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Castle Chiran Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
Chiran Castle (知覧城, Chiran-jō) is a former castle complex in Chiran, Kagoshima Prefecture. Chiran was a town located in the Kawabe district. Chiran and the towns of Kawabe (川辺) and Ei (頴娃) were merged into Minamikyūshū (南九州) city in 2007.

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As seen in the aerial picture above, Chiran Castle was built on a surface traversed by deep ravines. This is typical for castles in Kagoshima which are often located on a shirasu-daichi (シラス台地, pyroclastic plateau) to make use of moats formed by curved valleys and plateaus for enclosures.

The castle consisted of four major enclosures, the honmaru (本丸, the main enclosure), Kurono Castle (蔵之城 Kurano-jō), Imano Castle (今城 Imano-jō) and Yumba Castle (弓場城 Yumba-jō) surrounded by a forty-metre gorge-like valley in the centre, as well as Shikibudono Castle (式部殿城 Shikibu-dono-jō), Higashi-no-Kakoi enclosure (東ノ栫), Nishi-no-Kakoi enclosure (西ノ栫), and several other enclosures.

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Based on a map of the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. The location of the enclosures is estimated.

History


According to the Satsuma koku zudenchō (薩摩国図田帳) created in 1197, the locality was called Chiran-in (知覧院). Taira no Tadamasu (平忠益) served as the local magistrate (郡司 gunji) under Shimazu Tadahisa (島津忠久, 1166-1227), a vassal of Minamoto no Yoritomo and the first jitō (地頭, land steward).

In 1353, shōgun Ashikaga Takauji granted Shimazu Tadamitsu (島津忠光), the younger brother of the fifth head of the Shimazu clan, Sadahisa (島津貞久, 1269-1363), Chiran for his meritorious military service. Tadamitsu was the progenitor of the Sata clan (佐多氏) which would rule Chiran Castle with several interruptions until the beginning of the Meiji period.

During the conflicts between the Shimazu family and their vassals, the Ijuin (伊集院), the castle was taken over by the latter but recaptured by the eighth lord Shimazu Hisatoyo (島津久豊, 1375-1425) who reinstated the Sata. In 1591, Toyotomi Hideyoshi seized the territory from the Sata for disobeying his orders and placed the Tanegashima clan in charge of the castle. Ten years later, the Sata were again reinstated, but Chiran Castle had burned down in the meantime. The castle was formally abandoned in 1615 pursuant to Ieyasu's "one castle per domain" policy. The Sata clan, however, would go on to live on the castle grounds until their domain was abolished.

Chiran Castle was designated a National Historic Site (国の史跡) and was added to the "Continued Top 100 Japanese Castles" (日本続百名城, Nihon Zoku Hyaku-Meijō) in 2017.

Visiting the castle


There is the parking lot on the site of the castle.

Entrance
The parking lot is adjacent to the castle site. I followed the main valley to reach the inner precinct.

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Looking up the entrance to the honmaru, the path forms two steps. This photo shows the middle section, in other words, half the way up to the inner bailey.

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Looking at the entrance to the honmaru from an elevated position.

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Honmaru
It may be because of the soft soil, but both the surface and the earthwork are quite uneven.

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This is the path to Kura-no Castle.

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Kura-no Castle (蔵之城 Kurano-jō)
Here, ruins and remains of several structures, furnaces and an entrance were discovered during excavations.

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Ima-no Castle (今城 Imano-jō)
Looking at those earthworks, it became evident how soft the underground is.

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Looking at the entrance from an elevated position.

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Yumba Castle (弓場城 Yumba-jō)
This is a relatively unspectacular fortification.

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The moat between the enclosures is deep, but the excavations revealed that it was several meters deeper.

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Around the castle


Chiran-kikko Castle (知覧亀甲城 Chiran kikkōjō)

The castle was built on a hill east of the Chiran samurai residences (知覧武家屋敷 Chiran bukke yashiki). When I visited the area, I saw a signboard of the castle and decided to visit it. It was a subsidiary castle of Chiran, but it is large enough to have its own enclosures.

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Yabitsu Bridge (矢びつ橋 Yabitsu-bashi)

A double bridge built slightly upstream from the samurai residences. It is a simple but beautiful bridge matching the stream beneath, but there were hardly any tourists to visit it.

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Samurai residences (武家屋敷 Bukke yashiki)

In Chiran, the samurai residences are more famous than the castle ruins. In the Edo Period, the Satsuma domain divided its territory into 113 districts called tojō (外城 literally "outer castles") and appointed retainers to govern each district. Chiran was one of them. It is said that the samurai residences were constructed in the 18th century. Some residences are open to visitors.

The housefronts all have the same uniform design, with low stone walls and hedges planted on top.

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The entrance to the residences form a square, Someone said that the shape was influenced by the castle.

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This particular residence had a magnificent garden.

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Date of visit: 19 October 2013

Access:

  • Address: Chiran-cho nagasato, Minamikyushu-shi, Kagoshima
  • Access: 11km from Ibusuki Expressway Chiran Interchange via Prefectural Route 23
  • Parking: free parking at the castle site (spot 'P' pointed on the above map) or Chiran Samurai residential area (free parking at the east end of the residential area across the river from Route 22)


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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