by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.14

Background and history of Kawagoe Castle

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about the background and history of Kawagoe Castle. This is number fourteen in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
Construction of Kawagoe Castle and Background to Those Times
Kawagoe Castle was constructed about 560 years ago in 1457 by OHTA Do-shin and his son, Do-kan, under the instructions of their master, OHGIGAYATSU-UESUGI Mochitomo. The social background of those times is as follows:
In 1392, ASHIKAGA Yoshimitsu, a grandchild of ASHIKAGA Takauji, who established the Muromachi Shogunate, successfully unified the North Imperial Court and South Imperial Court thereby finishing the battles that had continued for half a century. Hence, the Shogunate succeeded in bringing the whole country under its sway. Since Yoshimitsu constructed a magnificent Imperial palace in Muromachi, Kyoto, the Shogunate was later named the Muromachi Shogunate. He also constructed the Kinkaku-ji Temple in Kyoto.
ASHIKAGA Yoshinori, the 6th Shogun (reign period:1428-1441), tried to govern the country forcibly to strengthen his authority, but as a result of this, the country became chaotic and many peasant uprisings occurred. However, the power of the common people produced some new cultural activities. Accordingly, things such as Noh dramas, Kyogen (a farce presented between Noh plays) and "renga" (linked poems) were developed.
The Muromachi Shogunate and the Uesugi Family
The Muromachi Shogunate established an office to govern the Kanto region. It was called the "Kamakura Office." The member of the Ashikaga family, who was the master of the Kamakura Office, was known as the "Kanto Kubo (shogun)." The steward was known as "Kanto Kanrei" and Uesugi family filled this position from generation to generation.
The Ohgigayatsu-Uesugi Family
There were several Uesugi clans, but the clan that lived in Ohgigayatsu, Kamakura, was known as the Ohgigayatsu-Uesugi family. An uprising led by an Uesugi family member in 1416 weakened the authority of the Kanto Kubo. This plunged the Kanto region into a period of fierce battles. During this time the Ohgigayatsu-Uesugi family became powerful and mighty.
In 1438, ASHIKAGA Mochiuji, the Kanto Kubo, rebelled against the Kanto Kanrei and Shogunate in an effort to regain the power lost in 1416. However, this resulted in defeat and in conjunction with the fall of Mochiuji, the Kamakura Office vanished. The next year, OHGIGAYATSU Mochitomo, supporting the Kanto Kanrei, forced Mochiuji to commit suicide. In this way, OHGIGAYATSU-UESUGI Mochitomo won recognition among the warriors of the Kanto region.
OHTA Do-shin and Do-kan
In the winter of 1449, OHGIGAYATSU-Uesugi Mochitomo transferred the leadership of the family to his son and retired to Kawagoe. Retirement? He was only 34 years old. Due to the chaotic situation of the Kanto region he must have needed a fortress. Therefore, he decided to construct a castle in Kawagoe. His chief retainer, OHTA Do-shin, and Do-shin's son, Do-kan, finished Kawagoe Castle in 1457. In the same year, they completed Edo Castle (and maybe Iwatsuki Castle), as well. All three of these castles had a river nearby and were located at the end of a tableland. Kawagoe Castle is also known as the "Goose Castle." It is said that wild geese, which came from north, flew over the castle in the winter time.
Bronze statue of OHTA Do-kan in front of Kawagoe City Hall
Bronze statue of OHTA Do-kan in front of Kawagoe City Hall (Map D-2)
Do-shin, Do-kan and Culture
Do-shin and Do-kan were both good warriors and good scholars. They say that Do-kan studies Japanese and Chinese writing in the temples of Kamakura, so he must have been familiar with "waka," the 31-syllable Japanese poem. As I mentioned at the beginning, "renga," based on the 31-syllable poem, was popular at that time. In 1469, Do-shin invited a master of renga named "Sogi" to Kawagoe Castle and held a renga party. This indicates that the cultural level of Kawagoe was very high. Do-kan, also, must have been at the party. Do-kan later held a big renga poem party in Edo Castle. This shows that he was not only an accomplished builder of castles but also a highly cultured person, as well.
Please visit "Honmaru-goten (Map F-2)," remaining part of Kawagoe Castle. It was built in 1848 after a fire. However, basically, it is located in the same position as the initial castle was.
'Honmaru-goten,' the remaining part of Kawagoe Castle
"Honmaru-goten," the remaining part of Kawagoe Castle
The restored 'Naka-no-mon-bori' Moat
The restored "Naka-no-mon-bori" Moat (Map E-2)
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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Illustration of Kawagoe