Tsurugaokajō as we see it today was constructed by the Sakai Clan from 1622 onwards. A fortification was originally built on this site in the 13th century by the Daihōji Clan, that castle called Daihōjijō. The Daihōji contested control of the Shōnai area with the Mogami Clan. In the Sengoku period the Daihōji served the Uesugi Clan as vassals. The Uesugi annexed Shōnai in 1588, and during the battle of Sekigahara used the area as a springboard to attack the Mogami Clan at Yamagatajō. However, when they realised that Ishida Mitsunari had lost the war, they retreated and the Mogami Clan expanded at their expense, re-taking Shōnai. The Mogami then re-named Daihōjijō to Tsurugaokajō. They renamed another former Daihōji Clan castle in Sakata from Tōzenjijō to Kamegasakijō. Name a more iconic duo than crane and turtle, signifying longevity; probably the castles were named auspiciously in relation to each other. Kamegasakijō was so named because a large turtle had appeared on Sakata beach at the time of the Mogami’s return. Then Tsurugaokajō was probably named after that.
Things were going well for the Mogami but then their clan fell due to in-fighting, prompting the Shogunate to confiscate their territory in 1622. Thereupon Sakai Tadakatsu received Shōnai Domain as his territory, valued at 138,000 koku. This was an upgrade from the 38,000 koku he had had as lord of Matsushiro Domain.
The Sakai Clan continued to govern Shōnai Domain from Tsurugaokajō until 1871. In 1805 the domain’s hankō (domain school) was founded, and school buildings were erected in the castle’s outer third bailey in 1816. In 1824 the castle’s shingle-roofed structures were retiled with ceramic tiles, changing the appearance of the castle. Some restorative illustrations I saw would suggest these roof tiles had a reddish brown hue. In 1840 the Sakai were ordered by the Shogunate to relocate to Nagaokajō in Echigo, but the local people revolted and the unpopular move was cancelled.
The Boshin War ravaged Tōhoku in 1868 as Tokugawan loyalists and imperialists fought for the destiny of Japan. The Sakai had joined the loyalist side, and fought well against the Kubota Domain which had defected to the imperialist side. However, the Tōhoku stage of the war was lost in Aizu, and the Sakai were compelled to surrender. All castle buildings were torn down by 1876, and the site became a park.
Tsurugaokajō is a major Edo period castle ruin, and a significant castle in the Tōhoku Region despite there only being earthworks to see of the castle proper. Most Tōhoku castles didn’t make extensive use of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) (though Moriokajō and Sendaijō are notable exceptions), and Tsurugaokajō no longer has any ishigaki, though it did once have some which served as a yaguradai (turret platform). The main features of this site are the extensive mizubori (water moats) and dorui (earthen ramparts). There is both an outer and inner moat. I started at the corner of the outer moat (about half of it remains), and worked my way around to the very well-preserved inner moat, and finally into the main bailey, which now hosts a shrine. Some of the shrine structures take the place of the castle’s corner turret, and walls around it have been thoughtfully erected with loopholes.
I’d also recommend visiting the Chidō Museum which is an open-air architectural museum. The buildings there include Edo period buildings used by the Sakai Clan of Shōnai Domain, and brought to Tsuruoka from Edo. It’s great that some old yashiki parts were spared the fires, earthquakes, bombs and redevelopment of Tōkyō, and allowed to retire peacefully in their ancestral homelands. Another highlight of Tsurugaokajō is the Chidōkan, an original hankō (domain school), and the only extant one in Tōhoku (Aizu has a reconstructed one). It is truly a treasure.
Chidōkan was the hankō (domain school) of the Shōnai Domain, ruled from Tsurugaoka Castle. Chidōkan was founded in 1805, and its halls were constructed in 1816 in the outer third bailey of Tsurugaokajō. Chidōkan’s consists of the kōdō (main lecture hall), oirinoma (classrooms), the seibyō (mausoleum to Confucius), and three gates: omotegomon (main gate), nishigomon (western gate), and higashigomon (eastern gate), with surrounding walls. There used to be a large structure with kitchens in the east of the precincts but it was lost and its remains were unearthed in 1983. An extant hankō is a remarkable treasure, and Chidōkan is the only one to remain in Tōhoku.
|English Name||Tsurugaoka Castle|
|Founder||Daihōji Clan; Mogami Clan; Sakai Tadakatsu|
|Year Founded||13th century; 1601; 1622|
|Castle Condition||No main keep but other buildings|
|Designations||Next 100 Castles, has Important Cultural Properties, National Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Edo Period|
|Artifacts||Mizubori, Dorui, Yaguradai, Chidōkan (Hankō), Bukeyashiki, Gate (relocated), &c.|
|Features||gates, samurai homes, water moats, walls|
|Access||Tsuruoka Station on the Uetsu Main Line; 20 minute walk to Tsuruoka Park|
|Visitor Information||Open 24/7; free (park)|
|Time Required||150 minutes|
|Location||Tsuruoka, Yamagata Prefecture|
|Coordinates||38° 43' 41.12" N, 139° 49' 25.68" E|
|Added to Jcastle||2023|
|Admin Year Visited||Viewer Contributed|
|Friends of JCastle|
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