ART Summer 2023 Update: Part 2
ART Summer 2023 Update: Part 2
If you haven't seen ART's Facebook Japanese Castle Group yet I highly encourage you to do so. There are contributions from a variety of members, discussion and news about castle developments and discoveries.
Maruyama Fort (Kai) / 甲斐丸山塁
Mitsui Ichibee Yashiki / 三井市兵衛屋敷
Mizukami Mondo Yashiki / 水上主水屋敷
Monnouchi Yashiki (Yatsushiro) / 八代門之内屋敷
Nagamine Fort / 長峯砦
Nakamura Yashiki (Yamanashi) / 山梨中村屋敷
Nakamura Yashiki (Yatsushiro) / 八代中村屋敷
Nakano Castle (Kai) / 甲斐中野城
Much of the rest of the castle precincts, which extended to the north, have been eroded or completely lost to landslides. These movements of earth have left terrifying drops which eat into the mountaintop. One can follow the ridge to the north to the northern bailey area, which is very deformed, though artificial terracing is in evidence. The ridge between the north and southern areas has a look-out point about half-way with fantastic views of the basin and Fujiyama. The ridge itself was perhaps used as a defensive bulwark at some point, but if there was a castle bailey to the east then it has been lost to landslides.
To reach Nakanojō one must either drive or commit to a half-day of hiking. If driving, then the trail entrance can be found at the municipal border (Minami-Alps and Fujikawa Township) which runs through the mountain road to the northwest of the ruins. There is a space at the side of the road here for one or maybe two vehicles to park, and there is a signboard with an explanation about the castle. The trail starts here. Actually, during my visit, cleared snow had been piled up here which blocked the trail entrance! The snow along the trail maybe slowed the ascent, but it should only take about 30 minutes from this point to reach the castle site. The snow was somewhat deep in places but was icy enough to walk on with, whilst compressing it, not being swamped in it; there were no footprints that weren’t animalian, and one set of tracks – perhaps a tanuki – went much of the length of the trail, so I presume the critter was also visiting the castle.Note: there are at least ten provinces with a ‘Nakanojō’, according to Wikipedia, which has a page dedicated to a list of them, but, though I wouldn’t presume that this is the only one in Kai Province, it is the most well-known one here, and many castling bloggers cover it (in Japanese, of course).
Nakao Castle (Kai) / 甲斐中尾城
Nakatsumori Yakata / 中津森館
Narisawa Noroshidai / 成沢烽火台
Nikaidou Yakata / 二階堂館
Nirasaki Jin'ya / 韮崎陣屋
Nishinohara Fort / 西ノ原堡
Nobutora Tanjou Yashiki / 信虎誕生屋敷
Nosezakanishi Castle / 野背坂西城
Nouken Castle / 能見城
When there is a dearth of historical materials then the structure of a castle is the biggest clue we have to go on as to who built it. Since it is not known who built Nōkenjō, we have only theories and the ruins themselves. Part of the fun of visiting such a site is figuring out such things for ourselves I think.
My initial inclination was to assume that the Takeda had built Nōkenjō around 1581 for the defence of Shinpujō, Takeda Katsuyori's new base, to the south. It seemed to make strategic sense, and there is a tradition that the Moriya Clan, Takeda vassals, already had some fortification in the vicinity. But after seeing the castle for myself I'm not sure. The structure of the castle is quite different to other Takeda castles, which tended to rely more on terracing to fortify slopes, rather than lateral trenches. Of course, castle construction techniques changed over time, and this one was built quite late in the day of the Takeda. Yet comparing the site to Shinpujō, built at the same time, Nōkenjō strikes me as still very different. I can't come to any definitive conclusions, I feel, as I'm not as familiar with Tokugawa fortifications of that time period, but speculating on this as I uncovered ruins sure was enthralling.
I should say, most of Nōkenjō is not easy to explore. Also, the castlemount has been heavily modified in more recent times, and is carved with wide terraces and modern retaining walls all the way around (behold the wonder of modern engineering: some of these have already collapsed). I assume these were cultivated fields at one point. Many ruins must've been lost. And yet the large yokobori at the foot of the mount in the north remains in good condition.
The top of the hill has a monument for the castle and the Moriya Clan, as well as some kind of water pumping station (for now abandoned fields?). There is a small building, a temple, which looks like a scout hut or something. Behind this temple hall are what appear to be earthworks, including dorui (earthen ramparts) and a trench with embankments. Parts of the upper terracing turn up at the edges like dorui, which would indicate to me castle ruins. But then the modern terracing becomes apparent with the lack of mounds and concrete retaining walls. It's possible the whole mount was terraced for the fort, but that these terraces were expanded, reworked, and ultimately effaced with the conversion of the hillside into fields, probably for potatoes or some other durable crop. Or perhaps more yokobori existed but were filled in.
I opted to find my way down the hillside via these terraces, which saw me climbing and 'flomping*' down the walls. Eventually I came to the great northern trench. At the western end, where I came first, is the middle masugata (square gate complex) ruin, as well as a small bailey. Following the trench leads to the north masugata site which is overlooked by another bailey enclosed with dorui, and a complex of earthworks and minor gate ruins. Here the large yokobori turns and descends down and off the castlemount as a tatebori. These earthworks were exciting to find but difficult to photograph due to how overgrown everything was.
A final masugata site, the west masugata, can be found very easily as it is in someone's driveway, visible from the road side. I actually went there first. The structure is easy to see and the dorui is thick, though only one half of the gate ruin remains, forming an angled bend segment. This is found by turning right from the station where one sees the name of the castle in large characters on a modern retaining wall at the bottom of the hill. After walking for a couple of minutes the masugata is on the right. This is the only part of the castle to visit which doesn't involve hard work. So enjoy it!
I'll cover the satellite forts of Nōkenjō is separate articles. Many castle bloggers have attempted to explore this site and not really succeeded, indicating that it is a high level boss castle. I did a decent job I think! But I am seriously indebted there to the castle blogger yamashiro2015, or Kojō Meguri Shashinkan (Old Castle Tours Photo Gallery); not a site I visit too often but it came in clutch - as they say - at Nōkenjō. Link here:
- 'to flomp', meaning 'to lower oneself down over the edge of a high drop and release oneself, and then to soften one's body, despite its inclination to stiffen in descent, on impact with the ground by rolling or sprawling, thereby completing a high drop from one point to the next without injury'. I can find no definition of 'flomp' specific to jumping, so it may be a vernacular limited to ne'er-do-well youths on Merseyside circa early 2000s.
Nouken Dousaka Fort / 能見城堂坂砦
Nouken Kurokoma Fort / 能見城黒駒砦
Nouken Nishi Fort / 能見城西砦
Nubaku Yakata / 奴白館
Ochiai Yakata / 落合館
Ochiai Yashiki (Ochiai) / 落合屋敷 (落合)
Ohbayashi Yashiki / 大林屋敷
Ohkunugi Yakata / 大椚館
Ohmura Yashiki / 大村屋敷
Ohno Fort / 大野砦
Ohtsubo Fort / 大坪砦
Ohtsubono Fort / 大坪塁
I found that the wooded area was situated on high ground. The elevation looked sculpted in a linear fashion rather than wholly natural, and I scrambled up the scarp. Sure enough, atop of the embankment the earth had been mounded into a parapet. This was dorui (earthen ramparts) then. I continued into the forest, which was really a cedar plantation, and found that it was overgrown with bamboo grass. Proceeding with little vision I came to a long depression. Snow had gathered here. I realised this was a karabori (dry moat), and that I had penetrated the inner fort, and got quite excited.
I took a closer look at satellite images and saw that there was an angular gap in the trees here. The snow had fallen through and gathered in the moat. I could photograph and follow the moat this way. Although it didn’t get particularly easier to photograph, I found that the moat got deeper to the east, and there was dorui on the inside of the karabori. The karabori is preserved on three sides: west, north and east. To the south the hill slopes off and there is housing, so it appears the moat may have been filled in or cut away there, but due to overgrowth I couldn’t confirm either way. I contented myself with going around three sides of the inner bailey, sometimes pausing to fight back bamboo grass, until I found a trail rudely cut through the overgrowth to the east which led out of the forest.
I was very happy with my discovery here. Since the blogger I was following, the gentleman castle blogger who runs the blog O’shiro Tabi Nikki (‘Castle Travel Diaries’), had apparently been defeated by the site, I had little to go on, and didn’t know what to expect (Yogo-sensei also called it quits (but to be fair to him he did try in summer), but the guy at Kojōshi did a cracking job; I’ll link all blogs below). To find such extensive remains of earthworks was a big discovery for me. The site was overgrown and wet, but luckily I was wearing some new water-proof gear, so I was able to push through the bush fearlessly, exploring the central area, though many ruins remained hidden by flora. Mission (mostly) accomplished then.Ôtsubo-rui is not to be confused with Ôtsubo-toride to the south, which I visited on the same day. Both ‘rui’ and ‘toride’ can be translated as ‘fort’ in English, ‘rui’ referring to earthworks; although, I will say, it seems that ‘rui’, at least in Kai and Suruga, mostly refers to a residence of some sort. Places referred to as ‘rui’ also often take the possessive particle (as in 大坪の塁), so in English I will also refer to this site as ‘Ohtsubono Fort’, and the later constructed and smaller Ôtsubo-toride to the south as ‘Ohtsubo Fort’. Considering both sites are in the same place, there’s little other way to distinguish without using Japanese vocabulary.
Osade Yashiki / 小佐手屋敷
Ougidairayama Castle / 扇子平山城
I found the ruins of the castle starting at the noroshidai (platform for sending smoke signals), and followed the ridge up from there to the main body of the ruins. There are three horikiri (trenches) which bisect the ridge. Baileys are set between them, but there is a third bailey beneath the second, according to a sign there, though to me the terrain seemed far too uneven to be a bailey.
The second bailey sat above the slope and its earthen ramparts stood out, so that this was clearly a castle bailey. Once I broke into the second bailey though I found it strangely hollowed out. Nonetheless it seemed to be protected by dorui (earthen ramparts).The main bailey is set furthest back and encloses a more level space with some dorui around the edges, particularly to the rear where it is heaped up several meters. The horikiri to the rear of and below the main bailey are highlights.
Oyamada Bessou Yashiki / 小山田別荘屋敷
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