ART's Autumn 2023 Nagano Castles Part II

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ART's Autumn 2023 Nagano Castles Part 2


Part 2 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.


Motodoriyama Castle / 髻山城

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Motodoriyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin above the village of Hiraide in the Iiźuna Township of Kamiminochi County. Ruins feature ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), dorui (earthen ramparts), karabori (dry moats), tatebori (climbing trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and other earthworks. I accessed this site following an old forestry road climbing the mountain out of a valley with orchards from the east; the road was flooded, blocked, overgrown and such in places, and I wondered off the trail both in the ascent and descent, eventually coming upon the castle ruins via one of its northerly sub-baileys.

I'm glad I came this way because one of the first things I discovered was a beautiful segment of ishigaki which has not been mentioned by any castle-bloggers. I suppose I'll have to name this new discovery 'Adam's Rampart', haha. It is larger than the well known segment at the entrance to the main bailey, but hidden at the edge of a terraced koshikuruwa (sub-bailey) above a tatebori.

Motodoriyamajō has an interesting layout and is essentially a castle in two parts. The eastern portion is a fortified mount, a simply but sturdily built single bailey complex with a series of terraced sub-baileys to the north. The main bailey is surrounded by tall dorui. Dorui segments are apparent throughout. In addition to the above mentioned hidden ishigaki segment, there is a very nice portion of remaining ishigaki at the entrance to the main bailey too. Inside the main bailey there is a small pit formed from dorui, and this may have been a firepit used for sending smoke signals. The main bailey had a koguchi ('tiger's maw' gate) at both the east and west ends (there is no path from the eastern entrance today).

There is an impressively dug karabori (dry moat) at the bottom of the fortified area, and by tradition it is held horses were hid here, though it seems to have been chiefly intended as just a deep moat to secure the entry area to the castle-mount. But the stubby little ponies the samurai used might have fit snugly within, especially during the harsh winter. The karabori joins with a tatebori in the east as part of a trench complex.

The western portion of the castle is more mysterious. It consists of a stair-like terracing of the earth in over half a dozen bands, all surrounded by karabori and dorui. I wasn't able to fully explore this area as it seemed overgrown, but I did make out various earthworks from above, including tatebori and dorui. This strange structure seems like it may have been built to host barracks for a large number of soldiers.

On the way back down the mountain I came by two interesting features: a kofun (ancient burial mound), called the 'Mud Tree Mound', and a pond called 'Kenshin's Horse-Washing Pond'; did Uesugi forces wash their horses at this place? It's a muddy bog now. I figured I could make it back to my rented e-bike (I cycled most of the way up the mountain) if I descended from the otherside of this pond, having already been that way to Motodoriyamakojō, a satellite fortification of Motodoriyamajō, and so began a trailless descent here, popping out of the trees literally right on top of my bicycle.

Note: Bear Warnings in Effect

Ranmaru, castle-blogger, says that when he visited this mountain he saw a missing person's poster for an old man; he suspects foul play by bears. Reading the commentary and comments on the blogs of Shinano mountain-castlers, it seems that the shadow of Mr Bear is ever upon them. Generally I'm not scared of bears, but one does occassionally come across evidence of them in the forms of prints, scat and fresh tree-carvings. I don't think I can fight a bear - not even a small black one (Apparently the average American male thinks he can best a grizzly in a fight! I read that somewhere. I respect their gumption but... well, most fellas overestimate their fighting effectiveness.). But I also bet, being still somewhat vigorous (or hefty) and on the taller side (at least in Japan), that a bear does not want to fight me either. And so, the only way a bear would be likely to attack me is if I surprised it and triggered the wrong side of its fight-or-flight response, and so as a precaution I carry a bear-bell, and that's enough for my peace of mind.
Motodoriyamako Castle / 髻山小城

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Modoriyamakojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) and satellite fortification of the larger Modoriyamajō. The two sites, known collectively as Modoriyamajō, straddle the municipal border between Nagano Municipality and Iiźuna Township. Modoriyamakojō features earthworks such as tatebori (climbing trenches), dorui (earthen ramparts), and kuruwa (baileys), as well as residual masonry.

Modoriyamakojō is a single bailey fort complex with a main bailey on the hilltop orbited by small ledge-like terraced areas in bands on the hill side. Some embankments and tatebori can be found on the hillside, but they are hard to make out as the ruins are deformed and overgrown. I was most impressed by the remains of ishigaki / ishiźumi (stone-piled walls) which seem to cover the hilltop. Particularly, there are corner segments or what look to be crude nobori-ishigaki (climbing stone walls) at the eastern corners of the main bailey. There's no mistaking these two lines of stone piles which stretch from the main bailey down to a terraced sub-bailey below. It's quite a mysterious structure.

I was following Ranmaru-sensei's map as a guide; on his blog he mentions the residual masonry at the site, depicting some stone wall ruins around the top of the bailey ramparts, but does not mention the climbing sections on the scarp. Everything is so jumbled and overgrown that it's hard to get a clear picture of the ruins, but I was most engaged by these shambolic clumps of masonry.
Naganuma Castle (Shinano) / 信濃長沼城

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Naganumajō is an important site in the history of the area, but no ruins remain of this once sprawling flatland castle. The Chikuma River has changed course during the intervening centuries, and now runs straight through the castle site. It's still causing trouble to this day, as river embankments are being rebuilt from the last time it burst its banks, and much of the site is a building-site. Various markers for the castle have disappeared or been relocated as a result. There was a stone marker for the castle near the embankment on a mound which was said to be the only remains of the castle's earthen ramparts, but the river-control embankment has been expanded, and the marker and mound are now gone. I also found a marker for the site of a former samurai residence.
Nakajima Castle (Azumi) / 安曇中島城

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Nakajimajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Ikeda Township, North Azumi County. It is a single bailey fort complex with an incomplete ring of terraced lower bailey space beneath the main bailey. There may be some other sculpting of the mountainside here and there, but impressions are indistinct.
Nishi Wada Castle / 西和田城

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Nishi-Wadajō is an obscure fortification site in the Higashi-Wada neighbourhood of Nagano city. It has been completely developed over. Names of vicinities / locales remain such as Shiromae-minami (Afore Castle South), Shiromae-higashi (Afore Castle East), and Shirobori-seki (Castle Moat Weir) (readings are my guess). I first went to Higashi-Wadajō thinking there might maybe just be some castle ruins to find, but there wasn't. This was in 2020 as part of a 'castle-walk'. It kind of bothered me that I didn't have much information on the site, as it was part of a complex of fortifications. So, after doing some more research, I went to Nishi-Wadajō knowing there was nothing to see but figuring I better go anyway for the sake of completing the pair.
Ohfuji Castle / 大藤城

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Ôfujijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site in Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. It is accessed via the road just north of the Miasa Townhall, which, by the way, is built in the middle of the mountains with nothing else around (because why not? It's a large, modern complex for an area with less than a thousand residents, and so it's no wonder why Japan's rural municipalities are in massive debt). I came from the north, and passed an area with terraced rice paddies and a log cabin where there is a sign with information about the area. According to the explanatory board, the area (presumably once a hamlet) was called 'Horigiri (堀切)' due to the large number of fortifications in the area. 'Horikiri (堀切)' of course refers to trenches built at castles.

Ôfujijō does indeed have some horikiri (trenches), one of which is quite wide. I figured the area could've been named just for that one imposing trench. Possibly the road at the entrance to the site was once a trench too. The area seems to have long facilitated transit. There is another road to the west downhill of the fort site. The fort likely watched over these lines of communication and supply.

Ôfujijō has a central, terraced bailey with dorui (earthen ramparts) to the west. To the east is a large horikiri dividing the ridge. There is a smaller horikiri directly beneath the central bailey space. There may have been another trench toward the western climbing side of the fort, but I didn't want to descend to the bottom of the mountain to find this small trench since my rented e-bike was at the top. I didn't miss much by the looks of it anyway. I cycled back to Shinano-Ômachi Station after that. The rental bike measured speed, so I know I broke the speed limit rocketing back down those mountain roads out of yamajiro-land and back to civilisation. The bike's display also showed a 'top speed record', which goaded me to irresponsibily break it at 60km/h+.
Ohnoda Castle (Azumi) / 安曇大野田城

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Ônodajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Ôshio area of Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. The layout of the fort is linear, following the ridge running north to south. The northern portion and southern portion of the fort are separated by a narrow ridge, along which a tatebori (climbing moat) can be seen. It eats into the ridge to create a narrow bridge of earth - a dobashi of sorts. Ônodajō's northern portion is long, and the bailey is lumpy, with indications of terraced ledges below to bolster the mountainside defence. To the very end there is a bulwark with trenches below along a perilously rocky and steep ridge. Ônodajō's southern portion is made up of baileys separated by horikiri (trenches).
Ohshio Castle (Azumi) / 安曇大塩城

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Ôshiojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Ôshio neighbourhood of Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. Ôshiojō has a compact but satisfying layout. It is a single bailey complex made up of a central bailey, terraced in the middle, surrounded by concentric sub-baileys and terracing, including an obikuruwa (belt bailey) which rings the entire hilltop. The ridge which leads to the fort is protected by trenches and embankments. There is also a prominent corner segment of dorui (earthen ramparts) on the portion of the obikuruwa which overlooks the ridge.
Ohtou Castle / 大塔城

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Ôtōjō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Shinonoi Township, Nagano Municipality. No ruins remain, unfortunately, but I had some time before the next express train back, so I decided to check the area, finding an explanatory board about the castle at a local community centre. The battle of Ôtō is a major event in the medieval history of Shinano, so I'm glad I had time to visit even though there isn't much to see. Some intrepid castle-bloggers have indicated which fields and roads represent the former courses of moats. A small river now flows through the site.
Raiden Castle / 雷電城

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Raidenjō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. The layout of the fort is fairly compact, but I found it interesting, and the remains were quite impressive. Features include dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches), tatebori (climbing trenches) and kuruwa (baileys). Between the first and second bailey is a complex arrangement of embankments.

One pit formed from these ramparts is very deep. I think this was intended as a reservoir, storage pit or fire pit, rather than as a trap for enemies. The gently curving tatebori appear to have been carved or augmented from natural terrain to prevent enemies from moving laterally along the mountainside, and the central tatebori is very striking.

Raidenjō is surrounded by rugged and steep terrain, and would've been very difficult to assault. Having rented an electric bike from Shinan-Ômachi Station, I cycled up the steep mountain roads to reach the highest point along the road which ran just below the castle-mount. I was worried that if I were to descend along the road on the other side, I may not be able to find a way up to the castle, and I would have to start from the bottom or cycle back up the hill. However, it was fool-hardy of me to climb up the southern ridge, which is very dangerous, being basically a cliff made from a pile of boulders with loose rock and trees between.

Having made that daunting climb, I disturbed a goatelope on the ridge. It bounded off and then, from a safe position, glared at me in its idiot manner. King of mountain, ye, with mien of jester. Probably it had not been expecting the sudden appearance of a human from a cliff it couldn't climb itself. The idiot goat (a 'serow', but who knows what that is?) went bleeting off to its fellows down the mountain.

Since I didn't want to climb back down the way I had come, I followed a path from the east of the ridge to exit the site. It eventually disappeared, but I was able to get back down to the road not too far from where I had left my bike at the southern ridge terminus. It seems like cliffs go all around the mountain, but just around the sloping bend there is an old stairway which goes up through a creek with many large stone slabs which look like a cyclopean stairway.

And how! I probably could've got up there instead. Silly me. It's always worth checking for a safer way up the mountain... Yet, the castle-bloggers I was using for reference both gave up climbing to this medieval wreck, putting safety first. Wise of them. 'And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour'.
Saijozan Jinba / 妻女山陣場

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Saijozan-jinba is a hilltop jinba (fortified encampment) site overlooking Iwano village in Matsushiro Township, Nagano Municipality. It was famoulsy the battle camp of Uesugi Kenshin during the fourth battle of Kawanakajima in 1561. Atop the hill there is a look-out platform with an information board, and a shrine established to console the dead from the battle.
Sakuma Yakata / 佐久間館

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Sakuma-yakata was a fortified residence site in Akanuma village, Nagano Municipality. No ruins remain, and the site is now a farmstead, orchards and an altar to Jizō.
Saruga Castle (Azumi) / 安曇猿ヶ城

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Saruǵajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin. Saruǵajō means 'Monkey Castle' or 'Monkey's Castle' (which is why I use the diacritic to denote the possessive ヶ). Another 'Monkey Castle' in Nagano! This one in Ômachi Municipality, or historical Aźumi County. I've already been to the one in historical Chikuma County (Matsumoto Municipality). There are others... These sites are so called because they are very high up and generally inaccessible, the inference being that only a monkey could climb to them. Castles named for tengu and oni (demons) follow a similar convention.

However, in this case the climbing was minimal, as there is a mountain road called 'Salt Road' after an older mountain trail (still maintained). It just goes up the mountain chain and comes down, and the few vehicles that use it mostly go to the paragliding jump-off area. This area gives the most fantastic views of the lakes and basin below. The castle site, unfortunately, is surrounded by trees and so there are no views from there. Since I had rented an e-bike from the station in town, I was able to cycle all the way up the mountain road to a hairpin bend where there is a trail which goes down to the castle site. I stopped off at the paragliding jump-off for the views and also saw a monkey there! It moved along the slope right in front of me in no apparent hurry. This was very auspicious considering where I was going. After a chat with some friendly locals who praised me for cycling up the mountian, I went to the castle ruins.

Saruǵajō is a single bailey complex featuring earthworks, such as horikiri (trenches). On the rear ridge there is a nice horikiri, and there is a double set just behind the main bailey with dorui (earthen ramparts). This chain of trenches constitutes the most prominent ruins at this site. The main bailey has dorui and what I took for a koguchi ('tiger's maw' gate) ruin, but it was quite overgrown. The signboard about the castle has also fallen down and split into two. I went to the descending side of the main bailey. It seems to be terraced. Castle-explorer Takeshite Hanbē, who leaves reviews of obscure yamajiro ruins on Google Maps, says there also tatebori (climbing moats) and terraced baileys, but without a map I wasn't sure if he meant the ruins I had already encountered or other ruins.

I didn't descend beyond the main bailey, but it's possible to hike up to this site from below, past a cave, and this is also the best way to hike to the old trail, rather than following the modern road (a map for the trail promises splendid views, but the trail may not be maintained, as someone had childishly defaced the sign with their complaints about not being able to see anything). I made use of pedal power, however, so I had to retrace my steps. The noroshidai (beacon tower) site is located above the castle proper, located along the trail between it and the road.
Sarugajou Noroshidai / 猿ヶ城烽火台

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Saruǵajō-noroshidai is a noroshidai (beacon tower) site above and west of the ruins of Saruǵajō in Ômachi Municipality. A 2.5m tall conicular stone tower used to funnel smoke signals has been restored, which is the first time I've seen such a thing! There is also an explanatory board about the site besides. There is a rocky peak to the east with a hokora (mini-shrine), whereas the signboard and furnace are in a somewhat depressed area. There was likely a look-out on the peak. In addition to using smoke signals, defenders likely also banged drums and rung bells to warn the people below of danger. Saruǵajō can be reached by hiking down the ridge from this site.
Sawado Castle / 沢渡城

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Sawadojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Kamishiro Township, Hakuba Municipality. Ruins feature kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), and horikiri (trenches). The fort's layout is linear, but climbing steeply, following the ridge. Three integral baileys are separated by tall terraces, and binded below and above along the ridge by horikiri. The rear set of horikiri are tripple moats! Like a 'VW'-shape. I ended up reaching this site by climbing into the valley where there used to be a trail (no longer!) and then climbing the mountain head-on. This brought me up into the castle's third bailey, or a sub-bailey of it. I went back down following the ridge so as to see the lower horikiri and the terracing of smaller sub-baileys which turn the ridge into a giant stairway. I aimed for a road but ended up re-appearing to civilisation between some fields and surprising a farmer. His eyes bulged, but I was quick to say that I had emerged from the mountain and beg his pardon - "Eeee yooo", he sang in reply.
Senda Castle (Minochi) / 水内千田城

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Sendajō is a former hirajiro (flatland castle) site in the Inaba neighbourhood in periurban Nagano city, Nagano Municipality. Of this by all accounts once impressive fort, nothing now remains. Some vicinity names (koaza?) apparently remain, such as simply 'Moat', which may have been derived from the castle.
Senmi Castle / 千見城

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Senmijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the north of Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. Senmijō, deep within the mountainous interior of Shinano, is a barely visited and underexplored site. Indeed, I was able to make a tremendous discovery at this ruin, namely a large trench complex which has gone unidentified by Yogo-sensei and Ranmaru-sensei, the castle-bloggers whose maps I was using to navigate the site. The spirit of adventure and thrill of discovery is very much alive in this quiet place.

Senmijō features horikiri (trenches), dorui (earthen ramparts), tatebori (climing moats), kuruwa (baileys) and other earthwork ruins. Ranmaru divides the castle complex into three fortresses: an upper A-Fort, a lower B-Fort, and a detached C-Fort. Indeed, the site is quite expansive.

Whilst searching for the route to the C-Fort annex, I noticed a tatebori climbing the mountainside beside the trail. I climbed up this chute (keeping pace with a lizard scurrying at my feet), and discovered a large horikiri located between the A and C forts. This trench is not depicted on any maps of the castle I have seen, and so I'm happy to claim it as my own discovery.

"ART's Trench (please indulge me)" is not some ambiguous divot, but a very well formed and preserved trench complex, with an impressive depth of about 2 m on the descending side, and some 5m on the rising side of the ridge. It is situated on an otherwise unworked ridge section with no baileys attached, which is curious. The structure is of a central trench segment with a steep climbing section to the south, and a careening section to the north where it joins up with a creek. This creek seems to have been augmented as a defensive line to stop lateral movement on the mountainside, and there is a 'U'-shaped egress at the bottom of this chute. If I had stumbled into this falling section I would've no doubt been catapulted off the mountain like an awry pinball.

There is an embankment overlooking the trench on the descending side. It has some gnarly old trees and clumps of grass, and to me was a small oasis from whence I admired the beauty of the sculpted earth. Below the embankment I could only see the tops of trees. Later, retracing my steps after climbing up the scarp to A-Fort, I realised that the path I was on when I noticed the tatebori section of the trench is the path descending to the C-Fort from B-Fort, and that beneath the trench and berm is a cliff of sheer, smooth rock. This was confounding. Why did the castle-builders dig a deep trench along a ridge which was impossible to reach from below?

I'm not one for making up my own theories, amateur as I am, but I got to thinking how C-Fort was accessed originally from the rest of the castle. It was likely from C-Fort that the rest of the castle was accessed, but was as it by that tiny path which now exists going from B-Fort, or were there large ascending bridges, perhaps hikibashi (draw-bridges), connecting C-Fort with A-Fort over cliff and trench? If the enemy breached C-Fort and the bridges were withdrawn or collapsed, it would be extremely difficult for them to then enter the rest of the castle. This is just my outlandish idea, but how else can we account for this large trench here?

In my excitement about the highlight of visiting this site for myself, I forgot to talk about the layout of the site. A-Fort is the main bailey complex, and it is protected on the ridge-side rear by a large dorui segment or bulwark carved from the mountain itself. In fact, it seems that the main bailey's terraces were made by simply digging away at the mountain, but leaving the rear portion as a barrier of earth. The ridge leading up to the main bailey complex has horikiri and dorui. In A-Fort there is a lower, secondary bailey. Dorui is evident on the left side when descending.

Descending a sloped section from A-Fort one comes to B-Fort. It has a bailey section with some residual dorui, but the most interesting thing about this part of the castle is the row of three horikiri between boulders. The foremost of these horikiri is very large. Actually, it was a nuisance to get down into safely, and took me some time (I didn't even go back up that way, but opted to try to take the mountain slope to C-Fort). At the very end of the castle proper, on the tip of the ridge, are many boulders, and two large standing stones in the rough shape of diamonds stand like guardsmen either side of the ridge. They seemed purposeful, and this impressed me. I wondered if these monoliths had been set up that way intentionally for the fortress.

Finally, C-Fort is on a smaller ridge away from A and B up top. I visited it on my way back down the mountain. There are some horikiri, kuruwa and a dorui segment, but nothing too interesting in comparison to the other ruins (excepting "my" trench between it and the main fortress, of course!). It is thought this area was used to store supplies, and that the entrance to the main fortress originally came through here.
Senowaki Castle / 背之脇城

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Senowakijō, written multiple ways and also called 'Shiroyamajō', is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Nirei Village, Suzaka Municipality. Its structure is made up of a series of baileys and trenches carved into a steep ridge. Features include dorui (earthen ramparts), kuruwa (baileys), and horikiri (trenches). The terraces toward the ridge terminus are quite steep and appear as giant stairs leading to the castle proper. The highlights are the deep horikiri. The rear bailey is flattened beneath the climbing ridge as a terrace without any trench behind it, which is quite unusual as any attacker coming from the above ridge would be able to drop down into the final bailey. Maybe the castle was unfinished, or it was intended only as a place to withdraw to when defending the plain to below, and the fort was not expected to survive a prolonged siege in which it was surrounded. Though small, Senowakijō was sturdily built.
Tago Castle / 多胡城

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Tagojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Tago Village, Nagano Municipality. Tagojō is a single bailey fort with dorui (earthen ramparts) surrounding it. There are no other clear ruins such as terraces or trenches. The fort bailey is now the site of an altar to Kannon-bosatsu (Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva).
Tago Yakata / 多胡館

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Tago-yakata is a yakata (fortified manor hall) ruin in Tago Village, Nagano Municipality. The site of the residence can be recognised by the square portion of elevated land surrounded by the remains of a karabori (dry moat). The site is now fields and orchards. The ruins of Tago-yakata are situated between Tago Shrine and Tago Pond. If Tago Pond also existed in medieval times, then perhaps it fed the moat which was originally a wet rather than dry moat. The moat partially surrounds the site to the south and east, with the north being hillside and the west fronting the lake. The modern kanji for 'Tago' is '多胡', but it seems '田子' was also used historically.
Tonomura Yakata (Azumi) / 安曇殿村館

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'Tonomura' is a somewhat common name for a yakata (fortified manor hall), given that it means 'lord's village', perhaps refering to a village near to the manor hall. This Tonomura-yakata is in Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. The fortified area is a terraced hill which now contains fields and rural homes. Some ruins remain in the form of earthworks towards the top of the hill. These are corner segment of dorui (earthen ramparts) and a karabori (dry moat) to the north. The karabori seems to descend with the hill somewhat, and if so if this is all artificial then it's quite impressive.
Tsukiyodana Castle / 月夜棚城

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Tsukiyodanajō can refer to the entire network of fortifications on the Tsukiyodana tableland, but it can also be used to refer specifically to a fortification site in the south of the 'shelf' known as the karabori (dry moat) ruins. Trekking south from the junction peak between Akiba-toride and Iidajō, thousands of pallid butterflies fluttering like falling leaves in the autumnal forest about me, I was able to make it to this site, completely unsure that I would find anything. Eventually I noticed a trench appear between the trees, and I knew my quest was validated.

The Tsukiyodana-karabori is a yokobori (horizontal moat) running the length of a gentle peak and the 'saddle'-like hollow beneath it. Rather than bisecting a ridge like many trenches at yamajiro (mountaintop castles), this long trench is used to form a barrier over a wider, flatter area. It is thought to be a satellite fortification of Iidajō to the north, though I couldn't help but notice that it seemed the earth was piled a little higher on the south side. Nevertheless, there's much more land which isn't steep mountainside to the north of the trench.

The trench does not enclose a fort, but is simply a very long and straight trench. I crawled much of the length of it under the bushes and skinny trees which the site is overgrown with. It even began to ascend a ridge, where I thought it might've once been used as a path, before petering out.

The feature was so unusual and mysterious, at least amongst Shinano yamajiro, that I tried to account for it with alternative explanations. As a defence against boars? But was agriculture practiced all the way up here? How about an earthquake or landslide? But that wouldn't create such a rigidly straight line.

It seems the trench was dug as a barrier to any attacker coming from the south (so, the Takeda then), and that the flat space between peaks served as a place for people to hide and protect themselves in an emergency. The presence of well remains reinforces this hypothesis. Whilst the trench by itself may not be so impressive, if the whole tabeland area behind it was used as an encampment, also protected in the north and east by solid forts, then taken together, it might've been held as a considerable fortress with earthworks augmenting naturally defensible features.
Wakaguriyama Fort / 若栗山砦

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Wakaguriyama-toride, also called Isatajō, is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Ôshio vicinity of Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. The site is made up of a flattened peaks on Wakaguriyama, and lower flat areas, refered to as the Neko-yashiki (meaning 'root residence' in this case). Collectively the whole jōkan complex may be referred to as Isatajō. The site features terracing, baileys and dorui (earthen ramparts) formed from carving into the mountain ridge. The main area of the site is now a shrine. I also checked out some more terraced spaces beneath the shrine where lots of fern plants grow. There is lots of terracing here, as well as a mound-like formation along the top terrace. Where these built for a fortification, or for agricultural purposes even this deep in the mountains?
Wakatsukisato Castle / 若槻里城

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Wakatsukisatojō is a medieval fortified manor hall site in the Wakatsuki neighbourhood, a suburb of downtown Nagano. The site is now a park with a long depressed area which was formerly a moat. Wakatsukisatojō is paired with Wakatsukiyamajō, wherein 'sato' means 'village' and 'yama' means 'mountain'; the former was the main residence and the latter was effectively a mountain redoubt used in times of conflict. Most of the ruins were destroyed when the area was developed for housing from 1965.
Wakatsukiyama Bandoko Castle / 若槻山番所城

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The 'Wakatsukiyamajō Bandoko', a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site in the Wakatsuki area of Nagano Municipality, is a satellite fortification of Wakatsukiyamajō. This 'guardhouse' is shown on a map in the main castle's main bailey as a single bailey fortification. The map was a substantial undertaking and the work of legend of Shinano yamajiro, Miyasaka Takeo (I was surprised to learn that he's still with us, as he is revered in such a way that would naturally have one assume he had passed on; he must be over 90 years old). And yet, did he drop the ball on this one? Even masters make mistakes.

As many subsequent castle-explorers have discovered - and many others, tricked by the incomplete map, have regretted missing - the so-called bandoko is no mere guardpost, but an expansive yamajiro unto itself. Rather than a single bailey and trench, there are two integral baileys and seven trenches! And the baileys, though narrow, give way to some very large and impressive trenches as much as 10m deep. The last four horikiri (trenches) form a row - a quadruple trench complex! The description 'guardhouse' is inconsistent with this considerable fort.

The first bailey of the bandoko is surrounded by thick dorui (earthen ramparts), and there are signs of masonry. It certainly feels like the kind of cosy fort used as a signal tower. The second bailey is more exposed, but has dorui heaped up to the rear. There are three horikiri between the first and second bailey, with some ridgeline between each, and four horikiri in a row behind the second bailey. The path along the ridge runs through the horikiri to the immediate rear of the second bailey.

It's not exactly a fun climb up to the bandoko because the ridge between it and the main castle is so steep, and so I'm glad I saw everything. It's a shame that many castle fans or casual explorers who do not first do their research may miss out on the extensive remains up here. I know it's sacriledge against the 'god of Shinano yamajiro', but maybe his map should be removed, modified or contextualised so that more visitors don't miss out on the outermost fortifications of Wakatsukiyama.

A note on readings: keeping in Shinano's tradition of being populated by a bunch of untamable mountain bumpkins (<3), usual pronunciations are sometimes discarded by locals in favour of the vernacular flavour. The term for 'guard post' in Japanese is 'bansho', but here it is apparently called 'bandoko' instead.
Wakatsukiyama Castle / 若槻山城

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Wakatsukiyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Wakatsuki area of Nagano Municipality. The layout of the castle is quite complex, though it essentially follows the ridge. There is a lower area with a series of small terraced sections. These ruins are apparent very soon after one begins climbing from the trailhead, but much of this area is overgrown. The castle proper is made up of a series of wide terraced baileys which climb the mountain like a giant's stairway. Particularly noteworthy amongst these terraces is that from the second bailey dorui (earthen ramparts) sweep up to connect with the main bailey, as they go ensconcing a pocket bailey with a well .

The main bailey, which is in shape an irregular pentagon, is surrounded by dorui on four sides, with a fifth overlooking steep mountainside. The main bailey is accessed via a cranked gate complex. Beneath the main bailey is a substantial tatebori (climbing moat) trailing southward down the mountainside. To the rear of the main bailey is an intricate horikiri (trench) system with three cuttings. The first two cuttings are adjacent, forming a double trench, and the last trench is set further back with a terraced bailey - or bailey group - between it and the middle trench.

Wakatsukiyamajō has two satellite fortifications; to the north and ascending is the Bandoko ('guard post'), which is really a yamajiro unto itself, and to the south the Dōsawa Fort. I visited both these sites. The map of the castle ruins in the main bailey of Wakatsukiyamajō shows the Bandoko as a single bailey fortification, but it is in reality much larger...
Yakyu Fort / 矢久砦

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Yakyū-toride is a mountaintop fort site in Miasa Township, Ômachi Municipality. Specifically it is located on a hill opposite 'Pokapoka Land Miasa', above an Akiba shrine. The fortification ruins are on the ridge above the shrine.

Yakyū-toride has a long, narrow layout, essentially following the ridge. There are three baileys: upper, middle and lower. The middle bailey appears to be the main bailey. Each bailey is connected by narrow slips of the ridge. The middle bailey is the best defended, with dorui (earthen ramparts) to the rear, and a horikiri (trench) beneath the dorui. These earthworks are a sure sign that we have a fort ruin here, and aren't just looking at a natural ridge formation.

Other fortification ruins are a bit less obvious. I went into the upper bailey, and it looks bailey shaped with a rear embankment, but it is also covered in chest-high bamboo grass. This type of bamboo in Japanese is called 'kumazasa (bear bamboo)'. A bear could hide in it! I was able to traverse the area and get to the rear of the site where there is a narrow ridge. This seems to be the end of the fortified area. I amused myself on the return journey by photographing mushrooms and fungi, of which there were hundreds of specimens around.
Yokose Yakata / 横瀬館

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Yokose-yakata is a yakata (fortified manor hall) site in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. The main bailey is now the site of a hall to Kannon, the Buddhist deity. To the north is a large creek which forms a natural moat. To the south and west the terrain is terraced in three bands. These spaces, possibly former baileys, now have rural homes in them. The entrance to the temple hall, which is now in a state of ruin, is to the west where there is a cleared space, perhaps used as carpark; there is a path through the bamboo grass to the back of this clearing which one can only find when one is on top of it. This path climbs the hillock to the flattened space with the Kannondō.
Yokosearagamiyama Castle / 横瀬荒神山城

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Yokosearagamiyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Yasaka Township, Ômachi Municipality. The layout of the fort is lake a step-ladder made of earth, and the terraces are quite narrow. There are three terraces or sub-baileys beneath the top, main bailey. The main bailey has dorui (earthen ramparts) piled up on the ascending ridgeside. It seems a trench might've been dug where a road now runs. There are some old cenotaphs and a hokora (mini-shrine) on site today.
Yokota Castle / 横田城

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Yokotajō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Shinonoi Township, Nagano Muncipality. A large mound is all that remains of the castle. This tall corner segment of dorui (earthen ramparts) is now used as a raised platform for a small altar to Inari, and may have originally been a yaguradai (turret platform).
Yonako Castle (Shinano) / 信濃米子城

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Yonakojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the village of Shiono, Suzaka Municipality. This site is not to be confused with Yonagojō in San'in, which is written with the same kanji.

The structure of Yonakojō is proposed to be quite vast, but the most obvious ruins are at the site known as 'Yonako Castle I' - others sites, 'Yonako Castle II' and 'Yonako Castle III', are also proposed. Yonakojō proper, then, consists of a single bailey complex with horikiri (trenches) along three spurs of the ridge protecting the way up to the flattened peak which forms the only integral bailey. Other parts of the ridge may have been levelled once, but the site is overgrown and it's hard to tell. The double rear trenches are quite prominent, and so we can say with certainty this is a fortification site.

However, the outer environs of this castle, spread thinly over the mountain, I found to be much more of a mystery. My suspicion is was that what I found were Sengoku period ruins, and that the other less processed areas may be from earlier fortification sites from the Nanbokuchō period. So I attempted to climb to these other areas.

I found nothing more on that mountain except calamitous peaks, hoary boulders, and uninviting cliffs. I came to the site of castle II, and the peak which should've been a bailey lay ahead. This portion of the ridge was just a series of standing rocks balanced precarious upon the ridge. It could not have been more clearly contrived for a video game, but the way across was to leap between these boulders! I felt like an anthropomorphised bandicoot. But there were no little, floating ART heads around for me to collect should I fall between one of the platforms and perish. I explored Castle II that way, though there were no ruins to behold. There was a peak with a collapsed and shambolic shrine building. I had to go back over the stone platforms.

Castle III is up where there is a hall to Kannon, and this site is the largest of all of them. I came to a smaller peak before the climb to Kannondō. The ridge was nothing but jagged rock, and on each side a fall to oblivion. Plus the weather was souring. I decided that I would rather die beneath a cloudless sky, and retreated before Castle III to fight another day.
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