Kamegasakijō was originally constructed as Tōzenjijō in 1478 by the Daihōji Clan. The Daihōji made the local Tōzenji Clan castellans, and the castle was used as a border fort facing the Mogami River to secure that vital water route. However, the Tōzenji switched allegiances to the Mogami Clan, with Tōzenji Yoshinaga attacking Ōra Castle in 1583, and the two clans contested the Shōnai area. The Mogami quickly took over the region, but the Daihōji were able to get support from large clans, such as the Date and Uesugi, and the Mogami soon found themselves surrounded and outmanned.
During the hegemony of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Daihōji’s position as governing clan of Dewa was confirmed. In 1600, during the Battle of Sekigahara, the Uesugi Clan advanced into Shōnai with the intent of attacking the Mogami at their main base of Yamagata Castle. However, when they learned Ishida Mitsunari had been defeated, they withdrew, and the Mogami used the opportunity to take back Shōnai by conquering Tōzenjijō. Tōzenjijō was rebuilt and renamed to Kamegasakijō by the Mogami. Tradition goes that the name was chosen due to a large turtle appearing on Sakata beach at that time, which was taken as auspicious.
In the Edo period the Mogami clan was on the up-and-up. Having supported the Tokugawa at Sekigahara, they were enfeoffed with additional lands, including Shōnai, making their domain the fifth largest in Japan. Lord Mogami Yoshiaki developed flood control mechanisms along the Mogami River. During this time Kamegasakijō’s castellan was Shimura Mitsuyasu, and his sub-domain was worth 30,000 koku.
In 1614 Lord Yoshiaki died, and in-fighting engulfed the Mogami Clan. In 1622 the Shogunate (further strengthened from victory over the Toyotomi at Osaka Castle) felt compelled to confiscate the Mogami’s territory due to their in-fighting. Thereupon the Sakai Clan would take-over Shōnai, governing from Tsurugaokajō (Tsuruoka Domain was also called Shōnai Domain), with Lord Sakai Tadakatsu’s domain being worth 138,000 koku. During this time Kamegasakijō was used as a base from which to watch over the important port of Sakata, becoming a notable exception to the Ikkoku-Ichijōrei (One Castle per Domain Edict), with Matsudaira Hisatsune as castellan. Kamegasakijō was abandoned in 1868.
Even though the ruins which remain today represent the honmaru (main bailey) of Kamegasakijō, the castle had four baileys with the third wholly surrounding the first and second. The limits of the third bailey reached up to where Kamegasaki Elementary School is today. A fourth bailey went even further, making Kamegasakijō quite a large castle, at least in the Edo period.
I don’t know where the fourth bailey reached to, but I can guess by looking at satellite imagery. At the heart of the Kamegasaki neighbourhood there is a portion of the town which retains an old style urban landscape with long, narrow plots of land. Based on this layout alone, I’d be fairly confident that this was the jōkamachi (castle town) attached to the castle. The fourth bailey probably reached to here with bukeyashiki (samurai homes) being within the outer baileys. I didn’t have time to go here as I had to be back at my hotel before breakfast was served from seven, and then I had a packed itinerary that day, but it would be interesting to visit such an area.
If I am right about the jōkamachi then this also indicates that the port of Sakata on the Mogami River and the castle town formed twin settlements rather than merging as one. Various buildings from the Edo period survive in downtown Sakata, which formed a mercantile district. The Honma Residence can also be found there, and it is considered a bukeyashiki, though it was more closely connected to the port than the castle as the Honma had originally been merchants and earned their bushi status later (by helping to bankroll the domain).
Kamegasakijō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Sakata City. Kamegasaki is the name of the neighbourhood and stretches from the banks of the Niida River, with downtown Sakata on the other side, to the outskirts of Sakata city proper. The site of the fort is now that of a High School, but in the northwest dorui (earthen ramparts) run the length of the site. It looks like more dorui can be found along the northeastern perimeter too, but I could only get close to the northwestern segment. What was once the fort’s moat is now the site of a shrine to Hachiman, a sumo arena, and archery range, and some other fields and park space.
Kamegasakijō’s karametemon (rear gate) is said to have been relocated to Entsūji, a temple in the quaint village of Yoshida outside of Sakata; I stopped by here after visiting the site of the castle proper.
|No main keep but other buildings
|Sakata Station on the Uetsu Main Line; 20 minute walk
|Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture
|38° 54' 34.56" N, 139° 50' 27.56" E
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