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Castle Obi Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
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Obi Castle (飫肥城 Obi-jō) is located in the city of Nichinan, in the south of former Hyūga Province (日向国, modern-day Miyazaki). The Shimazu and the Itō clans contested this area and its vital trade port of Aburatsu (油津) in a fierce conflict that could almost be called a "Hundred Years War". In the Edo era (1603-1867), the Itō ruled Obi Domain as a smaller tozama daimyō with an income of 36,000 koku.



Obi Castle is located on a hill between the Sakatani River (酒谷川) and the Yamakawa (山川) in the northeast. It is not known exactly when the castle was constructed, probably when the imperial court split in the Northern and the Southern court at the beginning of the 14th century. It is said that it was originally built by the Tsuchimochi clan (土持氏), a family of priests at Usa Hachiman-gū (宇佐八幡宮) who became land stewards and warriors in Hinata (northern Hyūga).

Around 1475, the castle was rebuilt or reinforced by Shimazu Tadakane. In 1562, it was conquered by Itō Yoshisuke (伊東義祐, 1512–1584), who lost it to Shimazu Tadachika in the same year. In 1568, Yoshisuke occupied the castle, and his second son Suketake (祐兵, 1559–1600) was installed. However, in 1577 the Shimazu finally won the upper hand, and the Itō had to move to Bungo Province. (豊後国, present-day Ōita Prefecture). When Toyotomi Hideyoshi subjugated Kyūshu in 1587, Suketaka was playing an active part in the Battle of Yamazaki and the Kyūshu expedition and was reinstated as the daimyō of Obi, a position the Itō held until the Meiji Restoration.

In Japanese history, there were many daimyō who fell from grace but were rehabilitated, such as Tachibana Muneshige (立花宗茂, 1567-1643) or Sengoku Hidehisa (仙石秀久, 1552-1612). Suketaka's case, however, seems even more dramatic as his clan used to rule an entire province. Later, just before his death, Suketaka wisely decided to side with Tokugawa Ieyasu in the Battle of Sekigahara (1600), which secured the clan's survival. Some historians believe that both Hideyoshi and Ieyasu expected the Itō to act as a counterbalance against the powerful Shimazu.

The castle

Although the castle shows the characteristics of a medieval fortification with stone walls protecting the honmaru and earthworks surrounding it, Obi Castle was basically a typical South Kyūshu castle that utilized valleys carved into a shirasu-daichi (シラス台地, pyroclastic plateau) as natural dry moats and the plateaus as enclosures. Those plateaus formed maru (丸), separate enclosures that surrounded the honmaru: Matsuo-maru (松尾丸), Moto-hommaru (元本丸), Imashiro-maru (今城丸), Nishi-no-maru (西の丸), Naka-no-maru (中の丸), Kita-no-maru (北の丸), Ideya-no-maru (出屋の丸), Moto-maru (元丸), and Hachiman-maru (八幡丸).

In 1684, the castle was damaged in a strong earthquake in 1684. Itō Sukezane (伊東祐実, 1674-1723) had some areas levelled, and the main gate reinforced. The residence was rebuilt and completed in 1693. In 1801, the Han school Gakumonjo (学問所) was erected in Hachiman-maru. The school was enlarged in 1831 and renamed Shintokudō (振徳堂).

Only the southern part of the walls of the hommaru and the main gate, Yaguramon Gate (櫓門), have been preserved. The residence, originally located in Naka-no-maru, was rebuilt in Matsuo-maru. The only remains of the Shintokudō are the Omoya (主屋) building, the Nagayamon (長屋門) gate, the main gate, and the Yoshōkan (豫章館) in the former castle garden. Some parts of the original samurai residences have been preserved, too.

Of the Shintokudō, the Omoya (主屋) building, the Nagayamon (長屋門) gate, the main gate, and the Yoshōkan (豫章館) in the former castle garden remain. Besides, remnants of the samurai quarter in front of the castle have been preserved (see below).


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

① Ōtemon (大手門)
The path toward Ōtemon, the main gate: the view might be the same as in the olden days except for the road pavement.


Roots and stone wall let us feel the history.


The squared-shaped stone wall of Ōtemon.


Some open space in front of the honmaru (本丸), the main enclosure.


The stairs leading up to the honmaru.


② Matsuo Enclosure (松尾丸)
The plateau on the left side is the Matsuo-no-maru. The Shoin-zukuri palace has not been restored.


④ Honmaru (本丸)
Today, the hommaru houses Obi Elementary School (飫肥小学校) and the school's sports field. At the southeast corner is a small museum of the castle's history, the Obijō Rekishi Shiryokan (飫肥城歴史資料館). The northeast front areas are used by Obi Middle School (飫肥中学校).


There is a bell tower (鐘楼 shōrō) in one corner of the honmaru.


⑤ Old main enclosure (旧本丸)
The former main enclosure was on a higher elevation.


Going upstairs into a magnificent cedar forest.


In the enclosure, there is a magic space bristling with Obi cedars spread on a moss carpet.


Obi is famous for its cedar trees. Thanks to the warm and pluvial climate, cedars grow fast, so their wood is light and of low density. Moreover, it is soft, sticky, and oily: these characteristics made it the most suitable material for shipbuilding. Obi cedar was a prized product in the Edo Period.

The North Gate of the old main enclosure. The simple gate fits perfectly into the cedar grove.


⑥ Samurai residences (武家屋敷街 Buke yashikigai)

It is a wonderful town that has preserved the atmosphere of the old days.


The home of the senior retainer Itō Denzaemon (伊東伝左衛門家).


⑦ The old domain school "Shintokudo" (振徳堂)
It was opened in 1831. Obi Domain invited famous scholars, including Yasui Soshu and his son Sokken and tried to enhance the education of retainers' sons. Diplomat Komura Jutarō (小村寿太郎, 1855-1911), who played an active part in Meiji era politics was one of its students.


The people of Obi are so polite that everyone, children and adults alike, greets them when they pass each other. It made me feel nostalgic, so I love this town.

Date of visit: 21 October 2013


  • Address: 10-1-1 Obi, Nichinan, Miyazaki 889-2535
  • Access: a 20-minute walk from JR Obi Station on Nichinan Line
    32km from Miyazaki Expressway Tano Interchange via Prefectural Route 28
  • Parking: Obi Castle Sightseeing Park (Free: Spot 'P' pointed on the above map)
Next article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Shibushi Castle
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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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〒889-2535 宮崎県日南市飫肥10丁目1

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