of the castle as well. This is because the 8 Main Towers, which had been burned down mostly during World War II, were restored except for that of Mito Castle. However, there is no plan for it yet.

A view of the earthen walls and the dry moat in front of the Second Enclosure from the Main Bridge
The explanation board of the Three-level Turret is at a different place from its original position

How to get There

If you want to visit there by car, it is about a 15 minutes drive away from Minami-Mito IC on the Kitakando Expressway or a 30 minutes drive away from Mito IC on the Joban Expressway. There is a parking lot beside the Main Gate.
By public transportation, it takes about 10 minutes on foot to get there from JR Mito Station.
From Tokyo to Mito Station: Take the Hitachi limited express at Tokyo Station.

The parking lot beside the Main Gate

That’s all. Thank you.
Back to “Mito Castle Part1”
Back to “Mito Castle Part2”

14.Mito Castle Part2

You can visit the castle ruins from Mito Station through the road which goes on the big valley between the left and right hills. Surprisingly, it is artificial.


Dry Mort becomes Car Road

Today, the ruins of Mito Castle are easy to go to because JR Mito Station is nearby. There are roughly two routes from the station to the castle ruins. One is the path that involves climbing the slope to the Third Enclosure on the left hill and the other is the road which goes on the big valley between the left and right hills. Surprisingly, it is artificial. If you choose the latter one, you can see the scale of one of the former dry moats of the castle. You can also see the restored Corner Turret on firm earthen walls of the Second Enclosure on the right. You will eventually reach under the Main Bridge between these enclosures.

The aerial photo of the castle, the broken red line shows the route through the dry moat from Mito Station

The road through the valley which was the dry moat between the Second and Third Enclosures
The restored Corner Turret of the Second Enclosure
The spot under the Main Bridge

This is where Battle happened

You can climb the steep stairways from the bottom to the tops of the enclosures on both sides, which are about 12m high. In fact, this area is where the second battle between the Shosei and Tengu Parties happened. The Shosei Party tried to break the Main Gate but failed, so they stayed in the Kodokan domain school. The Tengu attacked and destroyed them. However, that resulted in most of the domain school’s buildings being burned down. Only its front gate and the other few buildings remain as a historical site and museum.

Climbing the steep stairway
The area around the Main Bridge
The front gate of the Kodokan domain school

Restored Main Gate

The Main Gate survived in the battle but was also burned down by an arson in the early Meiji Era. The current Main Gate was just restored back in 2020 as the same as it was in the traditional method. It is very large, which is about 10m high and 20m wide, and suitable for the front of the castle. One of its original features was to use tile walls which refer to being piled by roof tiles and clay alternating. This was completely restored in the current gate, which look very beautiful. In addition, some of the excavated original ones can be seen in the window below on the left side of the gate.

The restored Main Gate
The restored tile walls of the Main Gate
The excavated original tile walls can also be seen

Second Enclosure becomes School areas

The inside of the Second Enclosure had the Main Hall, the Three-level Turret and the Shokokan institute but has become school areas, which may follow the educational policy of the Mito Domain. The street going through the enclosure is along the white mud walls on both sides, which look as if castle buildings are still there. However, visitors are available to enter only the designated areas. For example, if you want to see a view of Nakagawa River to the north of the hill, you need to go and return to the same path. the view itself is good and you can understand the river was a natural hazard of the castle.

The map around the Second Enclosure, the broken red line shows the route to the observation platform and the broken blue line shows the route to the Corner Turret of the Second Enclosure

The central street of the Second Enclosure
The route to the observation platform in the north
A view of the Nakagawa River in the north

Similarly, you can see the interior of the Corner Turret by going through another but much longer single path.

The route to the Corner Turret
The Corner Turret seen from the inside of the Second Enclosure
The interior of the turret

To be continued in “Mito Castle Part3”
Back to “Miro Castle Part1”