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Castle Hachigata Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
Hachigata Castle (鉢形城), located in Yorii-machi, Saitama Prefecture, is a hilltop castle (山城 yamashirō) that formed a natural fortress between the Arakawa River and the Fukazawa River. Modern-day Yorii is a vital traffic hub where JR Hachikō Line, Tōbu Tōjō Line and Chichibu Railway intersect, and Kanetsu Expressway runs nearby. In the Middle Ages, it played a significant role not only as an administrative centre to control the Northern Kantō area along the Kamakura Highway by linking Kozuke (present-day Gunma Prefecture) and Musashi (present-day Saitama and Tōkyō), but also as a bastion against Echigo (modern-day Niigata Prefecture, then the heartland of the Uesugi clan) and Shinano (controlled by the Takeda, present-day Nagano Prefecture).

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Hachigata Castle was a stronghold located between two rivers. It was originally constructed on the northeast tip of the plateau and then gradually expanded towards the southwest.

Nagao Kageharu (長尾景春, 1443-1514), a vassal of the Yamanouchi Uesugi clan, constructed the castle around 1476. Later, Hōjō Ujikuni (北条 氏邦, 1541-1597), the third son of Hōjō Ujiyasu married to Daifuku Gozen (大福御前), a daughter of the powerful local lord Fujita Yasukuni (藤田 康邦), expanded it; Hachigata Castle became one of the most important strongholds in the network of Hōjō castles.

The castle was attacked by Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who both invaded from the north. In the First Siege of Hachimata (1568) Shingen failed to capture Hachigata due to its extensive fortifications. the The Second Siege of Hachimata (1590) was one of the final battles in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's campaign against the Hōjō. Ujikuni and his 3,000 defenders resisted the 35,000-men strong forces of Maeda Toshiie and Uesugi Kagekatsu for more than a month. Ujikuni finally surrendered on condition that the lives of his men would be spared and rushed in vain to help his father in the Hōjō's last stand in Odawara. The castle was eventually demolished in the Edo Period.

Nowadays, the site of the former castle is called Hachigata Castle Park (鉢形城公園). A not-insignificant amount of ruins has been preserved on the castle grounds (comprising an area of about 40 hectares or 100 acres); also some walls, a bridge, and a gate have been reconstructed. Hachigata Castle was designated one of the top 100 Japanese castles.

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Travelling to Yorii by car, it took me about ten minutes to reach the castle from Kanetsu Expressway, Hanazono IC. There was a parking lot at the Hachigata Castle History Museum. The museum is a gem and displays a model of the castle before its dismantlement. The diorama gives a good impression of what the original castle must have looked like.

The park itself is well maintained. The photographs below show the second and the third enclosures.

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The restored stone wall at the koguchi (虎口, lit. "tiger mouth"), a well-defended gate with elaborate fortifications preventing enemies from entering the castle.

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This is the outer enclosure; the central embankment is all that remains of a shrine devoted to the goddess Benzaiten.

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The restored umadashi (馬出, a small barrier or compound built in front of the koguchi to protect it from enemy attack and to allow friendly forces to enter or leave the castle; literally "horse gateway").

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Walking around the castle grounds, I reached the inner bailey. This picture was taken at the confluence of the Arakawa River and the Fukazawa River.

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The part of the inner bailey facing the Arakawa River rose even one step higher.

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The Goten bailey marks the highest point of the castle. Below: a monument dedicated to the Japanese author Katai Tayama (田山花袋, 1872-1930).

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Looking up the castle from the opposite side of the Arakawa River; the cliff is about approximately 20 meters high and a formidable natural defence.

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Date of visit: 22 June 2013

Access:

  • Address: Hachigata, Yorii-machi, Osato-gun, Saitama
  • Transportation: 15 minutes from JR Hachikou line/Tobu Tojo line /Chichibu Railway Yorii Station on foot; 6km from Kanetsu Expressway Hanazono Interchange via National Route 140 & 254
  • Other sights: Hachigata Castle History Museum (Japanese: Yorii Town Website)

Map:


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Hiroto Uehara
Hiroto is an ordinary Japanese office worker, but his true mission is searching for castles on the weekend.

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