3 new castles and 2 yakata in Saitama

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3 new castles and 2 yakata in Saitama

2020/08/21


This update adds 5 new castles to Saitama Prefecture. It's getting more and more difficult to put together a day trip around Tokyo that includes multiple castles. This day trip picks up some castles that I skipped on other trips to Saitama in prioritizing more famous or easier to reach sites. The highlight of the day was Yamada Castle.

One common thread among all these castles is that their early origins are unknown or based in legends. The only reliable records start to appear in the late Sengoku Period or in relation to the Siege of Odawara. Some of the published "local histories" (not just Saitama but all over the country) that were largely written in the late Edo Period or later attempt to patch together local legends, historical events, and famous people. Sometimes they put more importance on sites or events than they actually warrant without real historical scholarship. Any of these local histories written in this time period should be taken with a grain of salt and cross checked with other sources where possible. Unfortunately, many signs at castle sites were written many years ago and/or simply rely on these local histories that they had at hand without being updated with more modern research. Where possible I rely more on books and articles written in the past 30 years over signs at castles so occasionally there are differences.


MinamotoTsunemoto3.jpg

This castle is basically a simple single bailey castle with trenches around the outside and an earthen embankment on the inside. It's small, but definitely worth the 10+ min walk from the station. The site is very well preserved and well signposted. As with many small castles from the Sengoku Period or earlier, the early history of this castle is a mystery. Google Maps and the signs on the site call it "Minamoto no Tsunemoto Yakata" so I'm using that as the main name here. It is also listed as such on most of my other materials and books. One book, however, uses Mita Castle preferring this theory over others.
Odori Castle / 青鳥城 

Odori9.jpg

Despite having a rich history and being a Prefectural Historic Site, most of this vast castle has been developed over by a residential area, some fields and an old hotel that looks abandoned. The main features visible are the trench and embankments around part of the Honmaru Bailey. The center of the honmaru is a vegetable field and some fruit trees. The trench is quite deep and the high embankments make it interesting to visit if you can find your way into them and through the trees and bamboo that have grown over most of the trench. The castle is about a 30 minute walk from Shinrin Koen Station, but there is also a bicycle rental shop near the station where you can rent a bicycle to visit not only Odori Castle but also Sugaya Yakata and Ogura Castle or others if interested. The area is rich with great castle ruins and Odori is the first after Matsuyama Castle (Saitama) connecting all the way to Hachigata Castle including Sugaya Yakata, Sugiyama Castle, Ogura Castle, Koshigoe Castle, and Hachigata Castle. All of these are must-see castles. I would like to revisit them all, but unfortunately, Odori Castle is probably the only castle in Japan that I never want to visit again. There is some kind of fertilizer or industrial waste processing facility in the Ninomaru that creates a stench that permeates every inch of the grounds. It's nearly unbearable. I can't imagine what the site would be like on a humid August day instead of a cold dry January one.
Takasaka Yakata / 高坂館 

Takasaka7.jpg

If you look at the map of the castle territory and ruins you will see that it is much larger than the typical yakata or Fortified Manor. These remains date to when the site was used by the Hojo to launch attacks on Matsuyama Castle. Unfortunately, very little remains to be seen here today but at least it's just a short walk from the station... or a very long walk from Ohdori Castle !
Yamada Castle / 山田城

Yamada24.jpg

Hidden away inside the Shinrin Koen (aka Musashi Kyuryo National Park), is this little gem of a castle. The castle ruins are very well preserved. It is basically a single bailey fortification with a deep trench around the outside. The inside also has some more earthen embankments that split the interior into 3 or 4 sections, one of which has an additional trench and may have been living quarters. The castle is near the park entrance and well signposted, unlike Yamazaki Castle (Saitama) which is also in the same park. It is not difficult to get to, is well preserved, has good signage and should be a must see Saitama castle ruin.

YamazakiSaitama1.jpg

While visiting Yamada Castle you should also walk up to Yamazaki Castle too. They're both in the same park along the same walking path. Unfortunately, there are no signs identifying this castle site. If you just walk along the path from Yamada Castle, you will run into a sign for the Kamakura Highway and soon run into some obvious castle-like trenches and embankments. This is the castle site. Hopefully the photos here will help as well. The design of this castle is a little less like most castles you've probably seen. There is a U shaped trench and embankment starting from the top of the hill and going down. On the far side of the ridge is also small bailey and lookout which is also appropriately positioned to watch rival castles across the valley.
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