187.Fukue Castle Part1

Fukue Castle was located in Fukue Island, which is the largest one of Goto Islands. It was built by the Goto Clan, the lord family of the Fukue Domain during the Edo Period. Goto Islands are at the westmost part of the Kushu Region. That’s why they have a long history including close relationships with foreign countries through sea transportation. However, the castle is one of the latest castles in Japan because of the special conditions and matters of the islands.

Location and History

Fukue Castle was located in Fukue Island, which is the largest one of Goto Islands. It was built by the Goto Clan, the lord family of the Fukue Domain during the Edo Period. Goto Islands are at the westernmost part of the Kushu Region. That’s why they have a long history including close relationships with foreign countries through sea transportation. However, the castle is one of the youngest castles in Japan because of the special conditions and matters of the islands.

The location of the castle

Goto Islands with Matsura Party, Kaizoku warriors, and Wako pirates

In the ancient times, Goto Islands were on the southern route for Japanese missions to the Tang dynasty of China. For example, a famous priest, Kukai, left the islands to the dynasty by ship. In the Middle Ages, warriors, called Matsura Party, invaded the islands in order to govern it. Though their leader, the Matsura Clan stayed in Hirado of the main Kyushu Island, other members like the Uku and Aokata Clans moved to Goto Islands. Apart from the jobs for ruling their lands, they usually acted as sea guards and navies. They also pirated cargos from the ships which meant they didn’t have to pay to enter certain areas or were wrecked. So, they were sometimes called Kaizoku, which directly means ‘pirates’.

The restored Kobayabune boat, which is an example of navies’ or Kaizoku’s boats, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum

Another leading group at that time were Wako pirates, which used Goto Islands as a base. They were classified in the former Wako during the Muromachi Period and the later one during the Sengoku Period. The latter was, in fact, ruled by Chinese people, who were like armed merchants. It was said that some Japanese people from the Matsura Party might have joined the Wako pirates. The lords of the party tried to build a strong connection with those of the pirates to improve their power.

A picture of the Wako attack (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Rule of Goto Clan as Fukue Domain

In the 14th Century during the Muromachi Period, one of the Matsura Party, the Uku Clan managed to unify Goto Islands. As a result, the clan moved its home from Uku Island to Fukue Island, the largest one in the islands. Morisada Uku, who was the lord of the clan in the middle of the 16th Century tried to increase trading by building Egawa Castle near the estuary of Fukue River. He met a Chinese big shot from the Wako Pirates, called Wang Zhi, in the process. Morisada allowed Wang Zhi to live and trade in Fukue, by building a Chinatown near the castle. Some historical items, such as Minjin-do (a mausoleum) and Rokkaku Well, can be seen in the town ruins. Goto Islands became a trading center following Hirado.

The portrait of Wang Zhi, exhibited by Minjin-do Mausoleum
The imaginary image of the Chinatown, exhibited by Minjin-do Mausoleum
The Minjin-do Mausoleum
The Rokkaku Well

The Uku Clan also adapted to its new environment. When Christianity came to Goto Islands, Morisada’s son, Sumisada became a Christian. Sumisada’s grandson, Sumiharu changed his family name from Uku to Goto, as the representative of the islands, during the unification of Japan by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. Sumiharu’s successor, Harumasa Goto survived even when Ieyasu Tokugawa became the last ruler. Harumasa was the first lord of the Fukue Domain which governed the area all through the Edo Period. The second lord, Moritoshi Goto forced all the warriors of the domain to live in Fukue town to rule over them completely. Fukue Samurai Residence Street is the ruins for the middle-class warriors’ residential area.

Fukue Samurai Residence Street

However, the situation of the domain was not stable. Even though the income of the domain had been good because of the prosperous fishing industry, both of them declined rapidly. Therefore, the domain needed to make counterplans. Their first plan was to tax each person in the domain, It seemed unusual but the second counterplan was more unorthodox. Their second plan was to force some girls to serve high-class warriors like slaves for three years! This was obviously a tribble law even during the Edo Period, which lasted until the end of the period. On the other hand, another plan might have unknowingly brought a good thing to Goto Islands. Fukue Domain asked Omura Domain in the main island of Kyushu to move farmers to Goto Islands. They agreed with each other, and then, thousands of farmers went to the islands. In fact, many of the farmers were underground-Christians. Being Christian was prohibited at that time, but Fukue Domain accepted them carelessly without checking their background because they wanted to increase their income. As a result, Christianity was secretly worshiped by the farmers, which would lead to some Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region (as a World Heritage) in Goto Islands.

Kashiragashima Church in Kashiragashima Island of Goto Islands (licensed by Indiana jo via Wikimedia Commons)

As for the castle’s matter, Egawa Castle was eventually burned down by accident in 1614. Fukue Domain tried to build another one, however, it was not allowed by the shogunate. This was because the domain was too small for having a castle. The shogunate controlled all the domains by classifying them and permitting what they could do. Instead, Fukue Domain built Ishida Encampment at a seashore where Fukue Castle would later be built.

The ruins of Egawa Castle, where only a monument stands beside the hotel

Road to Fukue Castle

Fukue Domain was also not allowed to trade with foreign countries because it was allowed to do so with Netherlands and China. The only trading that was allowed was in Nagasaki Port. Furthermore, the domain was ordered by the shogunate to monitor the foreign trading ships on route to Nagasaki near Goto Islands. The domain built 11 lookout posts on the islands in order to monitor foreign ships. That made the domain become more careful of foreign affairs. The domain sent some officers to Nagasaki to collect foreign information. As time passed, unidentified Western ships often appeared in the sea around Japan. The domain felt a sense of crisis and applied the first permission to build a castle in 1806 but was rejected in the end.

Dejima Island in Nagasaki Port, which was used for the trading with the foreign countries (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Meanwhile, there were big incidents at Nagasaki. In 1808, a British warship, called Phaeton, rushed towards Nagasaki, to catch some ships of Netherlands under a state of war between the countries. Then, in 1844, a Dutch warship, called Palembang, visited Nagasaki with a diplomatic massage by the Dutch king, which encourage Japan to open the country. This information was basically confidential, but Fukue Domain got it through the officers at Nagasaki.

The British warship, Phaeton (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)
The Dutch warship, Palembang (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Therefore, it asked the shogunate to allow them to build the castle again and again. Eventually, they were allowed to do it in 1849, which was the same year as that of Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido was built.

Matsumae Castle

Construction of Castle

Fukue Domain lauched the construction of Fukue Castle at the same site as its encampment right away. However, it took a very long time as long as 15 years. This was because of the lack of the budget and its location near the estuary. There is the ruins of a lighthouse called Jotobana near Fukue Port. it was originally built as banks to protect the construction site from the big waves. The castle was eventually completed in 1863. It was one of the youngest castles in Japan and unique one devoted to guarding the sea.

The Jotobana Ruins

For these reasons, it had several distinct features. First, the castle faced Eastern China Sea in the east and surrounded by it in the east, north, and south directions. The sea could be a natural moat for the castle too, but it made enemy ships attack that area more easily. Therefore, the stone walls at the eastern side were very thick. A water gate was also built to sail the castle’s ships. Secondly, the castle had several enclosures such as the Main, Second and Northern Enclosures like other castles. However, the corners had cannon bases, not turrets which Japanese castles used to have. The residence and garden for the lord were built in the western part of the castle, which was the farthest from the sea, which was also the safest area of the castle. Finally, the stone walls of the castle used many natural stones which the island produced. The stones were piled in a method called Nozura-zumi by a special stone craftsman group called Ano-shu.

The illustration of Fukue Castle, quoted from the board of education of Nagasaki Prefecture
The stone walls at the eastern side of the castle
The stone walls which were piled in the Nozura-zumi method

Though the castle was built after the great efforts after a long time, it was abandoned in 1872 after the Meiji Restoration when it was only 9 years old.

The ruins of Fukue Castle

To be continued in “Fukue Castle Part2”

105.Shiroishi Castle Part2

The restored three-level Main Tower is on the corner of the stone walls of the main enclosure, which looks really great! Not only is it a symbol of the castle but also of the city. It could also had been seen as the authority of the lord as well as a threat to enemies when the original tower was there.

Later History

After the Meiji Restoration, Kuniori Katakura, the last lord of the castle moved to Hokkaido with his some retainers. All the castle buildings and stone walls were demolished and sold to earn their expenses. The vacant castle ruins were turned into Masuoka Park which has became famous for cherry blossoms for some time. In 1987, a NHK drama called “Dokuganryu (one-eyed hero) Masamune” aired and became very popular. The drama featured not only Masamune Date but also the Katakura Clan, so many visitors visited the Shiroishi Castle Ruins but were disappointed at the ruins with few historical items. The mayor of the city saw the situation and decided to restore the castle in 1988.

One of the most important topics about it was that the castle would be restored using the traditional wooden construction. However, there was a big problem with the law. The original Main Tower was 16.7m high. Meanwhile, Japan’s Building Standard Act basically doesn’t allow builders to build wooden buildings which are over 13m tall. According to this law, the tower would not be able to be built. After that, The city negotiated with the central government, and finally got an exemption by the competent minster to build the tower at its original height. The restoration was completed in 1997.

The restored Main Tower of Shiroishi Castle


Many Historical Items in Main Enclosure

Today, the Shiroishi city area still has a traditional atmosphere of Shiroishi Castle and its castle town. This is probably because the Main Tower was restored on the hill and the old waterways are still intact in the city area. There were several enclosures on the hill in the past, but they were turned into shrines, parks, and playgrounds, excluding the main enclosure with the restored items.

A waterway in the city area
Shinmeisha Shrine in the second enclosure
The Masuoka Park in the second enclosure
A playground in Numa-no-maru Enclosure

That’s why most visitors go to the main enclosure by walking on the eastern or northern slopes on the hill. If you take the eastern one, you will see the few remaining original stone walls at the base of the enclosure. The other stones above were all demolished and sold during the early Meiji Era. You will next see the restored stone walls which were piled up using natural large stones in Nozura-zumi method. They look mild rather than wild as most of the stones were round-shaped.

The map around the main enclosure

The northern slope
The eastern slope
The few remaining original stone walls
The restored stone walls
The walls were piled up using natural stones

Well restored Main Tower and Main Gate

The restored three-level Main Tower is on the corner of the stone walls, which looks really great! Not only is it a symbol of the castle but also of the city. It could also had been seen as the authority of the lord as well as a threat to enemies when the original tower was there. In fact, there were three-generation towers on the walls during the Edo Period, which meant it had been rebuilt twice, according to the excavations. The current tower was restored on the second stone foundations because they remain in the best conditions. In addition, the appearance of the tower came from the third generation which was drawn in some pictures. The second and third ones are probably almost the same or similar since the third one was restored in 1823 after the second one burned in 1819.

The restored Main Tower
Part of the Illustration of Shiroishi Castle, attributed to Unyo Koseki, owned by Shiroishi City, exhibited in the Main Tower

The main gate of the enclosure was also restored at the same time as the Main Tower. The gate consists of two gates and stone walls, which form a defensive space called Masugata. The Masugata systems in other castles are usually a square and closed space but that of Shiroishi Castle is very unique. The first gate is always open with no doors (according to the excavations so far) and the space inside is half occupied by a corner of the stone walls of the enclosure. Visitors can’t clearly see the inside, because it is blocked by the walls. That may be the reason for the first gate having no doors.

The first gate
The second gate is half blocked by the stone walls
The Masugata system seen from the Main Tower

Other Ruins in Main Enclosure

The inside of the main enclosure is empty with the signboard of the Main Hall which was built there. The other sides of the enclosure look like earthen walls which remained after the covering stone walls had been removed. There are the Back Gate Ruins on the opposite side of the Main Gate. There are also the ruins of Tatumi (southeastern) Turret and Hitsujisaru (southwestern) Turret at other corners of the enclosure.

The ruins of the Back Gate
The ruins of the Southeastern Turret
The ruins of the Southwestern Turret
The Back Gate is marked by the red circle, the Southeastern Turret is marked by the blue circle and the Southwestern Turret is marked by the green circle, in the miniature model exhibited by the Shiroishi Castle History Museum

To be continued in “Shiroishi Castle Part3”
Back to “Shiroishi Castle Part1”

114.Karasawayama Castle Part3

The stone walls of the main enclosure entrance are not so high, but use several huge ornament stones.
In addition, the entrance was recently researched and it was found that it had a turret gate. Overall, these structures made the castle stronger as well as more authorized.


Great Stone Walls of Main Enclosure

The stone walls are around 8m high and about 40m long. They were built by piling natural or roughly processed stones in a way called Nozura-zumi. They look rough but really great! It was said that the last lord, Nobuyoshi Sano built them by inviting an excellent guild of stone craftsmen celled Ano-shu from western Japan.

The map around the castle

The high stone walls of the enclosure
The stone walls seen from the second enclosure side

You will eventually enter the second enclosure just below the main enclosure. Therefore, you will see the entrance of the main enclosure, which was also surrounded by great stone walls. They are not so high (at 2.5m), but use several huge ornament stones, called Kagami-ishi (meaning mirror stones).
In addition, the entrance was recently researched and it was found that it had a turret gate. Overall, these structures made the castle stronger as well as more authorized.

The second enclosure in the front and the main enclosure in the back
The entrance of the main enclosure
One of the ornament stones

The enclosure is on top of the mountain and is used for the shine buildings. It is unknown what buildings it had in the past, but it might have had buildings like the Main Hall and the Main Tower.

The front shrine hall
The stone walls around the enclosure

Defensive Spots in North and South

There is another enclosure, in the south of the main enclosure, called Nanjo (meaning southern castle). It was built to protect the southern ridge of the mountain where you can see stone walls and dry moats around. The shrine office is on the enclosure and this is another great viewing spot. If the weather is fine, you can enjoy a view of both Tokyo Sky Tree and Mt. Fuji. Nobuyoshi might have had no choice but to accept the shogunate’s close questioning that looking down on Edo Castle from the mountain would be rude.

The southern castle
The stone walls around the enclosure
The dry moats around the enclosure, called the First Moat
A view from the enclosure, it was clouded when I visited there

There is also other enclosures on the northern ridges, such as the Northern Castle. They are basically made of soil, divided by earthen ditches and connected by earthen bridges, which were older parts of the castle.

The Nagato-maru Enclosure
The Kane-no-maru Enclosure
The Sugi Enclosure
The double ditches between the Sugi and northern enclosures
The northern enclosure

Hiking Course has other Castle Ruins

For hikers, it is recommended to try part of Karasawayama Shuyu(Round) Course, from the castle to Imori-yama Mountain via the Kagami-iwa Rock, Byobu-iwa Rock and Gongen-do Hall Ruins. The course is on another ridge connected to the Karasawayama Mountain, which was a defense point for the castle.

The map around the mountain

The relief map around the mountain

The location map of the hiking course
The Kagami-iwa Rock
The byobu-iwa Rock and the view

That’s why you can see a set of a narrow bridge with artificial ditches on the way. You can also enjoy a great view of the whole Kanto Region on each peak of the ridge. The Imori Mountain is where Kenshin Uesugi and Masatsuna Sano fought against each other in their last battle in 1570.

The bridge over the ditch
Going to the Gongendo Hall Ruins
A view from the hall ruins
The zoomed Mt. Fuji
The top of the Imori Mountain

Later History

After the Sano Clan was banished by the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Ii Clan which was a senior vassal family of the shogunate owned the Sano area as its detached territory during the Edo Period. The clan banned people from entering the mountain, the former castle area. That’s why the ruins of the castle have been preserved in a good condition. After the Meiji Restoration, locals established the Karasawayama Shrine in 1883. Establishing shrines on castle ruins was a popular way to maintain them at that time. The ruins also became part of Karasawayama Prefectural Natural Park in 1965. That’s why several approaches and hiking courses have been developed there. As for castle ruins, Sano City has been researching and studying them since 2007. As a result, they were designated as a National Historic Site in 2014.

Karasawayama Shrine

My Impression

The current people often say Kenshin Uesugi attacked Karasawayama Castle and approached its main enclosure, but failed. Meanwhile, Kenshin himself wrote on his letter in 1567 when he owned the castle and was attacked by the Hojo Clan that “Only the Main Enclosure remained”. I’m not sure if similar things happened twice whether the people misunderstood Kenshin’s sides. Either way, Kenshin and the castle were closely involved. I think the people are still borrowing his name even today to explain about the strength of the castle.

The main enclosure of Karasawayama Castle

How to get There

If you want to visit the castle ruins by car, it is about a 10-minute drive away from Sano-Tanuma IC on the Kitakanto Expressway.
There are parking lots at the foot, the mid slope and top of the mountain.
By public transportation, it takes about 40 minutes on foot from Tanuma Station on the Tobu-Sano Line to the top.
From Tokyo to the station: take the train on the Joban Line from Tokyo or Ueno Stations, transfer to the Tobu-Isesaki Line at Kitasenju Station, and transfer to the Tobu-Sano Line at Tatebayashi Station.

The parking lot at the top
The parking lot at the southern route
The parking lot at the western route
The parking lot on the way of the hiking course

That’s all. Thank you.
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