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Castle Kawagoe Castle

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Kawagoe Castle (川越城 Kawagoe-jō) is a flatland castle located in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. It was the seat of the Kawagoe Domain during the Edo Period (1600-1868) and also known as Hatsukari Castle (初雁城) and Kirigakure Castle (霧隠城). It is one of the Seven Famous Castles of Kantō and one of the 100 Famous Castles of Japan. The last family to reside at Kawagoe Castle was the fudai daimyō clan of the Matsui.

Kawagoe Castle ((川越城) 01


In 1457, Uesugi Mochitomo (扇谷上杉持朝, 1416-1467) of the Uesugi clan's Ōgigayatsu branch ordered his vassal Ōta Sukekiyo (太田資清) and his son Sukenaga (太田資長, 1432-1486), better known under his Buddhist name Ōta Dōkan (太田道灌), to build a castle on the right bank of the Arakawa River. Surrounded by swampy terrain, its perimeter corresponded to the later honmaru (本丸, inner bailey), the second bailey (二ノ丸 ninomaru) and the outer precinct known as Miyoshino Tenjin (三芳天神曲輪 Miyoshino tenjin kuruwa).

In the 15th and 16th century, the Kantō region was contested between both branches of the Uesugi and the Hōjō clan. In 1524, the Hōjō managed to seize Edo Castle. In 1537, after the death of his father Tomooki, Uesugi Tomosada (上杉朝定, 1525-1546) of the Ōgigayatsu attacked the Hōjō in Musashi Province and established a fortified base at Jindai-ji temple (深大寺) in modern-day Chōfu. However, soon afterwards, Hōjō Ujitsuna (北条氏綱, 1487-1541) took Kawagoe Castle from Tomosada's uncle Tomonari.

In 1545, after several attempts to recapture the castle, Tomosada allied himself with Ashikaga Haruuji (足利晴氏), the Koga kubō (古河公方) as well as his more powerful relative and Kantō kanrei, Uesugi Norimasa of the Yamauchi branch against Hōjō Ujiyasu (北条氏康, 1515-1571). The anti-Hōjō coalition amassed some 85,000 warriors and besieged Kawagoe castle, while the Hōjō, led by Hōjō Tsunashige (北条綱成, 1515-1587), also known as Hōjō Tsunanari, held out with 3,000 men stationed in the garrison, waiting for a relief force of only 8,000 under Tsunashige's brother-in-low, Ujiyasu. The Hōjō had learnt that the besiegers, confident of victory in light of their sheer numerical superiority, had let their guard down. Coordinating a night attack between the garrison and Ujiyasu's troops, the Hōjō completely surprised the Uesugi and the Ashikaga and defeated them. Tomosada was killed in battle. His death not only spelt the end of the Ōgigayatsu but that of Uesugi hegemony in Kantō as well. The Hōjō victory entered the annals of history as the "Night Battle of Kawagoe" (川越夜戦 Kawagoe yasen).

Later, during Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Kantō expedition in 1590, Kawagoe Castle fell to an attack of Maeda Toshiie and other generals. When Tokugawa Ieyasu took over the Kantō provinces, he appointed his vassal Sakai Shigetada as the lord of Kawagoe.

Rulers of Kawagoe castle in the Edo Period:

  • 1609-1634: a branch of the Sakai (酒井氏, 20,000 koku)
  • 1634-1639: a branch of the Hotta (堀田家, 30,000 koku)
  • 1639-1694: a branch of the Ōkōchi (大河内氏, 60,000 koku)
  • 1694-1704: the Yanagisawa (柳沢氏, 72,000 koku)
  • 1704-1767: the Akimoto (秋元氏, 50,000 koku)
  • 1767-1866: a branch of the Matsudaira (松平氏,150,000 koku)
  • 1866-1870: the Matsui (松井氏 80,000 koku)

Under Matsudaira Nobutsuna, born to Ōkōchi Hisatsuna and adopted as the heir of his uncle, Matsudaira Masatsuna, Kawagoe prospered not only as a castle town but also as a trade hub that provided Edo with supplies transported along Shinkashi River and the Kawagoe Highway.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 02

Replica of Kawagoe Castle and castle town displayed in Kawagoe City Museum

The castle

When Matsudaira Nobutsuna, nicknamed "Chie'izu" (知恵伊豆), the "Wise Izu", took over the castle in 1639, he expanded the fortifications. The castle consisted of the Honmaru (本丸), the Ninomaru (二ノ丸) and the Sannomaru (三ノ丸). The Honmaru had been reinforced on its western edge by the Hachiman-kuruwa (八幡曲輪). The castle had three watchtowers (櫓 yagura) and had eight gates. Under the Ōkōchi, between 1644 and 1648, the castle underwent extensive repairs: the existing castle precincts were expanded by the Soto-kuruwa (外曲輪) west of the Sannomaru, the Shin-kuruwa (新曲輪) east of the Hommaru, and the Ta-kuruwa (田曲輪) on the southern edge. As there was no donjon (天守 tenshu), the three-storey Fujimi (富士見櫓) served as a watchtower. The main gate (大手門 Ōtemon) was located on the western edge.

Today, the surroundings of the castle have largely turned into residential areas. The former residence rebuilt in 1854 with its entrance area, the kuruma-yose (車寄), with reception rooms and the living quarters of the house elder has been preserved in the former Honmaru, now Hatsukari Park (初雁公園 Hatsukari-kōen). The residence comprises a total area of 545 m². One of the rooms is covered with 123 tatami mats and converted into a museum that exhibits archaeological relics and historical pictures. The base of the Fujimi watchtower and its surrounding ramparts and ditches have also been preserved.

Kawagoe Castle was dismantled in 1870.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 03

The aerial photograph below shows the same area as in the map above.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 04

Based on Google Maps. The location of the enclosures is estimated.

① Ōtemon was located around the present-day Kawagoe City Hall. The bronze statue is that of Ōta Dōkan.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 05

② Nakanomon Moat (中ノ門堀跡), the only remaining moat of Kawagoe Castle.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 06

③ Honmaru Goten (本丸御殿), the former residence and the only remaining building of Kawagoe Castle.

It was built in 1854 as a replacement for the former residence in the Ninomaru which burned down. The new residence was a large structure with 16 buildings and a total floor space of 1,025 tsubo (3,400 m²). Only two Honmaru Goten have been preserved, one in Kawagoe and one in Kochi Castle. The entrance is characterized by its impressive karahafu (唐破風) roof with its undulating roof gable.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 07

A corridor in Kawagoe Castle. Thinking of an official residence, luxurious Nijō-jō (二条城) springs to mind, but the residence at Kawagoe Castle is considerably simpler.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 08

This is the main hall measuring 36 jō (畳, ~60 m²) next to the entrance. It served as a waiting room for guests.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 09

This picture on the fusuma was painted by Funatsu Ranzan (舩津蘭山), the personal illustrator of Kawagoe Domain.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 10

The vassal's office building had once been removed and was then returned here.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 11

A meeting between vassals.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 12

④ Miyoshino Shrine (三芳野神社) in the Honmaru.

This is the birthplace of a famous Japanese nursery rhyme, Toryanse (とおりゃんせ, You may pass). The shrine had been constructed before the castle, and later, worshipers were allowed to enter and pray. However, they were thoroughly checked by the guards. The song lyrics describe a conversation between a visitor and a guard.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 13

Some earthworks remain near the entrance of Miyoshino-jinja.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 14

⑤ Fujimi Turret (富士見櫓跡), a three-stories building, was built in the highest place of the castle.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 15

Mitake Shrine (御嶽神社) is located on top of the hill.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 16

Kawagoe is famous for its old storehouses. Their symbol is a bell tower called Toki no Kane (時の鐘), a tangible cultural property of the City of Kawagoe.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 17

On the day of our visit, the Tōjin Soroi (唐人揃い), the Festival of Foreign People, was held. In the Edo period, the Kawagoe Hikawa Festival featured a popular parade of people dressed as Korean envoys called "Karatōjin-joi". Although the relationship between Japan and South Korea is quite delicate over historical issues, it is important to recognise that there have been many years of peaceful exchanges between the two countries, which is also the purpose of this festival.

Kawagoe Castle (川越城) 18

Date of visit: 10 November 2013


  • Address: 〒350-0053 Saitama, Kawagoe, Kuruwamachi, 2-27
  • Access: by bus from JR Kawagoe Line, Tōbu Tōjō Line Kawagoe Station
    5km from Kanetsu Expressway Kawagoe Interchange via National Route 16
  • Other sights: Kawagoe Walking Map (in English)
Next article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Ashikaga Residence
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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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Hiroto Uehara
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〒350-0053 埼玉県川越市郭町2丁目27

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