Sawayama-jo Castle (佐和山城)

Sawayama-jo Castle was a mountain castle (of which almost no trace remains today) and was located in Hikone City in Shiga Prefecture (what was once Inukami County of Omi Province). It was a key strongpoint that controlled not only Inukami County but all of Omi Province, and is famous for being the seat of power of the daimyo Mitsunari ISHIDA at the end of the sixteenth century.

The castle's history

The earliest version of Sawayama-jo Castle was erected during the Kamakura period by the Saho clan, a powerful family at that time. During the Sengoku Period (Period of Warring States), the castle fell under the control of the Asai clan; during the Genki era (1570-1573), the retainer of the Asai clan and lord of the castle, Kazumasa ISONO, began a fierce conflict with Nobunaga ODA. But in the second month of 1571, the Isono clan surrendered, and Nagahide NIWA, a vassal of the Oda clan, occupied the castle, taking the place of the Asai clan, controlling Inukami County Omi Province as well as Wakasa Province from there.

At the Kiyosu Council, which occurred in the sixth month of 1582 following the Honnoji Incident (in which Nobunaga died, betrayed by his vassal Mitsuhide AKECHI), the castle was awarded to Hidemasa HORI, who had won distinction during the hunting down of the Akechi forces, but thereafter, following a transition of the leadership of the Hori clan, it was Yoshiharu HORIO who occupied it. Still later, starting in 1590 (though theories differ as to precisely when he entered and began ruling there), Mitsunari ISHIDA, one of the Five Commissioners, took over rulership of the castle.
Mitsunari launched a large-scale repair project, constructing a towering castle with a five-storey (others claim it was a three-storey) central donjon on the mountain's summit, which lead to the saying 'Mitsunari outdid himself about two things, Sakon SHIMA and Sawayama-jo Castle.'
But Mitsunari was often away at Fushimi in order to fulfill his duties as Commissioner, so the one actually entrusted with the running of the castle was Masatsugu ISHIDA, his father.

It is thought that Mitsunari, contemplating what to do if the worst occurred and his side was defeated in the battle of Sekigahara, planned to regroup at Sawayama-jo Castle and continue the war from there.

The battle of Sawayama-jo Castle

Ieyasu TOKUGAWA, who on October 21, 1600 defeated Mitsunari at the battle of Sekigahara, sent Hideaki KOBAYAKAWA to lead the vanguard and begin a fierce assault on Sawayama-jo Castle. The majority of the castle's forces had been sent away to fight in the battle of Sekigahara, leaving the garrison's strength at 2800 men. Despite the fact that the lord of the castle was absent, the garrison fought very spiritedly and prevented the enemy from drawing close, but soon after one portion of the garrison betrayed their comrades, switched sides and guided the attackers into the castle, rendering vain all the hard fighting and making surrender inevitable. The battle lost, Mitsunari's father Masatsugu, his wife, and his other family members all either died fighting or killed themselves.

The story goes that the soldiers in the Tokugawa army, thinking 'Since Mitsunari possessed such luxury, surely the castle will be completely full of wondrous splendors,' each scrambled to be the first to break into the castle, but they discovered the castle had plain, unadorned walls, and was in fact a very spartan building without any decorations at all. Indeed, it is said (in the "Kasshi yawa" (Evening Talks of the Kasshi-cycle Year)) that the only thing of note in Mitsunari's mansion was a letter of thanks sent to Mitsunari from Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.

After the annihilation of the Ishida clan, Naomasa II, one of the Four Heavenly Guardians of the Tokugawa clan, was sent to clamp down on the area, and occupied the castle. Mitsunari had exercised benevolent government throughout his territory, making the people on his lands dearly miss him, so Naomasa planned to build a new castle at Hikone in order to sweep away all memory of Mitsunari. But Naomasa died in 1602 before construction had even begun, and so his heir Naokatsu II took over the construction plans, recycling many of the building materials used in Sawayama-jo Castle in order to complete construction of Hikone-jo Castle. After Naokatsu moved his seat of power to Hikone-jo Castle in 1606, Sawayama-jo Castle was abandoned.

Because virtually all of the materials that had originally been used to construct Sawayama-jo Castle were removed and reused in the construction of Hikone-jo Castle, almost no trace of Sawayama-jo Castle remains today, though portions of its old wall and earthen embankments can still be seen.

Other notable details concerning Sawayama-jo Castle
For a limited time only, from September 1-16, 2007, as one of the events celebrating the 400th anniversary of Hikone-jo Castle's construction, a project restoring Sawayama-jo Castle to its old appearance was held.