ART Summer 2023 Update: Part 2

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ART Summer 2023 Update: Part 2


This is the second part of a 4 part series of new castles from ART. This one covers castle visits around Yamanashi Prefecture from Aug2022 to March 2023.

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.


Maruyama Fort (Kai) / 甲斐丸山塁

KaiMaruyamaRui (2).JPG

Maruyama-rui ('rui', referring to piled earthen ramparts, refers to a small fort) is an expert tier site for castle explorers. I ascended to the top of the hill from the north. I didn't find any ruins here and the slope was gentle, although the summit was flattened into an oval shape. The ruins are said to exist to the south. I tried to go that way but there was no path and there were lots of trees. In the end I came across a terrace. This looked like a forestry road (and later on I saw it bending so certainly it was). But on either side were some ditches. These ditches ran laterally across the hillside and I came across many bands, the lower ones being quite deep. I lost count but there were six or seven ditches (karabori?) along the whole hillside. Because of all of the bushes and bamboo I couldn't explore their whole length. I'd planned to continue poking around the site in the south where other castle bloggers said they found dorui (earthen ramparts), but the only way I could find which was possibly accessible, everywhere being tall grasses and tangles of vines, had an elderly couple tending to their orchard and I felt uncertain about explaining my intentions to them, so I just stopped there; the whole site is overgrown and a full exploration would be very tough-going. Before I left I noticed a lot of work being done in the small valley which leads to the large moat at the foot of the Shinpujō castle-mount, so I hope none of the ruins have been disturbed there...
Mitsui Ichibee Yashiki / 三井市兵衛屋敷


No ruins remain at this fortified residence site of the Mitsui Clan, Mitsui-Ichibē-yashiki.
Mizukami Mondo Yashiki / 水上主水屋敷


Of Mizukami-Mondo-yashiki, a medieval fortified residence side in the Nakada Township of Nirasaki Municipality, no ruins remain. The site is now developed over with housing and fields, but castle bloggers have remarked upon the narrow, crank-shaped layout of the roads in the area which suggest a fortified village. The residence itself measured about 50m on each side. Picture shows roadside shrines.
Monnouchi Yashiki (Yatsushiro) / 八代門之内屋敷

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Monnōchi-yashiki is a yashiki (fortified residence) site. No ruins remain, and the site is now fields adjacent to a small temple.
Nagamine Fort / 長峯砦

NagamineToride (3).JPG

Nagamine-toride is a medieval fort site; the ruins were demolished for the construction and gradual expansion of a national highway. The Chūō Expressway has been the grim reaper for many castle sites. Apparently some earthworks do still remain intact here, but it was beyond my power that day to uncover them. Many castling blogs cover this minor site, perhaps because there is a small memorial park with information boards and marker stelae for the old fort site, but the one which I found most interesting was the one from Jōkakuzukan, as he had visited the site over two decades ago before its destruction (I think this blogger lives or lived in Yamanashi). He also has done the most work in ascertaining the site’s condition today. After checking out the site to the south of the motorway where the marker stands, I then tried to check out the north where ruins are reported to still remain, but the whole area was so overgrown and fenced off that I could see nothing and find no way in. I had other sites to visit that day, so I moved on. Salutes for Jōkakuzukan.
Nakamura Yashiki (Yamanashi) / 山梨中村屋敷

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Of Nakamura-yashiki little remains, but a water way taking an angular bend around an old residence is thought to be the (narrower) successor of a moat of the yashiki. The waterway is lined with stone blocks and the surrounding area is fields and orchards, so it’s a pleasant scene.
Nakamura Yashiki (Yatsushiro) / 八代中村屋敷

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No ruins remain of Nakamura-yashiki and the site is now fields and orchards. Nakamura is a fairly common name and there is at least one Nakamura-yashiki site in at least three of four of Yamanashi's historical counties; this one is in Yatsushiro County.
Nakano Castle (Kai) / 甲斐中野城

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Nakanojō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in South Alps Municipality, Yamanashi prefecture. It is an earthworks fortification, featuring baileys and dorui (earthen ramparts), deep in the mountains. The main bailey is ringed by an obikuruwa (belt bailey), and this lower terrace is surrounded by dorui. Access to the bailey is granted via the koguchi (‘tiger maw’), a former gate site between dorui.

Much of the rest of the castle precincts, which extended to the north, have been eroded or completely lost to landslides. These movements of earth have left terrifying drops which eat into the mountaintop. One can follow the ridge to the north to the northern bailey area, which is very deformed, though artificial terracing is in evidence. The ridge between the north and southern areas has a look-out point about half-way with fantastic views of the basin and Fujiyama. The ridge itself was perhaps used as a defensive bulwark at some point, but if there was a castle bailey to the east then it has been lost to landslides.

To reach Nakanojō one must either drive or commit to a half-day of hiking. If driving, then the trail entrance can be found at the municipal border (Minami-Alps and Fujikawa Township) which runs through the mountain road to the northwest of the ruins. There is a space at the side of the road here for one or maybe two vehicles to park, and there is a signboard with an explanation about the castle. The trail starts here. Actually, during my visit, cleared snow had been piled up here which blocked the trail entrance! The snow along the trail maybe slowed the ascent, but it should only take about 30 minutes from this point to reach the castle site. The snow was somewhat deep in places but was icy enough to walk on with, whilst compressing it, not being swamped in it; there were no footprints that weren’t animalian, and one set of tracks – perhaps a tanuki – went much of the length of the trail, so I presume the critter was also visiting the castle.

Note: there are at least ten provinces with a ‘Nakanojō’, according to Wikipedia, which has a page dedicated to a list of them, but, though I wouldn’t presume that this is the only one in Kai Province, it is the most well-known one here, and many castling bloggers cover it (in Japanese, of course).
Nakao Castle (Kai) / 甲斐中尾城

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No ruins remain of Nakaojō, originally a hilltop yamajiro (mountaintop castle), as it was redeveloped as terraced fields. There were flags denoting the site, which was nice, and an old, faded signboard.
Nakatsumori Yakata / 中津森館

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No clear ruins remain of Nakatsumori-yakata, a fortified manor hall of the Oyamada Clan, and the site is now occupied by fields, cemeteries and temples: Yōtsuin below is the family temple of the Oyamada, and the cenotaphs of Oyamada clansmen can be found at Keirinji above. The site offers good views of the plain.
Narisawa Noroshidai / 成沢烽火台

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Narisawa-noroshidai is a noroshidai (fortified beacon tower) site in Narisawa, Makioka Township, Yamanashi Municipality. Most noroshidai sites are little more than a flattened peak today, but Narisawa-noroshidai consisted of several baileys and terraces, and was clearly a more formidable fort than most noroshidai. Ruins include earthworks such as trenches, baileys and embankments.
Nikaidou Yakata / 二階堂館

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Nikaidō-yakata is a medieval manor hall site in Enzan Township, Kōshū Municipality. The site of Nikaidō-yakata, the medieval fortified manor hall of the Nikaidō Clan, is now that of the temple Erinji, a large Zen temple complex which is famous in the prefecture. Since the temple is a major cultural site it is worth visiting in its own right though there are no ruins of the yakata. History fans have a special reason to pay homage at the temple, as it is also the final resting place of Takeda Shingen. Erinji was established in the Muromachi period after the Nikaidō donated their manor hall or adjacent land. It was torched to the ground after the demise of Takeda Katsuyori by Oda Nobunaga. It was subsequently re-built in the Edo period. The temple’s garden is seven centuries old and very beautiful. The temple’s architecture is also impressive; the oldest extant structure is a bright red gate with shingled roof, and there is a more recently constructed three-tier pagoda (interesting as Zen temples traditionally don't have such sctructures usually). One can tour the halls of the temple by entering through the kuri (kitchen hall). The temple is not so famous nationally, but it seems they have done a lot to attract visitors through various projects; one portion of the halls includes a labyrinthine, twisting passageway in pitch black (similar to at Zenkōji). There are also various cats around, each named by the temple; the temple staff showed us some tiny kittens kept in the kuri. They were adorbs. The attendant kept asking ‘Ikaga desu ka?’, as though we might adopt one of the kittens. Then she put a box over the kittens which was their nest, but one kitten got boinked on the head by it. Finally, the temple offers funerary services with the enticing tagline of laying one to rest with Takeda Shingen. There is a museum dedicated to Takeda Shingen at the temple but I didn’t go in this time.
Nirasaki Jin'ya / 韮崎陣屋

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Nirasaki's downtown has swallowed up any remains of Nirasaki-jin'ya and the site today is now housing and Zōzen'in, a temple. I photographed the temple; there was a small cenotaph for deceased pets there.
Nishinohara Fort / 西ノ原堡

NishinoharaToride (1).JPG

No ruins remain of Nishinohara-toride as the site has been developed over with roads and vineyards. There is a very large stele to mark the site, however, erected by the mayor of Enzan Municipality (now part of Kōshū Municipality).
Nobutora Tanjou Yashiki / 信虎誕生屋敷

NobutoraTanjouYashiki (5).JPG

Nobutora-Tanjō-yashiki literally means ‘the birth residence of Nobutora’, in reference to Takeda Nobutora who was born here, but more properly it is the ‘Iwashita Clan Residence’. This site overlaps with that of ‘Shimizu-jin’ya (Fuefuki)’, but the former is medieval and the latter proto-modern. The signboards with information for each respective site are located on the opposite sides of a field for grapevines. No ruins remain.
Nosezakanishi Castle / 野背坂西城

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Nosezakanishijō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site with earthworks ruins such as kuruwa (baileys) and horikiri (trenches). There are a few baileys, with the main bailey being at the top in the centre with indications of terracing below. Along the western ridge is a horikiri. Nosezakanishijō is a small site which can only be appreciated by yamajiro otaku.
Nouken Castle / 能見城

Noukenjou (3).JPG

Trying to uncover the mysteries of the ruins of Nōkenjō was an adventure. This hilltop (hirayamajiro) castle site, located in Anayama Township, Nirasaki Municipality, Yamanashi prefecture, is quite vast; the hilltop, its slopes, and the surrounding flatland were all fortified, and there are further several satellite fortification sites. The defences of both the main castle and at least one of the satellite forts make extensive use of yokobori (lateral moats), relying much less on terracing and tatebori (climbing moats).

When there is a dearth of historical materials then the structure of a castle is the biggest clue we have to go on as to who built it. Since it is not known who built Nōkenjō, we have only theories and the ruins themselves. Part of the fun of visiting such a site is figuring out such things for ourselves I think.

My initial inclination was to assume that the Takeda had built Nōkenjō around 1581 for the defence of Shinpujō, Takeda Katsuyori's new base, to the south. It seemed to make strategic sense, and there is a tradition that the Moriya Clan, Takeda vassals, already had some fortification in the vicinity. But after seeing the castle for myself I'm not sure. The structure of the castle is quite different to other Takeda castles, which tended to rely more on terracing to fortify slopes, rather than lateral trenches. Of course, castle construction techniques changed over time, and this one was built quite late in the day of the Takeda. Yet comparing the site to Shinpujō, built at the same time, Nōkenjō strikes me as still very different. I can't come to any definitive conclusions, I feel, as I'm not as familiar with Tokugawa fortifications of that time period, but speculating on this as I uncovered ruins sure was enthralling.

I should say, most of Nōkenjō is not easy to explore. Also, the castlemount has been heavily modified in more recent times, and is carved with wide terraces and modern retaining walls all the way around (behold the wonder of modern engineering: some of these have already collapsed). I assume these were cultivated fields at one point. Many ruins must've been lost. And yet the large yokobori at the foot of the mount in the north remains in good condition.

The top of the hill has a monument for the castle and the Moriya Clan, as well as some kind of water pumping station (for now abandoned fields?). There is a small building, a temple, which looks like a scout hut or something. Behind this temple hall are what appear to be earthworks, including dorui (earthen ramparts) and a trench with embankments. Parts of the upper terracing turn up at the edges like dorui, which would indicate to me castle ruins. But then the modern terracing becomes apparent with the lack of mounds and concrete retaining walls. It's possible the whole mount was terraced for the fort, but that these terraces were expanded, reworked, and ultimately effaced with the conversion of the hillside into fields, probably for potatoes or some other durable crop. Or perhaps more yokobori existed but were filled in.

I opted to find my way down the hillside via these terraces, which saw me climbing and 'flomping*' down the walls. Eventually I came to the great northern trench. At the western end, where I came first, is the middle masugata (square gate complex) ruin, as well as a small bailey. Following the trench leads to the north masugata site which is overlooked by another bailey enclosed with dorui, and a complex of earthworks and minor gate ruins. Here the large yokobori turns and descends down and off the castlemount as a tatebori. These earthworks were exciting to find but difficult to photograph due to how overgrown everything was.

A final masugata site, the west masugata, can be found very easily as it is in someone's driveway, visible from the road side. I actually went there first. The structure is easy to see and the dorui is thick, though only one half of the gate ruin remains, forming an angled bend segment. This is found by turning right from the station where one sees the name of the castle in large characters on a modern retaining wall at the bottom of the hill. After walking for a couple of minutes the masugata is on the right. This is the only part of the castle to visit which doesn't involve hard work. So enjoy it!

I'll cover the satellite forts of Nōkenjō is separate articles. Many castle bloggers have attempted to explore this site and not really succeeded, indicating that it is a high level boss castle. I did a decent job I think! But I am seriously indebted there to the castle blogger yamashiro2015, or Kojō Meguri Shashinkan (Old Castle Tours Photo Gallery); not a site I visit too often but it came in clutch - as they say - at Nōkenjō. Link here:

  • 'to flomp', meaning 'to lower oneself down over the edge of a high drop and release oneself, and then to soften one's body, despite its inclination to stiffen in descent, on impact with the ground by rolling or sprawling, thereby completing a high drop from one point to the next without injury'. I can find no definition of 'flomp' specific to jumping, so it may be a vernacular limited to ne'er-do-well youths on Merseyside circa early 2000s.
Nouken Dousaka Fort / 能見城堂坂砦

NoukenjouDousakaToride (3).JPG

There's a big signboard and marker post for this fort site, which is actually more information than I found presented at others, yet remains are fewer. If one climbs to the hill between the hairpin road one will find earthworks. I found a long trench, but it was very over grown. I assumed it was some medieval fortication since it was quite similar to dry moats I'd seen elsewhere that day. I climbed to the top of the hill here to check for ruins but found none. Instead I came to a shrine. The stairway down the hillside leads to the site of a fortified residence, the Itou Genba Yashiki.
Nouken Kurokoma Fort / 能見城黒駒砦

NoukenjouKurokomaToride (1).JPG

Kurokoma-toride is a hilltop fort site on the grounds of what is now a shrine, Minakata-jinja. The hill is now crested by the buildings of the shrine. Below on the northern slope there is a double layer of yokobori (lateral trenches) protecting the site. Parts of the trenches are full of bushes but the earthworks are otherwise easy to identify. This area was a solid bulwark and defensive line for the wider Nōkenjō complex.
Nouken Nishi Fort / 能見城西砦

NoukenjouNishiToride (1).JPG

The ruins of the Nishi-toride ('West Fort') straddle a road. The area on this side of Anayama Station is hilly and wooded. Even though it's close to the station it takes about ten to fifteen minutes to walk from around to where there is a bridge over the railway tracks. There is a gorge to the north of the site. Earthworks remain but the ruins between the road and the railway are far too overgrown to see anything. The forested area to the west I was able to penetrate, and came upon a tatebori (climbing moat) with embankments. It appeared that a small enclosure was surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts) above here. I found more flat ground which might've been another enclosure, but to the west it looked like landslides had destroyed any west-facing ramparts, leaving narrow slips of earth between vacant space in what might be compared to a bite mark where giant teeth had chomped away at the terrain.
Nubaku Yakata / 奴白館

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Nubaku-yakata is a fortified manor hall site located in the Yatsushiro Township of Fuefuki Municipality, Yamanashi Prefecture. No ruins remain and the site is now a vineyard and winery. There is a marker post with the yakata's name on in one of the orchards.
Ochiai Yakata / 落合館

KaiOchiaiYakata (5).JPG

The site of Ochiai-yakata is now a housing block surrounding an orchard. I found some old cenotaphs and a fine old gatehouse, but nothing definitively related to the yakata. There were some curious mounds that seemed to have been part of a long segment of piled earth but I guess that could be all sorts of things; all castling reports I read state that no ruins remain here.
Ochiai Yashiki (Ochiai) / 落合屋敷 (落合)


No ruins remain.
Ohbayashi Yashiki / 大林屋敷

KaiOhbayashiYashiki (2).JPG

Ôbayashi-yashiki is a medieval fortified residence site in the Minowa area of Takane Township in Hokuto Municipality, Yamanashi Prefecture. The site is now a forest and field, but to the north there are clear remnants of dorui (earthen ramparts) and karabori (dry moats) with a break in the defensive line which was probably the site’s koguchi (‘tiger maw’ gated entrance). It was hard to take pictures of the ramparts and moats because of all of the bamboo grass growing, but the main bailey is an open field; I found a curious ring of stones there. A water channel dug into the dorui at one point gave a good impression of the depth of the piled earth. Now I look at some of the pictures, I know that they do not actually provide proof of what I claimed to have seen, the physical remains being so obscurred by overgrowth, and the camera capturing only a flat image which makes it hard to appreciate the contours of the earth. Are some of my photographs meaningless even though I was looking at medieval ruins when I took them? This must be what it's like for people who photograph bigfoot!
Ohkunugi Yakata / 大椚館

OhkunugiYakata (1).JPG

Nothing obvious remains of Ôkunugi-yakata; to the east was a creek which now has a pedestrian path, and this may have acted as a natural moat. There is also a long, wide depression in the west which is now fields, and some speculate that this was a moat of the yakata, but most sources say no ruins remain. There are several such depressions on this plateau and they don't look to me like medieval earthworks, though I don't know their origin. Unfortunately the site of the yakata itself is now a large nursing home. I just passed by quickly on my way to Nagamine Fort.
Ohmura Yashiki / 大村屋敷

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Ômura-yashiki is a fairly well preserved fortified residence site in Kurashina Village, Makioka Township, Yamanashi Municipality. The site is mostly surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts). Due to it being on sloped land and making use of terrain, some of the ramparts are very tall. A farmer graciously gave me position to go in his fields and circle around the dorui. Inside of the earthworks is a private residence.
Ohno Fort / 大野砦

KaiOhnoToride (3).JPG

Ôno-toride was a small fort. Now only a portion of ishigaki (stone walls) (or, dorui (earthen ramparts) with latter day ishigaki piled around it) remains - or said to, used as a platform for a family hokora (mini-shrine). Although this mound is ostensibly called a yaguradai (turret platform), it's very difficult to know for sure. In its current proportions it anyway seems a bit small for that, but since no other remnants of the fort remain above ground, its natural to home in on this strange spot.
Ohtsubo Fort / 大坪砦

KaiOhtsuboToride (1).JPG

Ôtsubo-toride was constructed at the edge of a jutting plateau which is now a hamlet. The hamlet looks like it isn’t very old and it may be made up of summer homes. These developments have buried the ruins of the fort. The strategic advantage of a fort on such a plateau, surrounded by steep sides, is obvious, and likely a moat was dug across the plateau to protect it to the north where it connects with a plain, but no ruins remain today.
Ohtsubono Fort / 大坪塁

KaiOhtsuboRui (16).JPG

Ôtsubo-rui is a fortified residence site in the Minowa area of Takane Township in Hokuto Municipality, Yamanashi Prefecture. At first I found no way into this forested site, and initially gave up to visit other sites in the area. Finding remains at similar looking sites in the vicinity, I determined it was worth having another crack at this one, so I began by encircling the site. There is a beautifully preserved old residence in the west, with a thatched roof cottage and gatehouse. I chose to enter the field behind here. I did not expect to find much. However…

I found that the wooded area was situated on high ground. The elevation looked sculpted in a linear fashion rather than wholly natural, and I scrambled up the scarp. Sure enough, atop of the embankment the earth had been mounded into a parapet. This was dorui (earthen ramparts) then. I continued into the forest, which was really a cedar plantation, and found that it was overgrown with bamboo grass. Proceeding with little vision I came to a long depression. Snow had gathered here. I realised this was a karabori (dry moat), and that I had penetrated the inner fort, and got quite excited.

I took a closer look at satellite images and saw that there was an angular gap in the trees here. The snow had fallen through and gathered in the moat. I could photograph and follow the moat this way. Although it didn’t get particularly easier to photograph, I found that the moat got deeper to the east, and there was dorui on the inside of the karabori. The karabori is preserved on three sides: west, north and east. To the south the hill slopes off and there is housing, so it appears the moat may have been filled in or cut away there, but due to overgrowth I couldn’t confirm either way. I contented myself with going around three sides of the inner bailey, sometimes pausing to fight back bamboo grass, until I found a trail rudely cut through the overgrowth to the east which led out of the forest.

I was very happy with my discovery here. Since the blogger I was following, the gentleman castle blogger who runs the blog O’shiro Tabi Nikki (‘Castle Travel Diaries’), had apparently been defeated by the site, I had little to go on, and didn’t know what to expect (Yogo-sensei also called it quits (but to be fair to him he did try in summer), but the guy at Kojōshi did a cracking job; I’ll link all blogs below). To find such extensive remains of earthworks was a big discovery for me. The site was overgrown and wet, but luckily I was wearing some new water-proof gear, so I was able to push through the bush fearlessly, exploring the central area, though many ruins remained hidden by flora. Mission (mostly) accomplished then.

Ôtsubo-rui is not to be confused with Ôtsubo-toride to the south, which I visited on the same day. Both ‘rui’ and ‘toride’ can be translated as ‘fort’ in English, ‘rui’ referring to earthworks; although, I will say, it seems that ‘rui’, at least in Kai and Suruga, mostly refers to a residence of some sort. Places referred to as ‘rui’ also often take the possessive particle (as in 大坪の塁), so in English I will also refer to this site as ‘Ohtsubono Fort’, and the later constructed and smaller Ôtsubo-toride to the south as ‘Ohtsubo Fort’. Considering both sites are in the same place, there’s little other way to distinguish without using Japanese vocabulary.
Osade Yashiki / 小佐手屋敷

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Nothing remains of Osade-yashiki, a medieval residence, but there is an explanation board about it on the former site, which is now vineyards and a nursery. Katsunuma has many grape fields and it is common for farmers to have vines covering their driveways. Many restaurants have canopies of vines above their outdoor areas. It's really cosy.
Ougidairayama Castle / 扇子平山城

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Ōgidairayamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin in Asahi Township, Nirasaki Municipality. The castle is bumpy, and the features are not always easy to make out. Helpfully, though, signs have been installed to denote various parts of the fort. I climbed the mountain without a trail from the northeast. There were a large number of monkeys in the area. They were rushing to and fro’, past me, and there was some strange screaming coming from deep within the forest. Something must’ve been going on. One of their savage monkey courts had perhaps condemned one of their number and tore it to pieces. So I thought... (Multiple castle bloggers mention seeing wild animals at this site, so I add monkeys to the list of sightings).

I found the ruins of the castle starting at the noroshidai (platform for sending smoke signals), and followed the ridge up from there to the main body of the ruins. There are three horikiri (trenches) which bisect the ridge. Baileys are set between them, but there is a third bailey beneath the second, according to a sign there, though to me the terrain seemed far too uneven to be a bailey.

The second bailey sat above the slope and its earthen ramparts stood out, so that this was clearly a castle bailey. Once I broke into the second bailey though I found it strangely hollowed out. Nonetheless it seemed to be protected by dorui (earthen ramparts).

The main bailey is set furthest back and encloses a more level space with some dorui around the edges, particularly to the rear where it is heaped up several meters. The horikiri to the rear of and below the main bailey are highlights.
Oyamada Bessou Yashiki / 小山田別荘屋敷

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The Oyamada-Bessō-yashiki is a medieval residence site in Tsuru Municipality. The site is now that of a temple, Chōanji. The temple contains a nursery, and this has inspired some interesting design motifs. Chōanji was built by Torii Mototada in 1585, so the residnece must've been gone by that time. No ruins remain of the residence. There is a stone marker just in front of the temple to signify the residence's former existence.
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