4 Castle Hike in Gunma (Takasaki)

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4 Castle Hike in Gunma (Takasaki)

2020/08/23


This next update is a four castle, 15km hike around the south side of Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. For this trip, part of the hike goes along the well groomed Takasaki Nature Trail starting from Yamana Station. If you are interested in history that predates castles, side trips from the trail can take you to 3 of the oldest stelae in Japan. See here for more details. https://www.city.takasaki.gunma.jp/info/sanpi/en/01.html

Takasaki is one of my favorite starting points for castle day trips from Tokyo. The Takasaki line gets you there in about 90 minutes from Ueno without having to take a shinkansen. Once you are in Takasaki there are a lot of fantastic sites that are reachable from local trains and busses including Matsuida Castle, Iwabitsu Castle, Minowa Castle, Obata Jin'ya, Takatome Castle and their nearby castles which allow you to organize nice clusters of castles for a fulfilling day trip. Side trips to samurai homes or the Tomioka Silk Mill can also round out a day in the mountains of western Gunma.


Negoya Castle / 根小屋城

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The second castle along the hike from Yamana Castle to Terao Naka Castle was Negoya Castle and it was definitely the highlight of the day. For such a short lived castle it is surprisingly complex and well developed.

Negoya Castle is along the same ridge from Yamana Castle (about 20 mins hike along the Takasaki Nature Trail). It's a fairly complex and well fortified castle for such a border castle. The main parts of the castle are well signposted, which I've tried to capture in some of the photos, but for the adventurous ones you can plow on through some high grasses or hike down a couple of the bigger tatebori to find more trenches.

The original name of the castle is unknown. The name Negoya Castle comes from the town name, but Negoya is not actually unique to this area. It is an old name used for the area around the foot of any mountaintop castle. It is where the guards and soldiers stationed at the castle lived (slept; thus neru > ne) when they were not on duty at the castle. You often see "negoya" as a place name near mountaintop castles. In this case, it was likely that the town was the negoya for Yamana Castle which existed first.
Terao Chausuyama Castle / 寺尾茶臼山城

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Terao Chausuyama Castle was the third castle along the castle hike this day. You can continue along the Takasaki Nature Trail until the highway, but you'll need to break off and go into the residential area and walk a few more blocks to reach this castle in the middle of the town. Alternatively, if you come direct from the station there is a more direct route to get to the castle which you can figure out from Google Maps on your own.

If you come from the South Bailey (Minami Kuruwa) side it seems to suddenly rise up from the middle of the residential area. This side of the castle mountain was actually flattened to make way for the apartments and parking area. It did not originally look like this.

Terao Chausuyama Castle is a small castle, but the trenches and earthworks have been well preserved and signposted making it an easy and enjoyable castle visit.
Terao Naka Castle / 寺尾中城

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This is the fourth and final castle along the trail starting from Yamana Castle and nearly the end of my castle hike starting from Yamana Castle. The castle itself is a fairly simple ridgeline castle with small baileys and some trenches and a notable 20m stretch of "dobashi" where the ridge was cut down to a narrow corridor. Most explanations for this castle tell you to go to the Kannon Mountain Family Park and take the walking course from the parking lot which will quickly get you to the castle ruins, but you need a car to get there. There are also a few busses from Takasaki Station to the Kannon Mountain Family Park if the timing works for you. Having come from Terao Chausuyama Castle I was not interested in a long boring walk along a highway to the top of the mountain so I looked to some of the roads at the base of the mountain to see if there might be a trail going up. The first road ended at a construction company, but the second one I tried ended at the bottom of the park with a sign for the castle! If you want to go from the bottom of the mountain in the residential area you should be able to figure out which road it was by looking at the map of photos. The northernmost map marker is the trail entrance with a convenient map and sign.
Yamana Castle / 山名城

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Yamana Castle was the first stop of a 15km hike that included Negoya Castle, Terao Chausuyama Castle and Terao Naka Castle. Part of the hike goes along the Takasaki Nature Trail which is a very nicely groomed hiking trail. I wouldn't mind hiking more of that trail I had a chance to.

Yamana Castle was a really interesting site. First, on the way to the castle you'll find a well preserved kofun that you can climb inside. Outside the kofun is the Yamanoue Stela, one of only 18 surviving stelae from the Asuka/Nara Period. 3 of these are in Gunma around Takasaki, making them a source of pride for the area. There is even a local free bus that visits them all several times a day on the weekends. On this day, I only visited this one, but for for more information visit this site: https://www.city.takasaki.gunma.jp/info/sanpi/en/01.html

There are no good maps or signs on the castle site but if you know your way around mountain castles and have some diagram or map with you, you can take some time to explore the site. Most people will follow the trail to the main bailey and go home (I talked with one such person), but to find the really interesting parts you need to go off trail and scramble around the brush and fallen trees and through some horikiri to find the rest of the much more interesting parts of this castle

The Kibe Clan had a Fortified Manor 2.5km to the east of here, but nothing remains of the castle today so I skipped it on this stop.
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