ART Autumn Update Part 1

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ART Autumn Update Part 1


This is the first of a multi part series updating ART's recent contributions to

If you haven't seen ART's Facebook Japanese Castle Group yet I highly encourage you to do so. There are contributions from a variety of members, discussion and news about castle developments and discoveries.

I'm still working on lots more updates myself. As always, follow me on Instagram or Facebook (links in the footer) for the latest updates.


Akiyoshi Fort / 秋吉砦

AidaAkiyoshiToride (1).JPG

Akiyoshi-toride is part of the Aida-jōkangun (see Aida Kokuzousan Castle), and is located roughly in the centre of the complex of fortifications which make it up. The toride site proper is on a narrow ridge, and is made up of climbing baileys with a large horikiri (trench) above; the climbing baileys become small and narrow and go like a giant’s staircase up to the ridge and Kokuzōsanjō. There is a moraine-like feature to the left (going up), like a static river of rock, and along the climbing mini-baileys is also a gate ruin with some ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts). Akiyoshi-toride sits directly above the true core of the Aida-jōkangun. Here there is a terraced area of at least a half-dozen tiers lined with ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) (specifically, this part of the fort complex is called the 十二原沢上流の平場群 or 谷間の平場群). I was amazed at how much masonry remains here. These stone-lined terraced are flanked in the south by a large tatebori (climbing trench) which runs their length. It reminded me strongly of Kirihara Castle and other sites in the Chikuma area of Shinano which were influenced by the Ogasawara Clan, showing the same method of constructing mountainside fortifications.
Amabiki Castle / 雨引城

Amabikijou (2).JPG

It’s one heck of a slog to the ruins of Amabikijō. It can be accessed coming by the ruins of Oh’iwajō, Tsukioijō or probably Hitakijō (Kojō), though I didn’t make it to the latter. I climbed to Amabikijō from Oh’iwajō. There’s no trail so I just had to follow the ridge. Amabikijō, straddling the ridge, can be said to be divided into two areas with a low point in between, and I eventually made the ridge at this low point after traipsing through a slope full of fern plants. At many points up that interminable mountain I crawled like an animal, looking like some lanky bear with mange I suppose. Eventually I reached the top. Unfortunately I couldn’t stop to rest because there were many large flies spawning. They seemed to materialise around me if I dawdled too long. They mostly just landed on my jeans so they weren’t the worst, and I couldn’t figure if they were the same group of flies or new ones wherever I went, so I stubbornly smacked a bunch to rule out being followed. There were in reality just thousands of flies about. I thought they might not be around in mid’ October, but hey. I postponed snacking, having been on the mountain for several hours at this point, and just got down to business so as not to be assailed by the insects. The main part of Amabikijō is based around the peak called – I think – Meikakusan (明覚山). The map I was referencing put the peak in the lower, less developed part of the castle to the west, but I think this was a mistake. The peak is the tallest point with the hokora (mini-shrine) on a platform of piled stones; it corresponds to the uppermost part of Amabikijō. Amabikijō straddles the ridge with a central cluster of baileys, then tapering off down the ridge in the east and west with some further small baileys and trenches, the baileys being built by flattening peaks along the ridge. The features of this castle include earthworks such as kuruwa (baileys), koshikuruwa (terraced sub-baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), and hori (trenches). Despite the ups and downs I made it to every trench and bailey. Having made it to a detached bailey in the east, I then backtracked and descended at the easternmost bailey in the central cluster, which took me to the ruins of Tsukioijō.
Araihara Castle / 荒井原城

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Araiharajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site in the Araihara area of Takayama Rural Municipality, Upper Takai County. Araiharajō was a simple ridgeline fort with baileys on the flattened ridge separated by trenches. Remains are chiefly earthworks. There is an observation platform in the main bailey. 'Araiharajō' is a name derived from the nearby village of Araihara, but the castle had no such name historically that I can confirm. The site is also known by the very generic name of Shiroyamajō ('Castle Mount Castle'). Most hilltop or mountain castle sites are known locally as 'Shiroyama'. It may as well be called Castle McCastle-Face. Not every castle can be named after a Sabaton song, so this castle is also called Araiharajō. Elsewise, 'Takai-Shiroyamajō', incorporating the name of the county, could distinguish this site.
Awazawa Castle (Suwa) / 諏訪粟沢城

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Awazawajō is a fortified residence site in the Tamagawa Township area of Chino Municipality. There is a stone marker for the site, and a suggestion of earthworks down the side of it, looking somewhat like dorui (earthen ramparts) and a karabori (dry moat), but the impression is indistinct so it's hard to tell. Still, this remnant of earthworks is thought to represent the southwestern ramparts and moat of a square fort built alongside the clifftop (the plateau is about 20m tall). The site is now fields and housing.
Choujaike Yakata / 長者池館

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Chōjaike-yakata is the site of a fortified manor hall and retirement hermitage. It is named for a pond which sits beneath the altar to Kannon, called Chōjaike-Kannondō. There are a few levelled sections on the ridge above the hall to Kannon which represent the ruins of the yakata. ‘Chōja’ refers to a local strongman; by tradition the yakata is also the site of the hermitage of Gyōji, a former lord of Shirokomajō.
Fukui Castle (Shinano) / 信濃福井城

TakaiFukuijou (2).JPG

Fukuijō is an enthralling and mysterious site. It is situated in a high place in 'High Mountain Village' in a mountainous prefecture with nothing but mountains beyond, and feels rather lonely and isolated. In this kind of place... the people clung on in the harsh winters like a beetle under a leaf. One does not expect to find such a large ruin as Fukuijō here, and I was shocked by the extensive remains.

(I almost didn't make it, since the terrain was very steep to cycle on, and my rented electric bike had used up more than 90% of the battery by that time, but it used less than 1% on the way back, which should give you an idea of the elevation involved.)

Once can visit by bicycle or car because this is in fact a mostly flatland castle, or at least clifftop, situated on a plateau, and a forestry road goes through it. The impression of Fukuijō is of a large residential compound, but so large that one wonders who built it, since the nearby Suda and Takanashi clan complexes were not as large.

Fukuijō is divided into four baileys. Three baileys are arranged together in a row with karabori (dry moats) dividing them. To the south there is a large fourth bailey which flanks two of the baileys. Karabori wholly surrounds all baileys, including the outer fourth, and this extensive moat network is marvellously intact. Since the site is situated on a river terrace, some of the karabori descend as tatebori (climbing trenches), and there is a narrow band of terracing - more of a ledge, really - beneath the integral baileys above.

Dorui (earthen rampart) segments are found throughout the site, but are most extensive around the main bailey. Unlike some clifftop forts which don't use karabori to run parallel to the cliffline, Fukuijō also has a long moat stretching beneath the baileys and above the cliff, with dorui heaped up on the outside of this moat above the aforementioned narrow ledge. Actually, this is a feature I associate more with castles in Kantō than in Shinano...

I had a lot of fun following the moats. There's no break in them as they ensconce bailey after bailey, so that it occured to me that the baileys must've been accessed via wooden rather than earthen bridges; perhaps collapsible draw-bridges. There is a small stone wall in the main bailey, but it's not clear what time this dates from. The southwestern corner of the main bailey has a small platform of earth on the inside of the ramparts, suggesting that perhaps a small turret or tower was constructed here.

This site is difficult to navigate as it is largely over-grown; formerly cultivated, it is now used as a cedar plantation. I also had to contend with snow, which I hadn't counted on since there was none in the basin below that day. Therefore, it is probably best to come in late autumn or early winter before the snow gathers, and absolutely not recommended during the summer months. Despite the conditions, Fukuijō was a great ruin to explore.
Fukujima Castle (Takai) / 高井福島城

TakaiFukujimajou (2).JPG

No ruins remain of Fukujimajō in the historical Takai County. However, the shukuba (post town) of Fukujima-juku which thrived during the Edo period retains a little of the architecture and atmosphere of bygone days, so it was nice to come by.
Fuseyachouja Yakata / 伏屋長者館

SuwaFuseyachoujaYakata (1).JPG

The site of Fuseyachōja-yakata, a fortified manor hall, is now an abandoned farmhouse surrounded by woodland. It sits above a small lake. No ruins remain of fortifications, but the site has apparently left behind much speculation. This is my 900th castle profile on the site : )
Futta Castle (Suwa) / 諏訪古田城

SuwaFurutajou (2).JPG

Futtajō is now the site of the Yatsuǵatake Museum in the Toyohira Township (the nearest settlement is the hamlet of Oniba) of Chino Municipality, and no ruins remain beyond the shape of the plateau on which the fort sat.
Ganshouin Yakata / 岩松院館

GashouinYakata (3).JPG

Ganshōin-yakata is a medieval fortified manor hall site named for the temple Ganshōin which is now located on the site. The mausoleum of Fukushima Masanori (see Takaino-jin’ya for the history of that daimyō) can be found at the temple. The temple sits on a series of terraces lined with ishigaki (stone walls). There is also a large and impressive ishigaki segment which would not look out of place at an Edo period castle. Going by the masonry and piling methods, most if not all of this stonework was constructed as part of the temple, but the yakata likely had some ishigaki too, and it may be that parts were repaired over the years for the temple, and the odd block here and there survives from the time of the yakata. During my visit the autumnal scenery was very beautiful; gingko trees had cast about their leaves, layering the area like gingko snow. See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Takaino Jin'ya
Harano Castle (Suwa) / 原の城

SuwaHaranojou (1).JPG

Haranojō is a castle ruin in the Kitayama Township of Chino Municipality, part of what was the historical county of Suwa. It is nearby to another site, Masugatajō (枡形城), and together the two sites are sometimes referred to as Yukawajō (湯川城) after the local settlement, Yukawa functioning as the downtown of Kitayama. The site of the castle, which sits on a small cliff, is now fields today but remains include remnants of karabori (dry moats). Also see Masugata Castle (Suwa).
Haruyamako Castle / 春山小城

Haruyamakojou (1).JPG

Haruyamakojō ('Spring Mountain Little Castle') is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Wakaho Township, Nagano Municipality. It is a satellite fortification of Haruyamaôjō ('Spring Mountain Great Castle'). Ruins include earthworks such as kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches) and a dobashi (earthen bridge). The layout of this ridgetop castle consists of a single bailey complex. The bailey is divided by a terrace and there is a horikiri to the rear. The forward of the upper bailey is protected with boulders like a natural bulwark. Beneath here the ridge is narrow, rocky and steep. There is also a horikiri located along the ridge around midway between the two fort sites which make up what is collectively referred to as Haruyamajō ('Spring Mountain Castle').
Haruyamaoh Castle / 春山大城

Haruyamaohjou (1).JPG

Haruyamaôjō ('Spring Mountain Great Castle') is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Wakaho Township, Nagano Municipality. The ruins consist of earthworks in the form of kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches) and dorui (earthen ramparts). The layout is a of a simple ridgeline castle with a series of baileys made by flattening the ridge, separated by trenches. Most of the baileys have some dorui banked up, particularly to the rear above the trenches (where it would've been easiest to pile the excavated earth). There is a large forward trench which is where the trail enters the ruins.

Haruyamaôjō has a satellite fort, Haruyamakojō ('Spring Mountain Little Castle'), which is located further up the mountain. Together both sites are referred to as Haruyamajō ('Spring Mountain Castle'). I hiked up to this site starting from the temple Rendaiji, which is to the east of the castle mount.

See also Haruyamako Castle, Watauchi Inoue Yakata and Inoue Yakata.
Hiki Castle / 日岐城

Hikijou (4).JPG

Hikijō is an extensive earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) fortification site overlooking the mountain village of Ikusaka. It has multiple bailey spaces separated by deep trenches. These trenches, called horikiri, are dug into the ridgeline, creating barriers. Since much of the site is maintained as a park, a couple of trenches are spanned by little bridges, which is a quaint. These horikiri would’ve been originally much deeper. Actually, as I was thinking of that I then came to one which may actually be deeper now since it is used as a forest road.

The integral baileys of this fort are set one after the other, numbering three, and a blacksmith is held to have been located in the third. Also there are several spurs of terracing, as well as the ridge spur with three horikiri. The terraced spurs are not maintained as part of the park and so one must go off the beaten track, as it were. At one point I had to go under a fence post (this was from the main bailey, and the final terrace of that spur would offer tremendous views if not for the trees). The main bailey has an elevated corner segment. Perhaps a small tower was built here. The main bailey’s shape has been warped somewhat by landslides. The effect of landslides is very obvious at this site.

Another notable portion of the castle is located on a peak a little separate from the rest of the earthworks. It has a mound which was the site of an observation post. Of course, now all one can see is the trees! This look-out area also has terracing below. At the foot of the mount is a flattened area used for mustering troops or keeping horses.

Even though there are park features at this site, it is still fairly wild, and one must go through an animal barrier to reach the trail up. On the trail I disturbed a yamakagashi, a type of venomous snake (‘tiger keelback’).
Hoshina Maenoyama Fort / 保科前の山砦

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Hoshina-Maenoyama-toride, meaning 'Fort on the mountain above Hoshina', is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin located in the Wakaho Township of Nagano Municpality. Ruins include earthworks such as horikiri (trenches). This is a small fort with a simply layout consisting of a flattened bailey space along the mountain ridge overlooking the plain. To the front the mountain slopes downward, and to the rear there is a horikiri. A little above the fort site is the Danjō Rock, a large boulder which seems ready to topple off the mountain but obligingly doesn't.
Hoshina Yakata / 保科館

HoshinaYakata (1).JPG

Hoshina-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the Wakaho area of Nagano Municipality. The site is now a temple, Kōtokuji. The temple precincts are elevated somewhat with stone-piled retaining walls. Kōtokuji's gate is held to be an original structure from the yakata, which, if true, would make it one of the oldest surviving structures from a medieval yakata (manor hall), dating to before 1513 when the yakata was destroyed.
Ibarayama Castle / 茨山城

AzuchiIbarayamajou (5).JPG

Ibarayamajō is a hilltop earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) in the Kamishiro area of Hakuba Municipality. There are some ruins of the medieval castle, but also ruins which relate to before and after it, and where one story ends and another begins is not always easy to dissever. Ibarayamajō is thought to have been a satellite fort of Mikkaichibajō, and, from what remains, it's not hard to see Ibarayamajō as similar in layout to Mikkaichibajō.

Ibarayamajō appears to have been made up of integral baileys ensconced by obikuruwa (belt baileys), and maybe karabori (dry moats). There are remnants of these trenches in the forest around the clearing to the right as one comes up the hill. To the left of the torii gateway there appears to be nothing, but if one goes over the embankment then below there is clearly a horikiri (trench) bisecting the ridge. Beneath the main bailey on the western side one can trace a narrow ledge, now covered in cedars, which goes all the way to the rear of the bailey space, the remnant of either a ringing moat or narrow ring bailey perhaps.

The earth at the rear of the main bailey is banked up wide enough to accommodate a small tower, and there is piled earth to the west of the main bailey. To be honest, it looks like these parts were modified with the construction of the shrine which was built in 1909 (the original shrine hall was destroyed in an earthquake in 2014, and now only a small kami house stands), as there's something off about them. To the rear of the main bailey is a depressed area.There is a path up from somewhere here working through a creek to the left, and to the right there is a solid earthen wall running north. This looks like dorui (earthen ramparts) but it's quite unusual in that it is attached to the embankment of the bailey above (a long earthen bridge then perhaps?). In this shaded area are two large, circular mounds: these are kofun (ancient tumuli) which predate the fort. They also show signs of being moated, whch was not unusual for kofun, even those built on hilltops. It's possible they also served some function at the medieval fort too, such as platforms for watch towers or smoke signals; they are considered to be within the footprint of the fort.
Inoue Castle / 井上城

Inouejou (4).JPG

Inōejō was the mountaintop stronghold of the Inōe Clan in the Sengoku period. It is made from a series of flattened peaks and ridges divided by trenches dug into the ridge. Inōejō can be divided between the upper ‘Great Castle’ and the lower ‘Lesser Castle’. The lower castle was a simple fort built upon terraces which formed small baileys. The two parts of Inōejō, also known as Shironominejō, are separated by elevation. Before the ridge sweeps up toward the upper castle there is a trench complex made up of three cuttings. The main part of Inōejō is protected by a forward horikiri (trench) before the main bailey complex. The main bailey is wholly surrounded by a lower obikuruwa (belt bailey). Toward the rear of the site are three more horikiri which divide the castle’s outer bailey spaces.
Inoue Yakata / 井上館

InoueYakata (2).JPG

Inōe-yakata is a medieval fortified manor hall site. It is paired with Inōejō on the castle-mount above. There is a signboard and beneath it are the remains of earthworks in the form of a karabori (dry moat) segment. Most of the site is now a farmhouse and orchards.
Ioto Castle / 五百渡城

Iotojou (1).JPG

Iotojō is a wild yamajiro (mountaintop castle) in a relatively remote corner of Shiojiri Municipality. The road to the castle is very steep, and the trail starts next to a bridge where the road is closed. It’s quite a challenge to climb to this fort ruin. It is steep and there are rope sections (one of which I repaired; I’m no boy scout but I know I did a good job with the knot because it didn’t give when I later used it to descend!). The fort is a single bailey complex fort with terracing to the front and rear (a single lip to the immediate rear). The main bailey is partially divided by terracing, leaving an uneven terrain. There is a hokora (mini-shrine) in the main bailey now. The sides of the bailey are very steep. To the rear is a ridge which has been collapsed by landslides so that now it is more like a climbing frame of tree roots than it is solid ground. If one goes over this ridge, on which the soil is so loose it sinks beneath one’s feet, one will come to a gnarly rockface with an ancient rope going up it. Climbing this uninviting path, trusting in a dubious rope, is no mean feat, but on the more intact portion of the ridge above is a series of terraced baileys ending in a horikiri (trench). This site is fairly dangerous to master.
Jikouin Fort / 慈光院砦

JikouinToride (3).JPG

Jikōin-toride is a fortified slope between the sites of Jikōin-yakata and Iinawajō. It is a single bailey fort complex, though the main bailey is quite large with different levels. The middle portion is lower situated than the east and west halves; the embankments are taller on these sides, so that being within the fort is somewhat like being in an old mast-driven frigate. The dorui (earthen ramparts) can be seen rising fore and aft of this great ship. To the north the mountain slope continues up. On the slope to the south going down there is evidence of terracing and tatebori (climbing trenches).
Kakuhari Yashiki / 角張屋敷

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Kakuhari-yashiki is a medieval fortified residence site. There is a signboard detailing the site but no ruins remain. The site is now fields and a house. When I first came a boy was whipping a bottle full of water around on what looked to be an improvised fishing rod, his little sister chastising him. I tried to quickly take a photograph of the house’s stonewalls – not related to the medieval residence but what I like to consider ‘compensatory ishigaki’ – but I was still wearing my bell from when I was up at Inōejō and it jingled, alerting the children to my presence. The children spun about and noticed me next to the signboard at the end of their drive. The children stopped and stared. I made a show of reading the sign. The children continued to stare. I awkwardly said in a cheery tone “Konnichiwa... Fushinsha desu”. HAHA. I joke! I only said ‘Hello’, but the children were not to be won over. Luckily I passed by a little bit later after visiting Takenojō and was able to take some pictures without them there.
Karatoriya Castle / 唐鳥屋城

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Karatoriyajō is an outer fortification of the Aida-jōkangun, a complex of forts centred on Aida-Kokuzōsanjō. Unlike the others, Karatoryajō is on another mountain to the northwest of Mount Kokuzō. Karatoriyajō is an earthworks fort. It has a small main bailey. The ridges to the northeast and southwest are pitted with horikiri (trenches), and to the northwest there is a spur of small terraced baileys which climb up to the castle like a giant stairway. Anybody trying to assault this area would’ve been met with row after row of defenders which could fire projectiles over each other to hit the enemy. Since this is in the north it may have been anticipated, or hoped, that Uesugi forces would attack here along this easy-to-defend, hard-to-assault corridor. The ledges may have also hosted huts for the castle’s garrison, since the main bailey above is very small. I didn’t investigate what some believe to be ruins along the southeast ridge, as it’s by all accounts a tough climb with little to see. There is a depression here which some think was an area for mustering troops, but it’s unknown. A small flattened peak may have acted as a bulwark.

Karatoriyajō protects two passes, Hanagawara Pass to the east, and Tachi Pass to the west. I hiked to the castle mount via Tachi Pass. There was a flattened area there which once hosted a rest-house for travellers going between the mountain valleys and basins which make up this alpine area. Since the climb from the Hanagawara side is apparently quite arduous, I’d recommend taking the Tachi route to the castle site. Opposite the trail to the Tachi pass is another trail which grants access to Kokuzōsan. I’d already been up there so as to visit Utsutsujō and some other ruins. I actually climbed all the way back up to Kokuzōsanjō to appreciate the view, which is magnificent. Tree cover obstructs the view from Karatoriyajō, though Kokuzōsanjō can be seen looming above between the foliage.

In checking the readings for the above mentioned passes I came cross a site dedicated to mountain passes, ‘Tōge Oyaji’:
Karidako Castle / 雁田小城

Karidakojou (1).JPG

The are two fortified ridges which meet up at the site of Takinoirijō on the mountaintop. The northern ridge hosts the forts of Tsutsuhatajō, and the southern ridge hosts Karidajō. Karidajō is split into two fortifications sites: Karidaôjō (‘Karida Greater Castle’) and Karidakojō (‘Karida Lesser Castle’).

Karidakojō consists of a single bailey with a trench to the rear, albeit narrow between the rocky ridge, and terraced ishigaki (stonewalls) piled around in numerous bands to form a very neat square. The banding style of ishigaki is similar to that found at other sites in the area built by the Takanashi Clan, such as Tsutsuhatajō, but the ishigaki is in marvelous condition. I began to speculate immediately. Is it that these walls were maintained and re-piled by many generations of worshippers from Ganshōin below? Perhaps a shrine was built here, and so the castle walls were maintained at Karidakojō whilst other sites went neglected? Or perhaps there were no such walls here during the time of the fort. Why would the castle-builders go to such trouble to elaborately construct such a small, minor fort? The size of the fort is more suited of a simple look-out, after all. I cannot say. Something’s up, and there’s a mystery, but, at least, these walls are very handsome.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Karidaoh Castle / 雁田大城

Karidaohjou (4).JPG

The are two fortified ridges which meet up at the site of Takinoirijō on the mountaintop. The northern ridge hosts the forts of Tsutsuhatajō, and the southern ridge hosts Karidajō. Karidajō is split into two fortifications sites: Karidaôjō (‘Karida Greater Castle’) and Karidakojō (‘Karida Lesser Castle’).

Karidaôjō is the main castle. It consists of a series of baileys separated by horikiri (trenches) and dorui (earthen ramaprts). The main bailey is forward and is split by a terrace with ishigaki (stone walls). It was formerly surrounded by ishigaki. Apparently there is a nice chunk on the south-facing slope, but – and I may have been a bit weary at that point – I didn’t check there as it wasn’t indicated on my map; though I had made many independent discoveries that day, that one slipped by me. Even so, I identified ishigaki. The trenches and ramparts are the features which stand out the clearest. The trail up to (I went down) Karidaôjō has some really nice scenery made up of interestingly weathered rocks. Descending from Karidaôjō brings one to Karidakojō. It is not too difficult to climb up to Karidaôjō, but going all the way to Takinoirijō would be tough; I descended from Takinoirijō having climbed up from Tsutsuhatajō on the northern ridge.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Kariyahara Castle / 刈谷原城

Kariyaharajou (19).JPG

Kariyaharajō proved to be a nice castle ruin to visit, but the initial climb to reach it was quite punishing. Upon the advice of several castle bloggers I came up via the ridge with Meitokufudō shrine. There is an old trail here but it was very overgrown and strewn with fallen trees. I ducked, weaved, and hopped my way up and lost the path, taking the ridgetop instead. Since fallen trees were everywhere progress was slow. On the way back I was able to stick to the old trail but in getting back down to it – it passed under the castle site – I touched a spiky tree (honey locust? an invasive species) which pierced through my glove and into my hand.

The principal baileys of Kariyaharajō, the main bailey and one below it, are covered in fallen trees. Looking at some other blogs it wasn’t like this before 2020; some storm must’ve come through? I found the marker for the castle amidst shambolic, fallen trees in the topmost bailey. The marker was dated 1980! Amazing that it has survived so long.

Kariyaharajō has a southern spur, an eastern spur and a western spur. I came up via the overgrown, dangerous southern spur, but the other spurs proved easier to navigate. Each spur is made up of small baileys divided by horikiri (trenches). The western spur was very clear with no fallen trees, as though it had escaped whatever storm had ravaged the other parts of the site. Here the autumn leaves fell thick and blanketed the forest floor like a lush snow. The sunlight was transmuted through the foliage and the mountain here was bathed in a yellow glow. For better or worse some lyrics by Coldplay came into my mind...
Kita Majino Castle / 北真志野城

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On my way between Aruga Castle and Minami Majino Castle I came, by complete chance, upon a sign indicating the former site of Gongenzawajō. Around the sign was just fields and orchards. Gongenzawajō is another name for Kita-Majinojō, which would twin the site with Minami-Majinojō. One castle explorer's blog indicated that "the general shape" of the castle could be appreciated in a nearby park, but I didn't see where. It was quite difficult to work out where the site was referencing maps, and so in the end all I had to go on was the sign I had come across. Of course, simply stumpling upon a new site whilst going between two others was a welcome accident, even if I didn't find anything in the way of ruins.

Update: (2023)

I came back to this very minor site, Kita-Majinojō, in the Konami Township of Suwa Municipality, to check I didn’t miss anything. The Chūō Expressway, slayer of many a castle ruin, cuts through the middle of the castle site; the first time I chanced upon this site I found a sign to the west of the motorway explaining about Gongenzawajō, another name for this castle. There’s not much in the west and that area is now some old fields with slate walls criss-crossing. The ruins continue on the east side, however, so I came back to check those out.

The east has a little more to offer, but only a little more than nothing. The site of Kita-Majinojō encompassed the hill where the Tademiya Shrine is. Behind the shrine is a wooded area which may be part of Nishiyama Park. There is a mallet golf course here. The terracing of the hillside is noteworthy here, and may be related to fortifications. There is even a depression which looks somewhat like a moat, and suggestions of dorui (earthen ramparts) along some of the terraces. Unfortunately none of these formations are very distinct, so impressions of castle ruins amount to nothing more than suspicions. It’s possible the terraces were sculpted for agriculture, or even the park, after all. At least it was nice to visit the shrine and park.
Kokuzousan Castle (Aida) / 会田虚空蔵山城

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There are many fortification sites called ‘Kokuzōsan’, which appears to be a popular name for mountains in Shinano, and the province / prefecture has at least five. Two are actually part of very large complexes of fortifications, and Aida-Kokuzōsanjō is one of those, part of the Aida-jōkangun (会田城館群), a group of fortification and residence sites in and above the valley of Aida. Of that group, Aida-Kokuzōsanjō is not the largest of the fortifications, but it may be considered the main one, as it sits atop of all the others on Mount Kokuzō, and is also referred to as Minenojō (峯ノ城), or ‘castle at the peak’.

The entire complex consists of many smaller fortified ridges and terraced areas, but the main clusters of fortifications are generally considered to be Kokuzōsanjō, Nakanojinjō (Nakanojin Castle), Utsutsujō (Utsutsu Castle), and Akiyoshi-toride (Akiyoshi Fort). These ones often get dedicated profiles on castling blogs, but there are other fort sites besides. Also, Karatoriyajō (Karatoriya Castle) on a neighbouring mountain is also sometimes included. The complex is the core of a network of fortification sites all around and throughout the valley, in fact.

Aida-Kokuzōsanjō itself is made up of narrow cleared spaces which form baileys along the ridge divided by trenches cut into the earth and rock. The view from the topmost bailey complex is incredible, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine assaulting such a hard to access castle. To the south, on the mountainside, there are columns of terraced pocket baileys which climb up the mountain’s frond-like ridges like gigantic stairways. I descended via the longest column of terraced baileys which start beneath the Iwaya-jinja, a shrine built clinging to a massive boulder. To the west of the main ridge is a jagged row of rock rising from out of the mountain like the spiky spine of a dragon. The best views can be enjoyed here. Beneath here, further along the ridge, is a well ruin. The ridge drops swiftly in elevation thereafter. Following that ridge brings one to several detached baileys and, eventually, the site of Utsutsujō. The other aforementioned forts are located to the southwest. Akiyoshi-toride has immediately beneath it an area of extensive, wide terracing and stone walls which probably hosted residences or barracks.
Kokuzousanminami Fort (Aida) / 会田虚空蔵山南砦

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Kokuzōsanminami-toride is part of the Aida-jōkangun, a complex or network of fortified spaces on and beneath Mount Kokuzō. The ‘Southern Fort’ is located along a ridge beneath a fork in the modern mountain road further up from the main trails. It is directly south of the Minenojō on the mountain summit. The layout of the fort consists of a couple of terraced baileys bounded by horikiri (trenches) cut into the ridge fore and aft of the main bailey space. There is evidence of terracing both above and below. A series of terraces cut into the ridge could be delineated nearly all the way up to the summit, stopping at the hanging boulder shrine where the terrain protecting the topmost castle is most steep.
Kokuzousannanseioneno Castle (Aida) / 会田虚空蔵山南西尾根の城

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Kokuzōsannanseionenojō is part of the Aida-jōkangun, a complex or network of fortified spaces on and beneath Mount Kokuzō. The site’s clunky name simply refers to its positioning on a southwestern ridge of the castle mount. The fort’s layout is made up of a series baileys and terraces along the ridge. To the rear is a horikiri (trench) sunk into the ridge. If Mount Kokuzō was attacked from the south, Nanseionenojō would’ve been one of the first lines of defence as an outer fortification. The name for this site comes from how it was labelled on a map of the network of forts I was using, but an explanation board at the site also makes reference to a ‘Tenguyama-toride’ without labelling it on any map. This being a notably large cluster of fortifications set apart from the rest, I thought ‘Tenguyama-toride’ could refer to this fort, but I have no way of knowing. One would also suspect a fort with such a name (usually only the most inaccessible forts are named after tengu) to be located on one of the higher peaks, and so, since it is listed alongside Minenojō (so we know it isn’t yet another name for the summit fort), it could also refer to a couple of baileys divided by a trench along the west of the topmost ridge. I have called that detached bailey ‘West Fort’, but it may also be ‘Tengu Mountain Fort’. It seems some of these names are only known to locals!
Kokuzousannishi Fort (Aida) / 虚空蔵山西砦

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Kokuzōsannishi-toride is part of the Aida-jōkangun, a complex or network of fortified spaces on and beneath Mount Kokuzō. I’m exploring the possibility that this fort is also known as Tenguyama-toride.
Komasawa Castle / 駒澤城

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Komasawajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site in Ômachi Municipality. It is a series of earthworks following the ridge. There is an old trail which works its way via many switchbacks up to the central area of the castle, but I opted to start at the end of the ridge which overlooks the plain, and so I climbed the mountainside directly, crawling like a some foulsome bear. This meant I could see all of the castle, including minor terraces, without backtracking, though the site isn’t so large so it probably would’ve required less effort to just pick a less steep slope – anyway, I like to attack castles head-on.

To attack Komasawajō I was using a map by Yogo-sensei. Yogo-sensei actually made it up to this castle, so that was reassuring (it seems he gives up climbing to many sites in Shinano, and our province has bested him many a time – though, rather infamously for the man with the largest yamajiro blog, he doesn’t like climbing mountains). Anyway, I noticed several features not shown on his map. Yogo-sensei bases his map’s on Miyasaka Takeo’s, but I’ll assume that one is more complete though I haven’t seen it. Basically there is some terracing on the west side of the castle not shown on the map. Eastern slope terracing is shown. To me it seems that a spur from the ridge divides two flat areas beneath the middle section of the main castle, and that these were terraced and likely fortified. Further, a climbing trench dividing the northern baileys appears to continue as a lateral trench alongside one of these terraces before becoming a climbing trench again as it careens off the mountainside. There is no mistaking this extended tatebori (climbing moat) so I’m quite confident about this. Anyway, it’s always nice to be able to find things which aren’t on maps. On the other hand, features shown in the castle’s southern lower baileys (which I also noted terracing beneath on the western as well as eastern slope) seemed very deformed and ill-defined to me, and the map appeared more reconstruction than true depiction.

Komazawajō’s most readily identifiable earthworks are probably, besides baileys themselves, the dorui (earthen rampart) segment dividing the main bailey in two, and the two horikiri (ridge trenches) to the rear of the site. I think Yogo-sensei may have missed some things so I wonder if he went in summer when things were a bit too overgrown. I went in autumn and the foliage around the temple beneath the castle mount was very beautiful. I also photographed some terraced areas beneath the temple because this is where the castle’s kyokan is presumed to have been, but the masonry and such here likely dates to the Edo period.
Kosakajinja Yakata / 小坂神社館

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It is thought that there was a medieval residence located where Kosaka-jinja stands today. The shrine is surrounded by a substantial amount of dorui (earthen ramparts), though it has been cut into in some places to allow more convenient access to the shrine.
Koujin'o Castle / 荒神尾城

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Kōjin‘ojō is a beautiful earthworks castle ruin, emblematic of Shinshū yamajiro (mountaintop castles in Nagano). Local castle fans highly rate it, but it is otherwise unknown, one of Shinano’s well-kept secrets. There is no trail to this site and it sits serene in the wilderness. I approached from a small valley in the east. Features include horkiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), and other earthworks.

I really liked the compact, terraced baileys which made up the core the castle. The topmost bailey has remnants of dorui on the western side. The second bailey is below it in the east. There are no paths and one has to climb between the various baileys. There are two spurs from the main bailey, to the north and south. The southern spur is essentially a series of horikiri.

The northern spur is larger and has more horikiri with some narrow enclosures between. The northern spur goes on some way and terminates in a ridge with two horikiri either side, in the northwest and northeast. There is terracing and another horikiri on this northeastern ridge. If one goes down all this way one is rewarded with... climbing all the way back up! The northern portion of the castle is connected to the main, southerly area by a thin ridge which would’ve been perilous to attack along. When I visited there was a beautiful tree with red autumnal leaves here.

I think Kōjin‘ojō would make a good introduction to Nagano’s hidden yamajiro treasures for intermediate castle explorers, but it’s rather difficult to get to the area on public transport, and there are no trails up the mountain. I cycled there from Matsumoto downtown on a mountain road through the Shinagura Pass, and then climbed the eastern ridge directly, using gloves. I thought there may have been some indication of terracing and horikiri remains along this ridge too.
Koya Castle / 小屋城

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Koyajō is a Sengoku period earthworks fortification site with a long profile which straddles the ridge overlooking Ikusaka Village. Ruins cover two wooded peaks. The first peak is very small, but beneath it are lined many terraces which climb the ridge like a set of stairs. The peak beyond that is the main bailey. A large double trench complex lurks beneath the main bailey. To the rear of the main bailey is a terraced sub-bailey and another trench. The castle mount is like a hill on the plateau-side north, being higher facing south, and this northern face has multiple bands of terracing lining it in parts. One can reach Hikiôjō by climbing from Koyajō, though I had long ran out of time for that by the time I came here.
Majinooyashiki Yakata / 真志野御屋敷館

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Majinôyashiki-yakata, a fortified manor hall site, is now merely terraced fields. The houses in the area are rural and some have fine stone walls.
Maruyama Mandaira Yakata / 丸山万平館

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Some earthen mounds are all that remain of the Mandaira-yakata in the area which one hosted its stables. Now the site is rice paddies and a row of pine trees which were planted for windbreaks in 1691.
Maruyama Tonomura Yakata / 丸山殿村館

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Of Tonomura-yakata, a common name for fortified manor hall sites since it means literally ‘Lord Village Hall’, in Ikusaka Municipality, the former residence of the Maruyama Clan, nothing remains. The site is now fields (I found a kiwi orchard), a school and a nursey. But there is at least a little signboard explaining about the site.
Masugata Castle (Suwa) / 諏訪枡形城

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Masugatajō is a castle ruin in the Kitayama area of Chino Municipality, part of what was the historical county of Suwa. It is nearby to another site, Haranojō (原の城), and together the two sites are sometimes referred to as Yukawajō (湯川城) after the local settlement, Yukawa functioning as the downtown of Kitayama. The site of Masugatajō is now fields, and most ruins have been buried or destroyed. There is a small explanatory board which shows the old layout of the fort. Despite the reports of earthworks, I struggled to find much of note, and it seems that alterations to the site have been made in recent years, further obscurring the remains of medieval earthworks.
Masugata Castle (Takai) / 高井枡形城

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Masugatajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site in the Nakayama area of Takayama Rural Municipality, Upper Takai County. The layout of the castle is like an 'X' with the main bailey complex at the centre. The southwest spur is the least developed and is truncated, with some terracing beneath the main bailey only. However, though the southeastern spur is more developed, the trail which climbs the mountain is along this southwestern ridge, so we have to take it.

Starting from the village of Yamada, I climbed the ridge to the main bailey complex, which is terraced with a lower and upper portion, and is surrounded by the remains of masonry and dorui (earthen ramparts). The northwest and northeast spurs apparently contain horikiri (trenches) and baileys, but the whole of the mountaintop is thickly coated in bamboo, and I could find no feasible way to take me to either ridge.

Note: This Masugatajō is in the historical Takai County, and is not to be confused with Masugatajō in the historical Minochi County (Masugata Castle (Minochi)), also in Shinano Province / Nagano Prefecture.
Mikkaichiba Castle / 三日市場城

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Mikkaichibajō is a hilltop earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) with a concentric layout, located in the Kamishiro township of Hakuba Municipality in historical Azumi County. The two integral baileys, the first and second, separated from each other by a large dry moat, are surrounded by layers of obikuruwa (belt baileys) and circular karabori (dry moats). These ledges are protected with dorui (earthen ramparts). There are gaps in the parapets, and these openings, like large crenels, are in fact tatebori (climbing moats), to prevent lateral enemy movement beneath the ramparts. Mikkaichibajō's layout reminded me strongly of Hakusanjō in Kai. This type of castle design is rare in Shinano and indicates a later construction date toward the end of the medieval era.
Mikkaichiba Yakata / 三日市場館

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Mikkaichiba-yakata is a fortified manor hall site, located in the Kamishiro township of Hakuba Municipality in historical Azumi County, with no confirmed ruins remaining. Around one house I noticed some fairly tall earthen embankments, but that's about it, and it's nothing definitive. The site of the yakata is elevated in relation to surrounding fields, and so it's easy to imagine this as an easy to defend emplacement for a secured residential compound. There is a strange monument here called the Shinmeisha Windmill. It seems to have been built to commemorate the Winter Olympics held in the area in 1998.
Minamiohshio Castle (Suwa) / 諏訪南大塩城

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Minamiôshiojō is a fortification site in the Toyohira Township (it's a collection of villages) of Chino Municipality, but no ruins remain and the site is now fields. There is no corresponding 'North Great Salt Castle', so 'South Great Salt Castle' must be named for the village beneath the castle mount. Takeshita Hanbē, who is not a samurai but a Google maps based reviewer prolific throughout the Kōshin area, said that when he visited, the Italian restaurant at the foot of the terrace / castle mount was called 'Castle' something, but now it's called 'Flower Storehouse'. Considering this is such a minor site, that was probably just a coincidence. One sometimes sees things named for castles that just happen to be near obscure sites, but I highly doubt that any of the developers or business-owners are secret castle fanatics. I suppose it's slightly more likely in the case of a family-owned business though.
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