A Closer Look at the Ruling Clans of Matsumoto Castle

Thu, Oct 8, 2020

Japan’s Warring States Period, the Sengoku-jidai, was a century and a half of local feudal daimyo lords fighting for control of Japan. It began in 1467 with the Onin War, a ten-year affair that finished off the long-standing Ashikaga Shogunate, and ended (arguably) in 1603 with the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the great unifying force that would remain in power for the next 265 years.

It would seem logical that during those hundred and fifty years of fighting, control over the Matsumoto and the surrounding Shinano area would have changed hands many times over. It would also stand to reason that during the relative constancy of the Tokugawa shogunate Matsumoto would remain under the watch of a single clan.

History, however, has it all backward.

A single house, the Ogasawara clan, ruled over this Shinano region for almost two hundred and fifty years. They were granted power in the early 14th Century, ruling from Igawa Castle then from Hayashi Castle until Takeda Shingen came along around 1550 and broke up the party. After a fifty-year period of instability the Tokugawa clan wrested control over Japan and famously unified the country. It was during their reign, however, that Matsumoto Castle changed hands a half dozen times.

Those boxy black and white lanterns standing semi-inconspicuously all over the castle’s outer garden tell the story in subtle and minimal detail.

Today we’re going to flesh it all out.

The First Lordship of Matsumoto Castle – the Ishikawa clan (1590-1613)

Toyotomi Hideyoshi held tenuous control over Japan when, in 1590, he put Ishikawa Kazumasa in charge of the newly-established Matsumoto domain, which at that time was assessed at 100,000 koku, meaning the domain produced enough rice to feed 100,000 people each year. Ishikawa had been a loyal retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu, but switched his loyalty to Toyotomi as tensions flared between the Tokugawa and Toyotomi houses over who would eventually come to rule the country. The Ishikawa clan would manage to retain control over Matsumoto when Tokugawa Ieyasu wrested control from Toyotomi, and upon the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate Ishikawa Kazumasa would officially attain the rank of daimyo.

Matsumoto Castle was originally a simple fort called Fukashi Castle, built in 1504 to provide protection for the Ogasawara clan’s hilltop stronghold of Hayashi Castle. Upon taking up residence, Ishikawa Kazumasa and his son Yasunaga immediately began expanding the castle, by this time known as Matsumoto Castle, constructing the main tower, the tenshu; the inui-kotenshu, the tower to the northwest; the watari-yagura, the structure connecting the two; the honmaru and ni-no-maru (the inner and outer castle gardens); the walls and baileys around the castle grounds; and the Kuro-mon and Taiko-mon gates.

The Ishikawa kamon family crest is made up of three blooming sasarindo, the deep blue or sometimes purple Gentian flower. This flower’s leaves resemble those of the sasa broadleaf bamboo, and is therefore sometimes referred to by the name sasa-gentian. This is also the flower seen in the kamon of the powerful Minamoto clan, from which the Ishikawa clan claims lineage.

The (Short-lived) Return of the Ogasawara Clan (1613-1617)

Ishikawa Kazumasa died in 1609, leaving his son Yasunaga in control, a scenario that didn’t last long. In 1613, in the wake of a political scandal, the Ishikawa clan was given the boot and the Ogasawara clan was back at the helm, with Ogasawara Hidemasa becoming the new daimyo of the Matsumoto domain, now appraised at 80,000 koku. Hidemasa was succeeded by his son Tadazane, who was transferred to the Akashi domain (near present-day Kobe) in 1617, opening the door of Matsumoto Castle to the Toda Clan.

The Ogasawara emblem is the Sankaibishi, made up of three overlaid rhombuses, a derivative of the four rhombuses of the kamon of the Takeda clan.

Bloodlines of the Daimyo – The Toda Clan (1617 to 1633)

The Toda clan originated in Atsumi-gun, Mikawa, in present-day Aichi Prefecture. Another clan, the Matsudaira, is also said to have originated in Mikawa, in a village called (not surprisingly) Matsudaira, located in what is now the city of Toyota. An introduction to the Matsudaira helps clarify the position of the Toda.

The Matsudaira Clan claims to have descended from the Minamoto Clan, rulers during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333) as Japan’s first shogunate. In the course of the Warring States Period the Matsudaira Clan grew in power. In the 16th Century Matsudaira Motoyasu, a powerful regional daimyo, would change his name to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Thus the members of the Matsudaira Clan who would come to occupy Matsumoto Castle were blood relatives of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

But before the Matsudaira, the daimyo occupying Matsumoto Castle were of the Toda clan, related by blood in some convoluted way to the Matsudaira lineage. As such the Toda clan could also claim relation to the Tokugawa shogunate. As the ruling clan of Matsumoto, they would also occupy Matsumoto Castle for much longer than their Matsudaira successors.

The Toda emblem is called the Rokuyō, sometimes referred to as the Muttsu-boshi. Both names mean, in essence, Six Stars. The ‘yō’ (曜) of Rokuyō signifies the day of the week, but also carries the connotation of brightness.

Expansion of Matsumoto Castle – the Matsudaira clan (1633-1638)

After two Toda lords, Matsudaira Naomasa was given domain over Matsumoto. Upon taking over, Matsudaira heard that the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu (son of Ieyasu) would be visiting Matsumoto in the course of a trip to Zenkoji Temple further north in the present-day city of Nagano. Naomasa thus began the hurried construction of the Tsukimi-yagura, the moon-viewing tower, and the Tatsumi-tsuki-yagura, which would serve to link the Tsukimi-yagura with the rest of the castle.

Despite finishing these new structures in time for the shogun’s visit, Iemitsu never came, his traveling plans altered by rockfall in the Kiso Valley, along the Nakasendo Road.

As Tokugawa Ieyasu was born into the Matsudaira clan, the Matsudaira kamon is a variation of the Tokugawa crest, the Maru-ni-mitsuba-aoi, Three Hollyhock Leaves Within a Circle.

More Rice, Less Daimyo – the Hotta Period (1638-1642)

When Hotta Masamori was appointed daimyo of Matsumoto, the domain’s value in terms of rice yield increased from 65,000 to 100,000 koku. Masamori wasn’t around much to help with all that rice though. He was only twenty-eight when he assumed lordship of Matsumoto so physically he would have had no trouble pitching in, but as he worked closely with Tokugawa Iemitsu in the administration of the government he spent most of his time in Edo, only coming up to visit Matsumoto once a year.

Masamori would be the sole Hotta daimyo of Matsumoto. The Hotta kamon shows a kuro-mochi-tate-mokko flowering quince, a symbol also used by the legendary warrior Oda Nobunaga, representing the prosperity of one’s descendants.

Another name for the crest’s mokko is ‘wood melon’, which is as good a name as any for a guy who is never around to help out.

A Departure from the Bloodline – the Mizuno clan (1642-1725)

According to records, and despite their long-standing claims to the Minamoto heritage, the Mizuno clan seems to have descended from the Taira clan. It was the Taira clan who fought against the Minamoto clan for control over Japan in the Genpei Wars of 1180-1185; their defeat led to their exile under the new Minamoto shogunate of the new Kamakura Era.

Unlike their predecessors, the Mizuno clan was able to sustain their lordship for multiple generations – six, to be exact. They were also instrumental in the development of Genkōji Temple, located at the foot of the mountains of northeast Matsumoto. Cementing their legacy is the Mizuno Byōshō, the family cemetery, right behind the temple.

But like all good things, the Mizuno Era would have to end. In 1725 Mizuno Tadatsune went ahead and instigated a bloody incident at Edo Castle, and the clan was summarily removed from Matsumoto Castle.

The Mizuno crest consists of a flowering plant called Omodaka, or Sawatari, the “Three-leaf Arrowhead” symbol often associated with samurai.

The Return of the Toda Clan & The End of the Matsumoto Domain (1725-1869)

This second Toda lordship lasted nine generations over almost a century and a half. As fate would have it, their reign was marked by several fires, which destroyed parts of the castle and the immediate surroundings; peasant uprisings; an earthquake; and, toward the end of the Edo Era, involvement in the fighting between the shogunate and the armies supporting the return of imperial rule.

The Toda clan was the last to rule over the region before the Meiji Restoration ended the feudal system in Japan.

Finding Your Way Through the History of Matsumoto Castle

So keep your eyes open for these boxy little reminders of the clans who ruled from this castle for almost three hundred years. Because there’s a lot more to Matsumoto Castle than meets the eye.

‘国宝松本城 – Matsumoto Castle: National Treasure of Japan’