Japanese Castle Explorer

by Daniel O'Grady

Samurai's Blood Strongholds of the Samurai: Japanese Castles 250-1877

Hitoyoshi Castle

Images: Daniel O'Grady


Hitoyoshi Domain

1588 - 1871

Sagara Clan

22,000 Koku

Hitoyoshi Castle is classified as a hilltop castle (its layout: Teikakushiki), and is located in Kumamoto Prefecture. During the pre-modern age, it found itself within the borders of Higo Province. It is associated with the Sagara clan. Dates in use: 1199 - 1871.

Not an imposing castle but it has proved to be an enduring one. Thirty-five generations of the Sagara clan ruled the southern part of what is now Kumamoto Prefecture for almost 700 years. This is truly staggering given that changing loyalties & constant warfare could almost be considered normal in the age of the Samurai.

Hitoyoshi Castle's grounds are in excellent condition. Quite often you see overgrown & neglected castle ruins, but that isn't the case here. Everything is trimmed & well defined and it looks to have gotten to this state through slow but steady, regular maintenance.

The story of the Horiai Gate is a little bit odd. The original gate now serves as the front gate to an old samurai house a short distance west of the castle. There's nothing too odd about that, but instead of moving it back to the castle during recent restoration work, an exact replica was rebuilt at the original location.


1198 Sagara Nagayori ambushed & defeated the then ruler of the castle, Yase Kazumayu. The Yase clan had been vassals of the Taira clan.
1199 Yorikage rebuilt the castle. At that time a stone was found in the shape of the crescent moon, thus giving the castle the nickname of Sengetsu castle.
1589 Renovation of the castle's stone walls commenced.
1594 The castle town was established.
1639 The rebuilding of the castle was completed.
1802 A major fire destroyed all buildings. They were subsequently rebuilt.
1862 Another major fire ravaged the castle. All buildings were again rebuilt.
1871 The castle was abandoned.
1877 The whole of Hitoyoshi became a battleground during the Seinan rebellion.
1931 The Hitoyoshi castle grounds were purchased from the Sagara family by the town.
1993 The Tamon & Sumi turrets along with a long wall were rebuilt.

Historical recognition

SiteNational Historic Site
Otate Gomon Bridge Prefecturally designated important cultural asset
Horiai Gate City designated important cultural asset