45 new Nagano castles by ART
45 new Nagano Pref. castles by ART
Yes, you read that right. 45 new profiles, all in Nagano Prefecture. ART is joining the ranks of the legendary Nagano castle explorers. Even if you don't click through to read many of the profiles in depth, I encourage you to skim his notes summarized below for the castles. There are some great adventures in here.
Between the shukuruwa and the other ruins is a very narrow ridge. The whole site is quite overgrown and fallen branches and trees are strewn everywhere. The shukuruwa contains an azumaya (gazebo thing). Maybe it was once a viewing platform. But now everything is mouldering. There is a fallen utility pole. The neighbourhood seems to be a mountain retreat, but some hotels are now abandoned. It seems that the castle ruin has also been neglected. In the neighbourhood some people produce honey, which attracts bears. Luckily I had my bell with me. The desolation of the site had me quite on edge.The lower portions of the castle ruin had some more kuruwa (baileys) and nicely shaped yokobori (lateral trenches).
Between each integral bailey is a large horikiri (trench), the horikiri between the shukuruwa and minami-kuruwa being the deepest. The shukuruwa, which is roughly oval in shape, has the deformed remains of dorui (earth-piled ramparts) ensconcing it. An ido (well) is also to be found in the shukuruwa, toward the southern end. There is evidence of terracing along the lower slopes of the mountain.In order to reach Hatayamajō one must take a long, winding utility road and follow signs marking the "historical trail" and those indicating a temple ruin. The castle is not mentioned specifically but when one almost comes to the temple ruins it is to be found along a road veering to the left. There is a map here on which the castle is identified. I didn't have time to inspect the temple ruins, unfortunately, but they seem to be the main attraction on the mountain, with signposts for it even in the village of Hata below. The village of Hata has a main road with old, vernacular dwellings along it. There are several more fortification and temple ruins there.
The climb to the main area of the castle is well signalled and easy enough. The integral baileys are cleared and excellent views of the valley and opposite mountain chain can be enjoyed from there. There is a trail leading on beyond the shukuruwa (main bailey) which passes over lots of trenches. And that is where any smart person would end their investigation of Hirasejō.
However, I am not that person. I complicated my route to the northern branch of the castle with an abortive shortcut so I made it harder than necessary. To reach the northern branch one has to first climb on up the mountain well past the main area of the castle up to the point that the northern ridge and the central ridge meet at the peak, and then descend. The going is steep. The baileys of the northern castle are covered in fallen trees. These block the path and create a challenging obstacle course. I climbed up a shambolic collection of fallen trees which looked like a naked teepee to try to get a good look at the main area of the castle from across the ravine, but a tall tree still partially obscurred the view.And then there's the southern castle. This is passed on the way to the main castle from the trail head. I left it until last. First one crosses a stream at the point that a large tree has fallen down. Then the ridge sweeps upward. It was like a real life game of snakes and ladders. Fallen trees were my ladders since I could walk along and up them to make the going easier. Every wrong footfall was a snake, as gravity sought to do its wicked work in sending me rolling like a stone discarded by the mountain down its slopes. Luckily I didn't fall.
The ruins of Hisawajō consist of four integral baileys alligned in a row (hashigo "ladder" layout) with the shukuruwa (main bailey) furthest back. I came first to the sannokuruwa (third bailey) which is separated from the ninokuruwa (second bailey) by a wide karabori (dry moat). The third bailey looms over the fourth, which is directly below it with only the ramparts of the sannokuruwa separating them. The ninokuruwa is terraced, is somewhat overgrown in parts and contains a pylon. This bailey is the least maintained, but progressing on past another large trench one comes to the shukuruwa, which is nice and cleared.Throughout the site sub-baileys are everywhere carved into the mountainside surrounding the four principle baileys. Scattered around are some stones once used at the castle, but I found no ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts). Adjacent to the site is a sub-fortification called Fort Nagabayashi.
The castle site is situated on a promontory which extends from the lower slopes of the alps into the plain. This peninsula of rock is an easy-to-defend location, and its clifffaces encompassed three baileys of the castle with the castle town beyond. The sannomaru (third bailey) is now largely developed over but here one finds the extant gatehouse with attached bansho (guardhouse), an impressive red in colour, which was the entrance to a small bailey within the sannomaru called the Sakura-maru, likely containing a palatial residence. Formerly the hankō (Domain School) was also located in the sannomaru.
The ninomaru (second bailey) now features an art museum and preserved Meiji Period structures. Some gates and walls have been reconstructed here in the style of the castle. An aqueduct runs by which is another ruin of the castle. Separating the ninomaru from the honmaru (main bailey) is a deep trench, which is the way by which I exited the castle ruin, but not before first seeing the honmaru, which is now the site of a shrine, Osahime-jinja. Beyond the honmaru was another trench and smaller bailey interestingly called Yamabushi-maru, but this has now been built over by a hotel (called "Sky Castle Hotel", though it doesn't look like castle), although it formerly contained storehouses full of the domain's treasure. A path originally ran down the hillside from the honmaru for ease of access, guarded at the base of the mount by guardhouses, but this path is now overgrown with bamboo.After visiting the castle proper I proceeded to see the relocated yaguramon which now forms the grand entrance to a country villa. This residence, set on the hillside overlooking the alpine countryside, thrilled my aesthetic sensibilities, and it struck me as being more castle-like than the castle ruin itself. The main dwelling is built in the vernacular style of lower Shinano, and the castle gate, which was bought at auction from the castle when it was decommissioned in 1871, is flanked on both sides by rowhouse-like structures and stores. The stately home is even fronted by a moat and stone ramparts. Much I marveled here before eventually making my way to the castle-shaped sweet shop.
The trail to the castle went past some old rice paddies, long since dried up. There was ishigaki (stone-pilings) here, or the remants thereof, and here and there it could be seen, presumably of considerable age, some of it covered in lush moss. These terraced open areas seemed too big and too low down from the actual castle to be usual of sites in the area, but I didn't wonder, because of the stone blocks all strewn around, if I wasn't looking at some kind of medieval residential area for bushi, and I was reminded of Ichijōdanijō. However, no resources mention such a thing and so long-abandoned rice paddies is the best explanation. The stone terraces were probably built in the Edo Period and incorporated stones formerly used to clad ramparts at the castle above. Some stones are still scattered about up there, particularly on the eastern side of the main bailey. The ishigaki even extended down to the river, making for some beautiful scenery, though hard to get a good view of.
The path continued, sometimes quite perilously, alongside these old paddies, if indeed that's what they were, and mouldering pilings of stoneblocks extended even further on than that. I came to a clearing just beyond a point below the uppermost bailey of the castle ruin because the ridge extending down here looked manageable. It was next to a large trench. Gradually I climbed up, using trees when I could to latch onto them, and otherwise progressing in a zigzagging fashion. Eventually I got high enough to cross the trench and clamber up into the uppermost bailey. There are no trails to the castle ruin itself. One just has to pick a good place to directly assault the slopes. Coming down is usually more dangerous under these conditions, and once again I made use of trees, hopping left or right from one to the other and using them to stop myself falling down. Once I got low enough though the terrain became less steep and I shouted "geronimo" and ran into one of the cleared terraces, running half way across it before I could slow down. And so that's the kind of adventure it was! I cannot recommend it for everyone.Miyaharajō is probably the only yamajiro (mountain castle) that I have explored by starting at the very top and going down. Probably I could've found a better route up after all. The trench I first entered is to protect the top of the castle. Only the natural mountain extends beyond that. Here is the uppermost bailey. There is a triple trench system after this, protecting the shukuruwa (main bailey). Beyond the shukuruwa and another trench a second and third bailey are present amongst terracing and embankments. A final trench separates these integral baileys from a series of stair-like mini-baileys descending the ridge at odd angles.