Kannonji-jo Castle (観音寺城)

Honmaru (the keep of a castle), Ninomaru (second bailey), Kuruwa (a space reserved for various purposes), dorui (earthen walls for fortification), Stonewalls, Moats, Monzeki (temples in which the chief priests are either members of the imperial family or nobilities), etc.
National historic site

Kannonji-jo Castle was a mountain castle, located in Azuchi-cho, Gamo County, Shiga Prefecture. The subsidiary castles were Wadayama-jo Castle, Saso-jo Castle, and Mitsukuri-jo Castle. It has been designated a national historic site.


The castle belonged to the Sasaki clan of Omi-Genji (Minamoto clan) and later to the Rokkaku clan, the Shugo (military commissioner) of Omi Province. It was the third headquarters of the Rokkaku clan, after Owaki yakata (fort) and Kongoji-jo Castle.

It was built on Mt. Kinugasa, stretched from the north to the south, and was 432.9 meters in height. The Kuruwa was laid out on the mountain slope facing south, and they built the residences for the retainers and the Kokujin ryoshu (local samurai lords). The base of the castle was made up entirely of stonewalls, which was rare for medieval castles before Azuchi-jo Castle. The castle town, Ishidera, was constructed and there were Rakuichi-rakuza (free markets and open guilds) from 1532 to 1554. It was located in a strategically important region for controlling the surrounding areas, such as large and middle-size lakes including Lake Biwa as well as the Tozan-do Road, continuing from Mino Province to Kyoto City, and the Happu-kaido Road, connecting the settlement of Choko-ji Temple to Ise City.

Although it is unknown when the castle was built, according to an old book "Taiheiki" (The Record of the Great Peace), Ujiyori ROKKAKU barricaded himself inside the castle preparing for an attack from Akiie KITABATAKE who belonged to the Southern Court (the Yoshino Court) in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, the castle had already been built at that time. However, it seems that they were still using Kannonsho-ji Temple as a fortress at that time.

Onin War

The Rokkaku clan was attacked by their kin, Mochikiyo KYOGOKU, in the Onin War that broke out in the Muromachi period, because the Rokkaku clan was allied with the Western camp. The Rokkaku clan was separated into east and west, fighting each other. In the Onin War, Kannonji-jo Castle was attacked three times.

The first battle of Kannonji-jo Castle

April 1

The son of Mochikiyo KYOGOKU, who allied with the Hosokawa family of the Eastern camp, Katsuhide KYOGOKU attacked Kannonji-jo Castle belonging to Takayori ROKKAKU. The Rusuiyaku (guards of castles when the lords were absent) of Kannonji-jo Castle, Yukitaka IBA fought against him, because both the lord, Takayori ROKKAKU and the Jindai (representatives of lords), Masatsuna YAMANOUCHI were in Kyoto, fighting in the war.

After the battle for the castle, which continued for several days, Yukitaka IBA was defeated and yielded up the castle on April 1.

The second battle of Kannonji-jo Castle

November 8

Jindai (a role), Masatsuna YAMANOUCHI finally came back from Kyoto and built up the defenses of the castle, in the beginning of November.

The allied forces of Masaaki ROKKAKU and Mochikiyo KYOGOKU, who were defeated by Takayori ROKKAKU in the Battle of Yuge, prepared for action after the first battle of Kannonji-jo Castle so as to avenge their defeat at that battle.

The allied forces of the Rokkaku and the Kyogoku clan attacked Kannonji-jo Castle on November 8 of that year.

According to "Hekizan Mokuroku," although, Masatsuna YAMANOUCHI fought against the allied forces, he eventually set the castle alight and withdrew, and the 23 military commanders, who once belonged to the side of Takayori ROKKAKU, switched allegiance to the allied forces of the Rokkaku and the Kyogoku clans.

The third battle of Kannonji-jo Castle


Katsumoto HOSOKAWA, who belonged to the Eastern camp, gained the cooperation of the Seii taishogun (great general who subdues the barbarians) and made his army an imperial army. By using this authority, he relieved Takayori ROKKAKU of the Shugo of Omi Province, and appointed Mochikiyo KYOGOKU instead to the same position in May. He not only appointed Mochikiyo KYOGOKU to be the Shugo, but also obtained a special privilege to confiscate chigyo-chi (territory) from those who did not obey Mochikiyo KYOGOKU.

Takayori ROKKAKU and his Hikan (low-level bureaucrat) were furious about the decision, rebuilt Kannonji-jo Castle, which had burned down, and barricaded them selves in it for a third time. Mochikiyo KYOGOKU sent Takatada TAGA and Masaaki ROKKAKU there to subdue them. Takayori ROKKAKU deployed Masatsuna YAMANOUCHI, Sadataka IBA and Yukitaka IBA to Kannonji-jo Castle, the subsidiary castles and surrounding fortresses to resist. Although the besieging army delivered blistering attacks, the army of Takayori ROKKAKU defended the castle well and finally succeeded in fighting off the army of Mochikiyo KYOGOKU.

Later, when the castle was attacked by the ninth Shogun Yoshihisa ASHIKAGA, twice, in August and September, due to Takayori ROKKAKU's invasion of bakufu goryochi (the land directly controlled by bakufu [Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun]), they temporarily abandoned the castle, conducted guerrilla wars in the mountains of Koka, and recaptured the castle later in both wars (the Chokyo-Entoku Wars).

Desertion of Kannonji-jo Castle

Although, the castle was rebuilt during the Sengoku period (period of warring states), in the generation of Yoshikata (Shotei) ROKKAKU and Yoshiharu ROKKAKU, they were defeated in wars such as the Battle at Norada against the Azai clan.

The Rokkaku clan fought against the great army that Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA, as the Shogun, and Nobunaga ODA, who was from Owari Province, formed in order to go to Kyoto, and after the defeat of the subsidiary castle - Mitsukuri-jo Castle on September 13, Yoshikata ROKKAKU and Yoshiharu ROKKAKU fled Kannonji-jo Castle without any resistance.

Please refer to the section of "The Battle of Kannonji-jo Castle" for more details.

It is thought Yoshikata ROKKAKU and Yoshiharu ROKKAKU could not come back to the castle again, and the castle was deserted afterward.

Present day

The castle was selected as No. 52 of Nihon 100 meijo (100 great castles in Japan) on April 6, and in those selected castles, the nationwide, Nihon 100 meijo stamp rally was begun.

The sites with stamps for the Nihon 100 meijo stamp rally
Ishidera Rakuichi Hall
Kannonsho-ji Temple

Structure of the castle

According to the literature and the research on the land, it is apparent that the Kannonji-jo Castle has been renovated several times to be the Kannonji-jo Castle today.

Kannonji-jo Castle, which probably was one of the biggest mountain castles in Japan, contains, while not certain, more than a thousand Kuruwa, which are surrounded by stonewalls. Unlike the usual characteristics of Japanese mountain castles, in which they had residences at the foot of mountains for their convenience and had facilities for combat and defense on mountaintops, the Kannonji-jo Castle had Kuruwa, which were like areas for residential complexes, comfortable to live in, throughout the entire area of the foot of the mountain, which is the biggest difference between other mountain castles in Japan.

This is thought to be due to the political position of the Rokkaku clan. From the beginning, there were many Kokujin-shu (local samurai) with independent spirits, and it is thought that the castle needed to have Kuruwa, which contain large residences, so as to help establish a coalition government with them.

Consequently, although it was one of the largest castles in Japan, it is said that it did not have simple Koguchi (castle entrances) or Tatebori (moats parallel to mountain slopes), and there were not enough defense facilities, because the castle was built for politics and to show their power rather than to defend against the attacks of enemies. The Rokkaku clan also never really hid in the castle and fought, but instead employed tactics to re-seize the castle after yielding it up, with sufficient force.

The book "Sengoku no Kenjo" (Strong castle of the Warring States period), on the other hand, presumes that the castle had a certain amount of defensive preparation. The Semekuchi (weak points of castles) of Kannonji-jo Castle were at its north and south side. If enemies attacked the castle from the south where the Rakuichi and the residences of the Rokkaku clan were located, the Hiraimaru (Kuruwa) and Ikedamaru (Kuruwa) areas were there with strong stone walls to block them; and if enemies tried to send troops to the flatland at the skirt of the mountain, there was a possibility of a pincer drive by the armies from Mitsukuri-jo Castle and Chokoji-jo Castle, the subsidiary castles of Kannonji-jo Castle. Although its north side, in the direction of Mt. Azuchi (now Azuchi-jo Castle) did not have any Kuruwa for the defense, they created a defense line along the mountain ridge by creating Kirigishi (bluff) and huge earthworks. The book "Sengoku no Kenjo" points out that in fact the castle probably utilized the mountain ridge itself as its earthworks.

Later, mountain castles advanced and their defense systems also changed, from the single defense line to Kuruwa related defense after they altered the shape and disposition of Kuruwa. Considering the architectural technology at that time, Kannonji-jo Castle was a strong fortress and it is thought that it was still developing.


The height of the Honmaru was 395 meters, had an area of 2,000 square meters, and there are remains of the foundation stone, closed conduit drainage, Tamemasu (set up on a drain to block sand or dirt going through) and the Ote stone stairs four meters wide left as the main structural remnants. It is also said that a facility called 'Nikai goten' (the upper story palace) was there.


The Hiraimaru was 375 meters tall, had an area of 1,700 square meters, and the residences of the Hirai clan were probably located in this place. It is the Kuruwa with the largest stone walls and stone mounds to be found in Kannonji-jo Castle. There are the distinctive remains of a Koguchi, 3.8 meters high and 32 meters in length. A stone more than two meters long was also used in its construction. The Moguri gate (hatch), 80 centimeters in width and 1.3 meters high, is located on its south side. Also on its northeast side, remains of a building with a covering and an attaching garden were found.


The Ikedamaru was 365 meters tall, had an area of 2,700 square meters, and it acted as the doorway connecting to the residence of important people in the Honmaru. This Kuruwa was separated into the south Kuruwa and the north Kuruwa, surrounded by mud walls, and the remains such as Shuden (main building of residence) with a garden attached, and Tamemasu were dug up from the south Kuruwa area.


The remains of Awajimaru (Kuruwa), in which the residence of the Fuse clan used to be, are located independently at the east edge of the Kannonji-jo Castle site, and the direction is regarded as Kimon (the northeastern [unlucky] direction).

It measures 43 meters from east to west, 50 meters from north to south, surrounded by Dorui and there are stone walls inside and outside of the Dorui at its east, west, and south. This Kuruwa has three Koguchi on its southwest, middle of the west, and northeast. There also are the remains of Koshiguruwa (the compound bounded by earthworks) on the upper and lower parts of the mountain slope across the street from the south of the Kuruwa, and it is thought to be a part of Awajimaru.

The Dorui that surrounded the Kuruwa and its simple construction style is similar to that of Fuseyama-jo Castle and Omori-jo Castle, belonging to the Fuse clan, and it is one of the characteristics of Awajimaru.

Other Kuruwa

Many Kuwuwa remain today.

Kannon-ji Temple

It is said that those Kuruwa were named after people's names, and they were not numbered like 'Ninomaru' or 'Sannomaru.'
This is probably because Sadayori ROKKAKU implemented Shirowari (breaking castles), and made his liegemen and Kokujin-shu live in Kannonji-jo Castle, for the first time in literature.

The Otate (a government office belonging to a lord) of the Rokkaku clan

Turn right at the entrance of Akasaka-do Road (赤坂道) that is the Sando (approach to temples for pilgrimage) connecting to Kannonsho-ji Temple, go up the stone stairway at the far end, and there are the remains of the Otate that belonged to the Rokkaku clan. The place called the 'Kamigoyo residence' that used to be surrounded by Dorui and Kirigishi has on its southeast side some high stonewalls that remain.

It is located on the skirt of Mt. Kinugasa, which is close to the castle town of Ishidera-jo Castle.

Ishidera Rakuichi

Ishidera Rakuichi was held in a place which is now known as Oaza-ishidera, Azuchi-cho, Gamo County. Rakuichi was a market, in which people were able to trade freely without any taxes. Ishidera Rakuichi was the first Rakuichi held in a castle town to be recorded in literature. The palace-names, connected to the air of the castle town from that time, such as Shimogoyoyashiki, Inunobaba and Babamichi still remain in this area.

The book, "Nihon Jokaku Taikei" (A collection of Japanese castles) points out that there probably was another Rakuichi somewhere but in Oaza-ishidera, Azuchi-cho, Gamo County. The book mentions that since there were many samurai residences built in this area of Oaza-ishidera, the size of the Rakuichi should had been small if it was located in the area. Although the old literature, mentions about Ishidera Rakuichi, it contains a place name 'Honaicho,' which is not located in Oaza-ishidera. There is a place related to the place-name 'Honaicho' in Oaza-higashioiso, Azuchi-cho, Gamo County, next to Oaza-ishidera, and it is said that there were about 3,000 residences built around the area on Honaicho. The book points out that Rakuichi was first held in Oaza-ishidera, and then was probably later opened in Oaza-higashioiso too.

Ishidera Rakuichi also influenced Rakuichi in Azuchi-jo Castle that is located close-by.

Not only Rakuichi but also the remains of the site of Inuoumono (dog-hunting event, a skill of archery) bajo is located in Oaza-ishidera, and here the Sasaki house of Japanese horseback archery technique was probably initiated. A picture of Inuoumono remains today, and it is said to be a copy of the one that was put up in the second floor of the residence for important people that used to be located in the Honmaru of Kannonji-jo Castle.

Subsidiary Castles

The existence of many subsidiary castles is one of the characteristics of Kannonji-jo Castle.

There were probably many kinds of subsidiary castles, and some acted as castles and branch castles, and some acted just as residences.

Access to the Site

Access by Trains
Azuchi Station on the Biwako Line, West Japan Railway Company (JR West)
Azuchi Station=>Walk for 40 min=> Kuwanomi-dera Temple=>Walk for 30 min=>The remains of Kannonji-jo Castle (Honmaru)
Access by Car
Meishin Expressway=>Yokaichi interchange=>National Route 421=>National Route 8=>Kannonji-sanrindo Tollway
There is a parking space at the end of the line. Other ways for accessing the site are also available.

[Original Japanese]