5 Castles from Ayabe City in Kyoto

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5 Castles from Ayabe City in Kyoto


This is a bit of a disjointed update. It includes 5 castles from the remote city of Ayabe in the greater Kyoto Prefecture. This area bookended my 2023/2024 castle season.

Starting with Yamaga Castle, this was my "recovery" castle trip after being prevented from castl'ing right at the start of the season with COVID striking my wife and I in succession. I had planned to hit all the castles in this update in one day along the same bus route, but after climbing the mountain at Yamaga for Kogamine Castle I was too exhausted to go on. I guess I wasn't fully recovered yet. It would be nearly the end of the mountain castle season before I made it back to pick up where I left off with Kanbayashi Castle and Hekitani Castle. Along the way, I also discovered Fujikake Jin'ya which was unexpected.

Don't worry, even though this mostly covers the beginning and end of my castle season there were still a lot more mountain castles in between.


Fujikake Jin'ya / 藤懸陣屋


This is private property and not much to see. There are some nice original maps from the end of the Edo Period that show what this jin'ya and town were like but almost nothing remains above ground.
Hekitani Castle / 日置谷城


This is a marvelous earthworks castle with unejotatebori (consecutive vertical trenches) surrounding the main compounds. This is one of those rare features that many castle people get excited about when it is well preserved and Hekitani Castle certainly is. This site should be more well known than it is but it's also not the easiest one to get to. Jokaku Horoki has a very nicely drawn map that illustrates the unejotatebori well. https://www.hb.pei.jp/shiro/tanba/hekitani-naka-jyo/m_nawabarizu.jpg

A couple bloggers have split this into three castles for some odd reason, but from my observations they are clearly just one and are considered one by the Kyoto Castle Survey. If you look at the map below of pins for the photos you can see how they gather into three groupings. Along the ridge from the main castle towards the bottom of the mountain you will find two more smaller baileys with very shallow horikiri trenches. These could not stand as independent fortifications and are not even on divided peaks of a mountain range. They are also barely 100m apart from each other, so I would simply call these demaru. Possibly they were guard posts along the ridge to the main castle.

There are no signs for this castle but I figured out roughly where it should be. I was looking up at the ridge that I wanted to get to from the "left" side of the temple, roughly where another blogger supposedly scaled the steep hillside, and I was wondering if this was really the best way or if it was even worth the effort, when I heard someone shouting from over at the other side of the temple. It was a woman I had passed on the stairs to the temple earlier. At first I thought "oh no, they don't want me fooling around here or climbing into the woods. I walked all this way for nothing!" So, I walked over to the woman who clearly wanted to get my attention and what she actually said was "Are you looking for the castle?" I showed her the information I had and she then proceeded to give me better directions how to go around the side of the temple, take the pathway up to the cemetery from the residential area, and on the other side of the cemetery you will see an easier route up to the ridge top. Once up there it will be easy going to the castle ruins. She was absolutely right. It turns out she lives in the house next to the temple. She may have been worried and waited for me to come down too ... 90 mins later when I came rambling down the stairs she said "you were up there a long time! I thought I'd have to come looking for you hahaha.... !" This was certainly one of those "only in Japan" moments. I find it interesting that there was no hesitation about my being a foreigner, which you actually tend to experience a lot (no hesitation) in these remote areas. I suppose they figure that if you're out here in the middle of nowhere and not crying that you must know enough Japanese to not get lost!

To find the trail go to the road along the "right" side of the temple between the temple and residential area. You should see the stairs in the photo below. Follow these to the cemetery and there will be a small trail in the back.
Kanbayashi Castle / 上林城


This is more like a hilltop fortified residence as the home of the Kanbayashi Clan than a true mountaintop castle. It sits on a small mountain or hilltop in the middle of the Kanbayashi Valley with great views on all sides and ridges of mountains to the North and South, an ideal place to rule all that you can see. The castle has one main bailey and three or four similar extended side baileys, but you don't see a lot of earthworks like koguchi entrances, earthen embankments, walls, nor moats. The stone foundations of residential buildings have been excavated in the main bailey, but have mostly been reburied. With the good views and stonework this castle was supposed to be the main event for the day but didn't really get me excited for some reason. Thankfully Hekitani Castle filled the gap. Kanbayashi Castle and Hekitani Castle are along the same bus route as Yamaga Jin'ya and Kogamine Castle so a well planned day could get you to all four sites.
Kogamine Castle (Kyoto) / 甲ケ峯城


Some websites split this into two castles, Kogamine Castle and Shofukuji (Castle), but I've kept them together. This is how they are classed in the Kyoto Survey of Castles where the Shofukuji part is called the Fourth Bailey. You can also see the mountaintop fortification on the Yamaga Jin'ya map: https://www.kyoto-be.ne.jp/bunkazai/cms/?p=2206

This is a short quick hike to the mountaintop (elevation change of maybe 120m) so if you've gone out of your way to get to Yamaga Jin'ya you should definitely climb the mountain too. The hiking entrance is right across the street from the gate at Yamaga Jin'ya.

The history of these two sites (Kogamine Castle and Yamaga Jin'ya) is often conflated and the names used interchangeably but I do not think that is correct nor appropriate. The way I've laid out the history and relation of these two castles most accurately reflects the history and structure of both, but please read the two together for the full picture.
Yamaga Jin'ya / 山家陣屋


For a jin'ya site, there was more here to see than I expected. The site is nestled in a little corner of a small plateau partway up the mountainside with fantastic views of the valley below. It is about a 20 min walk from the valley and former jin'ya town to the jin'ya itself which is unheard of at other ji'ya sites around the country. This gives it some hilltop or mountaintop castle like properties too.

The main area of the jin'ya has some slight earthen embankments remaining and in the back you can find the heavily weeded over ruins of some stone retaining walls. If you take one of the small unmarked side trails on the southwest side of the main bailey area it will take you partway down the hillside around the back of the Jin'ya where you can find a couple big dry moats (typical of mountain castles) and some very nice stone walls which appear to be to prevent erosion than to be used as defensive stone walls, also more typical of mountain castles. Down below this area you will also find some flattened areas for residences.

Although I didn't take many photos of the town surrounding the jin'ya, the layout of roads and plots of land for houses is almost unchanged from the Edo Period and can be easily lined up with Edo Period maps. Some of the stone retaining walls, even though they've been modernized to some extent, are also in place from the Edo Period. I added a few pictures from the main road to the castle below. The combination of Sengoku Period castle features (mountaintop tsume-no-shiro) and a lower castle, which itself evolved from a Sengoku Period castle to an Edo Period jin'ya town are well preserved in their nearly original form. This makes it a unique and historically valuable site. There is a nice map of the jin'ya and Kogamine Castle on the Kyoto Board of Education website: https://www.kyoto-be.ne.jp/bunkazai/cms/?p=2206

The gate is reconstructed. It does not accurately represent a gate of the time but is nice for photos. The interior houses a little collection of artifacts and materials but it's only open by reservation. The main Bailey is well maintained but some of the stonework and features around the edges are obscured by high weeds. I've seen some better photos from just a couple years ago when they cleaned up the site and you could see stone walls and embankments of the main bailey area much better. This is a nice little park that could benefit from a little more maintenance.

This site is not hard to get too but you might burn a lot of time waiting for transportation. There are infrequent busses from Ayabe Sta. that stop relatively close to the site from which it is only about a 10 min walk. The train line between Yamaga and Ayabe does not run frequently so if you can time it to catch a bus from Ayabe it is the best route. On the way back the wait for a return bus was even longer so I walked to Yamaga Station and waited about 30 mins there for the train back to Kyoto.

The history of these two sites (Kogamine Castle and Yamaga Jin'ya) is often conflated and the names used interchangeably but I do not think that is correct nor appropriate. The way I've laid out the history and relation of these two castles most accurately reflects the history and structure of both, but please read the two together for the full picture.

Yamaga Jin'ya and Kogamine Castle are along the same bus route as Kanbayashi Castle and Hekitani Castle so a well planned day could get you to all four sites.
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