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Castle Towns of Kaetsu - Murakami and Shibata MAY, 2024

I had the opportunity to go to Niigata and toured the castle towns of Shibata, Murakami in the Kaetsu area. Both are experiencing a boom in the 100 famous castles in recent years, and it seems that they are trying to turn castle towns into tourist destinations. When I think of Shibata, I think of Kihachiro Okura and Yasubei Horibe, one of the 48 Ronin who was adopted into the Ako clan's vassal, and when I think of Murakami, I think of Shigenaga Honjo, a fierce general of the Uesugi army, and the home of Empress Masako, the Owada family of Murakami clan's vassal.

When I went there, I got the impression that it would be difficult for Shibata City, which has been incorporated into the Niigata metropolitan area and is losing its castle town atmosphere, and Murakami City, which still has a strong castle town atmosphere but is becoming depopulated, to actively promote tourism on their own. Although it is far from the Joetsu area, the home base of Kenshin Uesugi, there is no reason not to take advantage of its big name, and if they cooperate widely, including Yonezawa and Aizu, it could become a very interesting tourist spot.

In another article, I introduced Echigo as one of the provinces in Japan that achieved the most dramatic increase in rice production during the Edo period. While the yield was around 400,000 koku during the Keicho era, by the end of the Edo period it had increased by nearly three times to around 1.15 million koku. The two great rivers, the Shinano River and the Agano River, flowed into the Sea of Japan and formed large sand dunes, which became natural levees during periods of flooding, causing flooding throughout the plains, resulting in widespread lagoons and marshes. Large-scale flood control works (rerouting of river channels, levees, development of new rice fields) began to progress in earnest during the politically stable Edo period, with the contributions of the Shibata Domain in particular being significant, which raised the yield from an initial 60,000 koku to an actual 400,000 koku.

Some local people are working to restore Shibata Castle, but the castle's layout and townscape have been significantly damaged since the 16th Army Regiment was stationed here after the Meiji period, and the area around Shibata Station and the former shopping district are now deserted and almost deserted, giving the impression that there are very few native Shibata people left who will be responsible for the restoration of the castle town.


In the midst of all this, Zoshunkaku, a guesthouse built in Mukojima by Shibata-born businessman Kihachiro Okura, was relocated and opened to the public in April 2023. The list of businesses he created is endless, but many of them, including Taisei Corporation, Sapporo Beer, Hotel Okura, Nisshin Oil Mills, and Tokyo Electric Power Company, are still supporting Japan's economy today. Originally built for entertaining in Mukojima, it was a villa that welcomed domestic and foreign guests while admiring the Sumida River, and it had a great collection of paintings and furnishings. Shibata Castle, the feudal lord's garden, Shimizu-en, and Zoshunkaku are must-sees when in Shibata.

Murakami's history dates back to the Middle Ages, when the area was originally a manor (Koizumi Manor in Iwafune County) owned by the Nakamikado clan (a descendant of Yorimune, the illegitimate son of Michinaga), but Yoritomo Minamoto sent members of the Chichibu clan, who had distinguished themselves in the Genpei War, to serve as land stewards, and these clans took the name of Honjo. The Honjo clan built Murakami Castle and became a powerful force in northern Echigo under Shigenaga Honjo, who served Kenshin Uesugi. During the time when the Niigata Plain was a marshland and did not have much economic power, it was an important strategic base for Kenshin to control the Mogami clan of Yamagata, the Date clan of Yonezawa, and the Ashina clan of Aizu. Shigenaga Honjo allied with Takeda Shingen for a time, but after Hideyoshi unified the country, he worked with Uesugi as an important vassal and left Murakami to serve as Fukushima Castle lord.

Unlike Shibata, which was consistently ruled by the outside Mizoguchi family throughout the Edo period, Murakami Domain saw a rapid succession of feudal lords in the first half of the Edo period, but from the first half of the 18th century onwards the Naito family entered the domain with a fief of 50,000 koku and ruled until the end of the Edo period. The founder of the domain was Ieyasu's half-brother and joined the Oshu-Uetsu Alliance, but during the resistance, the feudal lord Nobutami committed suicide and the resistance-supporting elder retainer Sanjuro Torii committed seppuku, and the domain was allowed to continue to exist. There is a monument to Sanjuro Torii inside Fujimoto Shrine.

The Murakami Festival has been held since the early Edo period, and the floats that are pulled around here are called "Oshagiri" locally and can be seen at the museum. The famous castle and castle town that connects the Middle Ages to the early modern period can be felt at the museum, the samurai residence (Wakabayashi residence) that stands next to it, and Maizuru Park.

A few years ago, Jiro Asada published "Daimyo Bankruptcy," which was made into a movie last year. It seems to have been written based on the Murayama Domain, but it is completely fictional, and is different from the facts except that it is a small fudai domain on the Sea of Japan coast and is famous for salmon. Salmon has a long history, having been presented to the Imperial Court since the Heian period, and during the Edo period, the domain successfully multiplied salmon in the Miomote River. Next time, I would like to enjoy it with my favorite local sake, "Shimeharizuru."

1 Comment

May 19

Thank you for this interesting and educational entry. It does indeed seem like Murakami and Shibata has the opportunity to market the region as a very worthwhile tourist destination, especially for us who are interested in history.


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