34 New Nagano Prefecture Castle Profiles from ART

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34 New Nagano Prefecture Castle Profiles from ART


ART has contributed another monster set of profiles covering the many castles and yakata, great and small, around Nagano. I envy his stamina to climb up some of these mountains and especially so many in such a short amount of time !

If you haven't seen his Japanese Castles Facebook page, check it out as well. All these photos and more have been posted there at some point or will be shortly.


Chikuma Tazawa Castle / 筑摩田沢城


Chikuma-Tazawajō is located along the ridge on the way up the mountain to Hikarujō, which was my main destination that day. There is a hiking trail to be found near Tazawa Station. There is a path cut into the mountainside as one draws close to the castle site, and this may also be a castle feature (堀低道?). The shape of the baileys at this site are rather hard to discern and there is bamboo growing over parts, but the large trenches are unmistakable. I was able to reach Hikarujō in short order from here.
Hikaru Castle / 光城


The ruins of Hikarujō are impressive, with a pair of well-defined baileys surrounded by dorui (earth ramparts), defended with deep, wide trenches. Toward the rear of the site there is a road for visitors and it swings past a series of rear trenches. Here a bridge spans a climbing trench. Terracing appears to descend the mount via ridges at two more points too. The site is well maintained as it is part of a popular hiking course, and, after seeing no one on my way up from the Tazawajō side, I saw a score or so people here. They'd all came up from either the car park near the mountain road, or from a long trail which follows a ridge from the plain. That trail is popular in spring because it is lined with sakura. At this elevation there was lots of snow around and the scenery was beautiful. I enjoyed this site a lot. It might be worth visiting if you're in Matsumoto during the spring.
Hirase Kitano Castle / 平瀬北ノ城

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I had been to one small part of Hirase-Kitanojō before, as it is part of a complex of fortifications on Mount Hirase, but at that time I had no idea about its scale. The northern castle at Hirase is as vast as the main part, but much less developed, and so it is difficult to identify ruins. I was surprised to realise that I had been to only the very edge of this site, and that so much more existed continuing up the mountain. This ruin is the hard mode for anyone wishing to visit Hirasejō. After visiting here I returned to Uenoyamajō to take a path which looked almost certain to lead me safely back down. There was even a handy rope... which ended abruptly in a large coil. The path had suddenly ended! I used the rope to lower myself down the steep slopes until it finally ran out. At that time there was a series of simple dams terracing the ravine, so I followed these down. At one point I found what looked like a huge stalactite clinging to one of the concrete dams.
Ina Konishi Castle / 伊那小西城

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The ruins of Konishijō can be found on a small mountain in rural Ono. Ono is a settlement split down the middle by the municipal boundaries of Shiojiri (of the traditional Chikuma County) and Tatsuno (of the traditional Ina County) (the school is operated jointly and Tatsuno maintains religious enclaves on the Shiojiri side due to a long-standing historical dispute). Formerly I had visited some sites in the northeast of town, and Konishijō is to the southwest. The ruin itself contains earthworks such as dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches) and kuruwa (baileys), the latter consisting of the main bailey and then smaller terraced baileys carved into the mountainside. The main bailey contains a hokora (祠), "mini-shrine".
Ina Ryuugasaki Castle / 伊那龍ヶ崎城


Ryūgasakijō is the ruins of an earthworks yamajiro (mountaintop castle) on a small mountain near the town of Tatsuno. There are some very nice shapes sculpted into the mountain here and the entire main bailey is surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts). Terracing, trenchwork, and sub-baileys are also clearly identifiable. There is a depression between three pines in an auxiliary bailey which I took for the remains of a well. Trenches run between the baileys and the trench at the rear of the main bailey is particularly deep. I walked beyond here and further found some smaller trenches.
Kamagatake Castle / 鎌ヶ嶽城


Looking at a map it's not immediately clear why Kamagatakejō is considered separate to Kamogatakejō to the north, but visiting them one certainly gets the impression of two twinned sites. As the names imply the ruins are centred on two separate peaks. Kamagatakejō is the smaller. Though close to Kamogatakejō the scenery changes immediately here as Kamagatakejō is covered in waist-high juvenile bamboo. I wasn't expecting much but then I came to dorui with remains of ishigaki. Beyond here was a huge, deep karabori (dry moat) with steep sides which impressed me. The sides are indeed steep but luckily a rope is hung to allow visitors to descend into it. After that there's another trench, though much smaller, and it is obscurred by bamboo growth. Both Kamagatakejō and Kamogatakejō have fantastic trenches to traverse.
Kamogatake Castle / 鴨ヶ嶽城

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Kamogatakejō is a series of trenches and baileys carved into the mountain ridge. The hike up is a bit trying and rocky in places but the trail well developed. The views are fantastic. The trenches make for an envigorating, undulating hike.
Michibayashi Fort / 道林砦

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"Toride" were smaller forts. The ruins of Michibayashi-toride are on a small foothill, made up of several baileys, and there is some mouldering dorui (earthen ramparts) left around the main bailey. There is a secondary bailey and some terracing on two ridge spurs of the hill.
Minebata Castle / 峰畑城


The site given for Minebatajō is located in the middle of rice paddies. These are terraced. Between them there is a large trench, taken for a karabori (dry moat) of the castle. Beyond here there is a hill which looked to me like it could've been worked as a fortification, and I tentatively reckoned that I was observing a bailey, terraced baileys to the front and back, and dorui (earthen ramparts) here, though the castle's main area was apparently located to the north. It was hard to tell anyway due to the area being developed as fields, a park, and a cemetery. Where the road runs toward the southern hill it is thought there was a horikiri (trench). To the east of the site the castle's kyokan (residential area) was located, and I found a marker post for this, though little remains.
Murakami Kamei Castle / 村上亀井城


I vistied Kameijō as part of my tour of Kokuzōsanjō and its satellite fortifications. After more ups and downs I arrived at Kameijō, coming from Murakami Tsumi Castle, although the distance and effort from Kokuzōsanjō is not so great if one has already surmounted the highest peak (as opposed to coming up from this way). Although it looks quite close to Tsumijō in the picture I took from Kokuzōsanjō, Kameijō is actually a little bit further from Tsumijō than Tsuimijō is from Kokuzōsanjō, although the elevation interceding is not as drastic.

I think Kameijō is the smallest castle site I've visited. The main bailey felt little larger than my bedroom. I didn't see any sub-baileys either, or much of anything else other than the flattened space at this final peak.

From Kameijō I retraced my steps. Even though this meant doing some climbing sections I had already descended, the way back was much quicker and easier, the general trend being downward. I passed by a fork that went to Mochikoshijō. There was also what looked like it could be Iiźunajō visible down the mountain from Kameijō too. I missed both of these sites because I went all the way back past Takatsuyajō to take the turn to Murakami Kemurino Castle, which proved to be a wise choice...
Murakami Kemurino Castle / 村上煙ノ城


After passing Takatsuyajō (descending) there is a fork in the path. One way goes to Wagōjō and the other which turns off goes to Kemurinojō ("Castle of Smoke"). It's about 10 minutes from the fork to Kemurinojō. This was one of the best sites I visited, along with Wagōjō and Kokūzōjō, due to the impressive trenches between boulders and remaining ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) to be found. I ended my tour of Murakami castle sites on Mount Kokuzō here. Kemurinojō is a ridge castle with two integral baileys, around which there remains a lot of stonework, as well as many smaller baileys separated by five deep trenches. The name of the fort may imply that it functioned as a fortified smoke signal tower.
Murakami Kokuzousan Castle / 村上虚空蔵山城


Kokūzōjō may as well have been Mount Doom. Even though I had already climbed so high, the ultimate peak still loomed far above. I determined I must go on. This part of the climb is the toughest. There are many "rope sections" and the trail is steep. The peak is mostly clear of trees and offers spectacular views. The layout of the castle is easy to appreciate in these conditions and the scenery is fantastic. The layout consists of a narrow streatch of baileys carved into the mountain ridge. It is embossed on both sides by long sub-baileys terraced into the mountainside. There are trenches such as horikiri which split the ridge, as well as tatebori (climbing moats), which streak down the mountainside. These trenches are the first one can see when entering the castle ruins, and, climbing up, they are followed by dorui (earthen ramparts), heaped up alongside boulders which stick out from the ridge; thereafter one has a view of the baileys, both below (koshiguruwa) and above (shukuruwa). The views are incredible and one can see Uedajō.
Murakami Monomi Castle / 村上物見城


There is a route down from Kokuzōsanjō to Monomijō, but I could not find a route up and had to climb - rather than hike - up a boney, rocky ridge. I'm not sure but I might have used up half my energy that day on the climb up to Monomijō alone! At least I'd made it onto the mountain. I took a rest at the castle ruins. The layout is of two small integral baileys separated by a prominent trench. Toward the mountainside is a complex of trenches which cut into the ridge and then streak down the mountain's slopes.
Murakami Takatsuya Castle / 村上高津屋城


I came to this small ruin as part of my tour of Murakami castle sites on Mount Kokuzō. My legs got some much needed relief and I pulled myself along a rope up to Takatsuyajō. There are many points along the hiking course where ropes are strategically placed to help climbers. Useful for me especially, because I didn't have trekking poles. What awaits the bold aventurer at the ruins of Takatsuyajō is a narrow slip of earthworks consisting of two narrow integral baileys, with terracing to the front and a series of trenches at the rear.
Murakami Torikoya Castle / 村上鳥小屋城


Torikoyajō is twinned with Murakami Takatsuya Castle, and is also known as Takatsuyajō Site B. It is separated from Takatsuyajō by some distance and intervening elevation. I came here as part of my tour of Murakami castle sites on Mount Kokuzō. Most of the forts follow the ridge in a straight configuration, but here there is a little development of a ridge which forks off, as it has been terraced, but most of the ruins are found along a single path which follows the ridge on its way to Kokuzōsanjō. Please see the map to understand the layout of the castle. Features include earthworks like dorui (earthen ramparts), horikiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and terraced sub-baileys, such as koshiguruwa (hip baileys). The largest bailey is located at the fore, and the main bailey, which is narrower, is located aft, facing higher elevation beyond a natural depression. To begin the arduous climb to Kokuzōsanjō, one must first descend down the rear of Torikoyajō.
Murakami Tsumi Castle / Murakami-Tsumijō


I visited Tsumijō as part of my tour of Murakami castle sites on Mount Kokuzō. A short descent and ascent bring one from Kokuzōsanjō on the ultimate peak to this narrow branch fort. It has a sign but no explanations or map - unlike the other sites. Maybe not many people come here? That was probably true even when the castles were manned. Between Kokūzōjō and Tsumijō is a path to another site, Mochikoshijō, I didn't have time to visit that day; that path eventually leads out via Zama-jinja. Tsumijō consists of mostly baileys, including some koshikuruwa (sub-baileys) carved into the mountain slope, and one long main bailey.
Murakami Wagou Castle / 村上和合城


Wagōjō is the starting point on Mount Kokuzō, and the trail encompasses many fortification ruins. Wagōjō is relatively easy to get to and is also one of the richer sites in terms of fortification remains. Ruins include ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), with lots being hidden around the sides of the first and second baileys. The site is well maintained, almost civilised, and offers nice views from all sides. The layout consists of four integral baileys arranged in a straight line along the ridge, a simple renkaku-shiki (連郭式) layout. The first bailey overlooks the plain. In between the first and second bailey is an embankment carved from the mountain, and trenches separate the other baileys. The main bailey is also surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts) and ishigaki lines segments of the ramparts without. The trail from Wagōjō continues on to Takatsuyajō, although before that there are two forks in succession, the first leading down to Monomijō, and the latter to Kemurinojō.
Nakano Jin'ya / 中野陣屋


Nothing remains of this Edo Period jin'ya (fortified administrative center), Nakano-jin'ya, but the site was later developed as a seat of county government (not an uncommon fate for jin'ya and daikansho) and a nice building dating to 1936 stands there now. Buildings of that time combined Japanese and Western elements harmoniously.
Sanada Chifuruya Castle / 真田千古屋城


I called the site "dubious" in my initial report, and for a while I thought this might be a phantom castle, but I eventually found some information on it (in this case the shirotabi site came to my rescue). No tangible remains of the castle are said to be present. I found some indication of moved earth at the site, but it didn't look castle-shaped. There was a "moat" but it looked too wide and shallow. Other depressions looked natural. There was a large, sacred boulder, and the scenery was quite interesting at least.
Sanada Isezaki Castle / 真田伊勢崎城


Isezakijō is on a promontory jutting out into the plain. Due to the elevation it seems to be a place that would've been used as a choke point granting entry into the valleys beyond. The ruin includes several baileys, trenches, dorui (earthen ramparts) and even ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts). Isezakijō is set within a wooded grove surrounded by orchards of the famous Shinshu apples.
Sanada Negoya Castle / 真田根小屋城


Negoyajō has many terraced sub-baileys ascending like a staircase toward the main bailey. Remains of ishigaki can be seen here and there along the switchbacks and around the baileys. Looking for them is like an easter egg hunt because the patches of stones are everywhere, though often obscured by grass and bamboo. The largest ishigaki segment is by the entrance to the main bailey. There is a rear bailey of special note situated below the main bailey. There is another large blob of ishigaki around part of this rear enclosure. When I visited a large tree had collapsed and was straddling the bailey, making for some interesting terrain to traverse.
Sanada Seba Castle / 真田洗馬城


For this picture set I have included pictures of "ART Vision" so as to better highlight the castle remains shown in the photos. Sebajō straddles a long ridge which has been terraced to form a series of pocket baileys climbing up the mountain like a stairway. It's a formidable arrangement of baileys. There is a wide trench to the rear of the shukuruwa (main bailey), and remnants of dorui (earthen ramparts). I also encountered a snake here. It slithered right across my path. Its colourful scales were a checker pattern of black and red on mostly green with yellow parts on its underside. This type of snake is called Yamakagashi and is venomous. Luckily it prefers to flee over attacking.
Sanada Yagura Castle / 真田櫓城


Nothing remains of Yagurajō. The site is now farmland. I came here on the way to Sanada Yazawa Castle.
Sanada Yazawa Castle / 真田矢沢城


Yazawajō, now reasonably maintained as a park, is an oddly proportioned site. The relatively narrow shukuruwa (main bailey) is surrounded in the west and southwest by a series of belt baileys which terrace the hillside in five bands. Aside from the bottom tier, these bands are themselves quite wide, and the shukuruwa is not much wider. The terraced baileys surround the shukuruwa in the shape of 巛. On the other side the terrain slopes off quickly into a ravine. The second bailey, located below the shukuruwa, is now the site of a small shrine building. Remnants of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) can be seen here. There is a projecting bailey beyond the shukuruwa. Trenches cut into the mountain ridge here. An impressive ivy-streaked stele marks the castle site. Yazawajō possessed a branch castle, Yazawashijō, located across the small valley to the east (toward Tono).
Sanada Yazawashi Castle / 真田矢沢支城


Yazawashijō is a branch castle of Yazawajō, as the name implies. The site is now fallow fields surrounded by forest. The profile of the terrain can be seen if one descends from Yazawajō, but there isn't much else to see and I regret climbing up. A shallow valley with a resevoir separates the two sites.
Sengoku Yakata / 仙石館


Yakata usually refers to a medieval fortified manor hall, but in fact this is the site of an Edo Period jin'ya or daikansho, a fortified administrative compound used to govern smaller territorial holdings. I was impressed by the ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts). These beautiful stone walls are the remains of the jin'ya. One platform of piled stone looks like it could've served as a turret foundation. Atop is a storehouse structure which has been "castellated" and has shachihoko (鯱) on the roof. I'm not sure this qualifies as a reconstruction but it looks great.
Takai Hakoyama Castle / 高井箱山城


I went to Hakoyamajō after Kamogatakejō and Kamagatakejō. I didn't want to leave it out, though it is not as interesting as those twin sites. It is on a peak to the north of them. One finds the trail by going through the Hakoyama Pass. However, I continued down to Hakoyama Tunnel first, where there is no trail. I made things very hard for myself by climbing back up to the ridge here, crawling on all fours like a stupid bear. It would've been ten times easier if I had found the trail on the otherside of the pass. Anyway, I was quite tired but I strove on, climbing the steep, intimidating Hakoyama. The fortifications here were minimal, but the natural terrain meant that they probably didn't need to invest much to make it a tough nut to crack. Nevertheless I identified baileys, terraced sub-baileys, trenches, and possibly some remnant masonry. At the foot of the castle mount was what looked to be a recycling facility designed in the vague shape of a castle tower.
Takanashi Yakata / 高梨館


Takanashi-yakata is essentially a Sengoku Period flatland castle, retaining a simple square layout indicative of its chiefly residential function; the karabori (dry moats) and dorui (earthen ramparts) are well preserved and impressive. There is residual stonework and a reconstructed bridge. The site is very well maintained as a historical park. Mountains loom beyond on which the Takanashi Clan built several fortresses.
Toishi Iizuna Castle / 砥石飯綱城


The center of Iiźunajō is located on a hill behind an old meeting hall. This is private, cultivated land and access is restricted. However, the lower part of the castle is now the site of a grand old building which served as a meeting space for locals after the Edo Period. This structure sits on comely ishigaki (stone walls) dating to 1890.
Tounohara Castle / 塔ノ原城


Starting at Akashina Station, the hike up from Unryūji, actually the Tōhara Clan's bodaiji (clan temple), was easier than I expected, and the snow helped make the leaves on the path less slippery, but it had the downside of melting on me. The snow was still powdering the castle ruins and the scenery was misty beautiful. Tōnoharajō is an interesting yamajiro (mountaintop castle) site with well defined earthworks. Stones are scattered about suggesting the use of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts).
Uchigoya Yakata / 内小屋館


The Uchigoya-yakata is located at the base of Uchigoyajō, on a rise north of the masugata entrance to the castle. Formerly a yakata (fortified manor hall) was located here. The site is now a field and I tentatively identified earthworks. Some old graves are located on site, and there are the remains of a moat, but access was limited. After here I visited Shinkōji, which is the Sanada Clan bodaiji (clan temple).
Uenoyama Castle / 上ノ山城


The trail to Uenoyamajō ruins is right by a hairpin bend in the mountain road above Tazawa. Here I identified baileys, embankments, remnant stonework, and some other minor features. There was supposed to be climbing moats on the mountainside but I couldn't identify these. It was a nice little site all in all. I went to an outer detached bailey and this luckily had a path up back up to the road.
Yamaga Yakata / 山家館


The Sanada-yakata, sometimes called "Sanada Palace" in English, is the only fortified manor hall with significant remains in Sanada Township, but there were other yakata besides, such as this one, Yamaga-yakata, situated in a narrow valley. Apart from the shape of the terrain nothing remains today as the site has been developed for farming and housing. However, as with the Sanada-yakata, Yamaga-yakata also has a nearby shrine dedicated to venerating the Sanada Clan. The site of the yakata has a signboard explaining about the manor hall site, which is something. I stopped by here on the way back from visiting Matsuo Castle.
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