Kurobanejō was established in 1576 when Ôzeki Takamasu relocated the clan stronghold from Shirahatajō. During the 1590 Siege of Odawara, whilst the powerful Nasu Clan failed to send troops for the war effort and were subsequently demoted in the new order that followed Toyotomi Hideyoshi's victory, Ôzeki Takamasu was prompt in sending troops and when Tokugawa Ieyasu took over former Hōjō territory in Kantō he expanded Ôzeki Clan lands to 13,000 koku at the expense of the Nasu. At the Battle of Sekigahara, Takamasu's son, Ôzeki Sukemasu, fought for the Eastern Army, fighting with the Uesugi Clan in Aiźu, and upon the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Ôzeki were therefore enfranchised with a territory increase to a value of 19,200 koku. In the Edo period the number of castles decreased as the Shogunate tried to limit the power of local lords, and this led to Kurobanejō being reconstituted as a jin'ya, a fortified administrative center typically smaller than a castle. Nevertheless, the extensive earthworks and defences at Kurobanejō were retained and it must have been one of the strongest jin'ya in the region. Despite not having the prestige of other daimyō, the Ôzeki were trusted servants of the Shogunate and Ôzeki Masuhiro, the penultimate lord of the Kurobane Castle, served in several important government posts, such as Naval Commissioner and Junior Elder. Masuhiro also imported Spencer repeating rifles to defend the castle and his territory. During the Boshin War, the last lord, Ôzeki Masutoshi, fought for the Tokugawa and was defeated. Shortly after the feudal domain system was abolished by the new Meiji government, and Kurobanejō was abandoned.
Kurobanejō is a Sengoku period mountain castle and Edo period jin'ya (fortified administrative centre akin to a smaller scale castle) ruin. It has sweeping earthworks, moats, trenches, gate complex ruins, and a reconstructed miyagura (watchtower). There are many impressive dorui (earth-piled ramparts) at Kurobanejō. Between the honmaru (main bailey) and umadashi (barbican) sub-bailey is a deep trench, and the earthwork ramparts around the honmaru are 50m high. Following the Ôtedō (castle's main road) and entering through the main gate ruin one passes a deep trench whilst ascending to the honmaru flanked on both sides by tall dorui, a double-rampart configuration. The honmaru is accessed by another gate complex after the trench, and here one finds a wide open space where the lord's palace used to be surrounded by high earthen ramparts. Along with the reconstructed watchtower, there is a Noh stage here now. A museum to the poet Matsuo Banshō now stands in the castle's sannomaru (third bailey), and it is built with ishigaki (stone walls) beneath an elevated walkway to simulate a castle gate, but this, whilst nice, is not a historical structure. It is immediately adjacent to the koguchi ('tiger's maw', a gate) of the umadashi ('horse's flight) next to the honmaru. The ninomaru (second bailey) is now the site of large modern structures with traditional flare. They're sort of like traditional architecture fused with brutalism. Objectively they are ugly, but one of them is clearly 'castle-esque' in its design, although now it is abandoned. Mizubori (water moats) and tall dorui enclose an area where the jin'ya building was subsequently erected, now covered in bamboo. In the area beneath the sannomaru (third bailey) bukeyashiki (samurai homes) existed, and this area is now a garden with adorable clumps of grass, but a small gate there is a nod to the bushi residences that used to be. Sharing the castle mount is Daioji, a temple with thatched roof structures designated important cultural properties, which I recommend visitors to the site don't overlook.
Admin Update: Original profile and history by ART. Photos renewed by Admin in 2021. There is also an original samurai home gate, the Onuma Residence Gate. The gate seems to have been recently (May 2021) restored. The outer support pillars are clearly newer wood and even smell very fresh, but some of the panels are a darker much more aged look. It could be that only the panels remain from the original gate. I would recommend you get off the bus near the Daioji Temple and visit here before continuing on to the castle.
|English Name||Kurobane Castle|
|Castle Condition||No main keep but other buildings|
|Designations||Local Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Pre Edo Period|
|Features||water moats, trenches|
|Access||Bus from Nishi-Nasuno Station|
|Visitor Information||park, open 24/7|
|Time Required||75 mins|
|Location||Ohtawara, Tochigi Prefecture|
|Coordinates||36° 52' 11.03" N, 140° 7' 19.70" E|
|Added to Jcastle||2018|
|Admin Year Visited||Viewer Contributed, 2021|
|Admin Visits||May 9, 2021|
|Friends of JCastle|
|Jokaku Horoki: Kurobane-jo|