Spring 2021 Castle Travels

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Spring 2021 Castle Travels


This update covers the castles visited during Golden Week 2021. I realize Golden Week 2022 is much closer now than Golden Week 2021 so I apologize for the slow update. It has been a busy year. Simpler updates are available on the Facebook page so I would also encourage you to follow my Facebook or Instagram pages for more regular updates.


Kokururi Castle / 古久留里城


Kururi Castle is well known to most for the mock keep, but there is actually an older mountaintop castle just to the northwest of Kururi Castle that predates it. It is often called Kokururi Castle or Kururi Kojo (old Kururi Castle). From the station, first walk to the Shinshoji Temple (see details on the Kururi Castle page). There is supposedly a gate from the original castle, but there was no such gate that I could see from other pictures online. Perhaps it has been moved or taken down. Next continue on to the nearby elementary school. I started climbing from the base of the mountain near the elementary school and a trail called the Asamayama Trail (check the GPS of my photos for the exact location). The initial ridge of the castle has several deep horikiri trenches and a couple side baileys. Once you get to the "main" part of the castle, also called Uenjo, there's a kind of yokobori trench and more horikiri that intersect making a formidable barrier around it. This whole mountaintop castle is a bit tricky to navigate. It has some signs but several sections of the trail have been washed out and trees have fallen over blocking or taking out parts of the trail. It was a bit challenging to circumnavigate these parts and in one spot I had to climb up and over a tree and tip up mound because I could see no safer way to go around. As you can see from the photos the trail mostly follows the ridge and deep horikiri where there are often guide ropes to help you up/down but I would still recommend a trekking pole or at least good shoes to tempt this site. Once I reached the top and got to Kururi Castle there was a sign that said the trail was closed for severe typhoon damage and erosion in 2019, so I assume there has been no maintenance since then. There was no such sign at the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain.
Konodai Castle / 国府台城


To be honest, there is not much to see here and most visitors won't even know it as a former castle site except for a couple small signs. For most people it will simply be Satomi Park. The earthen embankments you see in the photos are thought to have been embankments (dorui) of the castle. They even integrated kofun into the embankment network and there are 2 places thought to have been yagura (lookout tower) locations.
Kurobane Castle / 黒羽城


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.
Kururi Castle / 久留里城


The castle was built roughly 500m from the original Kokururi Castle, but may have included some structures or built over some structures from Kokururi Castle too. Refer to the Kokururi Castle page for more information. The castle is an interesting combination of mountaintop castle and lowland castle. The Third Bailey (Sannomaru) is on the lowlands where the town is today and the Main Bailey (Honmaru) and Second Bailey (Ninomaru) are at the top. There are a few other small baileys and horikiri trenches at the top that are indicative of the original Sengoku Period mountaintop castle before it was built into an Edo Period castle. The castle's nickname, U-jo (rain castle), comes from the story that it rained at least once every three days during it construction for a total of 21 times.
Makabe Castle / 真壁城


Makabe Castle was a fantastic castle to visit. They have done an incredible job developing the castle grounds. The signage is quite good and the paths are easy to follow. They've been slowly conducting excavations and rebuilding some of the earthen embankments and trenches at this National Historic Site for over 15 years. I don't know what the reconstruction plans are, I just wish they could do it a little faster! There is great potential to develop this into a treasured site for castle fans someday. I imagine it would be something like nearby Oda Castle but on a much larger scale. On the main road outside the castle you'll find the bus stop, a convenience store and the entrance to the civic gymnasium which is also the entrance to the castle. This road cuts through the Ninomaru Bailey following alongside the Honmaru moat, which has now been filled in. Everything West of here has been developed over but the parts East to the mountain have been reclaimed and are being studied and restored. The bit of embankment behind the small shrine in the far back of the castle is completely original showing what they would have looked like if they were untouched to today. The shrine seems to have saved the only original remnants. The area of town between the castle and the Jin'ya has several old temples and gates that have been preserved in an historic district. You could probably spend most of a day here, but mine was cut a bit short by a hard rain and the fact that nothing was open due to COVID 19.
Makabe Jinya / 真壁陣屋


The castle town has some interesting temples to visit while walking from Makabe Castle to the Jin'ya. There are no real remnants of the Jin'ya today, but it has some "period looking" buildings that are a museum and civic center. The museum was closed to all non-residents during the Covid19 state of emergency.
Ohtawara Castle / 大田原城


Ôtawarajō is a hirayamajiro (a castle built around a hilltop and expanding onto flatland) ruin. It has dorui (earth-piled ramparts), moats and several cleared baileys. A small mizubori (water moat) segment is preserved at the foot of the hill (next to the car park) in the former nishi-kuruwa (west bailey); it is shown here frozen over. The high ramparts are impressive and it's interesting to see how the natural terrain was sculpted into a fortification. The honmaru (main bailey) is ringed by high ramparts with cherry blossom trees on top (but I went in winter) and it is pleasant to stroll around them. The ninomaru (second bailey) contains some modern concrete monuments: one is a 'peace tower' but it does not take the form of an Indian stupa like they usually do. The north bailey is terraced. The upper part contains benches and children's swings (in Japanese 'blanco', presumably from Portuguese). The lower north bailey runs adjacent to the road and bridge over the river; traditionally this road is the Ōshū-Kaidō, one of the five major transit routes of the Edo period. The castle's main entrance opened out onto this road, along which were stables and bukeyashiki (samurai residences). A path from the north bailey loops around the back of the honmaru. If you look over the river from here you can see a large modern onsen building built very vaguely to look like a castle tower. The honmaru and ninomaru were connected by an earthen bridge and both were accessible from a gate at the foot of the hill. The honmaru and the sannomaru (third bailey) both once contained goten (palaces). Admin note: original history and profile by ART. Photos renewed 2021 after Admin visit. You'll probably want to visit as part of a day trip to Kurobane Castle. Otawara Castle is along the same bus route that takes you to Kurobane Castle.
Shirahata Castle / 白旗城


I've seen better photos of the site so I think it may have been kept up better at one point, but during Golden Week it was nearly impassable for the weeds and bugs attacking you from every direction. If you look at the map in the photos below, I started from the left (south) side horikiri trench and worked my way through to the trench on the right side of the Ninomaru before giving up. The trenches can be seen within the weeds but there is not much else to see here. The middle of the Honmaru (main bailey) has a small shrine. I walked the roughly 4km from Kurobane Castle and caught a nearby bus (~1km away) to find my way back to the train station.
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