ART's Autumn 2023 Nagano Castles Part I

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ART's Autumn 2023 Nagano Castles Part 1


Part 1 of 2 for ART's Autumn 2023 tours through Nagano Pref.

If you haven't seen ART's Facebook Japanese Castle Group yet I highly encourage you to do so. There are contributions from many members including discussion about castle related news new discoveries and photos from members' travels.


Akiba Fort (Azumi) / 安曇秋葉砦

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Akiba-toride is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Kamishiro Township, Hakuba Municipality. The earthworks which are remnants of fortifications are found on the ridge beyond the Akiba shrine. It's a little curious that the tip of the ridge where the shrine is has no obvious ruins, and so it is suspected that the ruins may have been cleared here for maintenance of the shrine. As for the shrine, it is also noteworthy that the shrine is an Akiba shrine, as these shrines are for the worship of Akiba-gongen (a gongen is a kami (god) which has attained enlightenment, represented in Japan's traditional religion of Buddha-Kami syncretism), a diety responsible for fire prevention. The god was often venerated at forts where signal towers were used, as Akiba-gongen was also believed to have been able to assist with controlling fires for smoke signals.

Akiba-toride's ruins feature horikiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and dorui (earthen ramparts). The layout is of a simple fort which follows the ridge; baileys are separated by horikiri. The baileys are terraced on their southern sides. There are two extant baileys, but the site of the shrine may have consituted a third. The site is quite overgrown, but the trenches are in a state of good preservation, and still have steep scarps; I bet so few people have come here over the centuries!

Akiba-toride is the gateway to the Tsukiyodana tableland, a mountain with prominent flat areas and gentle peaks ('tana' means 'shelf'). In the north of Tsukiyodana is Iidajō, and in the south are the remains of a long karabori (dry moat). I went to the latter before backtracking to get to Iidajō. I thought that the difficult part would be getting to the tableland from the ridge with Akiba-toride on, but actually the whole area is completely overgrown and difficult to get around despite the relatively gentle change in elevation between peaks.

Note: this site is Akiba-toride in historical Aźumi County, not to be confused with Akiba-toride in historical Ina County, both in Shinano Province / Nagano Prefecture.
Arahorinaiki Yashiki / 荒堀内記屋敷

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Arahorinaiki-yashiki is a fortified residence site in the Kinebuchi area of Shinonoi Township, Nagano Municipality, of which no ruins remain.
Dokyou Castle / 土京城

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Dokyōjō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Uwano Village, Nagano Municipality. The structure is a single bailey complex with a main bailey surrounded by a partial obikuruwa (ring bailey) below. The rear to the main bailey has a horikiri (trench). The bailey seems to trail off toward the descending ridge where impressions of earthworks become indistinct, and this area may have been disturbed when the pylon now on site was constructed. Nonetheless, there is some indication of dorui (earthen ramparts). There is an explanation board on-site. There is another cutting to the rear of the ridge, but this appears to be just for an old footpath.
Dousawa Fort / 堂沢砦

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Dōsawa-toride is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Wakatsuki area of Nagano Municipality. These castle ruins were discovered by sixth grade elementary school pupils in 2003! The students of Wakatsuki Elementary School reportedly discovered the ruins when returning from Wakatsukiyamajō above, noticing the artificial mounding of earth along the below ridge. It isn't even the only castle purportedly discovered by school children; another castle ruin, Dobashijō, in Nagano Prefecture, was discovered by middle schoolers in 1991.

I also noticed, when hiking down the ridge from Wakatsukiyamajō, the distinctive embanked earth rising above the ridge - although I had the benefit of knowing ahead of time that the ruins were there. I imagine that the students made a preliminary search of the site; perhaps they asked their teacher what they should call it. When no record was found for it, they became the site's discoverers.

Dōsawa-toride consists of a series of wide terraced baileys along the ridge. Gate sites are apparent connecting the baileys. The topmost bailey is quite interesting. There is an elevated area which could be considered a corner segment of thick dorui (earthen ramparts), and it's tempting to envision a small tower erected here. There is a smaller corner segment of dorui atop of this wider embankment. Dorui atop of dorui? The wide embankment narrows as it runs along the rear of the main bailey. Beneath the corner ramparts is a karabori (dry moat), like a shallow trench in scale, and it flattens out in the northeast, becoming a ledge-like terrace or sub-bailey.

The structure overall seems quite unorthodox, but still decidedly a fortification. I had the idea that the tiered dorui structure was maybe unfinished, and was intended to be excavated further to create taller ramparts, perhaps along with a deeper trench. It's hard to say. If only some sixth graders were around to guide me!


Dōsawa-toride is also referred to as 'Dōsawadejō' - at least on signs at the site - in reference to Wakatsukiyamajō, but I think that's a little confusing because it could imply that it is a satellite fortification of a larger site called 'Dōsawajō'; the covention is to call such satellite fortifications after the main castle, so that we would expect it to be called 'Wakatsukiyamadejō' instead. But Dōsawa-toride is not, after all, the only satellite fortification of Wakatsukiyamajō, and the upper satellite fort may also be considered a dejiro (annex castle). Many satellite forts are called 'toride (fort)'.
Fujimaki Castle / 藤牧城

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Fujimakijō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) site in Tamaki village, Inasato Township, Nagano Municipality. The site is conflated with that of Hirotajō which is directly east. The site today is now a temple, Tōshōji, and ruins of dorui (earthen ramparts) remain. It would be easy to conclue that the temple, today surrounded by a road like a moat - and cemetery plots, stands exactly where did a fortified residence. It appears that the temple was originally wholly surrounded by dorui, and so these must be the remains of the residence - a small residence - of which only a segment of dorui survives in the north. However, under the aegis of Takeda Shingen, Hirotajō was expanded, and these expansions may have incorporated extant fortifications at Fujimakijō into an outer bailey space. One gets the impression of two fortified residences rather than of a vast fortification here. Fujimakijō's exact relationship with Hirotajō remains something of a mystery to me.
Furujouyama Castle (Hanishina) / 埴科古城山城

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Furujōyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin on a ridge along the border between the townships of Matsushiro (via Ômuro village) and Wakaho (via Kawada village). I had some difficulty finding the trail up to this site. I had wanted to go via the Ômuro tumuli group so as to see some kofun (ancient burial mounds) along the way, but after seeing the kofun complex I had to backtrack to the northern tip of the ridge where there is a signpost and explanatory panel for the castle at the start of the trail. On the hike up several kofun can be encountered.

The ruins of Furujōyamajō ('Old Castle Mount Castle') feature dorui (earthen ramparts), kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches) and various earthworks. The layout of the castle is of a vague 'V'-shape. The western side is the ridge which I ascended from. Before coming to the castle proper there is a single detached bailey with a trench and embankment on the descending side of the ridge. A series of narrow baileys divided by trenches can be seen once at the castle proper ascending to the main bailey area. The main bailey is a steep climb, but there are rope sections to assist climbers.

The main bailey of Furujōyamajō has dorui heaped up to the rear, beneath which is a sub-bailey and then a series of four horikiri one after the other (the middle trenches are shallowest) which protect the rear of the fort. It's actually quite unusual to find a terrace between the bailey dorui and horikiri like that - at least in Shinano.

The east side of the aforementioned 'V' is bulkier and made up of a series of terraced baileys. On the mountainside are several tatebori (climbing trenches) beneath these terraces. However, I could only make it to the topmost of these terraces, as this part of the ruins is terribly overgrown, creating an impenetrable tangle of plant life.
Futae Castle (Azumi) / 安曇二重城

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Futaejō is a hilltop fort site in the Futae neighbourhood of Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. The site is completely overgrown, making any remains hard to identify. This was the low point of my cycling (and hiking) tour of seven fortification sites that day. I got into the central bailey area, coated in sticky seeds from pest plants. It seems the fort consisted of a single bailey complex with a concentric obikuruwa (belt bailey) wrapping around the main bailey at the top of the hill. An old road goes through the north of the site, obscurring the extent of the obikuruwa, however. There are supposedly such features as terraced sub-baileys, dorui (earthen ramparts) and tatebori (climbing moats), but, since the site is overgrown with undesirable vegetation, I could not readily identify these features, and it seems that they must be anyway very deformed by now.
Gentairi Castle / 源太入城

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Gentairijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the hamlet of Tochigura, Suzaka Municipality. Ruins feature earthworks such as kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches) and dorui (earthen ramparts). The structure is of a simple ridgetop fort with horikiri dividing bailey spaces along the ridge. The most notable feature are the deep, wide horikiri which break-up the ridgeline.

To access this site I rented a bicycle from the building opposite Suzaka Station and then cycled up to a forest road in Tochigura hamlet. There is a gate here to prevent animals from coming down off the mountain, so I left the bike and proceeded along the dirt trail on foot. Toward the end of the dirt track I hopped onto the ridge and began climbing. On the way up to the castle proper there is a minor horikiri before the ridge sweeps up.

Gentairijō is a fairly standard small-scale yamajiro for Shinano, and so one of its more distinguishing features might as well be its name, which contains 'Genta', which is a male given name, and quite unusual for appearing in a castle's name. The name appears to be a mystery. On the opposite ridge and above Gentairijō is a site called 'Falcon Feather Castle', which apparently has some ruins and appears to be a single bailey fort site, but I was not able to make it up there on this visit.
Hachimanpara Jinsho / 八幡原陣所

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Hachimanpara-jinsho is a fortified encampment site in Oshimada Township, Nagano Municipality. Hachimanpara-jinsho is the fortified encampment site of Takeda Shingen. It is located on the plain at Kawanakajima. Uesugi Kenshin, meanwhile, encamped at Saijozan on a hill on the otherside of the Chikuma River.

The ruins of fortifications at Hachimanpara include earthworks such as dorui (earthen ramparts) and traces of dry moats. The dorui is not tall or wide, but was supplemented with abbattis. The type of barrier used was called 'sakasa-enju (逆槐)', or inverted pagoda trees. Popular legend says that the buried trees took root and continued to grow upside-down after the battle.

There are various signs, statues and monuments scattered around the shrine at the site today. This is where, it is said, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin briefly engaged in hand-to-hand combat, with the younger warrior, mounted, swinging his sword down at a seated Shingen who deflected the blows with his gunbai (warfan). Kenshin was then chased away from Shingen by a warrior with a spear.

Note: The Battle of Hachimanpara ('the Plain of Hachiman') is the more specific name given to the fourth battle of Kawanakajima, but 'the battle of Kawanakajima' also usually refers to the fourth and largest clash. Hachimanpara is also sometimes read as 'Hachimanbara' and 'Hachimanhara'.
Hanaoka Castle (Azumi) / 安曇花岡城

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Hanaokajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Ikeda Township, North Azumi County. It is an earthworks fort ruin which features dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and such.

The path up to the castle is next to a German-style house (I think a sort of show-home). The path has many fallen trees across it. Duck and jump; what a lark! Oh, hang about, this tree has fallen into the path, all of its branches forming a veritable abbattis! Anyway, I got to the castle site after detouring through a trough of a stream. The only reason there was a path at all was because of the steel pylons, but we oughtn't complain.

Hanaokajō has a long profile made up of four baileys dug into the ridge and separated by horikiri. Some of the baileys seemed a bit lopsided to me, giving the impression of an incomplete yamajiro. The rear bailey seems to have been the main bailey.

Note: this site is Hanaokajō in Ikeda Township, historical Aźumi County. It is not to be confused with Hanaokajō in historical Suwa County, or Hanaokajō in historical Saku County, also in Shinano Province / Nagano Prefecture.
Hinatabata Yakata / 日向畑館


Hinatabata-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the Sanada Township of Ueda Municipality. The site is now terraced fields at the foot of the Matsuo castle-mount; and the hiking trail starts here. There are some nice stone-piled retaining walls, but these do not date to the time of the yakata. Relics include stone gorintō (five-tier stupas), cenotaphs of the Sanada Clan, and a shrine where Sanada Yukimura is enshrined. The Anchira shrine contains a wooden statue which is thought to depict either Sanada Yukimura or Sanada Yukitaka. There is also an altar to Amida. I came here en route to Matsuo Castle in 2020.
Hirota Castle / 広田城

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Hirotajō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) site in Tamaki village, Inasato Township, Nagano Municipality. No ruins remain, and the site is now a temple called Shōryūji. Coincidentally, the temple contains an original castle structure, a miyagura (watchtower) said to be a relocated tower from Matsushirojō where it was used as a sumi-yagura (corner turret). The miyagura is covered in sheet metal rather than wooden boards, but it is painted so it looks okay. The original materials can be seen when looking up at the crow's nest.
Hori Castle (Minochi) / 水内穂里城

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Minochi-Horijō is a fortified manor hall and hirajiro (flatland castle) site in the Minami-Hori neighbourhood of Nagano city. No ruins remain, but there is a signpost with an explanation about the site on next to a stone monument in someone's front garden. The neighbourhood name means 'South Moat'.
Iida Castle (Azumi) / 安曇飯田城

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Iidajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Kamishiro Township, Hakuba Municipality. It is the main site in a network of forts on the Tsukiyodana tableland sometimes referred to collectively as Tsukiyodanajō. Iidajō is also called Tsukiyozawajō. Ruins feature kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), koguchi (gate complex) ruins, and various trenches. Fair warning: much of the ruins are overgrown and difficult to explore.

Iidajō's layout is quite interesting, and expansive, with three bailey complexes. I approached from the south, which brings one to the lower, second bailey complex. It is protected by two long, stacked yokobori (horizontal trenches), one overlooking the other. This configuration is not so common in Shinano, but was built because there is a wide hollow or 'saddle' in the mountain below, rather than a narrow ridge. I followed these trenches along and came to a gate ruin with embankments which formed the entrance to the second bailey. The second bailey is slightly terraced rather than a single continuous flattened space.

Between the lower second bailey and upper first bailey is another yokobori, though now it is quite shallow, being filled in with falling detritus from the mountain. The first bailey complex is itself made up of multiple baileys. Narrow baileys along the ridge have dorui banked up to the north. There is some terracing overlooking a cliff to the east but it was far too overgrown to see properly. Between the narrower easterly baileys and the main bailey of the upper complex are a set of double horikiri (trenches which bisect the ridge). Essentially together they form a 'W'-shape along the ridge, and this was the most impressive feature of the site for me (and thankfully not so overgrown!). Above is the main bailey which has also a rear trench-embankment system.

A third, small bailey complex can be found in the valley between the two larger bailey clusters. This is a valley bailey with proportions almost like a wier and reservoir, except the embankment which would otherwise dam the valley has in the centre a large opening where a gate would've stood. This was the original way up to the castle. Having come down this far, I decided I'd exit the mountain this way despite warnings from some other castle-explorers about doing so - though they did. I was able to follow a nice stream down toward rocky rapids (called 'Dog River'). Maps showed an old foot bridge - in a very dubious state now - and I had to fight through grasping vines to get to this final portal from the mountain, but once I did I was home-free, coming to an old dirt track which led back to civilisation. It was along here, in a mostly emptied reservoir, I also encountered a troupe of monkeys.

I encountered a bear at this castle site; in the second bailey, infact. I heard a plodding through the undergrowth and waited to see what was coming toward me. As I have said, this site is very overgrown, so it's difficult to see for any distance ahead. When I saw through the trees jet black fur, along with an ambling locomotion of heavy footfalls, I thought it must be a bear. Part of me wanted to stay quiet so as to get a better look, but a more sensible part triumphed, and, seeing the beast was already quite close enough, I gave a cautious shout of "Oi!". The creature stopped. Louder and quicker this time I shouted "Oi, Oi, Oi!", and the animal went into a quick retreat. I heard it scamper off down the mountainside and, grabbing a large stick, went to the edge of the bailey to try to see it again. I didn't glimpse anything thereafter, but listened to the rustling of the thing's retreat for about half a minute as it bolted away down the mountain.

Upon reflection, we must've been coming up to the bailey at the same time, winding our way toward each other. Since I acted quickly, the time between my seeing the animal and the encounter ending was very short, and I didn't see its face, but with certainty in the moment it was a black bear. From its fur and the way it plodded I think it couldn't've been anything other. Only, and thankfully, it didn't seem very big, but there was some distance, I'd say 10m so as not to underestimate though it felt shorter, and there was a slight slope to account for on which I was above. I've always figured that most bears in the wild aren't so large, and many candid pictures showing them in Japan's forests seem to demonstrate that. The wild bears are often malnourished, half starved, perhaps diseased, and their growth is stunted. It's also likely I encountered a juvenile. I had a good look at a juvenile bear before as it climbed a tree, and at that time I remember thinking that though the body was not much larger than the average dog's, the head was very large. This time I was aware of the bear before it was aware of me - or maybe it was curious on a scent and didn't realise it was approaching a human - but I am now reminded of another not dissimilar mystery encounter I had when, again at an overgrown, lonesome castle site (Minami-Hirasejō), I crashed through the bushes and disturbed something that felt very large as it moved to flee; though I didn't see it at all, and upon investigation found a wide bed of flattened grass. But at that time I thought it might've been a boar, since they can be very big too. Next I'll encounter Hibagon, I'm sure.

I mentioned I exited Iidajō via a creek. To get to this point one must go quite high up via the river valley first. In other words, except by this almost spiralling route, it is not advisable to climb to this site from directly below, as the fort is naturally protected by steep terrain and cliffs in the north and east. My point of entry was actually to come from the south via the mountain. Some castle-explorers recommend this route, though not all of them have actually taken it themselves. Looking at a topographic map, the terrain in the tableland area seems gentle or flat, almost inviting, but between Iidajō and its satellite fortification, Akiba-toride, the mountain is horrendously overgrown without trails. I had to crawl on hands and knees along gametrails under bushes. At one point along the ridge, a landslide-eaten drop on one side and a wall of skinny trees on the other, I commando-crawled, and, when the ridge dropped, I slithered down about 40m as though having a wonderful time on a water slide! It was during this tumult that my bear bell, which I tried to keep an eye on, broke and was lost. Just fifteen minutes later and I had my encounter of the furry kind. This has made me a believer in the power of bells.

Note: this site is Iidajō in historical Aźumi County, not to be confused with Iidajō in historical Ina County, both in Shinano Province (Nagano Prefecture).
Iimori Castle (Azumi) / 安曇飯森城

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Iimorijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Kamishiro Township, Hakuba Municipality. Ruins include kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches), dorui (earthen ramparts) and koguchi (gate complex) remains.

The time I visited Iimorijō I had just escaped from hell mountain where I didn't see a single trail but did see a bear. The trail to Iimorijō is park-like and pine-flanked, and the slope is gentle, so that it soothed my soul to climb it (note: I came from the south, the opposite side from Iimori Station, which requires less climbing). There are also sign posts, including one pointing out a well site, though I'm not sure where I was supposed to look.

The layout of Iimorijō is simple, as it is made up from three integral baileys straddling the ridge in a row. The topmost main bailey has dorui remaining to the west, and a koguchi entrance. The second bailey is set below the first and the third, and has some residual dorui to the west, as well as a terraced sub-bailey there. The third bailey is quite interesting and has some nicely preserved dorui. The bailey is snug, and is said to have been used as a stable or a place to shelter horses, though it may have realistically been intended chiefly for tight defence of the ridge. The embankments on either side of the castle which sit above the ridge are quite tall, but the trenches are shallow, and it is said that this fort was not very strong.
Ishimura Castle / 石村城

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Ishimurajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin on a hill surrounded by fields and orchards in Toyono Township, Nagano Municipality. The small fort site consists of kuruwa (baileys), with a central bailey with horikiri (trenches) on either side. It is a very simple structure.
Ishitono Yashiki / 石殿屋敷

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Ishitono-yashiki is a medieval fortified residence site in Toyono Township, Nagano Municipality. The site is now a private residence, but just over the stream along the lane that leads there, there is a clump of earth with a sign board and a large tree; the tree is called the 'Tono-yashiki weeping gingko', and is a natural landmark locally. There is also a small stone marker to mark the yashiki itself.
Ishiwata Yakata / 石渡館

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Ishiwata-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the Ishiwata neighbourhood on the outskirts of urban Nagano. The site today is an old rural residence and vegetable patches. There is an embankment on the grounds of the residence which I suspected could be dorui (earthen rampart) remains, but I cannot confirm that at this time.
Joumineyama Castle / 城峰山城

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Jōmineyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. Features include a segment of ridge perhaps used as a bulwark, and flattened areas used as baileys. The earthworks are not well developed and may represent a relatively old fortification. The exact extent of the fort, including what was likely the main bailey, is hard to determine because this castle ruin has been largely destroyed by landslides. The cliff created by the landslide is so enormously large, and the remaining earth at the edge of the cliff extends jutting over blank space, so that it is incredibly dangerous to approach. As I approached the edge of the cliff, the earth seemed loose under my feet, almost cushion-like, and I sensed there must be only a meter or so of earth between me and a deathly drop. In general this site is overgrown and dangerous to explore with little to justify the risk and effort.
Kaneko Yashiki (Minochi) / 水内金子屋敷


Kaneko-yashiki is a medieval residence site in the Inaba neighbourhood of Nagano city. No ruins remain and the site is now housing, fields and a temple. The house which stands on the site today is rather fetching! Unfortunately I only photographed the house and not the nearby temple which is related to the site. Note: this site in historical Minochi County is not to be confused with that of Kaneko Castle in historical Suwa County, both in Shinano Province / Nagano Prefecture.
Kinebuchi Yakata / 杵淵館

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Kinebuchi-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the Kinebuchi area of Shinonoi Township, Nagano Municipality. A large mound remains which is said to be part of the dorui (earthen ramparts), probably a corner segment, which surrounded the fort. This mound is quite large for a fortified manor hall. There is now a small shrine atop. The field below is where a moat would've ran. To reach this site, which is in the countryside between Nagano downtown and Matushiro, I actually rented a pedal bicycle from a shop near Shinonoi station. I had to pick up the key at the convenience store across the road, then locate the bicycle in a parking area which was that morning hosting a festival and car boot sale. The bicycle had no gears and no electricity, but I had lots of fun going around on it in the nice weather across mostly flat countryside. I cannot recommend anyone replicate my little bike ride, however, as that old bicycle is apparently now out of commission, and it is no longer possible to rent bicycles in Shinonoi. Kinebuchi-yakata was one of several sites I went to that day which had some - but only some - extant dorui, and so the theme for the day became 'mounds and battle encampments'.
Komori Yakata (Sarashina) / 更級小森館

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Komori-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in Komori Village, Shinonoi Township, Nagano Municipality. Some earthworks remain in the form of a mound which is a portion of dorui (earthen ramparts); the mound was retained as a platform for a hokora (mini-shrine) (the tablet in the shrine is, according to one local scholar, dated to 1651 and inscribed with the name 'Komori'), and was perhaps a corner segment. Beneath the mound the ground is depressed in an angular shape and looks like the trace of a moat. Much of the ruins of this site were destroyed due to the construction of a river embankment along the oft-flooding Chikuma River, but the ruins were apparently quite extensive before the Taishō period.
Kosugeyama Yakata / 小菅山館

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Kosugeyama-yakata is a clifftop fort site in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. No clear ruins remain, and the site is now a shrine. Broadly speaking the clifftop is flattened into two spaces, perhaps formerly baileys of the fort, with the shrine hall in the upper enclosure, and a cemetery in the lower part. The shrine's small necropolis contains handsome gorintō (five-tier stone funerary stupas) standing upon mounds.
Koyaba Castle / 小屋場城

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Koyabajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. Ruins feature dorui (earthen ramparts), kuruwa (baileys), and other earthworks, perhaps including unebori or shōjibori (trenches with smaller partitions within like pits), though this is disputed.

The site I explored is only the northern portion of a proposed wider area. Part of this expanded site is now a factory building. But according to maps, beneath here along the mountainside, moving in a strange lateral fashion we do not usually see at yamajiro, there are many more ruins to the south, and the site is in fact quite vast. There is a middle section with supposed shōjibori, and a sprawling southern section made up of terraces and perhaps dorui.

There's a good chance that I did indeed fully explore this fortification site. I was blown away when I saw the maps. But something was off. Something didn't make sense. The vastness of such a site... yet very little is known about it historically. How could that be, if it was such a vast citidel? That massive fortress would've been the focal point of every conflict in the area, yet we never hear of it. And, the so-called lattice-moats, what of those? The Hōjō built moats like that, but they never made it this far up north. Things just weren't adding up. So I began my research...

Koyabajō appears in old records as 'Koyaba no Furushiro ("Old Castle of Koyaba")'. Two integral baileys are described: one being the 'honjōdaira', or main bailey, and the other being the ninokuruwa (second bailey). If the castle was so vast, then why is it described as having only a couple of baileys? The document this description comes from is the 『古城跡村々書上之控』. I can't find a date for it but it seems to be Edo period. In the Edo period the original castle bloggers began their work, and this appears to be one of their documents. In otherwords, Koyabajō was not subsequently expanded, and very likely only ever consisted of the baileys in the northern section of the mountain (the baileys I covered).

There's a fair chance then that the other ruins, particularly the so-called shōjibori, aren't actually castle ruins, but were built for something else. I can't give my own opinion, unfortunately, but going by pictures online and what castle-explorers have said, it seems these suggested shōjibori look a bit off, and not really like proper moats. The terrain doesn't really resemble a mountain fort's layout at all. It has been suggested that the contours of the mountain today were created by landslides, rather than artificial levelling, and that the strange grid-like earthworks were created as pens for livestock or as storage pits. This, in addition to the entire area being horrendously overgrown with mountain scrub, makes me feel much better about my sticking to the northern section which is more confidently claimed as a fortification site.
Kuruma Castle (Hanishina) / 埴科車城

HanishinaKurumajou (3).jpg

Kurumajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the mountains above Ômuro village, Matsushiro Municipality. Ruins include dorui (earthen ramparts), yokobori (lateral trenches), other earthworks and some remnant masonry.

Kurumajō has an unusual layout as it was built in a naturally flat area beneath a tall ridge rather than on the ridgetop or mountaintop. There is a main bailey with an obvious trench to the rear, and another trench along the ridge which descends at an angle to the main bailey. To the northwest the mountainside has the remains of stone walls. There were a lot of cut trees and branches and things lying about when I visited, and this made the smaller ishiźumi segments difficult to see. A larger stone wall is used as a retaining wall against the eastern ridge which ascends to the 'yamajiro-ato' peak. This site is unorthodox and has many mysteries.

It is possible to hike up to this site via the Ômuro kofun (ancient burial mound) complex, which I thought about doing, but then I found a map of the trekking course and figured it would save time and effort to cycle up the slopes in the inner valley behind the castle mount to another trail. Because I cycled up to the trail I had to return to my starting point but it would also be possible to descend the mountain via the enigmatic ruins of Kasumijō.

Rather than re-ascend to the peak I came by, I simply descended into the creek below Kurumajō to get back to my rented bicycle. Here I made a great discovery. The creek was terraced with bands of impressively stacked stone walls. The walls looked old, but I presume they were built after the time of the fort, possibly in the late Edo period. Their purpose seems to be to terrace the creek and create weirs. A path, also lined with stones, ascends toward Kurumajō beside these ishigaki segments. I lost track of the number of bands, but I was impressed by the solidly piled ishigaki (collapsed in some places). Nobody cares about ishigaki like this because they weren't built for castles, but I think they're valuable remains even so.


Starting near the agricultural university, to reach Kurumajō was steep and effortous but maybe quicker than ascending from the kofun complex, and it actually took me to Kurumajō via a mountain peak which also had fortifications ruins, simply sign-posted as 'Yamajiro Ruins'. In contrast, Kurumajō is not itself sign-posted. Actually, there appears to be some conflation between the 'Yamajiro' site and Kurumajō which sits lower down the mountain in a seat-like realtive depression at converging ridges. Around 2020, 'Yamajiro' was labelled as 'Kurumajō' on the trekking course map, but the map I saw, which seemed like it could've been recently printed, did not call the peak 'Kurumajō', but simply 'Yamajiro' instead. There seems to be confusion about the location of Kurumajō. I took to calling the peak site 'Kurumayamajō' on the assumption it was a sort of redoubt for the larger fort below. Or should we tautologically call it 'Yamajirojō'? Or simply 'Yamajō'? I think it would be logical to refer to it as the 'bansho (guardpost)' of Kurumajō, keeping watch from the peak. Has nobody else considered this? Going about naming castle sites, I have become impertinent.

Note: This site is Kurumajō (車城) in historical Hanishina County, not to be confused with Kurumajō (来馬城) in historical Aźumi County, both in Shinano Province / Nagano Prefecture.
Kurumayama Castle (Hanishina) / 埴科車山城

HanishinaKurumayamajou (1).jpg

Kurumayamajō, a small mysterious yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin, is a fort without a name. Consequentially, it could have many names. Located in the mountains above Ômuro village in Matsushiro Township, Nagano Municipality, the site is sometimes conflated with - and probably related to - nearby Kurumajō. Kurumayamajō is located on the peak above Kurumajō, which is a fort site hollowed out between ridges, and the layout consists of a single bailey complex with a solid rear trench. There may be some terracing along the steep ridge which swings down to Kurumajō. The sign in the bailey simply reads 'the Ruins of a Mountaintop Castle'.


Starting near the agricultural university, to reach Kurumayamajō was steep and effortous but maybe quicker than ascending from the Ômuro kofun complex. My goal was to reach Kurumajō, and I came upon this (presumed) satellite fortification without knowing priorly about its existence! Simply sign-posted as 'Yamajiro Ruins', it's a bit of a mystery. Now, in contrast, Kurumajō is not itself sign-posted. There appears to be some conflation between the 'Yamajiro' site and Kurumajō which sits lower down the mountain between converging ridges.

Around 2020, 'Yamajiro' was labelled as 'Kurumajō' on the trekking course map, but the map I saw, which seemed like it could've been recently printed, did not call the peak 'Kurumajō', but simply 'Yamajiro' instead. There seems to be confusion or contention about the location of Kurumajō. I took to calling the peak site 'Kurumayamajō' on the assumption it was a sort of redoubt for the larger fort below. Or should we tautologically call it 'Yamajirojō'? Or simply 'Yamajō'? I think it would be logical to refer to it as the 'bansho (guardpost)' of Kurumajō, keeping watch from the peak. Has nobody else considered this? Going about naming castle sites, I have become impertinent.

Note: I can find no official name for this site. Since we need to call this site something, I've impertinently decided to give primacy to 'Kurumayamajō ('Kuruma' + 'Yamajiro')', so as to show its presumed relation to and conflation with Kurumajō.
Mikka Castle (Minochi) / 水内三日城

MinochiMikkajou (1).JPG

Mikkajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Toyono Township, Nagano Municipality. The ruins feature dorui (earthen ramparts), karabori (dry moats), tatebori (climbing trenches) and kuruwa (baileys). The main bailey is divided into two enclosures and surrounded by dorui. The most prominent remains are the karabori which surround the main bailey in an 'L'-shape - with the other two sides facing the steep mountainside. The karabori terminates in a tatebori. There is another tatebori leading up to a small bulwark of earth which was used as a look-out platform beneath the main bailey.

There are some outer baileys without dorui. Here there is a big azumaya (gazebo-like structure), and at first I wondered, because it is a standing structure accessed by a ladder, if it wasn't meant to be some sort of reconstructed watchtower for the castle, but it doesn't really look like it. Apparently the ruins were used as a camp ground for local children, but the site was abandoned when bears kept showing up.

To access this site now there's not even a trail, and so I followed a road up to a wier and then climbed up the mountain side on all fours when I got to the portion beneath the castle. I descended from the rear ridge which was slightly less steep.

Note: It seems many castles have this name, 'Mikka'. This one is in historical Minochi County, Shinano Province. The reason for the commonality of the name is that there are lots of place names in Japan with the formula: <number> + 'day (日)', because it refers to market towns which would do their trading primarily on that day in a given month. So the meaning is '3rd day (market)', and castles are called for their location, so.
Miyashita Yakata / 宮下館


Miyashita-yakata, also called Nakagoe-kyokan, is a fortified manor hall site in the Nakagoe neighbourhood of Nagano downtown. No ruins remain, and the site is now Kita-Nagano Station on the Kita-Shinano Line. This was the residence site of the Miyashita Clan who built several fortifications nearby, so I visited for the sake of completion, having been to those sites too, but there's really nothing to see. I took a picture of the railway tracks.
Mizusawa Yashiki (Sarashina) / 更級水沢屋敷

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Mizusawa-yashiki is a fortified residence site in the Kinebuchi area of Shinonoi Township, Nagano Municipality. Access to the site is limited as it is now private property and used as farmland, but it is believed that the sunken fields in an angular configuration around a corner of raised earth represent where the residence stood with its surrounding moats. I also found a small side path which went to an old local well.
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