ART Autumn Update Part 2

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ART Autumn Update Part 2


This is the second 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.


Nakajou Yakata (Chikuma) / 筑摩中城館

ChikumaNakajouYakata (1).JPG

No ruins remain of this yakata (fortified manor hall) site, Nakajō-yakata. The area is now housing and fields. There is a large, ancient-looking tree in one corner of this site which sits on a river terrace above the Sai River.
Nakajouikenotaira Fort / 中城池之平砦

NakajouikenodairaToride (4.5)).JPG

I believe I may be the first person to present an introduction to this site on all the internet (including Japanese sources) since I can find no information besides the site’s name and location being listed. It seems few have actually been here. If there is no information about a site and no ruins at it, then generally it’s not worth introducing, but I believe Nakajōikenotaira-toride has earthworks in evidence which indicate some medieval fortification. I confirmed the location on a map of historical sites put out by the municipality.

Sometimes one doesn’t know what is at a site unless one goes oneself. There is indication that the ridgetop site of Nakajōikenotaira-toride has been levelled in places with enclosures both on the ridge and terraced beneath in the southeast. In the northwest the slopes of the mountain appear to have been carved to make them steeper and more formidable (a feature called kirigishi). An old trail winds its way up the mountain in parts and the earth is banked up on either side, creating an undulating terrain just below the fort site. It’s not clear to me when this mountain pathway was dug out, but it may have been used as the main approach to the fort (a feature called ôte). There was some slight semblance of dorui (earthen ramparts) above the kirigishi in what I took for the fort’s main bailey space.

The history of this site is unknown. I felt sure that ‘something’ had been here, even if its exact nature was unclear. After the main fort site, the ridge climbed gradually and there was some terracing, so that the upper ridge may have been fortified, to my mind, as well. Eventually the ridge bulges toward a portion where it shoots up steeply, and so this is likely the end of any possible site of fortifications. Notably at this final juncture where a modern trail runs, I noted what looked like a trench cutting and embankment beneath a projecting part of the ridge which looked like it could’ve formed a small bulwark. And so I have presented my impressions of the site.
Nakamura Castle (Azumi) / 安曇中村城

AzumiNakamurajou (1).JPG

Nakamurajō is a single bailey fort site. Ruins include remnants of dorui (earthen embankments) around the bailey, and horikiri (trenches) fore and aft along the ridge. A modern forestry road runs alongside the site, but also passes over the trenches at one point. This is unfortunate but it does have the effect of presenting the site’s features from a perspective like that of a bisected anatomical model. The main bailey is overgrown, and landslides have eaten into it on its northern face, but the forestry road makes this an easy site to walk to from the shrine (大己神社) below (the shrine is a potential kyokan site (residential area at the foot of the castle mount)). I encountered pheasants which tried to play hide and seek with me from each side of the track.
Nakanojin Castle / 中ノ陣城

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Nakanojinjō is part of the Aida-jōkangun, a complex or network of fortified spaces on and beneath Mount Kokuzō. It is centrally located between several other sites, with Akiyoshi-toride, a fort site, on the ridge to the east, and another formerly fortified ridge to the southwest. The route to the north goes to the topmost ridge, with Aida-Kokuzōsanjō in the east, and Utsutsujō to the northwest. I visited Nakanojinjō after climbing down from Kokuzōsanjō (also called Minenojō). A spur of fortified ridge is located beneath Nakanojinjō, and I also went there too, climbing down the mountain that way.

Nakanojinjō, meaning ‘Middle Camp Castle’, itself consists of earthworks and masonry. The layout is of a central bailey complex with some sub-baileys below. There is a large horikiri (trench) sunk into the ridge at the rear of the main bailey with tall dorui (earthen ramparts). To the prow and aft of the main bailey ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) remains can be seen. A spur of terraced mini-baileys goes down the ridge south, but another spur goes to another fort site in the southwest.

See also Akiyoshi Fort and Utsutsu Castle. For the southwest ridge site see Kokuzousannanseioneno Castle (Aida).
Nakayama Castle (Suwa) / 諏訪中山城

SuwaNakayamajou (4).JPG

It’s surprising to me I haven’t been to more fortification sites with the name ‘Nakayama’ considering how common the name is; it simply means ‘Middle Mountain’. This is a very minor site in Suwa County, and therefore not to be confused with several other sites with the same name throughout Shinano. Little to nothing remains of Nakayamajō, though on the hillside there is a flattened area which may have once hosted a residence. Castle blogger Takeshita Hanbē, who has gone about the region leaving reviews of obscure sites on Google Maps, reports tatebori (climbing moats), but I couldn’t find any. I went to the top of the hill to be sure not to miss anything and found an abandoned van (abandoned vans are so much creepier than abandoned cars). It wasn’t immediately obvious to me how it got up there, but I guess there used to be a road, and that the hill has been extensively worked throughout modern times, though it is just woods now.
Nishinahon Castle / 仁科本城

NishinahonjouMorijou (29).JPG

Nishinahonjō, ‘the main castle of the Nishina (clan)’, also commonly called Morijō (‘Forest Castle’), is a flatland castle ruin on the shores of Lake Kizaki. It is now the site of a shrine, Nishina-jinja. Ruins of the castle include dorui (earthen ramparts), mizubori (water moats) and kuruwa (baileys). The main bailey, the site of the shrine hall, sits on elevated land. Beneath to the north is the second bailey, and there is a mizubori between the first and second bailey. To the south there is the third bailey, also on elevation, and between the third and first bailey is a road, but another moat used to run here. There used to be at least one further bailey to the south but this area is now housing and inns, and any moats have been filled in, probably for use as roads. There is a lot of information about the site’s history on-site, and when I went there were streamers showing the crest of the Nishina Clan with its famous swallowtail butterfly motif.
Ogawara Yakata / 小河原館

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Ogawara-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in Ogawara, Suzaka Municipality. No ruins remain but there is a signboard detailing the site’s history on-site. It is known locally as the Chōja-yashiki, which refers to a wealthy provincial landowner.
Oh'iwa Castle / 大岩城

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One does not simply walk to Ôiwajō (insert Boromir) – one crawls – as many unprepared castle explorers have found out. But Nagano castle explorers are made of sterner stuff! After going back and forth looking for a proper trail to this site I realised, of course, that there weren’t any. It’s a free climb up the mountain to get to the ruins of Ôiwajō. Things get easier once one mounts the ridge, though the ridge is very rocky and steep, so that even though it is easier to climb than a muddy slope, it is actually more dangerous. The views alone are worth it though! And one may as well enjoy the view on the way because the ruins themselves are too forested to see anything from. Ôiwajō is found after climbing up and along the rocky ridge (I came from the northeastern ridge spur which has a gate in the animal barrier; I found no other way onto the mountain, and nor is there a trail up to Tsukioijō either).

The layout of Ôiwajō is like some kind of centipede with long antennae. It is anti-symmetrical. To see most of the castle without going back and forth (which is up and down), attack from the northeast, as I did. Coming from this direction one comes to a lower detached bailey. Then there is a climb up a fierce, rocky ridge. One will see a mound along the ridge after the pinnacle rocks. This mound is a bōrui, a defensive bulwark of mounded earth. A tree grows on it now. The castle ruins begin in earnest from here. There is a trench ruin and, after another steep segment, terraced baileys. Here the castle splits in two as the northwestern spur was also fortified, though there is much less to see there so I didn’t go because I didn’t want to re-climb half the mountain again.

Going south from the fork one comes to the integral baileys of Ôiwajō. Three large baileys are divided by horikiri (trenches). The middle bailey has a sub-bailey running beneath to the west. To the rear many stones are laying about, and it seems clear that they were originally piled to clad ramparts; these blocks have helped the rear of the middle bailey retain a sharp shape like, but have mostly collapsed now and are scattered about.

After the rear bailey is a huge trench as deep as a house is tall. There are some more trench complexes along the ridge thereafter and then the mountain rises sharply (and cruelly) on its way to the ruins of Amabikijō. There are some ruins on the western slope of the castle mount too but I didn’t check them out because ‘Iki wa yoi-yoi; Kaeri wa kowai’ – that’s why (but I ended up being very short on time so it’s well that I skipped them anyway).

By the way, this site’s narrow ridges were also in part sculpted, in places exposing bedrock. This feature is called ‘ikkigake (一騎駈け)’, or ‘the single knight canter’, because the narrow paths with steep drops on each side force attackers to proceed single file. A defending force can then deal with enemies a man at a time, neutralising any advantage that a larger force may’ve enjoyed.
Ohsaki Castle / 大崎城

Ohsakijou (3).JPG

Ôsakijō sits on a mountain ridge just above a small hydroelectric powerplant. There is a nice switch-back path leading to the top of the ridge for accessing the plant’s reservoir but it is closed to the public. Castle explorers have no option but to assault the mountain head-on, or take a forestry road which runs to the castle from some place in the southwest. I climbed up the slope of the mountain to where the ridge terminates first to reach Ôsakidejō, the site of a satellite fortification of Ôsakijō, and then kept on climbing from there. There is no trail and the ridge has many large boulders. Ôsakijō features hori (trenches), dorui (earthen ramparts), and kuruwa (baileys). There are at least three bailey groupings along the ridge, and the main bailey complex is situated forward. There are several earthworks around this main bailey area, including on the western slope where there is a very snug and cosy sub-bailey (it’s small, the size of a room) ensconced by dorui. There is a trench below here on the ridge spur. There are at least two trenches along the central ridge. After the final small bailey around the ridge, passing dorui and horikiri (trenches), I came to a flattened area which was clearly part of a forestry road. It’s possible the castle continued here but the ruins have been buried, but I don’t know.
Ohsakide Castle / 大崎出城

Ohsakidejou (1).JPG

Ôsakidejō, as the name suggests, is a satellite fortification of Ôsakijō on the same ridge to the north. It is a single bailey fort complex with terracing beneath the front of the bailey, and a deep trench bisecting the ridge to the rear. The bailey is overgrown but one can see that it is a small bailey snugly surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts).
Okkoto Jinjou / 乙事陣場

OkkotoJinba (3).JPG

I’ve not written about a jinba before I think. Jinba were fortified encampments. Usually I wouldn’t bother with such transient sites, but there’s more information than usual about this one, and the site today has a large explanatory board set-up pertaining to its history. Although the term ‘jinba’ is standard, this site is officially referred to as ‘jinjō’, using an unorthodox reading for the same characters. The site is now a reservoir and the lay of the land has been altered dramatically; no ruins remain.
  • The boar god Okkotonushi in Miyazaki Hayao’s Mononoke-hime appears to be named for this locale; Miyazaki drew a bird’s eye style map of the area, which has many ancient Jōmon sites, and so it seems he was familiar with it.
Reishouzan Castle / 齢松山城

SuwaReishousanjou (2).JPG

Reishōzanjō is a small yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin situated on a 60m high ridge terminus overlooking the Suwa Basin. It has features such as horikiri (trenches), tatebori (climbing trenches), kuruwa (baileys), koshikuruwa (sub-baileys) and dorui (earthen ramparts). The main bailey is partially surrounded by dorui, and it has an 'L'-shaped koshikuruwa below. There is an outer bailey further up the ridge. The two principal baileys are divided by horikiri. There is a walking path running through the satoyama biome between the ruins of Uehara Castle and Oniba Castle. I know because I used the path in 2020. I must've walked right beneath Reishōzanjō without realising it; I wasn't aware of these ruins at that time. From the forest path I just dashed up the side of the hill to get to the ruins as it was only about 40m more up. Anybody visiting here on foot would do well to follow the walking the route from Ueharajō as it's quite pleasant, being mostly flat and wooded.
Rokugawa Jin'ya / 六川陣屋

RokugawaJinya (1).JPG

Rokugawa-jin’ya is a jin’ya site near Tsusumi Station in the Tsutsumi village of Obuse Municipality. On the way I visited the Obuse Folk Museum. Well, it seems they don’t get many visitors, and the old man manning it was very happy to see me. He gave me a photograph of Princess Dianna during a visit to Doha. The People’s Princess was holding a bouquet. I decided to use it as a book-marker (that day I had with me ‘War on the West’ by Douglas Murray). The architecture of the museum most interested me, and the displays were mostly the usual old junk found in small local museums, which means a whole tonne of farming equipment! There was a rack of yoriki (police) weaponry, such as sodegarami, a polearm designed to ensnare the sleeves of a kimono. The old man said not to share any pictures on SNS, so I won’t put them online, and you will just have to imagine the strange combination of creepy and cute that the taxidermic tanuki made to stand bipedal like its mythological counterpart produced. Onto the jin’ya site then...

There is a shrine on the site and an information board about the jin’ya. The signs says that ruins include the shrine, water channels and stone walls. I looked about but it seems by ‘stone walls’ what was meant were the old stone blocks lining some of the irrigation ditches in the neighbourhood. The shrine sits on a stone base but this is modern. The shrine is probably the most interesting feature then. I had some time before my train back to Nagano came so I went about the neighbourhood which covers the former footprint of the jin’ya. It is mostly homes and orchards now.

The lead picture shows a satsuban, or a board for displaying rules of the domain. This one may have been restored.
Sano Castle (Azumi) / 安曇佐野城

AzumiSanojou (1).JPG

Sanojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Kamishiro area of Hakuba Municipality, North Azumi County. Ruins feature earthworks such as baileys, trenches and earthen ramparts.

In order to reach Sanojō I cycled up a forest road with many hairpins near the Sanozaka Ski Slope. Before that road turns across a gorge there is an even more dubious track going off to the north. I followed this path, now overgrown and unusable due to trees, and met at a bend with the ridge which would take me to the yamajiro site.

There was no trail and the going was steep. It had rained that morning too, and so there were slippy sections. I crawled up that mountain and later I slid back down! Skinny trees with flexible branches were a pain, as they tried to gouge my eyes when I approached, and whip me viciously as I went by, lashing at my lips and flicking my earlobes. I kept close to the earth to avoid falling down or over the ridge. Coming down I just slid, getting very dirty, and karate blocked the whipping trees.

Visiting Sanojō itself was very rewarding and interesting. The climb had made me work for it, but the nawabari (layout) also proved very fascinating, and there were some impressive ruins in the form of earthworks. The castle precincts span a section of the ridge which climbs for about 200m. There is a lower section which is very small but contains terraces on either side of a moat trace, though these earthworks are by now very deformed and only a maniac would suspect them. Climbing from the abandoned forestry road to these outer ruins was not easy and was at least a half hour slog.

A determined soul is rewarded when the castle ruins proper come into view. The ridge is carved with earthworks to create fortifiable spaces. There is a double trench complex at the start of the castle proper. Embankments and trenches create a wavy, undulating terrain. The double lower trench is followed by a middle trench and upper trench which protect terraced baileys. Between the lower trenches and middle trench is a confusing array of small terraced mini-baileys.

The fort's main bailey area is found between the middle and upper trench. This area is very interesting and I don't recall seeing its like before. The largest bailey, which I took for the main bailey, is to the right (going up), and there is a second bailey cluster (terraced), running parallel to it with a terraced depressed area in between. This twin bailey running parallel to the main bailey is novel. What was the sunken area used for? Indeed, the purpose of the fort in its entirety may only be speculated at.

I clambered up the second twin bailey and then up along the upper trench. The upper trench is the deepest, most impressive trench at this site. It turns out, however, that there are several upper trenches. Since Sanojō is built along the ridge rather than at a mountain peak, its defenders were concerned with rear defence especially, but it's amazing to imagine any signifcant force coming from the top of the mountain when the fort itself was already so high up. And the ridge which continues ever higher is even steeper and more unforgiving than that which drops below. But, of course, there being yet more fortification remains up here, I just had to keep on climbing.

I made it to the middle of the upper trenches, indicated by blogger and Shinshū yamajiro legend Ranmaru. I had come via the side a little and so I could already see, however, that there was yet another trench above this. So I climbed even more. Finally I made it to the upper of the upper trenches. This trench is the highest up but also the shallowest. Nonetheless, I was very happy to have made it to this highest goal. Sometimes one does not appreciate, however, how steep and dangerous a section of ridge is until one must go back down...

To make it to this furthest part of Sanojō is challenging and not without risk. I slid back down a game trail through a beast-sized tunnel hollowed out between the small trees. Only then did I enter the main bailey from behind via the (lowest) upper trench. The earth used to dig the horikiri is heaped up into a solid dorui (earthen rampart) segment at the rear of the main bailey. The views from here would've been amazing if not for all the trees!
Sendatsu Castle / 先達城

Sendatsujou (1).JPG

The site of Sendatsujō is now that of the temple Jōshōji. Its history is linked to the invasion of Shinano from Kai by Takeda Nobutora. It is located on the Shinano (Nagano) side of the border with Kai (Yamanashi), and in fact the locality itself is simply called Sakai, meaning ‘Border’. The castle is well known amongst castle bloggers, it seems, as many blogs feature it, though few ruins remain. There is a stele marking the castle and what looks like a new (or renewed) explanatory board in front of the temple’s parking area. There are the remains of embankments near the temple hall and cemetery, and the hilltop has flattened spaces suggestive of kuruwa (baileys). Ishigaki (stone wall) is from the time of the temple, not the fort. There is a creek to the north which forms a natural barrier, and the dorui (earthen ramparts) which remain are banked up on this side of the fort but not the sloping hillside.
Shinano Kawada Yakata / 信濃川田館

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Kawada-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the Wakaho Township of Nagano Municipality. It is now the site of a school, a small shrine and rice paddies, and no ruins remain above ground. Excavations of the site were carried out during the construction of a nursery. I also visited the Kawada-juku, an old inn town, near the yakata site. Between the yakata and the shukuba is the old station house for Shinano-Kawada Station, part of the Nagano Railway Yashiro Line which was decommissioned in 2012. The station house has been preserved and now pokémon live there; I also stopped by here. Note: Kawada-yakata in Shinano Province is not to be confused with Kawada-yakata in Kai Province, the latter being also known as the Takedashishugo Yakata.
Shirokoma Castle / 白駒城

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Shirokomajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site primarily featuring bailey spaces and trenches. It has three principal baileys with the wide main bailey at the rear being split by a terrace. The baileys are divided by trenches and changes in elevation. Beneath the main bailey and to the rear is terracing with what is thought to be the remains of a masugatamon (square gate complex), and then beneath those terraced sub baileys is a wide sunken area, a feature called ‘umaya’ as it is believed horses were kept there. Beyond that is a narrow ridge which was used as a dorui (earthen rampart) (and here I saw a yamakagashi (a type of venomous snake)).
Shironomine Castle (Azumi) / 安曇城の峰城

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Shironominejō (‘Castle Peak Castle’) is an unloved yamajiro (mountaintop fort) site. There is no information about it, but it is close to Kibunejō, one of Shinano’s largest yamajiro, and likely served as a satellite fortification of that castle. I had no information on how to reach this yamajiro, or on its layout, so I was going in blind. I cycled up a bumpy forestry road to get just below the ridge. I had to cross a gorge and then clamber up a muddy slope, but eventually I climbed (and it was indeed climbing) to a pylon. From here I followed the ridge downward to the southwest to reach the fort site.

Shironominejō seems to have been a single bailey complex but with the distinction of the spacious main bailey being split by a yokobori (lateral trench). Beneath the main bailey where I ascended there was a horikiri (trench), though it wasn’t very deep. The part of the main bailey which overlooks the plain is quite well formed, and one can see where dorui (earthen ramparts) were banked up and the slope was carved. This dying ghost of dorui is the clearest impression besides the trenches of a castle site, but admittedly it’s little to go off.

I proceeded down along another ridge spur but found no ruins. Eventually I dropped off the mountain to get back to the forestry road and my (rented) e-bike (that bicycle has a powerful battery and I realised it would get me into the mountainous interior of Ikusaka via Ômachi more handily than my own bicycle, so I might go on more rent-a-cycle adventures from Ômachi in the future). I’ll have to draw a map to show what I’ve found since I can’t find any existing one. My drawing skills are so poor but it’s least I can do...
Soudai Castle / 霜台城

Soudaijou (1).JPG

Sōdaijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Wakaho Township of Nagano Municipality. The ruins feature kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches) and ishigaki (stone walls). The ishigaki is most prominent on the southern side of the forward bailey complex. It appears to have been constructed by cannibalising kofun (ancient tumuli), at least in part. One portion of the ishigaki even appears to retain a small entrance way to a tomb. Other baileys can be found further up the ridge, and these are separated by horikiri. Sōdaijō also has a dejiro, a sort of annex or detached bailey, located even further up the ridge, which likely served as a look-out.
Soudaide Castle / 霜台出城

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Sōdaidejō was a detached fortification of Sōdaijō, part of a complex of fortifications from the plain all the way to this furthest point along the mountain ridge. Sōdaidejō is a single bailey complex that likely served as a simple look-out. To the forward and rear there is a horikiri (trench). The rear horikiri has a large standing rock on the far side of it, and this rock is said to look like a bear, so it has been named Kumatarō Rock.
Suda Yakata / 須田館

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Suda-yakata, a fortified manor hall site in the Hitaki neighbourhood of Suzaka Municipality, is now the site of the temple Renshōji. There are explanation panels at the temple about the site’s history relating to the Suda Clan and Ôiwajō above. I thought I might be able to access Ôiwajō from here but there doesn’t appear to be anyway up from the temple, which makes sense because it is ensconced by mountain fronds. The temple itself has old architecture and is handsome. Nearby there are lots of sign posts pointing out various historic spots and natural monuments in the village. I also came by the site of stores for Suzaka Domain just south of the temple.
Suwa Ohhouri Yakata / 諏訪大祝館

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Suwa-Ôhōri-yakata was the residence of the high priest of Suwa Shrine. The garden is open to the public to wander around, but the buildings can't be entered. There is a gate, the main house, a storehouse, fences and shrines.
Suwa Yakata / 諏訪館

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I revisited Ueharajō, a fun yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in the Suwa area of Nagano, and this time also investigated the site of Suwa-yakata beneath the castle mount. The yakata’s remains consists of a large flattened space with terraced sub-baileys carved into the hillside below. The shape of the sculpted terrain is well preserved. There is a large stele on site.
Suzumegamori Noroshidai / 雀ヶ森狼煙台

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In the forests of Hara Village there is a much storied place called the Forest of Sparrows. In the middle of the forest, at a top of a hill to the north of a cluster of pensions (lodging houses), there is a stone stele and statue. The above sea level height here is 1,311m, but the relative height of the hill is only about 16m. I took a path which went up on the eastern side of the hill and so came upon the ruins of Suzumeǵamori-noroshidai, a fortified signal tower site, from that side. From below it seems as though the earth has been heaped up into protective ramparts, and this immediately made me want to suspect the ruins of earthworks. Climbing up the hill and looking back it did appear that there was an earthen bulwark here. The main bailey, as we may call it, appears partially surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts), especially to the northern side, and there are flattened terraces below on this flank too. The hill gently slopes off to the south. To me there is an impression of a fortification site here, though it cannot be said to be unmistakably so.
Takahara Castle (Shinano) / 信濃高原城

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Takaharajō is located in the village of Tenjinbara in the Okuyamada area of Takayama Rural Municipality, Upper Takai County. Okuyamada means 'inner Yamada', and Yamada village is located to the west in the Nakayama area of Takayama Municipality. Was Nakayama originally 'Nakayamada' or something? Where one township ends and another begins in Japan seems to be the product of much blood and tears spilt by peasants and militiamen of the bleak feudal eras. The ruins of Takaharajō sit on a small hill overlooking a deep gorge. The ruins chiefly include earthworks such as flattened bailey spaces and terraces.
Takaino Jin'ya / 高井野陣屋

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The site of Takaino-jin’ya is now that of a temple, Kōseiji. Ishigaki (stone walls), forming part of what looks like a former gate complex, remain from the Bakumatsu period, though by that time the jin’ya had already been abolished and so the ishigaki was probably built for the temple, replacing earlier stonework. Still, the ishigaki’s date of 1855 is earlier than I would’ve guessed; it seems well put together albeit in a more modern fashion. There is a marker post indicating the site on the former ramparts. A segment of dorui survives, according to some sources, and I think I saw it but it was in somebody’s garden! Considering the site was made a prefectural designated historic site in 1966, I will assume (generously) that some of the surviving dorui has not been demolished. Incidentally, why such a minor site is so highly valued by the prefecture can only be because of the fame of Fukushima Masanori, and not because of the scant surviving ruins.
Takanashi Yakata (Suzaka) / 高梨館(須坂市)

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This is the second Takanashi-yakata I’ve been to. The other, of the same clan, is in Nakano Municipality. That one has extensive ruins in the form of earthworks, and so I give it primacy of place, though it seems that this, in Suzaka Municipality, is the site of the original Takanashi Clan residence. Takanashi-yakata (Suzaka), this site, is not to be confused with Takanashi-yakata, also called Nakanō-tate, in Nakano (both are in the historical Takai County, however). No ruins remain of this Takanashi-yakata, however, and the site is now housing, fields and orchards. There is a large stele on site commemorating Kanzan Egen, a famous monk of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism who was born in Takai.
Takeba Castle / 竹場城

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Takebajō was not my original destination on the day I visited. I went to Nagano with the plan of renting a bicycle and cycling out to some yamajiro (mountaintop castles) which had caught my interest. It turns out that it's pretty difficult to rent a bicycle in Nagano; I knew I could rent a decent 'e-bike' in Suzaka, but I thought it'd save time to get one in Nagano and go from there directly. Two places are listed as offering rental bicycles in Nagano, but both of these places were closed when I visited. I checked two bicycle repair shops but they didn't rent. At 11am I called it quits and began making my way back to Matsumoto. I had already been to most major sites in Chikuhoku Municipality, but there was one site near Sakakita Station which I hadn't yet been to yet, Takebajō.

Despite it being quite close to the station as the crow flies, Takebajō is difficult to get to. Not being a crow, I had intended to simply go to the foot of the mountain closest to the station and climb the naked ridge from there. But I could see from topographic maps that this was very steep, almost 'mushroom-like', and there were no reports of trails there. Most castle explorers, it seemed, went from a temple to the west, but this was a bit far for me to walk to. Instead I came up with my own route by closely inspecting maps (on 'Yamap' app').

There is a housing estate called Mukōhara opposite the station. The relative height of Takebajō is about 150m, but by going via this housing area, which sits on flattened land overlooking the valley, I could half the relative height I had to climb on the mountain itself. Between the castle mount and the housing area there are deep ravines, so first I had to go south. It was a circuitous route but not too steep. I accessed a ridge near a cemetery, and, though there was no trail, it wasn't a steep climb. Having not anticipated coming here I had my bag with me and wanted to avoid steep climbs (the day before had also been intense). After some climbing from the south I came to a lovely trail along the top ridge. From there it was a pleasant saunter, practically, to reach Takebajō. The only steep section along that trail is the depression between Takebajō, sitting on its mushroom, and the rest of the mountain. Along the way one can see some nice rock formations; the rocks emerge from white, sandy soil with pine trees growing, and I had observed similar scenery at other mountains in the area.

As for Takebajō itself, it is small and not an overly developed fort, and so really only of interest to yamajiro fanatics. I entered the castle area from the south where there is a southern spur with a horikiri (trench) before the southern bailey. The main bailey, which is not large, rises from there. Another horikiri is found in the northwest beneath the main bailey. From the northeast there is a large spur of the castle. Along this ridge are two horikiri cradling a sunken bailey. Rising above this, though not as high as the main bailey, is an outer bailey. According to the blogs I was following (Ranmaru, Yogo), there used to be somekind of antenna here, but I just found a clear space. In fact, the earth was much flatter here than in other parts of the ruin, indicating its modern use. A spur of fortification ruins continue to the north from this outer bailey, including another horikiri.

I think there may be more detached baileys at this castle. Various bloggers and commentors mention possible earthworks in different parts of the mountain. I descended by the most northerly ridge, and along here was what looked like some terracing and a possible bailey circle divided by a trench mirroring a natural creek. It seems castle maniac Takeshita Hanbē, who leaves reviews of obscure sites on Google Maps, may have also come here as he references 'earthwork-like features' along the way, and it seems he came up via this northern ridge, mentioning a shrine he passed. When I got down I found this shrine. He was pretty crazy coming up that way, as it was very steep, as attested by my lightning descent; catching myself falling with various trees, I call that 'falling with style'. Naturally my thanks goes to the bloggers mentioned here that came before me. I will add to this legacy, I suppose, by recommending the southern route as the gentlest one for accessing the ruins of Takebajō.
Takeno Castle / 竹の城

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There is a trail up to Takenojō, a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site, from the northwest, and I started claiming here and got about a quarter of the way up. I guess it would’ve been fine to continue, but, since I was on a rented e-bike I decided I may as well cycle instead up the forest road which goes to a pass between the mountains linking Takenojō and Inōejō. The climb doesn’t take as long and the relative elevation is only about 20m to the start of the castle ruins from forest road. But I wanted to mostly come this way because the castle is orientated that way - south, so climbing from the north goes to its rear; it’s always best to start at the bottom of a castle rather than the top, I believe. It’s fine to go either way but going from the south is the lazier way, and it’s easier to appreciate the scale of the castle. Takenojō is like a giant staircase, and its layout is fairly unique. There are three large trenches in the lower part of the site. These are fairly deep and stretch across the wide ridge, retaining good form. Three well-built trenches one after the other like this leaves its impression. And then there is another triple set in the form of baileys, the lower two terraced, at the top of the castle mount. Some of the baileys use bare rock-face as walls. To the rear of the main bailey, trenches, albeit smaller than those below, are sunk into the bare rock of the ridge.
Takinoiri Castle / 滝ノ入城

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Tsutsuhatajō climbs up the ridge but the final fort site on the mountaintop itself is known as Takinoirijō. Each subsequent climbing section between the forts which make up Tsutsuhatajō (they seemed to be placed before every odd numbered fort!) was steeper and steeper. But the most difficult climbing section of all is the ridge between the fifth and final fort of Tsutsuhatajō and the ruins of Takinoirijō. It’s basically rock-climbing and I had to take great care not to grab hold of any loose rocks – of which there were several – to gingerly pull myself up the ridge whilst avoiding catastrophe. It would be possible to go around the mountainside and approach the fort from another direction – the north – or just take the Karida hiking trail.

Takinoirijō consists of two baileys located quite distant from each other. The main bailey is pluck-shaped, and has three spurs. The northeastern spur is where I ascended from, and there’s not much in the way of ruins here. The northwestern spur has two horikiri (trenches), and fallen masonry along it. The masonry is clustered on the inner sides of the horikiri, a feature I had observed repeatedly in the Tsutsuhatajō fort group. In the final trench I came across a large hornet. It muttered something disrespectful with its buzzing and then left me alone though. I quickly retreated.

The southward spur of Takinoirijō leads to a detached bailey further along the ridge known as the Senzōbō-kuruwa (千僧坊曲輪). Sōbō means ‘priest’s quarters’, and by tradition it is believed that monks from Ganshōin temple below lived here, but I don’t know about that. I certainly don’t think a thousand could’ve lived here as the name suggests! From the Senzōbō-kuruwa there is a well developed trail with rope sections down to Ganshōin. I finally saw people here, having been on the mountain for about four hours by this point without seeing anyone. This trail is the safest way to go to Takinoirijō, but the climbing sections dominate the ridge, whereas at Tsutsuhatajō the ruins dominate, and so I went via the latter.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Tsukioi Castle / 月生城

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I do love a good mountain climb with castle ruins interspersed along the trail, but it sure is tiring. Luckily I was coming downhill to reach Tsukioijō from Amabikijō, and so the hard part was already over (I say even though I had to lower myself gingerly down a series of sheer rocks at one point). I would’ve explored every inch of this interesting site – Tsukioijō – but I had to skip investigating the extensive terracing (though I could see some from above) on the east side of the castle mount because I was quickly running out of time (I had to return the bicycle I had rented to reach the mountain at four (early!)).

Tsukioijō was a beautifully constructed earthworks castle. Features include horikiri (trenches), tatebori (climbing trenches), unejōtatebori (falling trenches in rows), kuruwa (baileys), obikuruwa (ring bailey) and dorui (earthen ramparts), as well as extensive terracing of the many ridges surrounding the main bailey which is at the top of the site. The mountain can be seen from below to have three fronds, and these correspond to the spurs of the fortified space: north spur, west spur, and east spur. The rear of the castle to the south is also worked along the ridge which climbs up to Amabikijō, and is like a raised tail for the castle. The central area of Tsukioijō is bulbous and star-shaped. The central bailey is very well defended with an obi-kuruwa, a huge trench to the rear, terracing to the east, and unejō on the western slope.

See also Oh'iwa Castle, Suda Castle, Amabiki Castle
Tsutsugahana Castle / 十九塙城

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This tiny fort site looks to be about the size of a small room. The tip of the ridge before it descends is dug out, probably for the purpose of sending smoke signals. Earthen embankments enclose a pit. The ridge is not worked beyond, but before it sweeps up drastically to meet with a greater ridge above, there is a small horikiri (trench), indicating a further attempt to lightly fortify and utilise this minor spur of the ridge. I might well call this the smallest castle site I’ve ever visited.
Tsutsuhata Castle I / 二十端城一ノ城

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I had been anticipating attacking Tsutsuhatajō for a long time, having missed out on my opportunity to visit at the end of last season. Finally, on a perfect autumnal day, I embarked upon one of Nagano’s premier yamajiro (mountaintop castle) exploration circuits. A tour of Takanashi Clan castle sites in Obuse Municipality, Takai County, takes one up and down a mountain by two different ridges, with eight fortification sites along the way. The circuit could probably be hiked in about three and a half hours, though due to my time spent exploring the fortification ruins I was on the mountain for about five hours. My recommendation is that one start by climbing the northern ridge up to Takinoirijō, and descend via the south ridge. The northern ridge is the site of Tsutsuhatajō, a castle complex divided between five forts straddling the ridge. The northern ridge has no trail, but since the fort sites are spaced fairly evenly all the way up, and much of the ridge was formerly fortified, the dull sections of climbing the unworked ridge are only brief.

Tsutsuhatajō is a fortification complex consisting of five distinct fort sites. The castles are numbered one through five, with the first being Tsutsuhatajō-Ichinoshiro (Tsutsuhata Castle I). Ichinoshiro is made up of a series of terraces with a horikiri (trench) to the rear. Lower portions of the mountainside may have been terraced, but it’s hard to know if this was fortified space or just for hillside agriculture. The earth-piled ramparts which form the terraces of the larger baileys furthest up, however, are clearly part of the fort. The rear trench is quite impressive.

In terms of its place overall in Tsutsuhatajō, Ichinoshiro, the first castle, is the least engaging, but one can reach it very quickly by climbing from a trail which starts behind some old statuettes and stelae on the south of the ridge terminus. Although the main part of the fort is relatively clear, the lower, less developed parts of the ridge are overgrown and various plants, many of them thorny, obscure the path. This flora isn’t impassable, but it’s a bit annoying. One must persevere at first but not despair as the ridge clears up as it climbs.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Tsutsuhata Castle II / 二十端城二ノ城

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Tsutsuhatajō is a fortification complex consisting of five distinct fort sites. The castles are numbered one through five, with the second being Tsutsuhatajō-Ninoshiro (Tsutsuhata Castle II). Just before the ridge terminates it forks, and Ninoshiro is on this fork, with Ichinoshiro below to the south. Ichinoshiro could be considered a southern spur of Ninoshiro, and the two sites are very close together. If Tsutsuhatajō consisted of just these two forts then it likely would not be necessary to consider them as two distinct sites, and it is the other forts in the network which inspire this separation. On the southern slope above Ichinoshiro, and at the bottom of the lowest bailey of Ninoshiro, there is a large horikiri (trench) with dorui (earthen ramparts) heaped in front of it. The mound rises above the trench. The horikiri protects from the direction of Ichinoshiro, so if the first fort fell, then this would be the first line of defence for Ninoshiro. A short dobashi (earthen bridge) runs between the dorui and horikiri. It’s quite a distinctive feature in person, though difficult to photograph.

Ninoshiro’s integral baileys start at the lower ridge fork and go a little way up along the ridge. Baileys are separated by horikiri, dorui and terracing. One trench is full of bamboo, but the others are mostly clear and easy to identify due to their depth and the dorui banked up behind them. There are traces of stone piling around the lower bailey of Ninoshiro, as well as in the trenches. The trenches were apparently stone-lined, but now most of the walls have collapsed, leaving the stone blocks to fill the trenches. Above Ninoshiro is Sannoshiro, but the ridge sweeps up quite drastically here and so one is forced into a climbing section to go between the two sites.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Tsutsuhata Castle III / 二十端城三ノ城

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Tsutsuhatajō is a fortification complex consisting of five distinct fort sites. The castles are numbered one through five, with the third being Tsutsuhatajō-Sannoshiro (Tsutsuhata Castle III). Sannoshiro is the most engaging of the ruins of Tsutsuhatajō and appears to have served, at its centre, as the main fort in the group. It has a lower portion, made up of terraced baileys which climb the ridge like a staircase, and an upper portion. The upper portion contains the fort’s integral baileys, which are divided by horikiri (trenches) and dorui (earthen ramparts). Dorui still ensconces the main bailey.

Sannoshiro also has the most masonry remaining of all the forts, and, whilst most of the ramparts have collapsed, remaining standing segments can be found throughout, though some are quite perilous to get a good look at. After seeing so much collapsed masonry, I was very pleased to find these surviving intact segments. Although the scale of the collapsed stone blocks would appear to indicate tall walls, we can see from what survives that the ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) at Tsutsuhatajō were not so tall, but instead stacked in terraced bands.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Tsutsuhata Castle IV / 二十端城四ノ城

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Tsutsuhatajō is a fortification complex consisting of five distinct fort sites. The castles are numbered one through five, with the fourth being Tsutsuhatajō-Yonnoshiro (Tsutsuhata Castle IV). Yonnoshiro is a long fort made up of leveled peaks along the ridge with interceding narrow baileys and climbing terraces. Similar as to how Ichinoshiro and Ninoshiro are quite close together, Yonnoshiro is close to Sannoshiro, but quite a way below Gonoshiro, relatively speaking. Like Sannoshiro, Yonnoshiro also has masonry strewn about with the odd stacked segment remaining, particularly around the upper bailey. A trench protects the rear of the foot before the ridge shoots up on its way to Gonoshiro. See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle V, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Tsutsuhata Castle V / 二十端城五ノ城

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Tsutsuhatajō is a fortification complex consisting of five distinct fort sites. The castles are numbered one through five, with the fifth being Tsutsuhatajō-Gonoshiro (Tsutsuhata Castle V). Gonoshiro is a castle with terraces and terraced mini baileys demarcating integral baileys, and although there are no horikiri (bisecting trenches), there is some evidence of tatebori (climbing trenches). Another unique feature compared to the other forts in its group is the terracing of the southern slope of the mountain with various terraced minor baileys. In particular a ledge of baileys divided by tatebori is formed. I wasn’t sure I would get down the slope, considering I wanted to save my energy, but I could clearly see some earthworks from above, and so I went down to investigate. It’s lucky I did because I also found what looked like kofun (ancient burial mounds) here (the fact that they weren’t on the map I was using by Yogo-sensei made me think that he had skipped this part of the castle complex). The entrance to the kofun appeared to make use of arched stones, a method I did not consider to have been available in the Kofun period, and so I also wondered if these weren’t built or augmented as wells or storage spaces for the castle.

Sometimes I comment on nature. I was surrounded by thousands of small butterflies at Gonoshiro, and they appeared to be disguised as autumn leaves falling from the trees. That was incredible.

See also: Tsutsuhata Castle I, Tsutsuhata Castle II, Tsutsuhata Castle III, Tsutsuhata Castle IV, Takinoiri Castle, Karidako Castle, Karidaoh Castle, Ganshouin Yakata
Utsutsu Castle / 現城

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Utsutsujō is one of the outer fortifications of the complex of fort sites which make up the Aida-jōkangun, centred around Aida-Kokuzōsanjō. It is located down the ridge to the west of the other forts, and is much less visited and maintained than the other sites. I had to pass over a piece of barbed wire hidden in coloured tape. I don’t think the barbed wire was deliberately concealed, it had just gotten tangled up, but I read online that someone cut their hand on it, so I’m glad I noticed and didn’t touch the tape. There was also a mock closed-circuit television system set up, with a camera attached to a tree. That’s a lot of effort to stop mushroom thieves, but I don’t think any determined mushroom pilferer would be deterred. The mushroom season was over and there is a lot of evidence that I’m addicted to castling, so I don’t think I’ll ever be mistaken for a mushroom thief. But I’ll confine my rambling to mountains and not words! Although there is a trail, the castle ruins are generally overgrown.

Utsutsujō is a single bailey fort complex with the main and only bailey (arguably, but opinions differ on how much of the ridge was fortified) protect fore and aft with horikiri (trenches) and tatebori (climbing trenches). The main bailey is split into two parts by a small terrace. The rear to the main bailey was probably a horikiri which bisected the ridge, but looks like it has been partially filled in. The tatebori section remains and can be seen to the right when entering the bailey space. It’s possible there was also a dobashi (earthen bridge), however. The forward horikiri is well preserved, even though it is full of the clutter of fallen trees and hard to move in, and is actually one of the more impressive examples of horikiri found on Mount Kokuzō (the other large one at Nakanojinjō having been partially filled in).

See also Nakanojin Castle.
Uyama Castle (Azumi) / 安曇鵜山城

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I was looking forward to the long weekend in October, starting for me Friday midday, and had a busy weekend planned. But the weather was miserable the whole time. The temperature had dropped, but that was a welcome sign of the onset of the mountain castling season. What was not welcome was the rain! I still managed to get out Saturday, despite the showers and the wet, and visit some very minor sites in Aźumi County. I had intended the sole yamajiro (mountaintop castle) I visited to be a gentle warm-up for some bigger hikes, but it turned into quite the slog! This is my account of Uyamajō.

During a break in the clouds the weather was clement, so I decided to take the scenic route between Matsumoto and Ikeda via the Azumino Cycling Road, by-passing the more direct route in Akashina and instead going between Toyoshina and Hotaka. This initially pleasant cycle took longer than I had expected and I already endured some light showers by the end of it. The weather had really soured by the time I got to the foot of the mountain at midday. Though I had maps, the erection of electrified barriers to stop animals getting off the mountain and into tea plantations meant it took me a while to find a way to get onto the mountain (at one point I got shocked through my gloves moving along the fence!). The way I came down has a well maintained trail, and I would recommend taking this main trail from the Aźumi side which goes to Mt Tengu. But there are two sites associated with Uyamajō, and Mt Tengu is just one of them. Another is located on the ridge between the peak and the Uyamashi-jinja; the site of the shrine is thought to have been that of the castle's kyokan (living area) (but in the same area there are also vicinities called 'tonoyashiki' and 'motoyashiki' which are suggestive). Since I wanted to see this site as well I forced my way up the ridge behind the shrine. The trail was overgrown and obstructed with tree trunks. It was quite the climb and I got wet and dirty. I also had to backtrack down a small outcropping of the ridge to get to my quarry.

The portion of Uyamajō indicated by Shinano castle expert Miyasaka Takeo is at odds with other sources which indicate the centre of Uyamajō to be the peak above called Mt Tengu. Since I visited both I can offer my thoughts on which is the site of the main fort, though there is no reason why both sites couldn't've hosted fortificatons. The ridge site, pointed out by Miyasaka-sensei, consists of a small earthen bulwark along a small ridge terminus which overlooks the plain. It seems that this space has been flattened, and the earth on the plainside is steep. Above, where this small ridge outcropping connects with the main ridge, I also noticed a ledge of flattened earth beneath a small peak, and behind it what could've been the remains of a trench, though this was merely suspicion on my part (everything was overgrown and difficult to photograph).

Next I climbed (with difficulty) to reach Mt Tengu. This peak is wide and flat, and could've easily accomodated a fort. There is a small mound in the centre of what overall seemed to me to be the shape of a triangle with curvy sides - or something like a guitar pick. One of the points particularly interested me because it looked like dorui (earthen ramparts) had been piled up at the edge. The sides of the peak seemed sculpted like kirigishi (terraforming to steepen banks) in places, particularly here, and within the bailey space was a depression I took for the remains of a well (though it could've just been an old tree bowl - left where a tree had collapsed).

Ridges joining with the peak on sides not in the direction of the kyokan were very narrow, and due to landslides one was barely walkable. Beneath the proposed dorui there is a narrow ridge which goes to a lower peak, and this is also included as part of the proposed area of the castle, a sort of detached bailey, though there isn't much to see here. On the side of the peak toward the kyokan the sloping is gradual, and, my imagination invigourated, I fancied some trench remains, but, on reflection, these were likely indentations in the ridgeline brought about by earth movements. Nevertheless it seems like there may have been terracing along this portion of the mount which has by now degraded.

Visiting Uyamajō is a series of impressions and suspicions. But I was most engaged at the Tengu Peak. This to me is the most likely site of a fort. The earth in these mountains is slippery, and there are many scars from landslides, and these earth movements have eaten into any earthworks, making them harder to identify. I would say the peak of Mt Tengu is the main destination for anyone foolhardy enough to visit Uyamajō (Miyasaka preferences the ridge; could god be wrong?). I was delighted to find a spanking new sign there which read 'Uyama Castle (Mount Tengu)', and, on the reverse side, 'Commemorating the ascent of Kumagorō, September of 2022'. And so another castle explorer had come not long before me, and left this wonderful signpost for us all. After a hard climb this was inspiring to see.
Uyama Yakata (Azumi) / 安曇鵜山館

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This is the proposed site of Uyama-yakata, the foritfied manor hall of the Uyama Clan. It is directly belown Mt Tengu where Uyamajō was located. No ruins remain and the site is now rice paddies. Two frightful masks were unearthed here, and they're now kept at Uyamashi-jinja.
Wadahigashiyama Castle / 和田東山城

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Wadahigashiyamajō is a minor ridgetop fort site in the Wakaho area of Nagano Municipality. The ridge terminus is terraced into three baileys. The second bailey mostly surrounds the first. I wondered if the castle was in part sculpted out of ancient tumuli known to exist in the vicinity. The site also appears to have been modified over time, likely for agricultural purposes, and it is suspected that trenches were filled in by generations of peasants after the end of the Sengoku period. There are some pocket terraces at the bottom of the ridge with graves on them, but it's hard to know whether these terraces were built for the fort or built later.
Watauchi Inoue Yakata / 綿内井上館

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Watauchi-Inōe-yakata, also called Oyanagi-Inōe-yakata, is another Inōe Clan residence site. There is clearly an embankment of piled earth here which looks to have served as part of the fortified manor hall’s earthen ramparts. The fields below are about the width of moats, giving a nice indication of the scale of the site. Next to the yakata site is a shrine, Kōchi-jinja, with some old architecture and large trees.
Yamada Takanashi Yakata / 山田高梨館

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There are several sites of yakata (fortified manor halls) belonging to the Takanashi Clan. This one is in Takayama Village, and the others are in Suzaka Municipality and Nakano Municipality respectively. Of the Yamada-Takanashi-yakata no ruins remain, and the site is now fields and orchards. There were some stone walls and terraces toward the mountain (agricultural in origin), and the western Yamada Shrine (there's another on the eastern side of the village) is adjacent to the site.
Yamada Yakata (Takai) / 高井山田館

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Yamada-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the village of Yamada in the Nakayama area of Takayama Rural Municipality, historical Takai County. It is now a temple, Shinpōji. Although no clear ruins remain, a bird's eye view of the site reveals the layout of the yakata, particularly in the north and west. Walking around the temple perimeter and following the row of trees there, it becomes evident where the yakata's earthen ramparts and moat once ran. See also: Yamada Takanashi Yakata & Masugata Castle (Takai)
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