Kyoto Castles Update

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Kyoto Castles Update


I've been sitting on this one for awhile trying to finish updating my stock of Kyoto castles before posting an update but then I visit some more castles and it keeps getting put off. Now that we're into the rainy season, it's a good time to clean out the updates from the previous castle season. That being said, I still have one big piece about the stone walls of Nijo Castle to do someday but I'm still working on some research for that one. Stay tuned... :)

The castles in this update are mostly new, but I've also added some photos to Nijo Castle for a limited exhibition of the Nishimon Gate and evening event and a couple other photos. There is also a new album of photos for the Odoi part of Kitano Tenmangu which was also open for a special autumn exhibit. It's too bad because this is one the best Odoi parts.

Most people think of Kyoto as a real life Disneyland full of tranquil temples and idyllic gardens, where cute little jizo statues play among the moss or stoic rock gardens make you contemplate the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. In a sense, Kyoto is all that, but as the political center for hundreds of years, it was also the focus of many conflicts. From the Muromachi Period (1336-1573) when the Ashikaga established their Shogunate in Kyoto until Tokugawa Ieyasu moved the capital to Tokyo, was an especially conflict heavy time around Kyoto. The Onin War wrought terrible destruction on Kyoto. The weakness of the Ashikaga at this point triggered the Sengoku Period and controlling Kyoto became a key objective as Oda Nobunaga set his eyes on higher ambitions too. By the time Hideyoshi had stabilized the country the area directly outside of central Kyoto was largely abandoned.

All these conflicts gave rise to (you guessed it!) lots of castles. After all, that's why you're here, right? According to a recent Kyoto Newspaper¹ article 159 castle sites from this period have been identified just inside the current city limits. This includes 55 mountaintop castles scattered around the ring of mountains encircling Kyoto.

With the exception of Yagi Castle (Tanba) the new castles I've added are along the Higashiyama mountain area, also known as the "36 Peaks of Higashiyama" (東山三十六連峰). This string of mountains divides Kyoto from Shiga and Lake Biwa. One of the interesting topics that came up along this research was that there were three main passes over these mountains that were used for both commerce and for the movement of military troops. As such there were also castles and outposts built along these trails at different times. These passes are outlined below with some of the key castles along the routes. Those not linked to a castle profile will be my next targets once the weeds die back in the autumn.

Shiratori-goe Pass (Ichijojiyama Castle, Enryakuji Ichijoji Castle, Tsubokasayama Castle (Shiga)) is the northernmost of the main passes and connects the Ichijoji area of Kyoto to Anou on the Shiga side. It was also used as a staging area for the Asakura/Asai attacks on Kyoto.

Yamanaka-goe Pass (aka Shiga-goe) (Shogunyama Castle, Yamanaka Castle, Usayama Castle (Shiga)) is the next and probably easiest of the three main passes to cross. From the Kyoto side the Hieizan Driveway follows the Yamanaka-goe to the Hieidaira Plain.

Nyoi-goe Pass (Nyoigatake Castle, Haiyama Castle) is the southernmost and connects Otsu to Kitashirakawa as well. It has a nice full hiking trail from Miidera on the Shiga side to Ginkakuji on the Kyoto side.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the castles of Kyoto City, it is just the beginning of what is sure to be many more updates as my research leads me into new thematic topics. In the future these will be organized on a new page the Castles of Kyoto


Haiyama Castle / 灰山城


This castle ruin is along the Nyoi-goe Pass over the mountain range from Lake Biwa. It is much closer to the Lake Biwa side than Kyoto side but is just over the border into Kyoto Prefecture. I actually walked here from Hieidaira along a long winding road. It was a little tricky to find the site and when I thought I must be close I just kind of went into the woods from the road and found it, partly by happenstance. The rock garden is unmistakable, but of all the websites I've seen about this castle no one mentions the castle ruins. I have no doubt that the horikiri trench in the photos below is a horikiri as part of the castle and connects to a 5m high dorui. I went back and forth over this ridge and through the horikiri itself and am sure of it. Likewise, on the opposite side there is a natural valley so they seem to work together. There are 2 main baileys that I can make out from the ruins here, but I know there is a survey of this site at the prefectural library I will try to get to one of these days.
Ichijojiyama Castle / 一乗寺山城


The castle can be approached by several of the hiking routes around Mt. Hiei as part of the "Kyoto Trail" that circumnavigates Kyoto. Unfortunately, it is not near the entrance of any of them so expect a long mountainous walk. The route I took started from Shugakuin Station and went up the Kirarazaka Hiking trail, which is the famous Mt. Hiei climbing trail that starts from the Kyoto side of the mountain. Along the way up the mountain, you will run into Kirarazaka Castle, which is actually a satellite fortification of Ichijoji Castle, protecting the northern side and roughly parallel across the valley from Matsugasaki Castle. From just beyond Kirarazaka Castle, you need to take a small path off the Mt. Hiei climbing trail that goes south along the Kyoto Trail (see photos at the end). It is well marked if you watch for it. Another 20-30 minutes hiking will bring you to Ichijoji Castle, but it is completely unmarked so you really need a good map and some guesswork to find out where the castle ruins are. The trail actually runs along side the castle maybe 10m-20m above the trail at the top of the ridge so you need to find a good spot to climb up. My first guess was probably too early and ended in nothing but heavy undergrowth and no discernible castle remains. Eventually I found a good path up and when I double back I realized I was just a few meters from the beginning of the castle in my first attempt anyway! I explored around here for awhile until it was starting to get dangerously late in the afternoon for a long walk back to civilization. There are some trenches and embankments along the ridge but some of the tatebori and vertical trenches on the map I had (近畿の城郭 IV) were unrecognizable today.

On the way back, I first tried to take the shorter side trail down to the Manshuin Temple, but about 1/3 of the way down it was too washed out and slippery that I deemed it too dangerous to go on and walked the long way back around Kirarazaka and Kirarazaka Castle back to Shugakuin Station. By this time it was dark.

This castle should not be confused with Ichijoji Enryakujiyama-jo (Ipponsuginishi-jo), which is a mistake I have seen a few websites/bloggers make and caused me some grief figuring out the different castles and their relationships/histories. Ichijoji Enryakujiyama-jo is another castle along the Mt. Hiei mountain range that I will try to find this spring.
Kirarazaka Castle / 雲母坂城


Across the valley from Matsugakasaki Castle and along the Kirarazaka Hiking Trail to climb Mt. Hiei is a small castle ruin called Kirarazaka Castle. The center area of the castle is marked on some of the signs and maps for the Kirarazaka Trail so even people who are not particularly interested in castles drop by to see the site. I had a brief chat with one such hiker who borrowed my map of the castle but still could not see anything castle-like about it! There are a couple trenches and flattened areas that are obvious to castle fans and a small hillock that was the center of the castle. One side of the castle is a very steep ravine and the castle is designed with baileys ordered vertically along the trail up the mountain. It makes it particularly difficult for any attackers to assualt. If you are particularly ambitious you could go from here all the way to the top of Mt. Hiei or possibly cross the mountain roughly along the same elevation to the main castle Ichijojiyama Castle .
Kunaishoyu Castle / 宮内少輔城


The castle site is private property, but you can see some of the original earthen embankments and layout of the central compound today. The nagayamon is really interesting and adds some historical ambiance to the site but is not actually from the castle. The size of the castle was much larger than just the private residence. There was some evidence (now developed over) of a wide area around the residence being encircled by the moat. It also led to nearby place names such as Horinouchi, or "within the moat".
Nakao Castle (Yamashiro) / 中尾城


Nakao castle is comprised of several narrow baileys running along the top ridge of a mountain overlooking Kyoto. When you are walking along the ridge the various baileys seemed to make sense, but looking back at the photos it's a bit hard to see/remember the difference between which is which. There are also a couple horikiri trenches and some slight embankments which helped separate some of the baileys. Naturally this should be visited along with Ohyama Dejiro.

It seems there may be just as many ways into this castle as there are bloggers looking for it. Unfortunately, these trails are mostly unmarked even on the most detailed maps, so go with caution.

There are trails all over this section of the Higashiyama area of Nyoigatake and Daimonji but the trails are mostly unmarked on maps or on the mountainside. I took what seems to be the most common and direct route into the castle. The (unmarked) trail branches off shortly after you start the hiking trail for Daimonjiyama going behind the Kyoto Korean School. It's a bit steep but (at least in winter) it is a much clearer and easier trail than I was expecting from reading some other accounts. I did tempt this one last summer too but backed out due to high weeds and intense mosquito bombardment. Going this route will first take you to Ohyama Dejiro on the way to Nakao Castle. If you follow this trail to Nakao Castle you end up around the middle of the castle. Visit the left part, double back and visit the right part and at the end you'll find the trail down to the dam on the lower end of the Daimonjiyama hiking course and an easy walk back to Ginkakuji.

A second common route is to use the unmarked trail a bit farther up the path to Daimonji that goes to either the left or right of the dam. This is the trail I took coming down. The way down was unplanned. It just seemed that at the end of the castle, a trail going down this side of the mountain made sense. I did not know where it would end up. A third common route is to go almost to the top of the Daimonji trail to a point of higher elevation than Nakao-jo and break off on another unmarked trail to go back down into Nakao-jo. I have not conclusively identified where this trail is after 2 climbs of daimonji either so probably the one going behind the Korean School is the best. Around the castle area I identified at least 2 other likely trails coming up from the other side of these mountains into the castle too (one of which may have come from Daimonji) but I suspect the route described above would be the best. That being said, I did run into some people coming down (perhaps from Daimonji) but did not see anyone else going up the route I took so take any advice with a grain of salt!

In the photos below you will see the "Sennin-zuka". This is a popular resting point along the way up Daimonjiyama. This stone marker is a memorial to soldiers who died in the Battle of Nakao Castle. During WWII the Japanese army was digging in around here and found countless bones. They were thought to have been from the Battle of Nakao Castle so this stone memorial was placed here to honor them.
Nyoigatake Castle / 如意ヶ嶽城


You would be forgiven for thinking Nyoigatake Castle is on top of Mt. Nyoigatake. I made the same mistake. It is on top of Mt. Daimonjiyama, where you see the big 大 character that is visible from many places in Kyoto and they have the bonfires for o-bon. That also makes it a much easier hike than trying to go all the way to Mt Nyoigatake (I've hiked that trail too!). Originally this part of the mountain was also considered to be part of Mt. Nyoigatake, thus the castle name. I suspect they made it into a new mountain after they started the gozan no okuribi tradition. Once you reach the 大 character keep following the trail another 15 minutes to the top of the mountain. You'll be rewarded with even more great views of the city and you will be standing in the main bailey of Nyoigatake Castle. I think the city has really missed a great opportunity to introduce this fantastic castle site and bit of history to hikers. Despite the extensive documentation and signposting along the Kyoto Trail and many other attractions along this route, (including Kirarazaka Castle and Shogunyama Castle) Nyoigatake Castle does not get mentioned even though it is a much more interesting site. This was a throughly enjoyable mountaintop castle ruin. The Yokobori trench that encircles much of the main and second baileys is remarkably preserved. The eastern edge of the second Bailey has a double trench running from the trail down the side of this outer Bailey. On the downward slope side of the mountain away from the trail there are several terraced baileys too. Before you reach the peak of the mountain and the main bailey from there are two narrow dobashi with tatebori run-ins down the side. They are easy to miss on the way up but once you're familiar with a map of the castle it's easy to identify on the way back. Along the trail at the ridge of the mountain past the main Bailey there are two locations where the trail cuts through earthen embankments. When I first saw these it was my first sign that I was at the castle, exploring from here you should easily find the rest.
Shogunyama Castle / 将軍山城


Shogunyama Castle sits atop Mt. Uryu, directly behind the Tanikudanisan Fudo-in temple. The temple is well known for the Kiyomizudera looking stage and is a special place to pray for recovery from illness. The castle can be found by taking the trail out the back of the temple. The castle ruins are along the Kyoto Trail so they are not difficult to find. There is a spacious honmaru bailey with many smaller baileys radiating out from it along the ridges. There is also a fort of Shogunyama-jo atop Mt. Shiratori about 500 meters north of Mt. Uryu called the North Castle (北城) or Demura (出丸). I read several blogs and accounts of people visiting this fort who got lost or could not find it, but I thought I was prepared. Apparently I made the same mistake as many others and took the "easy" looking ridge trail in the wrong direction, but eventually I found my way and did not give up like some others! The views to the north of Kyoto were stunning and worth the additional effort.
Yagi Castle (Tanba) / 八木城


Yagi Castle is a huge sprawling castle complex and is known as one of the Three Biggest Yamajiro of Tanba (丹波三大山城). For some reason is not very well known and tends to be skipped over by most of the major castle publications in Japan. Of the "Tanba 3", Kuroi Castle and Yagami Castle are arguably more famous.

The route up to the honmaru is well maintained and sign posted but you need to work a little harder to find some of the farther reaches of the castle. From the bottom of the mountain, at the entrance to the hiking trail, you'll find many terraced areas that were the homes of retainers. Thanks to many switchbacks, the trail takes you to the top of the mountain without being too steep or challenging. The trail ends right at the honmaru/ninomaru entrance and the first major stone wall ruins. The honmaru has some stunning views of the surrounding plains and you can easily see why a giant castle was built here. Take the small narrow trail around the back of the honmaru to find another stone wall segment. If you look around the sides of the honmaru you will see a great many stones strewn about. At one point the whole honmaru was fortified with stone walls.

From the Ninomaru there are trails going north and west that will take you along ridges literally covered in stepped flat areas that were baileys of the original castle. From this point there are no maps and few useful signs. A couple of the farthest reaches have horikiri and stone wall segments as well. There are a number of trails that link up to other trails and go down different areas of the mountain but there are few signs. In fact, I was stopped twice by groups of hikers who wanted to ask ME about the trails. At one point along the western ridge coming back from the stone wall and horikiri I became unsure of the trail because it looked steeper than I remembered. After turning around and looking for signs of a trail I found a pink ribbon tied to a tree (signs of a trail on this mountain!). I felt reassured and started following the pink ribbons... until I found myself back at the same horikiri and stone wall again! Well, I did find the right trail back, but it does show how someone with a poor sense of direction (yes, me) can lose the trail.
Yamashina Honganji / 山科本願寺


There are a few bits of the original embankments remaining today as you can see by the green areas marked on the map below. Those in the red outlines have been designated National Historic Sites. The excavated ruins of the nanden have been turned into a nice park with dorui on one side and outlines marked for a section of moat, pillar foundations for uncovered buildings and a steam bath or sauna. There are some more sections of earthworks that I will visit soon to fill out this profile. Not specifically castle related but on the north side of the Nanden Park there is an old farmhouse, storehouse and amazing nagayamon gate. This is private property but the gate viewed from outside is still impressive. I'll include one photo below at the end of reference.
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20 months ago
Score 0++
@Eric. I will have to check out Yamanaka Castle (still on the Shiga side) and Tsubosakayma Castle first before moving onto those yamajiro ruins in Kyoto that you have written about on JCastle. Actually, 6 or 7 years ago, I planned to go up to Tsubosakayama Castle with a buddy from work, but we couldn't find the right trail to Tsubosakayama and ended up near the cable car station up on Mt Hie. As you know, right now isn't yamajiro-hunting season for these little known and overgrown castle ruins. Still, there are other things that Japanese castle fans can do in the warmer months here.


20 months ago
Score 0++
Oh fun. I've looked at a lot of maps around this area and thought I knew how to get there but maybe not ! Either way, to your point, this is one I'll put off until winter. Much better to get lost when you can see where you're going or were :)


20 months ago
Score 0++
@Eric. There seems to be two ways up to Tsubosakayama Castle. My friend and I took the route starting from a cemetery and then going along a fire trail. We then found a hiking trail from the fire trail, but unfortunately it did not lead to Tsubosakayama Castle. I'm guessing we took the wrong hiking trail. When I go again, I will try starting out from the other route on the map in one of my castle books.


21 months ago
Score 0++
I didn’t know there were so many yamajiros defending the passes from Shiga to Kyoto. I have been to Usayama Castle on the Shiga side of the Yamanaka-goe Pass several times, but I should re-visit it again as I have seen a more recent map which shows there are a few more baileys there than in an older map that I have. After that I’ll have to pop over to the Kyoto side to suss out some of the castles that you have put up here on JCastle.


21 months ago
Score -1++
Yeah, just "pop over" :) From that pass I think it is not that difficult to get up to the ridge and there may be some other minor castle ruins along the way, if I'm not mistaken. My materials have a noticeable hole on the Shiga side.

¹ 戦国時代の京都は城と要害だらけだった 京都市内に城館跡159ヵ所 "Sengoku Period Kyoto was littered with castles, 159 in the city limits" Feb 7, 2022