Ōtawarajō was built in 1545 by Ōtawara Sukekiyo of the Ōtawara Clan who were vassals of the Nasu Clan during the Sengoku Period. In 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi fought a campaign against the powerful Hōjō Clan in Kantō. The Nasu did not want to get involved but the Ōtawara Clan and neighbouring Ōzeki Clan wanted to assist Hideyoshi. The leader of the Ōzeki, based at Kurobanejō not far from Ōtawarajō, was Ōzeki Takamasu, the uncle of Ōtawara Clan leader Ōtawara Harukiyo. They both defied the Nasu to ally with Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Siege of Odawara, and as a reward the Ōtawara Clan was enfiefed with holdings of 7,000 koku. During the Battle of Sekigahara, the Ōtawara sided with Tokugawa Ieyasu and he awarded them with a further 5,000 koku. The Ōtawara's luck backing winners seemed never to run out. Unlike many neighbouring clans, including the Ōzeki, in 1868 the Ōtawara did not side with the Shogunate, but joined the revolution of the Imperialists, and as a result Ōtawarajō was attacked by Loyalists from Aizu and the palace in the third bailey was razed. After the Meiji Restoration the new government had no need for castles such as Ōtawarajō and in 1873 it was abandoned and its structures were dismantled. During the Mid-Edo Period, Ōtawarajō's Omote-chūōmon (Central Front Gate) was relocated to a nearby temple. It burnt down in 1825 but was thereafter reconstructed. Even though it's not an original structure from the castle, it does represent one. The gate is at Kōshinji and, whilst I didn't visit because I didn't realise how close it was to the castle, it turns out it's only a few minutes' walk away, and so is probably worth a look.
Ōtawarajō is a hirayamajiro (a castle built around a hilltop and expanding onto flatland) ruin. It has dorui (earth-piled ramparts), moats and several cleared baileys. A small mizubori (water moat) segment is preserved at the foot of the hill (next to the car park) in the former Nishi-Kuruwa (West Bailey): it is shown here frozen over. The high ramparts are impressive and it's interesting to see how the natural terrain was sculpted into a fortification. The honmaru (main bailey) is ringed by high ramparts and it is pleasant to stroll around them. The north bailey is terraced. The lower north bailey runs adjacent to the road and bridge over the river: traditionally this road is the Ōshū-Kaidō, one of the five major transit routes of the Edo Period. The castle's main entrance opened out onto this road, along which were stables and bukeyashiki (samurai residences). A path from the north bailey loops around the back of the honmaru. If you look over the river from here you can see a large modern onsen building built very vaguely to look like a castle tower. The honmaru and ninomaru were connected by an earthen bridge and both were accessible from a gate at the foot of the hill. The honmaru and the sannomaru (third bailey) both once contained go'den (palaces).
|English Name||Otawara Castle|
|Castle Condition||Ruins only|
|Designations||Local Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Pre Edo Period|
|Artifacts||Dorui, mizubori, baileys, trenches, relocated gate|
|Features||water moats, trenches|
|Access||Nishi-Nasuno Station on the Tohoku Main Line|
|Visitor Information||Free 24/7|
|Time Required||1 hour|
|Location||Otawara, Tochigi Prefecture|
|Coordinates||36° 52' 6", 140° 2' 5"|
|Year Visited||Viewer Contributed|
|Added to Jcastle||2018|