ART Update: Niigata and Yamagata castles and Bukeyashiki


ART Update: Niigata and Yamagata castles and Bukeyashiki


Sincerest apologies from me. I actually received this update with New Year's Greetings but it was lost in the greetings until now!


Aratame Castle / 新田目城

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Aratamejō, located in the Mototate township of Sakata Municipality, is thought to be the oldest fortified residence site in Shōnai, and also the longest continually inhabited in the prefecture. Mototate could mean ‘original fortified residence’. The ruins of Aratamejō feature dorui (earthen ramparts) and a segment of mizubori (water moat). The site is now a shrine in a forested grove. There is a mound of mysterious origin in a field behind the shrine. I, having come to the back of the shrine, found no obvious path through to this field, and so maybe it is accessed from a different place; that is to say I missed the mound, so I can’t give my opinion. Castle-bloggers don’t seem to agree, but some say this is a yaguradai (a platform for a small tower).
Bizen Date (Dewa) / 出羽備前館

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No ruins remain of the Bizen-date, a fortified manor hall site which predated the much more notable Maruokajō, and the site is now fields and a shrine. I swung by here because it was so close to Maruoka Castle.
Ikarashi Yakata / 五十嵐館

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Ikarashi-yakata is a yakata (medieval fortified manor hall) ruin in Iida village, Sanjō Municipality. The site is well-maintained as a local history park. A bailey is surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts) which have been restored. The bailey is roughly a square in layout, but there is a curious zigzagging indentation in the ramparts of the northeast corner. The entrance to the compound is in the east. The whole bailey is surrounded by a shallow moat.
Kakizaki Castle / 柿崎城

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Kakizakijō is a hilltop fortification site in the Kakizaki Ward of Jōetsu Municipality. Nothing much remains of Kakizakijō on-site today, but the bodaiji (ancestral clan temple) of the Kakizaki Clan, Ryōgonji, has a main gate which is said to have been the karametemon (rear gate) of the fort. This splendid gate is unique amongst relocated gates I’ve inspected in that it retains or at least now has a thatched roof. When I visited the thatching had recently been replaced and looked very fresh. Early medieval fortifications made extensive use of thatch-roofed structures, but these were replaced by more durable materials as time went on. Sources differ on the accessibility of the Kakizakijō site proper and what remains there. The ruins of the fort were mostly destroyed during the construction of the Kakizaki Interchange on route E8. The access ramp wraps around the main part of the site, isolating it. There is a signboard with the castle’s name on visible from below. A path from the bottom of the hill appears to have been cut to allow access, and some pictures show an observation platform. I could only view the hilltop from directly below before moving on to the relocated gate, so I can’t confirm myself. Other bloggers report difficulty accessing the site; some say there are no ruins whilst others suggest that the main bailey is apparent; probably the hilltop is flattened then, but other earthworks have been lost.
Kamegasaki Castle / 亀ヶ崎城

Kamegasakijou (1).JPG

Kamegasakijō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Sakata City. Kamegasaki is the name of the neighbourhood and stretches from the banks of the Niida River, with downtown Sakata on the other side, to the outskirts of Sakata city proper. The site of the fort is now that of a High School, but in the northwest dorui (earthen ramparts) run the length of the site. It looks like more dorui can be found along the northeastern perimeter too, but I could only get close to the northwestern segment. What was once the fort’s moat is now the site of a shrine to Hachiman, a sumo arena, and archery range, and some other fields and park space. Kamegasakijō’s karametemon (rear gate) is said to have been relocated to Entsūji, a temple in the quaint village of Yoshida outside of Sakata; I stopped by here after visiting the site of the castle proper.
Kinowa Castle / 城輪柵

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Kinowa(-no)-saku / Kinowa-no-ki is a partially reconstructed jōsaku site between the villages of Kinowa and Tamada in Sakata Municipality. The site is a well-maintained history park. Restored structures include two gatehouses and attached segments of tsujibei walls. Tsujibei walls are made from pounding layers of earth within a wooden and bamboo trellis frame, sometimes finished with a stucco whitewash. These types of walls were often constructed at jōsaku.

Jōsaku were flatland, walled forts built from the Nara period by the Yamato to subjugate the Emishi, the northern peoples of Honshū. The Yamato were successful in their mission to spread the frontiers of the children of the sun goddess throughout the Japanese archipelago. The Emishi no longer exist as a distinct people, but their greatest legacy arguably came later in the 11th century with the rise of Fujiwara Kiyohara, the half-blood prince of Hiraizumi, whose dynasty ruled Tōhoku until the end of the Heian period.

The reconstructions at Kinowa-saku, the name of which appears to be an allusion to castle baileys, are based to some extent on extant architecture found at temples in Nara since no contemporary jōsaku structures survive.
Maruoka Castle (Dewa) / 出羽丸岡城


Maruokajō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Maruoka village, Tsuruoka Municipality. The ruins were developed into a history park in the new millennium. The site features a restored mizubori (water moat) and dorui (earthen ramparts). The layout of a manor hall which stood at the site is indicated on the lawn, and a garden with sunken area which was once a pond is a charming feature; from this depression an ancient tree arises curiously like from a portal to a fantasy realm. The dragonflies were faeries and the grasshoppers gnomes in that rosy garden. On a lily pad in the moat I found a small newt lay unmoving; this was death in paradise, I thought. Just outside the moat is a bukeyashiki (samurai house), which has been restored, except for the roof thatching which has been covered up or replaced with sheet metal. This bukeyashiki, which has been relocated from Tsuruoka, is open to the public but it was already closed when I visited (it’s open 10:00-16:00). For more details on the bukeyashiki see the samurai homes section on the profile for Tsurugaoka Castle. There is also a small museum next to the bukeyashiki; it is attached to somebody’s house.
Muramatsu Castle / 村松城

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Muramatsujō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Muramatsu Township, Gosen Municipality. It is an Edo period earthworks castle site with such features as karabori (dry moats), dorui (earthen ramparts) and a masugata (square layout) gate complex. The site is well-maintained as a nice park. Cicadas were everywhere in the park, transforming it into the ‘Last Chance Bar & Grill’ for cicadas as their dying cries rang out and they began to drop from the trees. Some of them were clearly loathe to fly away from me; if it were earlier in the season they’d be energetically flying into me in headlong collision. I’m glad to see the back of the dastardly beasties. There is a railway carriage in the park. I thought this was odd since there is no railway to Muramatsu, but apparently the Kanbara Railway ran through the town going from Gosen downtown to Kamo through the mountain passes. Established in 1923, the line was abolished in 1999 and replaced with a bus service. There is also a museum, the Gosen Municipal Muramatsu Folk Museum, but it was closed when I visited the site. There is a 1:100 scale model of the castle in the museum which was made based on a series of maps and floorplans from the Edo period which were re-discovered.
Oh'yama no Saku / 大山柵

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Ôyama-no-saku is a jōsaku site in the town of Ôyama in Tsuruoka Municipality, but no ruins remain above ground, and the site is now fields and housing.
Oura Castle / 尾浦城

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Ōrajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin located in the town of Ôyama in Tsuruoka Municipality. The ruins are maintained as part of Ôyama Park, and the mountain is now the site of several shrines. The main features of this ruin are earthworks. Dorui (earthen ramparts) partially surround the main bailey, and to the rear there is a horikiri, though now it is spanned by a modern bridge and the trench walls are concreted. Much of the mountain is terraced with wide baileys. Due to them being parkland and maintained, the koshikuruwa (terraced baileys) at Ōrajō are much easier to appreciate from different parts of the castle than at many other yamajiro where forest obscures them. There is a ridge which looks like it was used as a sort of natural barrier in the castle’s second bailey, and it probably hosted a lookout, being the tallest part of the castle mount. Here I found moth larvae clustered on the underside of leaves in a strange star formation. The yellow backs of the little grubs were studded with nasty barbs.
Suibara Daikansho / 水原代官所

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Suibara-jin’ya, commonly referred to as Suibara-daikansho, is a jin’ya site in Suibara, which is the main settlement and downtown of Agano Municipality. Daikansho were jin’ya ran by hatamoto, direct retainers of the Shogunate. Daikansho oversaw Shogunal fiefs which were scattered throughout Japan during the Edo period. Daikansho are therefore distinguished from daimyō jin’ya, which were either small scale castles used by minor daimyō, or used for governing sub-fiefs or exclaves of larger domains. On the sliding scale of what constitutes a castle, daikansho were much more on the administrative rather than war-readiness side, and were typically light on defences. This daikansho has been given the English name of ‘Suibara Magistrate Samurai Office’ in case that’s helpful.

Suibara-daikansho is special in that it was reconstructed in 1995! The rebuilt complex contains the main offices of the daikansho, and a gatehouse, the omotemon (front gate). There is also a wall around much of the premises, small pocket gardens, and an attached museum building. Models of the daikansho show that it had a prominent yagura (tower), but this has not been reconstructed. Visitors to the daikansho can learn about the day-to-day affairs of Shogunal officials. My favourite part was the room lined with white pebbles, used for interrogation and torture!

Suibara-daikansho has, it is thought, at least one original structure, a relocated gate now used at a large rural residence outside of Shibata. I also checked it out a couple of days after visiting Suibara, but my investigation was limited to a quick look from the roadside since it is now on private property.
Tsurugaoka Castle / 鶴ヶ岡城

Tsurugaokajou (1).JPG

Tsurugaokajō is a major Edo period castle ruin, and a significant castle in the Tōhoku Region despite there only being earthworks to see of the castle proper. Most Tōhoku castles didn’t make extensive use of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) (though Moriokajō and Sendaijō are notable exceptions), and Tsurugaokajō no longer has any ishigaki, though it did once have some which served as a yaguradai (turret platform). The main features of this site are the extensive mizubori (water moats) and dorui (earthen ramparts). There is both an outer and inner moat. I started at the corner of the outer moat (about half of it remains), and worked my way around to the very well-preserved inner moat, and finally into the main bailey, which now hosts a shrine. Some of the shrine structures take the place of the castle’s corner turret, and walls around it have been thoughtfully erected with loopholes.

I’d also recommend visiting the Chidō Museum which is an open-air architectural museum. The buildings there include Edo period buildings used by the Sakai Clan of Shōnai Domain, and brought to Tsuruoka from Edo. It’s great that some old yashiki parts were spared the fires, earthquakes, bombs and redevelopment of Tōkyō, and allowed to retire peacefully in their ancestral homelands. Another highlight of Tsurugaokajō is the Chidōkan, an original hankō (domain school), and the only extant one in Tōhoku (Aizu has a reconstructed one). It is truly a treasure.

Domain School:

Chidōkan was the hankō (domain school) of the Shōnai Domain, ruled from Tsurugaoka Castle. Chidōkan was founded in 1805, and its halls were constructed in 1816 in the outer third bailey of Tsurugaokajō. Chidōkan’s consists of the kōdō (main lecture hall), oirinoma (classrooms), the seibyō (mausoleum to Confucius), and three gates: omotegomon (main gate), nishigomon (western gate), and higashigomon (eastern gate), with surrounding walls. There used to be a large structure with kitchens in the east of the precincts but it was lost and its remains were unearthed in 1983. An extant hankō is a remarkable treasure, and Chidōkan is the only one to remain in Tōhoku.
Yamazoe Date / 山添館


Yamazoe-date is a fortified manor hall site in Shimoyamazoe village, Tsuruoka Municipality. No ruins remain.
Yasuda Castle (Echigo) / 越後安田城

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Yasudajō is a hirajiro (flatland castle) ruin in Yasuda township (the town uses different kanji to the castle), Agano Municipality. A single large bailey appears to be nearly wholly surrounded by mizubori (water moats). There is a largish mound of earth which may have been a yaguradai (turret platform), or perhaps it is just what remains of the dorui (earthen ramparts) which must’ve protected the bailey. Looking at satellite imagery, I thought this site was a former driving school because of the tightly packed, looping roads visible, but I think this was some kind of driving course for babies in carts or something. Road signs and traffic lights have been removed or are left to rust now though so I guess it’s no longer in use. Despite this the site is well-maintained as a local park, Jōnōchi-kōen (‘Park within the Castle’), and the moat is filled with pink hasu (lotus).

Yasudajō originally had two baileys, an outer and inner; a small portion of the outer moat also remains, but I couldn’t find a path to it, and as far as I can tell it has been reduced to the state of a swampy pond.

Note: I have tagged this site with the province name ‘Echigo’ to distinguish it from Yasuda Castle in Toyama Prefecture (Etchū Province). However, there is another site in Echigo called ‘Yasudajō’. This above described ‘Echigo-Yasudajō’ is a hirajiro in historical Kanbara County (Agano Municipality), and the other is a yamajiro in historical Kariwa County (Kashiwazaki Municipality). I have given primacy of place to this one as it appears to be the better known of the two amongst castle-bloggers.
Yoita Jin'ya / 与板陣屋

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Yoita-jin’ya is a jin’ya site in Yoita Town, Nagaoka Municipality. No ruins remain on site, but a kabukimon-style gate and walls have been reconstructed. Inside of the walls there is a carpark. At least three relocated gates are identified with Yoita-jin’ya. Two are found in Yoita. The kiritemon has been relocated to Ongyōji, a temple around the corner from the jin’ya. The ôtemon (main gate) has been relocated to the Yoita-betsuin, a local Honganji branch temple; it is the smaller of the temple’s two gates. A final gate, which seems a little more dubious to me in its origins, can be found at Saifukuji, a temple in Nagaoka city (proper). This gate is referred to simply as jōmon, meaning ‘castle gate’, so what function it had at the jin’ya appears unknown. Yoita-jin’ya is sometimes referred to as ‘Yoitajō’ but it is located on the plain between two yamajiro sites, Yoitajō and Motoyoitajō, which were the original Yoita castles.
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