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Castle Shibushi Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
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Shibushi Castle (志布志城 Shibushi-jō) is a mountain castle (山城 yamajirō) located in Shibushi City in eastern Kagoshima (former Hyūga Province 日向国). A thriving port engaged in trade with foreign powers, the feudal lords of southern Kyūshu fought intense battles for its control in the Nanboku-chō period (1336-1392) when the Northern and the Southern court were pitched against each other.


Although there were too many contenders to be mentioned, three powerful daimyō, the Shimazu, the Itō and the Kimotsuki, played the main roles in the drama. Their backgrounds are laid out below:

  1. the Shimazu clan (島津氏) who controlled territories from Satsuma to Miyakonojō. In 1185, Koremune Tadahisa (惟宗忠久) was appointed to govern Miyakonojō by Minamoto no Yoritomo. The Shimazu consisted of many branches families, including the Ōshū clan (奥州家), the Sōshū clan (総州家), the Izaku clan (伊作家), the Hōshū clan (豊州家), the Sasshū clan (薩州家), the Hongō clan (北郷氏) and Niiro clan (新納氏).
  2. the Kimotsuki clan (肝付氏): in 969, Tomo Kaneyuki (伴兼行) was appointed a Dazaifu official of the Kyushu. His grandson Kanesada was transferred to Kimotsuki County in Ōsumi (大隅) Province, where the Kimotsuki played a dominant role in the Heian and medieval period.
  3. the Itō clan (伊東氏): in 1335, Itō Sukemochi (伊東祐持) was sent to Hyūga by Ashikaga Takauji.

During the Nanboku-chō Period, these clans were separated and fought each other: the Shimazu, the Itō, and Hatakeyama Naoaki (畠山直顕), the governor-general of Hyūga (日向国大将) appointed by Ashikaga Takauji supported the Northern court, while the Kimotsuki and Nirei Yorinaka (from the family of the Murakami of Shinano) sided with the Southern court.

History of Shibushi Castle

  • 1336: a document mentioned that the Kimotsuki were attacked by the Shigehisa clan (重久氏).
  • 1338-1351: Nirei Yorinaka (楡井頼仲) initially oppressed the Kimotsuki and established power in the northern part of Ōsumi. Later, both Yorinaka and the Kimotuski supported the Southern court.
  • 1351-1357: Hatakeyama Naoaki was supported by the Northern court and fought against the Nirei and the Kimotsuki. He defeated Yorinaka and conquered Shibushi Castle in 1351. Yorinaka escaped to the Kimotsuki.
  • 1357-1538: first, the Shimazu had aligned with Naoaki and the Northern court. When Naoaki extended his power into Ōsumi, the Shimazu switched sides and supported Niiro Sanehisa, defeating Naoaki in 1357. Later, the Niiro clan controlled Shibushi.
  • 1538-1562: in 1539, the Battle of Ichiki took place between two rival factions of the Shimazu clan. Shimazu Katsuhisa, head of the Shimazu family, had no sons and was ousted by Shimazu Sanehisa, the head of the Sasshū clan (薩州家). Sanehisa then claimed the leadership of the clan without being recognized by the rest of the families. Katsuhisa asked Shimazu Tadayoshi to help him regain his position and sent his son Shimazu Takahisa to be, in turn, adopted by Katsuhisa. In 1526, Katsuhisa handed over the position of head of the family to Takahisa. However, it was not until 1539, at the Battle of Ichiki, when Tadayoshi defeated Katsuhisa (who later regained power), that Takahisa came to be recognized by all members of the Shimazu clan as their leader. In those days, Shimazu Tadatomo of the Hōshū clan, who supported Sanehisa and the Kimotsuki, attacked the Niiro and conquered Shibushi.
  • 1562-1574: the Kimotsuki clan opposed the Shimazu together with the Itō clan. In 1562, Kimotsuki Kanetsugu captured Shibushi, but in 1566, his stronghold Kōyama Castle fell in a counterattack by the Shimazu clan Kanetsugu died. The Itō continued their resistance but surrendered to the Shimazu clan in 1574.
  • 1574 and thereafter: in 1576, the Shimazu confiscated all the territory except Kōyama (高山) from the Kimotsuki clan and in 1577, Kamata Masachika (鎌田政近) was appointed jitō (地頭, land steward).

Visiting the castle

The structure of Shibushi Castle is as complex and complicated as its history. It consists of four subcastles: Uchi Castle (内城 Uchi-jō), Matsuo Castle (松尾城 Matsuo-jō), Taka Castle (高城 Taka-jō) and Shin Castle (新城 Shin-jō), located on the hills that stretch towards Shibushi Bay. Among these, Uchi Castle was in the centre position. Trenches divided Uchi Castle into four enclosures: Yagura-ba (矢倉場), Honmaru (本丸), the Nakano Enclosure (中野久尾 Nakano kubi) and the Ōno Enclosure (大野久尾 Ōno kubi).


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


Visitors can use the parking lot adjacent to Shibushi Elementary School (志布志小学校).



The site of the former compound of the Niiro clan (新納氏). I felt sorry for its poor state. Behind the trees lies Shibushi Elementary School ad the location of the former Yagura-ba.


Yagura-ba (矢倉場)

Yagura means "arsenal". They served as defensive positions and armouries where bows and arrows were stored. Excavations revealed that Yagura-ba was divided into upper and lower tiers in the east and west, and postholes were found.


Honmaru (本丸)

Enclosures of this castle are separated into upper and lower tiers. This is the upper tier of the Honmaru.


The guardian deity (守護神 shugoshin) of the Niiro clan, Sanpo Aragami (三宝荒神), is worshipped in the corner of the main enclosure.


The lower section of the Honmaru (本丸下段)


Shibushi Port as seen from the Honmaru. Trade with foreign countries had been carried out since ancient times, and even in the Edo Period (1603-1867), many merchants made good profit by smuggling.


The path to Karamete-mon, basically a dry moat dug into shirasu-daichi (シラス台地, pyroclastic plateau) so typical of castles in Kagoshima.


Nakano Enclosure (中野久尾)

Looking at the entrance of the enclosure from an elevated position.


The enclosure is vast, but there aren't any spectacular structures left.


Another dry moat.


On the way to Ōno Enclosure, a municipal archaeologist told me that they were excavating at Ōno-kubi, so I ask him to observe their excavations.

Ōno enclosure (大野久尾)

The archaeologist told me that many of the buried artefacts were imports from China, Korea, Okinawa and South East Asia, which makes sense considering Shibushi's geographical location.


The archaeologist also shared some interesting information: apparently, Ōno-kubi was not a single enclosure. It was used as a tea plantation until recently, but it seems that the earthworks were broken, and the moat between the two enclosures was filled when the field was created.


Following his advice, I visited Shibushi City Buried Cultural Properties Centre (志布志市埋蔵文化財センター Shibushi-shi maizō bunkazai sentā) in front of Shibushi High School. Although the centre was closed, I was allowed access. I really appreciated the kindness of the staff members who gave us a private tour.

I also understand the historic site is well maintained by the efforts of local specialists and volunteers. Thank you for your efforts!

Date of visit: 21 October 2013


  • Address: 6380 Shibushichocho, Shibushi, Kagoshima 899-7102
  • Access: a 25-minute walk from Shibushi Station on JR Nichinan Line
    24km from Higashi-Kyushu Expressway Soo-Yagoro Interchange via Prefectural Route 63
  • Parking: next to Shibushi Elementary School (Free: Spot 'P' pointed on the map above)
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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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〒899-7102 鹿児島県志布志市志布志町帖6380

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