Mountain Castle in the Sky - Bitchu Matsuyama Castle

History of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle was constructed on Mt. Gagyu during the Kamakura period. The following introduces the history of this castle, which has developed through the work of generation after generation of castle lords, from various perspectives.

The only still-existing mountain castle in Japan

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is on Mt. Gagyu, a mountain with an elevation of 480 m located on the north edge of Takahashi City’s urban area.
There are 12 remaining original castle towers in Japan, but Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is the only “mountain castle” among them. It is widely known as the only still-existing mountain castle in Japan.
The wooden castle tower as well as the two-story turret and part of the mud wall still exist, and were designated as national important cultural properties in 1941.
In 1997, the south gate of the main keep underwent restorations, as did the east gate, roofed gate supported by crossarm braces, roadway gate, fifth one-story turret, sixth one-story turret, and mud wall. The damaged castle tower also underwent conservation repairs in 2003, preserving the castle as it was.

Cow-shaped “Castle Mountain”

Mt. Gagyu, affectionately nicknamed “Castle Mountain”, is beloved by residents of Takahashi City.
It consists of four peaks, which are, from the north; Omatsuyama, Tenjin-no-maru, Komatsuyama, and Maeyama.
As it resembles an old cow lying down on grass when seen from the west, it became known as Mt. Gagyu (“Sleeping Cow”) or Mt. Rogyufukuso (“Old Cow Lying on Grass”).
During the Kamakura period, a fort was constructed on Mt. Gagyu’s Omatsuyama (the northernmost peak), and it expanded to cover all of Mt. Gagyu as time went on.
What is currently generally referred to as “Bitchu Matsuyama Castle” is the castle tower remaining on the summit of Komatsuyama (elevation of about 430 m).
One can see how, over its long history, it changed its role from that of “medieval castle for battles” to “early modern castle with a castle tower and stone walls”.

The entire mountain becomes one large fortification in the Sengoku period

The history of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle began in the Kamakura period. Akibasaburo Shigenobu was appointed jito (territory steward) of Ukan-go (current-day Ukan-cho, Takahashi City) in 1240, and he constructed a fort on Omatsuyama.
After that, the center of the castle was moved to the Komatsuyama peak, changing the territory of the castle with the times. It is said that as many as 21 forts were constructed around Mt. Gagyu when the Bitchu Heiran Battle occurred in 1574.
The lord of the castle during this battle was Mimura Motochika. The Mimura Clan formed one large fortification surrounding all of Mt. Gagyu. However, it is said that the castle fell due to the starvation strategy employed by 80,000 troops of the Mori army.
In 1575, Mori Terumoto became lord of the castle, replacing the Mimura Clan. Bitchu Matsuyama Castle became a hub for the Mori Clan’s eastern expansion, and struggles for power with Oda forces occurred throughout Bitchu.
The Mori Clan was defeated at the Battle of Sekigahara and retreated to the two provinces of Bocho. Entering the Edo period, repair constructions were carried out by father and son Kobori Masatsugu and Kobori Masakazu (Enshu), who moved to and served as magistrates for the Bitchu province. One can see how Bitchu Matsuyama Castle served its role as a key point of the Bitchu area.

Castle architect and gardener Kobori Enshu becomes magistrate

After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle fell under the control of the Tokugawa shogunate.
By order of the shogunate, father and son Kobori Masatsugu and Kobori Masakazu (Enshu) served as magistrates.
Enshu was known as a skilled castle architect, and is said to have begun renovations on the government office (Onegoya) of the domain at the mountain base and the castle on the mountaintop.
Enshu was also a skilled gardener. Instead of the castle which became dilapidated in the Bitchu Heiran Battle, he used Raikyuji Temple as a temporary building to carry out his governing work, and he created the garden at that time.
The “Crane and Turtle Garden”, a nationally-recognized place of scenic beauty, is a Zen temple dry landscape Horai garden.
Taking Mt. Atago as a borrowed view, the white sand expresses ocean waves, and there are crane island and turtle island rock arrangements.
The mass pruning of rhododendron to express large oceans waves is also magnificent.

Reign of three generations of Mizunoya

After the Nariwa domain from Hitachi Shimodate, Mizunoya Katsutaka became lord of the castle in 1642, and he focused on establishing domain administration including the development of the flat-bottomed boat routes and the new Tamashima rice paddies. His son, Katsumune, worked to cut out the flat-bottomed narrow irrigation canal, and in 1681, began large-scale renovations on Bitchu Matsuyama Castle that lasted until 1683.Along with the castle tower, the two-story turret, main gate, and more were built at this time, completing the full form of the castle.The castle tower, two-story turret, and third one-story turret eastern mud wall of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle that currently remain as national important cultural properties were built at this time.

Oishi Kuranosuke from Banshu Akobecomes the castle keeper

While they established the foundation for their domain including the division of the castle town and castle renovations since becoming lords of the castle in 1642, the Mizunoya Clan ended without an heir after three generations.
The Asano Clan from Banshu Ako were the next ones to receive the castle in 1694. Oishi Kuranosuke, who is known from the “The Treasury of Loyal Retainers”, was in charge of inheriting the castle from the extinct Mizunoya Clan.
Through discussions with Tsurumi Kuranosuke, the chief retainer of the Bitchu Matsuyama domain, he successfully took the castle without spilling a drop of blood.
The meeting at this time would be told to later generations as, “the meeting of the two Kuranosukes”. Oishi Kuranosuke stayed at Bitchu Matsuyama Castle for about a year after that as its keeper.
There is a stone on the path from the mountain base up to the castle called the Oishi Kuranosuke Sitting Stone. It is said he rested there.

Domain administration reform by Yamada Hokoku avoids a financial collapse

Itakura Katsukiyo, lord of the Bitchu Matsuyama domain, aided Tokugawa Yoshinobu at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. Yamada Hokoku, a scholar of Chinese classics who served Katsukiyo, decisively carried out domain administration reform to save the domain from the brink of financial collapse.
By 1850, the Bitchu Matsuyama domain was in debt by 100,000 ryo (equivalent to 30 billion yen in today’s currency).
Hokoku, who was 46 years old, implemented various measures, including not only the “top and bottom frugality” in which everyone, from warriors to commoners, worked to save money, but also debt consolidation, industrial promotion, and even reform of the clan note. He reduced the debt to zero in just 7 years, and even left behind a reserve of 100,000 ryo.
Hokoku was also skilled as an educator, and taught many young people at the domain school “Yushukan”, at a private school he established, and at the Shizutani Monastery (current Shizutani School) in Bizen in the Meiji period and later. Hokoku’s thoughts, methods, and the human resources he cultivated were left as a significant asset for the next generation.

Overcoming a bloodless surrender and ordinance for castle disposal

In 1868, the Boshin War began with the Edo shogunate fighting against the army of the new Meiji government, including the Satsuma and Choshu domains.
As they served as councilors to the Edo shogunate, the Itakura Clan were deemed enemies of the Imperial Court and of the Emperor, putting the Bitchu Matsuyama domain in a perilous position. Yamada Hokoku and others believed they should avoid reckless battles for the survival of the domain. They decided to surrender the castle without a drop of blood, and surrendered to the new government army.
This decision also saved the castle. In 1873, an ordinance to dispose of castles was issued, and the castle towers and buildings of many castles throughout Japan were demolished. The Bitchu Matsuyama domain was no exception. Onegoya (the domain lord’s residence) at the mountain base was destroyed and used as a lot for the Okayama Prefectural Takahashi Junior High School.
However, because the castle tower, turrets, gates, and the like were on the mountaintop and inconvenient to reach, they were luckily spared and abandoned, left to later generations.

The passion of city residents revives the castle tower

As time passed from 1873 to the late 1920s, the turrets of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle became damaged and dilapidated.
The castle was on the brink of collapse in the early Showa period, but was saved by Shinano Tomoharu, a history teacher at Takahashi Junior High School. Knowing the castle’s historic value, Shinano climbed the mountain numerous times to perform surveys. He gathered detailed records of the castle tower’s structure, dimensions, and the like, and then published “Bitchu Matsuyama Castle and Its Base”.
Inspired by this book, local residents formed the “Takahashi Conservation Committee” to restore the castle.
In 1939, through the Great Showa Renovation, the castle tower was taken apart for repairs and the mud walls were mended.
There remains an episode that at this time, local elementary school students, junior high school students, female students, and others carried about 20,000 roofing tiles to the mountain summit.