26 New Nagano Prefecture Castle from ART

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26 New Nagano Prefecture Castle from ART

2021/10/01


Just in time for the autumn castle season to begin, ART brings us 26 new castle sites in Nagano Prefecture to explore. Are there any left to post here? Or have we seen everything there is to offer in Nagano? Only time will tell...

If you haven't seen ART's Japanese Castles Facebook page, check it out as well. All these photos and more have been posted there at some point or will be soon.


 

Akiba Fort / 秋葉砦

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The site of this fort is now a shrine and park. The small shrine appears built into the fort's dorui (earthen ramparts). Some more clumps of dorui are located toward the slope, indicating that the fort's bailey was here. After that there are no obvious ruins, though I might guess that some terracing I saw on the climb up may have been part of the fort's extended footprint. The site is, as mentioned, now a park, and during my visit there were many beautiful flowers in blossom, including wisteria (fuji, 藤) thickly coating a pergola.
 
Asahiyama Castle / 旭山城

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I proceeded to climb up to Asahiyama Castle after visiting Koshibami Castle below. The yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin consists of large horikiri (trenches), many baileys, ishigaki (stone wall) remnants, and dorui (earthen ramparts). The ishigaki can be found in the area composed of terraced sub-baileys ahead of the shukuruwa (main bailey), near the horikiri. This horikiri, by the way, is large enough that a family home could disappear into it. The shukuruwa is surrounded by dorui. Large baileys cluster the mountaintop in a row beyond the shukuruwa, interspersed with trenches. From the bailey furthest out there are fine views to be had of Nagano from a look-out area.
 
Azumi Furumaya Castle / 安曇古厩城

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The site of Furumayajō is now the temple Shōshin'in and no ruins remain. I was surprised there wasn't more to see at the main base of this noteworthy clan, but it seems that they probably didn't need to excessively fortify it since they also had possession of Koiwatake Castle nearby, which was a more effective redoubt. The site being on otherwise usable land, it was quickly developed over after the castle's abandonment.
 
Azumi Iwahara Castle / 安曇岩原城

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Iwaharajō is a medieval yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin featuring kuruwa (baileys), koshikuruwa (sub-baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches), dobashi (earthen bridges), tatebori (climbing trenches) and other earthworks, as well as some residual stonework. The castle’s profile is fairly narrow, following the ridgeline of the mountain. The shukuruwa (main bailey) is in the centre, and an outer, upper bailey is surrounded by some trenches where the ridgeline forks. The lower bailey spur continues on along a downward sweeping ridge, ending in a straggling bailey with a large boulder. Below here the ridge becomes very narrow and would’ve been easy to defend from the bailey’s ramparts. The castle’s ôte (main entry path) winds up from the mountain foot below, going beneath a long series of terraced mini baileys which form a tertiary spur of the castle layout. The sites most prominent features are its large trenches, and the horikiri to the rear of the shukuruwa is particularly large and deep. All in all, the castle is a worthwhile yamajiro to visit. At the base of the mountain, where the castle’s kyokan (residential area) may have been, there is also a lot of ishigaki. These stone-piled retaining walls represent the ruins of a temple called Anrakuji. A stone stupa (specifically a hōkyōintō) survives the temple and has been relocated to the village below. The path to the castle goes past the Yamaguchi Shōya Yashiki, the Edo Period residence of the magistrate of Horigane village, and in between two parts of the Aźumino geo-cultural park which feature rural scenes such as terraced fields.
 
Azumi Mondo Castle / 安曇主水城

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Ah, the wasabi pits of Aźumi! The area is famous for its wasabi. Because many ditches have been dug and embankments heaped up for the production of this plant, it is difficult to tell what earthworks, if any, might belong to the fortification. Plus the ditches and streams form a maze like terrain, much of it on private land, making exploration difficult. I didn't want to be mistaken for a wasabi thief. Other explorers report finding dorui (earthen ramparts).
 
Azumi Shibutami Castle / 安曇渋田見城

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Shibutamijō, or as I shall call it: Castle of the Hanging Caterpillars, is a medieval earthworks castle ruin located on a mountain ridge above Ikeda in Shinano. Features include dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches) and kuruwa (baileys). I chose the wrong path to hike up and ended up coming to a place below the ridge I wanted to be on. I couldn't be bothered back-tracking so I clambered up the steep side of the ridge, suddenly coming upon the castle ruin. The layout is made up of a central bailey with trenches to the front and rear (should I say bow and stern for a 丸?). The rear trench is particularly deep and dorui is piled up at the rear of the shukuruwa (main bailey) from its excavation. This deep trench protects the fort's mountainside flank. It is now full of large fallen trees. From the main bailey I noticed a depression in the middle of the ramparts. I don't know but maybe this was the gated entrance to the bailey. The approach to the fort is terraced with bands of minor baileys. I continued climbing beyong the main bailey because there were two markers for the site. Hōrōki's marker was accurate, and the Google marker was wrong (of course). However, I noticed that the ridge line became very narrow after the main bailey, meaning that it would be easy to defend the rear. I came to a place near the Google co-ords where there was a natural plateau, though the further end of it had collapsed. Beneath here was a pond noisy with amphibious choir. Luckily I found a path by the pond that led to another site, Takenoirijō (Azumi Tanoiri Castle), so I didn't have to go back down the mountainside. I shall call Shibutamijō "the Castle of Hanging Caterpillars" because they were hanging down from the treetops everywhere on little silken strands, and at one point I found five of them clinging to my jacket. One landed on my neck and it was cool and squishy. They were assaulting me like paratroopers. Because of the early rainy season nature was already out in force at the ruins of Shibutamijō!
 
Azumi Takisawa Castle / 安曇滝沢城

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Takisawajō is half of a castle ruin. Remains include many koshikuruwa, terraced baileys built into the mountainside. The main bailey of the fort is nearly all lost, having collapsed in a landslide. Now there is a cliff where the main bailey used to be. These walls of loose sedimentary rock and dirt, which make for strange ramparts, are prone to collapse. I thought about climbing a small segment at one point but found it far too brittle. The mountains above Ikeda are made of this material; all of the mountain fort ruins I encountered that day showed signs of collapse in landslides. Given that it had rained very heavily the previous day, and the rivers were all flowing quick with brown torrent, I thought I ought to be careful. Before Takisawajō I had been to Tanoirijō (Azumi Tanoiri Castle), which is located at higher elevation but not far as the crow flies from Takisawajō, and before that to Shibutamijō (Azumi Shibutami Castle). The path between Shibutamijō and Tanoirijō is shaded by an embankment. A ridge, I thought. But then, checking out a small depression in the ridgeline which seemed like a curious parapet, I realised I was standing upon a huge cliff of rock and dirt. Small wonder then that Takisawajō has been partially lost with such tremendous movements of the mountain. The sign board explaining about the castle is situated half way up the castle mount; they couldn't put it in the main bailey because the main bailey is gone! So that's a novelty. It's also not usual to see a smaller yamajiro site like this so well maintained; the castle site has a signboard and even a dedicated parking area at the foot of the mount. There are sign posts everywhere which say: クルワ(陣地)(Kuruwa (Jinchi)). I thought the phrasing odd. Kuruwa means "bailey" and Jinchi means "encampment". These baileys are all koshikuruwa, strips of sub-baileys terracing the mountainside.
 
Azumi Tanoiri Castle / 安曇田ノ入城

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Coming upon Tanoirijō was like discovering a lost world. I had been on the mountain for a while and seen no one. I made it to the Tanoiri Pass, which Tanoirijō once guarded. Tanoirijō is located directly above the pass, and the pass, a cutting through the mountain ridge, appears like a large dry moat for the castle. Ascending to the ruin, however, I found a narrow ridge with empty space beyond. The castle's baileys had been collapsed by the movements of the mountain. These strange land formations are known as the Mamako-otoshi no dobashira (Stepchild Drops Earthen Pillars). The mountains here are made up of a loose sedimentary rock which is prone to collapse. Eventually even these formations must collapse. Since there had been heavy rains the day before, I didn't wonder, looking out over the strange vista, whether the mountain wasn't due for another slide, and gingerly stepped back from the edge. "Mamako" means "stepchild", and folklore has it that the formations of spiky rock got their name when a stepmother pushed her husband's child from the tallest pinnacle in a fit of jealousy. Is this where unwanted stepchildren are brought even today? Not wanting to orphan my future children, I forswore from further exploration under the averse conditions. Afterward I searched online. A local blogger, Matsumoto-san, viewing the rocks from below asks "there is apparently a path up to these terrific rocks, but is it worth it?", and he shows these huge cliffs with trees clinging to the nethermost parts. Then it struck me that I was up there mulling around and looking for a castle! Well, Tanoirijō certainly isn't worth falling over a cliff since few ruins have survived the landslides, but it was very interesting to see such sights.
 
Furumaya Yakata / 安曇古厩館

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Nothing remains of this fortified medieval manor house except maybe some earthen embankments, though I couldn't get a good look. Much of the site is now private property, including of some fetching rural houses.
 
Habauehori Yashiki / 巾上堀屋敷

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Habauehori-yashiki is a medieval earthworks fortification ruin overlooking a small cliff. The fortified residence was bounded on all sides by dorui (earthen ramparts). Interestingly, the dorui was piled up from “within” the fort, so that there is a karabori (dry moat) behind the dorui. Usually moats are located in front of ramparts, not behind them. The Horigane Yakata has the same unusual feature. Only a few segments of this defensive system remain, and the most significant portion is in the eastern corner, where the dorui and karabori are most evident. The site is now that of a traditional home, though it appears that it may be abandoned. Likely it will fall into ruin, which is a great shame. The home is built in the vernacular Honmune style, so it may possibly not be so different from the home of Jūrōuemon, the original builder of the fort.
 
Hosogaya Yakata / 細萱館

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I was pleasantly surprised to find at the ruins of this fortified manor hall extensive remains in the form of a deep karabori (dry moat), going around much of the former bailey. Toward the back the moat has been filled in, so it doesn't go completely all the way around unfortunately. The front portion has a dobashi (earthen bridge). Having expected very little, I was quite chuffed at this. Unmistakably feudal lords lived here.
 
Imai Fort / 今井砦

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This site went under my radar for a long time, despite being close enough for me to cycle there after work – which is what I did. Unfortunately the ruins of this earthworks fort have been obliterated in recent times and the site now hosts a solar panel array. It may be a small site in the middle of nowhere, but did its history mean nothing to locals? The site relatively recently had the ruins of kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts) and tatebori (climbing trenches). The land is currently off limits but I went virtually around the whole thing, which was not simple because Imai-toride is a clifftop fort site. There is a natural creek hemming the site in to the north, which made for a natural defensive line, and I was able to enter here without going near the solar farm. From here I made my way along the steep terrain which separates the upper plain from the river plain below. Most of this area has been built over with a large, modern retaining wall. In one place I found what looked like a deformed tatebori but that and deformed baileys are about it. A large pylon also sits next to the site. Pylons converge here because the site’s neighbour is the Shin-Shinano Frequency Converter Plant. The fort site, located on the border of the municipalities of Matsumoto (styled “City”) and Asahi (styled “Village”) is largely rural, but the huge power converter station located to the northwest is one of three plants in the nation used to convert the east’s and west’s different hertz (Hz) frequencies, since one half of the country runs on 60Hz and the other on 50Hz. It’s weird how the country is split in half like that, Japan being only one of a handful of countries which uses different frequencies; on a world map of Hz it could be fairly split in half! Anyway, I tried hard to find something of the medieval fort but there’s very little left, so that’s a shame. Many smaller historical fortification sites have little to no protection, so occasionally they are developed over and destroyed, especially if they’re not located on mountains. This is part of the reason why I’m keen to make a record of such sites, along with rustic architecture, in case they disappear.
 
Ina Kamihiraideko Castle / 伊那上平井出小城

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Kamihiraidekojō is now just fields. The general shape of the fort, perhaps, remains. We can see a koshikuruwa ("hip bailey") around the shukuruwa (main bailey). These terraces now make for convenient paddies and vegetable patches. Apparently the hill opposite was also fortified and leveled on top. I didn't go here but it is now a small park and shrine.
 
Ina Ou Castle / 伊那王城

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After first visiting Akiba Fort I continued climbing on to Ōjō, rendered either 王城 ("King Castle") or 大城 ("Big Castle"), which are pseudo-homophones. The climb is very easy as the trail is well marked. There is a sunken pathway in parts which was probably the original path to the castle. I followed the top of the ridge in parts, eschewing the path, for a bit of a challenge. The day had been forecast as murky, but when I arrived in Tatsuno it was redders, as my people would say. The fine weather had brought out various people into nature, and I found Ōjō's main bailey to be the convergent point of a popular hiking area. Plus, being accessible by car, many people had driven or climbed to the area to camp and piquenique, enjoying views of the Upper Ina Valley spread below. As for Ōjō itself, the earthworks castle ruin has a simplistic layout, consisting of one central bailey wrapped around by an obikuruwa (belt bailey). A couple of tatebori (climbing trenches) streak down the mountain from here. Additionally there are a two fortified spurs going east and west along the mountaintop. The western spur has minor baileys divided by horikiri (trenches) and tatebori. The eastern spur has some deformed dorui (earthen ramparts). I noticed some evidence of terracing and trenches on the climb up alongside the Ôte (main trail), so maybe this was an extended part of the castle too. The best thing about Ōjō was probably the view, though the main bailey is satisfying because it is well maintained, including the kirigishi (mountainside carved into castle walls) above the obikuruwa.
 
Kobinata Oh'yashiki / 小日向大屋敷

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Kobinata is a hamlet of Misayama Village, Matsumoto Municipality, overlooking the Metoba River. It is built over the ruins of the kyokan of Misayamajō, referred to as the Kobinata-Ôyashiki. It's quite scenic so I started taking photographs. On the mountainside there is a fair amount of stone-piled walling, probably used for terracing for agricultural purposes, possibly from the Edo Period and into the Meiji Period if it was used for mulberry orchards.
 
Koshibami Castle / 小柴見城

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Koshibamijō is a small castle ruin. There is a shukuruwa (main bailey) with a koshikuruwa (sub-bailey) half surrounding it below. A couple of pocket baileys strike off down the ridge from here. Dorui (earthen ramparts) surrounds parts of the shukuruwa, at the rear of which there is a karabori (dry moat) system, yokobori (lateral moat) or horikiri (trench) terminating in tatebori (climbing moats) at each end. Then there is a modern road, which may have been built over a double trench system. Beyond here is an empty field at slightly higher elevation which may have been a secondary bailey of the old castle.
 
Kubodera Castle / 窪寺城

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This no-name castle proved to be much more impressive than I had anticipated. Getting there was the first challenge. A small trail leading between some farmland led to the foot of the mountain, but this was overgrown and very difficult to pass. I chanelled by inner tanuki and began crawling through the undergrowth and up the mountainside. Kuboderajō's layout is simple enough, a series of baileys located in a neat column along a ridge. The main bailey is foremost, and is surrounded by a ring bailey. A trench divides it from the next bailey. A larger trench divides the second and third. Subsequent baileys are then located at lower terrain from each other in staircase-like fashion. A wide trench, likely an augmented ravine, is arranged parallel to this column of baileys, and is terraced. Gradually it slopes off into a series of tatebori (climbing moats). The site is too overgrown in parts to see properly. If properly maintained it would make for a nice park. The whole vicinity seems to be made up of abandoned apple orchards. I exited via cultivated hillside and descended via Entsūji.
 
Minochi Katsurayama Castle / 水内葛山城

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I had to go to Nagano for stuff. Whenever I go to the prefectural capital I try to leave some time aside for some castling, since the town is surrounded by historic sites. This time I was torn between Katsurayamajō and Asahiyamajō. These two sites faced off against each other, with Uesugi Kenshin controlling the former and Takeda Shingen controlling the latter. I actually made first for Asahiyamajō but gave it up when I saw that the rear trail I wanted to use had been cordoned off due to landslide damage. Instead I went to Katsurayamajō, after visiting its satellite fortification, Yoritomoyama-toride (Yoritomoyama Fort).

Katsurayamajō is a great Shinano yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site. It doesn't have ishigaki - that I saw - but the earthworks are very engaging. A trail rises up the ridge from the satellite fort, and this has embankments on each side, a feature which is sometimes referred to as an Ôte. This may have been the historical path to the castle then too. I retain a fairly decent impression of the castle's general layout merely from wondering around. The main path goes presently to the main bailey area, passing beneath an undulating ridge striped with tatebori (climbing moats), and passing over small terraced baileys on the mountainside. From the main area of the castle are three major spokes. One is made up of a series of subsidiary baileys perforated by trenches, and the other is made up of fairly sizable terraced baileys with impressive embankments but without trenches.

The third spoke is the one I passed below on the climb up. This is a series of no less than nine horikiri (trenches). On closer inspection the first of these is a solid double moat, and one passes over this to reach the main bailey from the main path. Thereafter there are two sets of moat complexes. This feature of trenches in succession is called unejō-horikiri in Japanese, or "rib moats". This is a really impressive feature of Katsurayamajō, and is fairly well known amongst local yamajiro fans. I descended from this area, encountering many other earthworks, such as horikiri, tatebori, dobashi (earthen bridges), dorui (earthen ramparts), and the remains of wells.

You see the moats in my pictures here mostly covered in young bamboo. It seems the ruins have been periodically cleared in the past, but, of course, bamboo grows back quickly. Luckily the general form was still visible during my visit. You know at some point before the bamboo was cut back some legend of castling must've gone in there, plunging like a rat into a sewer drain, getting neck-deep in vegetation, practically feeling for the contours of the trenches. That's amazing. Apparently much of the entire mountain was fortified, carved piece by piece, sculpted from the very earth itself into an impregnable fortress. That's even more incredible. I followed a trail all the way down to another peak, which seemed to me to be suspiciously flattened, and vaguely terraced even, but it was hard to tell. Was this another part of the expanded fortification? Well, it's possible but I'm hardly about to claim my own discovered fort; the experts will have it mapped and noted somewhere. I can find no information on it, however. Anyway, this should give the reader a general impression of the expansiveness of the site and the excitement of exploring it.
 
Misayama Castle / 三才山城

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Misayamajō is a small yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin. It's basic layout is readily apparent to those with a trained eye. Firstly, approaching upward from the ridge, there is a forward horikiri (trench) complex with dorui (earthen ramparts) on either side. Beyond, surrounded by a narrow obikuruwa (belt bailey), is the shukuruwa (main bailey) with dorui surrounding most of it (the southern portion may have collapsed or subsided at some point into the obikuruwa). To the rear of the shukuruwa are four horikiri perforating the ridge with some minor baileys in between. When one reaches the pylon then this is the end of the ruins. The ruins mostly follow the ridge but there may be some off-shoots to the south (where I didn't venture). Features of this site are principally earthworks. Some ishigaki (piled stone walls) can be found on the mountainside below but this appears to have been used for terracing for agricultural purposes - probably mulberry plantations - well after the castle was abandoned.

Misayamajō, is also referred to as Misayama-toride. Sometimes the reading is given as "Sansaiyamajō", but is that because non-locals don't know otherwise? I - along with other sources - have elected to use "Misayama" because that is the name of the village below. Although it is thought that the castle was a branch fortification of nearby Akazawa Clan castles, Misayamajō had a kyokan (residential area) at the foot of the mountain, referred to as the Kobinata-Ôyashiki (Kobinata Oh'yashiki).

Misayamajō, situated at a relative height of over 300m, is not recommended for novice climbers. I climbed up the steep mountainside which included bare rockface. I descended via the long ridge which is like a runway to the castle, but even this terminates in a steep area without a trail. A fence surrounds the mountain to deter animals from entering the village. The area to start from is the path to the east of the Yakushidō (Medicine Buddha Hall).
 
Shibutami Yakata / 渋田見館

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Very little remains of Shibutami-yakata. The site is now fields and homes. Some castle bloggers have identified clumps of dorui (earthen ramparts), but I didn't see any. I didn't look too thoroughly though because it started raining and I was about to head home. Ah, well! Shibutami-yakata was the last site I visited in a tour of ten sites in Aźumi last saturday (May 21st), my last of the season. I visited six yakata sites and four yamajiro (mountaintop castle) sites. I usually don't report on my return journey but during the cycle back to Matsumoto I encountered an interesting atmospherical phenomena. The road I was on was dry, but the road ahead was wet and it was raining there. When I cycled in it was like hitting a wall of water. A few minutes later the road was suddenly dry again, though I was very wet, and I had cycled out of the rain. I had encountered an extremely localised downpour. I began to wonder if I shouldn't have simply cycled /around/ the rain.
 
Shimofuri Fort / 下降砦

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Shimofuri-toride is a small earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin. Features inlucde horikiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and dorui (earthen ramparts). A sunken path winds down the mountainside with embankments on either side.
 
Shinagura Castle / 稲倉城

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I initially attempted to reach Shinagurajō last year alongside Ibukajō, but ran out of time. This is a local site for me so I set off from my apartment in the late morning and simply cycled up the long slope to the village of Shinagura were the castle is located. The agrarian valley where the village is situated curves around as it narrows towards the deep mountains, and Shinagura is at the nadir of this curve, just as one comes out of sight of Matsumoto below. The castle ruins sit atop of the mountain ridge, and there are impressive karabori (dry moats), hori (trenches) and dorui (earthen ramparts) to be found, as well as other features such as baileys and terracing. Beneath the castle site are extensive remains of stone-clad terracing on the mountain slope. This stonework, I conjecture, ranges in age from the Edo through to early Shōwa periods. It is likely that the mountainside was cultivated with mulberry trees throughout this time for the production of raw silk. There were silk weaving factories located in Matsumoto below. This extensive ishigaki (piled stone walls) is fascinating but it likely isn’t part of the protected historic site of the castle, and nor are there any information boards pertaining to it, though I found several markers for the castle, starting from the village below. Following the largest ishigaki segments I came to a near vertical side of the castle mount and recklessly climbed up from there. I can’t imagine doing such a thing during a battle! I found several bulbous cocoons the size and colour – but smooth - of peanut shells, spun from an infinitely elastic material which could not be torn with any force; they had spiders inside. There is often some natural highlight or another at each mountain castle site, and so that was Shinagura’s I suppose.
 
Takisawa Yakata / 滝沢館

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Nothing remains of Takisawajō-yakata, which is a pity because the fort had apparently an unusual layout. A map at Takisawajō shows the yakata as "Hectagonal Old Castle" in a hectagonal formation. This is very perculiar. But my guess is that the fort was perhaps built on an old kofun (burial mound). Hectagonal kofun, though not too common, did exist, and a fortification being built on a kofun, taking advantage of its relative elevation, certainly isn't unheard of. The whole site is now residential. The elevation is not inconsiderable even so, and the view of the valley is good. It's quite remarkable but apprently at the right time of year one can see the Takeda clan insignia in its pattern of four diamonds appear on the opposite mountain range, as though carved into rock there, due to how the snow there falls in slips. I tried to search for it but there was a lot of cloud cover. I wonder how long this formation has been observable. Is it due to relatively recent landslides, or did the armies of Takeda notice this and take it as a great omen that their conquest of Shinano was heaven-ordained?
 
Yabarahigashimura Yashiki / 矢原東村屋敷

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There are still ruins after all this time at this medieval fortified residence. A ditch-like karabori (dry moat) and dorui (earthen ramparts) are to be found. The site is now a modern residence, and the dorui is tallest in the west, but it goes around to the north as part of a garden. It's clear that the plot has long been occupied because the road reaching it is suddenly forced to bend around.
 
Yamaguchi Yashiki / 山口屋敷

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This extant Edo Period yashiki is apparently open to the public, but it was closed when I came, even though it was a weekend. It may receive a few share of visitors otherwise due to it being located between two parts of the Aźumino geo-cultural park which showcases rural scenery such as terraced fields and waterwheels; I saw many couples and young families wandering the rural neighbourhood.
 
Yoritomoyama Fort / 頼朝山砦

YoritomoyamaToride02.JPG

Yoritomoyama-toride is a satellite fortification of Minochi-Katsurayamajō, located further down the mountain. A mountain road passes between the two sites. There is a path up to Katsurayamajō, and directly below the road the ruins of Yoritomoyama-toride begin. There are a series of trenches and embankments before one reaches the main enclosure. This main bailey is surrounded by a ring bailey and earthen ramparts. it's a neat little fort ruin and a nice warm-up for the big mission of tackling Katsurayamajō above.
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