ART Update 2022 Part 2


ART Update 2022 Part 2


Part 2 of ART's updates from 1H 2022. See the castles and map below for details. If you haven't seen his 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.


Kan'onsaka Castle (Hanishina) / 村上観音坂城

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Kan'onsakajō is a small castle remnant in Sakaki Town. The site today is fields and, to the south, housing. The remnants of the castle are centred around a shrine to Inari. Here there is an embankment which was used by the castle as fortified terrain. If one ascends the steps to the shrine up the embankment one can find a lonesome segment of dorui (an earthen rampart), actually part of the inari shrine as it has a hokora (mini shrine) atop. Other segments of dorui probably remain adjacent but these mounds were thickly coated in old vines and so I couldn't ascertain their status as ruins. Probably, being next to the confirmed dorui, they are old earthen walls, but with the amount of ropey old plants covering them they could've just've easily been old tractors! Well, I'm sure they were ruins...
Kashiwayama Castle (Murakami Clan Fort Network) / 村上柏山城

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Kashiwayamajō is made up of two fortified areas, the lower castle and the upper castle. I treat them here as one site, as the upper castle is the more impressive of the two and I consider the lower fort as a branch fort or detached bailey of the upper. Both parts are made up of small baileys and trenches, but the rear trenches of the upper fort are impressive, and the trench beneath the main bailey is very deep and wide for a small fort complex. I was also able to see the castle's shape in profile whilst climbing at lower elevation, and here Kashiwayamajō appears like a huge wave arising out of an otherwise tame ridgeline.
Komaruyama Fort (Murakami Clan Fort Network) / 村上小丸山砦

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Komaruyama-toride is a very minor fort site, part of the Murakami Pearl Fort Network, located on the terminus of a mountain limb. Actually a motorway now runs below and it is thought that most of the fort was destroyed by its construction; I could find no clear ruins here unfortunately.
Kongouji Castle (Murakami Clan Fort Network) / 村上金剛寺城

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Murakami-Kongōjiō, or Kongōjijōdai-yashiki, was a large fortified manor hall used by the Murakami Clan in Sumiyoshi Valley. It and the surrounding area have been called the "Ichijōdani of Shinshū" due to the historical importance of the manor house and surrounding village, fortified from surrounding mountain peaks. However, there is very little left to see today of the complex. Some dorui (earthen ramparts) segments remain, most prominently to the south, with a possible section to the north. The largest segment to survive into modern times functioned as an outer town wall and was over 2m high, but it was destroyed in the 1950s or 1960s to make way for a farmer's orchard. It's strange that this wall could last so long only to be casually swept aside relatively recently, but I suppose that some farmer or other had got his hands on some new machinery and, long oppressed by the presence of an inconvenient earthen wall dividing his land, removed it as soon as he was able. If only he had known he was destroying the last significant remains of the "Ichijōdani of Shinshū" there's a chance he may have refrained from doing so perhaps. Sign boards are erected throughout the modern village to describe parts of the historic townscape.
Marikoyama Fort / 鞠子山砦

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Marikoyama-toride is a minor fortification site but it was an important site for me to visit as it meant the completion of my coverage of sites in the Nishimaki Fortification Network, which contains at least fourteen sites (other Nishimaki Clan castle sites include Nakatōjō (Nakatou Castle)). The Nishimaki network includes yakata (fortified manor hall) sites, gakejiro (clifftop) fort sites, and yamajiro (mountaintop castles), including smaller sites called 'toride'. Marikoyama-toride, of course, falls into the latter grouping.

Marikoyama-toride is a small fort. It consists of a main bailey complex with a raised portion in the centre of the bailey. Beneath the main bailey on the plain side is terracing, and to the mountainside rear is a complex of trenches dug into the ridge and mountain slopes. Between a prominent horikiri (trench) and a series of tatebori (climbing trenches) there is an area which may have been a second bailey. The tatebori are fairly impressive and fall on each side of the ridge. There are two north-facing tatebori and one large south-facing tatebori with an angled turn toward the top where it eventually merges with a sunken path along the ridge. I did wonder whether these dropping formations, however, weren't natural, as they're quite large relative to the fort. Professor Miyasaka, 'God of Shinano Yamajiro', includes them in his nawabari (layout) map of the castle in 'Shinano no Yamajiro to Yakata (『信濃の山城と館』)', but is apparently also sceptical of their artifice. That said, two long depressions like this on either side of a narrow ridge would also be unnatural, and similar features are found at other Nishimaki Clan sites, so I was happy to treat them as tatebori. The shukuruwa is in anycase undoubtedly a fort ruin.

There is no trail to the castle and I had to just tackle the mountain head-on. I was quite surprised to see this site on shiro-meguri, since it's quite minor, but some mad lad (Ranmaru?) or other went up there in the snow, I think quite recently (article dated to March 2022, seen here:, and the site also features on Google Maps now so perhaps it's the same uploader. I don't bother putting sites on Google since we have I searched for this site on Ranmaru's blog as he has extensively covered the Nishimaki Toridegun, but he doesn't have a page dedicated to it specifically that I could find; though I thought he had been because he visited neighbouring Jōhikageyama-toride. There must be very few sites in Nagano which I've been to but that Ranmaru-sensei hasn't. Another site which covers Marikoyama-toride and which I used chiefly as a guide is the Yogo site (here: But Yogo-sensei didn't make it up to the fort site because he couldn't find a way up. Yogo-sensei famously does not like climbing mountains, which is funny because his website is dedicated to yamajiro. Indeed, the only way up to this site is to point one's body at the mountain and keep moving. Will power is required along with appropriate equipment (gloves, boots, &c). I heard many animals on the mountain and would recommend taking a bear bell... or a gun. One must necessarily be a romantic to enjoy sites like Marikoyama-toride.
Murakami Yakata / 村上館

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Murakami-yakata is the site of the fortified manor hall of the Murakami Clan and the main residence of Murakami Yoshikiyo. It is also called Mansenji-yakata after the temple which now occupies the site. The yakata was built alongside Katsuraojō on the mountain above, functioning as a kyokan (residential space) (since the lord did not live at the mountaintop castle day-to-day). I felt I had to come here as part of my Murakami castle explorations despite their being no ruins, and plus I had missed it during my two visits to Katsuraojō. Happily Mansenji is an interesting temple, and the priest's house appears to be built to somewhat resemble a castle, which is a nice touch.
Murakamishishima Yakata / 村上氏島館

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Murakamishishima-yakata is a fortified manor hall site in the shadow of Jizai-san / Iwaidō-san / Karakasayama / Death Mountain. Nothing remains. The site is that today of an old rural homestead.
Nagase Yakata / 長瀬館

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A pleasant walk from Seba Station with its old station house brings one to a rural area of the Narai River valley. A local community bus trundles along with the old dears onboard. Beyond the bus stop is a quiet, narrow lane. Follow this unlikely side road until it bends around an old cemetery and suddenly, the tarmac fraying, descends down a forested slope to arrive at a place - surely there is nothing here but the river? The Nagase bridge traverses more than the rapidly flowing Narai River, it spans the realm between the mundane and the mysterious.

Nagase is a 'hidden village' of sorts. This phrase kakurezato (隠れ里) blurs history and legend, and is often associated with ochiudo densetsu (落人伝説), which means 'legends of fallen warriors', a phenomena of Japanese folklore. A typical encounter with a kakurezato occurs in a remote location. Imagine yourself a hunter in the deep forest. You're alert and tense. Suddenly you hear sounds you shouldn't in the dark forest. An echo of laughter floats between the cedars. You are unnerved and fall back to a stream to splash its cool water in your face. But you jump back from the water in awe: a bowl with chopsticks is floating down stream. Someone is upstream, and you follow the river to its source, coming across a hidden village. Various legends attend the kakurezato, from the improbable to the fantastical. Often the concept evokes a sort of bucolic paradise of a simple, quiet existence without conflict. The intersecting legends of fallen warriors I describe in this extract from a short article I wrote on the topic:

'A village hidden in the mountains, untouched in centuries, known to only a few outsiders... Here is where Heike warriors who survived the massacre at Dannoura came to hide and eventually settle, rebuilding their lives and clan in the strictest secrecy, passing down their crafts and heirlooms to their ancestors who possess them to this day.

'... If you believe this, do you also believe the over one hundred other villages which tell the exact same story? Each has secrets, each has treasures and each has lineage to back up their claims! But of course they can't all be genuine. Perhaps none of them are.

'Ochiudo Densetsu (落人伝説) means 'Legends of Fallen Warriors' and is a phenomenon of Japanese folklore. Warriors presumed or even proven dead live on in legend and are said to have escaped destruction, disappearing into anonymity and re-establishing themselves in out of the way places, carrying with them their special crafts and skills, passing them down to their ancestors right up until today. Japanese folklorists and historians have long observed this phenomenon and tried to separate fact from fiction, in the process debunking many myths, but also proving long established facts to be incorrect. To illustrate how pervasive this trait of Japanese culture is: in 1926 when the Emperor Chōkei was officially recognised as a legitimate Emperor (some six centuries after his reign) a search for his tomb prompted claims from over two hundred villages that they were descended from him and that his final resting place was in their village. I imagine each village mocked the absurd claims of all the others, smiling demurely and shaking their heads.'

Although some remote villages have laid claim to the status of real world kakurezato (Kyōmaru in Hamamatsu, Gokanoshō in Yatsushiro, &c.), Nagase was not particularly remote. Instead it was located beneath a terrace of the Narai River. From the above plateau it is invisible. One would have to have prior knowledge of its existence to find it. The hidden part is geographic, and its attendant folklore concerns not Taira but Minamoto warriors, discussed in the history section.

I went to Nagase to investigate the potential remains of a yakata (fortified manor hall). Today the small slip of land which constitutes Nagase is uninhabited and no longer cultivated. The main land-owners were the Nagase family, and they grew rice. At its height the village had twenty dwellings. Now only a few remain standing, and none appear to be tenanted. There used to be a pig farm whilst people still lived here, but now that has been cleared and there is a solar panel array in its place in the north of the slip. The rice paddies in the south are fallow. The hamlet is still in orderly fashion; cemetery plots (all cenotaphs bear the name 'Nagase') and the local shrine are maintained. When I first entered the village a man in a light truck was clearing up at the shrine - perhaps he was a Nagase man himself; I could see him between the trees when descending the terrace, but he soon left and I don't think he noticed me.

There is a terrace with old paddies below and more fields above. There is a short berm beneath with a waterway which empties into a pond. There are several waterways lined with stones in the village which once provided the necessities of daily living to the villagers. The road which runs up has an old residence at the corner. This house could be a century old or more. The terrace rises behind it, and this is thought to have been the site of the Nagase clan residence. The earth is heaped up here. Overlooking the river there is heaped, rammed earth running along the cliffline like dorui (earthen ramparts). Amidst these piles of earth is a hokora (a small shrine) and a stone marker proclaiming the site of Nagase Hangan's burial mound.

It's true this site is well hidden. But being on such low terrain also would've made it very vulnerable. An enemy could come upon the place very quickly. But there is one final secret. Above the village shrine, on what appears to be nothing but a mountain, there is a flattened terrace of considerable size. Although there are too many trees in the way now, this area, thought to have been a fortification site, gives enough elevation for a view of the plateau on the other side of the river. The Nagase used this space as a fortified redoubt and look-out. If viewed as a fort, this was a secondary upper bailey and the main bailey with the residence was below. There's just enough here to make one think, yes, it's possible the stories are true, this really was a kakurezato - of the real kind - where the Nagase Clan held their secret court.
Nakakaido Yakata / 中海道館

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The site of Nakakaido-yakata, enclosed by the meandering of the Sai River, is bucolic enough, but it seems that reconfiguration of the terrain for rice paddies has led to the destruction of all remains of the yakata (fortified manor hall). However, there is a signboard with information about the yakata, which is nice.
  • 'Kaido' uses the kanji 海道 (lit. 'sea road'), not 街道 (lit. 'town road'), and it is pronounced 'Kaido' with a "short vowel", not 'Kaidō' with a "long vowel".
Nakamuranotonoda Yakata / 中村の殿田館

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Tonoda-yakata was a yakata (residence area twinned with a yamajiro (mountaintop castle)) of Nakamurajō (Azumi Nakamura Castle), though the castle may have had an additional kyokan in addition to the main yakata closer to the foot of the castle mount. No ruins remain of Tonoda-yakata, and the site is now a village and fields. I found some nice old houses, including one which was sadly abandoned. Another had tall ishigaki and looked like it would make a fitting manor house.
Nakanojou Jin'ya / 中之条陣屋

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Nakanojō-jin'ya is an Edo period jin'ya site. It seems to have been a lightly fortified facility even by jin'ya standards, and was located on a slope. No ruins remain but there is a large signboard detailing the history of the site. This old neighbourhood of Sakaki has many old homes. Several near the signboard appeared abandoned, and at first, with the end of the day approaching, the atmosphere was gloomy, but I was happy to hear children fighting with each other in a nearby yard. You know that scene where one child is clearly in the wrong about something and gets BTFO'd by the other children and cries? Magic. This made me optimistic and I cycled back to Ueda.
Onotougemonomi Fort / 小野峠物見砦

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There is a cutting through the ridgeline which is the Ono Pass. There is a stone marker here. Above the pass is the site of Onotōgemonomi-toride. No ruins remain of the fort and it is now the site of an observation deck in Shidareguri Forest park (Shidareguri is a willow-chestnut tree).
Ryugasaki Yakata / 龍ヶ崎館

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Ryūgasaki-yakata was the kyokan (residential area) of Ryūgasakijō. There is a wide flattened area which is now a park, Ryūgasaki Park. This is where the lord of Ryūgasaki Castle actually lived when not on campaign or being besieged. The trail up the castle mount begins beyond a trench which cuts into the hillside and is now a path between the kyokan site and a temple, Ikegami Temple. The trench and the flattened portion of the hill are the ruins of the yakata (fortified manor hall). Ryūgasakijō is a solid yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin to explore if one is in the area (though I appreciate Ina is a little out of the way!).
Samizu Castle / 三水城

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Samizujō, 'Castle of Three Waters', is twinned with Korakujō, being located above it on the same mountain. Some sites call the castle Misuijō, an alternative reading, but Ranmaru-sensei calls it Samizujō and he's a local so I'm going with that. Samizujō's most prominent feature is a series of horikiri (trenches) one after the other along the ridge to the rear. The forward horikiri and dorui (earthen rampart) complex before the shukuruwa (main bailey) I also judged to be very impressive, though it was especially intimidating for me because this area of the castle ruin was covered in snow which made climbing it, even with the assistance of a handy rope, quite tricky. Dorui and koshikuruwa (sub-baileys) are also found around the shukuruwa.
Satsuma Yakata / 薩摩館

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No ruins remain and the site is now fields and housing.
Sawazoko Horinouchi Yakata / 澤底堀ノ内館

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The hidden valley of Sawazoko with its beautiful rural scenery and architecture is the site of two manor hall sites. I enjoyed playing hide and seek with ducks in rice paddies. The site of Sawazokohorinōchi-yakata is located close to ‘Japan’s Oldest Dōsojin’. Dōsojin are roadside guardian deities which offer protection to travellers and pilgrims. They are often represented as an embracing couple carved into stone tablets.
Shinmachiharada Yakata / 新町原田館

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The site of Shinmachiharada-yakata, directly south of Ina-Shimachi Station, is nothing but fields today. To the south there are some embankments, but it’s not clear that these just weren’t formed for terraced rice paddies, and it seems that the structure of the castle has been almost completely lost. A dry moat, according to excavations, used to run roughly where there is a road going southeast on the opposite side of the train tracks. Southwest of here there was a creek. This creek would’ve been used by the yakata as a defensive area. Although the portion of the creek around the former main bailey has been filled in to expand rice paddies, thus along with the aforementioned road completely obscuring the site of the main bailey, I noticed that it continued on the north side of the tracks in the northwest. This was used as a moat by the yakata and constitutes the only trace of a fortification here. To the east of here was the yakata’s second bailey, and to the north where there is a rise in the terrain there was a third and final bailey. The moat which ran between the second and main bailey was filled in for constructing the railway. The second bailey is now just housing clustered around the station and the third bailey is a cemetery, so one would not know that a fortification existed here.
Shioda Castle / 塩田城

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I spent basically the whole day exploring a single castle complex, the ruins of Shioda Castle. Shiodajō is the largest pre-proto-modern castle in Shinano (Nagano Prefecture), but even so I hadn't realised just how much time and energy climbing it would take to fully explore. I am confident, however, that, after a couple of missteps, I missed no part of the site - or at least no known part of it. I would have to guess that I am the first foreigner to explore the whole thing, but there's no way to know that. Whilst Shiodajō is fairly well known locally, the site as a whole is not well represented, and many visitors to the castle ruins, even to their uppermost peak, probably only explore half of it at the most.

Shioda is called locally 'the Kamakura of Shinshū' due to the concentration of splendid temples throughout the valley, a product of its historic prosperity. At its centre Shioda had a large castle. Or, rather, a castle complex with a series of fortifications built over several ridges of a mountain. These fortified ridges cradled the castle proper in the steep valley between them.

I had already been to Shiodajō before, but only what proved to be a small part of it. At that time I wrote that the castle has an upper and lower part. This is true in a sense, but the upper castle was actually series of forts and fortified peaks along the ridges. One could further distinguish an upper and lower part of the castle proper, as the most secure area, and today the site of its most impressive ruins in terms of remaining structures, is narrower and nestled snugly between two ridgetop forts, the West Fort and East Fort.

The forts of Shiodajō which together constituted a vast fortress are numerous, but the three main ones, from which smaller fortified areas radiate out from, are the Nishi-toride (West Fort), Higashi-toride (East Fort), and Kōbōyama-toride, the latter also called "Upper Shioda Castle" as it is the highest situated on the mountain peak. The well defined Nishi-toride is on a terminus of the west ridge, and above it are the lower reaches of the Upper Castle which are referred to as its central or middle forts. The Upper Castle further has western and eastern fort groups. The eastern fort group spans the eastern ridge and connects with the Higashi-toride which functions as the main node in that branch of the fortress. It should be noted that distinct from these forts and the rest of the Upper Castle, as well as the West Fort, is the 'grouping of westerly forts' which spread onto an entirely different ridge to ensconce another valley, now the site of the temple Ryūkōin, which neighbours the main castle / Lower Castle. Although the western fort group links up with the western branch of the Upper Castle, they are separated by a severe and abrupt change in elevation - well, a cliff, I suppose.

As for the castle proper, I will detail its features below. The Lower Castle of Shioda is a valley castle composed of a series of terraces. The site can be divided into three parts, the outer, middle and inner (these are my divisions). The outer castle ruins are indistinct as they are now the site of various rice paddies and orchards covering hillside terraces. The middle ruins begin where the tarmac road turns down hill, and there is a large stele here which proclaims the site. From here the ruins become more distinct, and include karabori (dry moats), dorui (earthen ramparts) and tatebori (climbing moats). The terracing here is bold and spacious, and the terraces are tall. Various residences would've stood here. An impressive segment of dorui runs opposite the old stele. Beneath the stele are the remains of a karabori.

The inner castle, which I define as the area being flanked by the ridgetop forts above, starts at the point where there is now an information board. There is also a fence here to keep out / in wildlife. In my previous visit this was as far as I ventured as that day was dedicated to visiting temples. The inner castle is much narrower, on average about half the width of the lower sections. Terraced baileys are located either side of the Ôte (main path). At the top of the Ôte, or at least before it bends, is something that looks like an old tomb or storage space, a structure of earth and masonry, though it is also shown on maps as a well. I haven't seen a well dug into a slope rather than straight down before. Behind the Mishima Shrine is a very large tatebori. To the left are four smaller tatebori, but I couldn't see these due to the overgrowth and I had no desire to crawl around on the hillside looking for them. I could see some bumps and rills, and that is all. I left that section to the experts. Actually, I then saw Ranmaru-sensei wrote on his blog "if you can see four tatebori here then you are a true believer in God (Miyasaka Takeo)". Ha. I put down "unejōtatebori" as a possible feature.

Above the shrine the inner castle becomes more claustrophobic - or cosy, depending on one's point of view - and is half the width again of the proceeding segments. The path climbs to the right and to the left are a staircase of terraced baileys. The start of this inner section of the inner castle is guarded by a tatebori to the east and a climbing section of sekirui (stonewall) to the right. The stone-piled wall has collapsed considerably but it's still obvious if one knows to look for it, and the stones were clearly piled around some sort of climbing embankment. This is a very interesting defensive feature but probably many visitors miss it.

It is from here that we find Shiodajō's most salient features, its ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), koguchi (gate complex), and ido (well). The 'tiger's maw' gate with its ishigaki is amazing considering its age. Although bits of masonry can be found here and there about the Lower Castle, the blocks here were most sturdily applied. The shape of the gate complex, forcing angled turns, is easy to appreciate. To the rear of this gate area is a stone-lined well. When I interrogated its depth with my camera flash I saw that there was a puddle at the bottom and a hardhat. Luckily it appears that there was no head in the helmet when it fell down. Several terraces climb beyond this gate area, and from here paths lead to the various forts of the Upper Castle and beyond.

For other parts of this fortress see:

Shioda Yakata

Shioda Nishi Fort

Shioda Koubouyama Fort

Shioda Higashi Fort

Shioda Nishibouruigun
Shioda Higashi Fort / 塩田城東砦

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At the entrance of Shiodajō (where I had been several hours before reaching the Higashi-toride, yet by this time it felt like days) is a simplified depiction of the castle's layout showing the Lower Castle and Upper Castle separated by the toranokuchi gate complex. To the sides are small castle symbols ('凸') simply each labelled as 'Fort'. However, whilst the right side symbol, representing the Nishi-toride, is fully printed, the one on the left is only printed as a dotted line, which, considering that few people even bother to go to the Nishi-toride, is rather ominous and forboding, like we're not supposed to go here, or we don't know what we'll find. That is, of course, also rather exciting to a certain type -- a type like myself, and I'm sure like many of you.

The Higashi-toride (East Fort) of Shiodajō is a central node of the eastern branch of baileys radiating off from the Kōbōyama-toride. It forms an addended part of the Upper Castle as part of its east branch. This ridge is difficult to traverse, contains many sudden drops in elevation, has perilous drops to either side, and is perforated with huge boulders - in fact it is principally rock. I advise you do not come here unless you first have your affairs in order. The Higashi-toride is a relatively roomy section, and from below it looks like a large dome furry with trees. It has a contracted eastern spur where the earth has been worked into a sub-bailey.

Both north and south of Higashi-toride, above and below, small rocky peaks were fortified as part of the wider fortress of the Upper Castle. I descended from Higashi-toride to the final projecting bailey, which I found to be nothing more than a perch of rock. I had a break here and put up my feet, sitting idylically atop of a large pinnacle of rock which seemed to lift me above the heavens. From here the view was fabulous, and particularly I had an angelic view of the Zensanji temple complex with its pagoda of ponderous beauty. This rock has the best view, in my opinion, out of the many peaks I ascended that day. I named it Ranmaru Rock (蘭丸岩) in honour of the local castle maniac whose blog I was following, since he had also made it to this point before turning back, and I was relying on him as a guide. It is important, by the way, to turn back from here, as the mountainside is very steep and rocky below. The climb back up to the Kōbōyama-toride is sharp and intense. Ranmaru-sensei had apparently descended at some point between the Higashi-toride and Kōbōyama-toride back down into the main castle area in the valley, and he himself had come up initially via the Nishibōrui-gun, a grouping of fortified peaks along another ridge to the northwest. It was there that I would go next.
Shioda Koubouyama Fort / 塩田城弘法山砦

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Kōbōyama-toride, also known as Shiodajō Upper Castle, probably has the most exciting approaching trail of any castle site I've visited. In keeping with Shioda's nickname of 'the Kamakura of Shinshū', Kōbōyama-toride, centred around the peak of Kōbōyama, is also the site of a series of buddhist grottoes. The trail up features staircases carved from great boulders which rise up through circular openings into and through the rocks. One must use hanging ropes to safely climb up the steep stone stairways and through these phenomenal portals separating the mundane and the mystical. One squeezes through the openings and side-steps between gashes in huge boulders, so that the experience is similar to spelunking (potholing) more so than hiking. Carved into what look like the abodes of a fanciful forest-dwelling race of little people are the altars of buddhist dieties. In one "penthouse suite" of what I dubbed "bosatsu-manshon (apartment blocks of boddhisatvas)", I rested and ate trailmix. I was in a cave with a circular opening to eitherside and a balcony of rock with an incredible view. I realised that I didn't want to leave and began contemplating my new life as a forest vagrant. But, after consuming half a bag of buttery cashnew nuts, I did leave, and soon came to the main part of the Kōbōyama Fort Complex. It is a series of flattened spaces - baileys - separated by boulders. I hopped over small trenches between boulders which seemed to form a sort of obstacle course for anyone navigating the fort ruin. In a lower bailey there was a crown of huge standing rocks, and I climbed up and perched on one to appreciate an unobstructed view for miles around.

Well, I should discuss the fort itself. The layout is of several baileys grouped around the peak of Kōbōyama. Each ridge is like a radiating spoke around this central peak, and the ridges were fortified, with the eastern, middle (to the south) and western bailey groups. The eastern spur ends in the Higashi-toride (East Fort), the middle spur in the Nishi-toride (West Fort), and the western spur in a long, rocky slope which leads to a rather isolated and unnamed bōrui (a small bailey-fort). This latter bōrui I only found after coming back later because it is at considerably lower elevation to the rest of Kōbōyama-toride. To the north is a stumpy spur which quickly terminates in another bōrui (and there is another sacred boulder with a carving here which looks like a soft bite out of an apple).

The westernmost bailey of the Kōbōyama-toride is the gateway to both the lonely bōrui mentioned above and the Shiodajō-Nishibōrui-gun, or grouping of Western Bailey-Forts. However, one can easily miss the connection to the latter because the ridge which the Nishibōrui-gun is on is at the bottom of a large cliff with many vertical and overhanging segments. I would eventually climb down here but I must warn that it is rather dangerous.
Shioda Nishi Fort / 塩田城西砦

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I have grouped the Nishi-toride (West Fort) of Shiodajō with the slightly higher elevated middle fort branch of the Upper Castle since they're on the same ridge and the elevation difference between this ridge and the Upper Castle is stark. The Nishi-toride proper is made up of three baileys separated by earthen walls carved from the ridge. The shukuruwa (main bailey) is at the rear and top, with the second and third baileys sequentially below. At the rear of the shukuruwa is a yaguradai (platform for turret) which appears to simply be a large boulder. Here the line of the ridge climbs up narrow and rocky. After some climbing one reaches the middle forts, which are a series of very small baileys on rocky peaks with depressions between them. To climb this section one needs to be prepared to grapple with ropes and rocks, risking dangerous drops. I was in a wonderland of moss and boulders. Nature here is very beautiful. The sun was out and there were butterflies around me. I felt like a very ugly Disney princess in a mystical place. The moss covering the rocks was thick and lush, and upon one floating slab of moss-drenched rock grew a tiny tree; it looked for all the world like nature itself had contrived a beautiful bonsai arrangement. There were many such arrangements up and down the ridge. I followed the ridge up to the Kōbōyama-toride, otherwise known as the Upper Castle of Shiodajō.
Shioda Nishibouruigun / 塩田城西保塁郡

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The term bōrui (保塁・防塁), meaning 'bulwark', refers to an earthwork forming a small fortified bailey or look-out. The Kōbōyama-toride has many such bulwarks, but from its westernmost there is a steep area made up of vertical, near-vertical and overhanging rocks - a cliff - and at the bottom of here begins another ridge which eventually wraps around to encompass the valley which neighbours the valley of the Shiodajō Lower Castle. Along this ridge there are at least six bōrui, collectively known as the Nishibōrui-gun (Western Forts Grouping). The first bōrui is actually quite distant to the second, being just below the aforementioned cliff I had to climb down to the reach the ridge, and half way between them there appears to be an unexpectedly large tatebori. I think this is the largest tatebori outside of the Lower Castle, which makes me wonder if it was dug after the sculpting of the Upper Castle, or somehow carved by nature - though it does look very trench-like. Each bōrui is on a small peak. It's hard to tell but there is some evidence of earthworks such as trenches and carved slopes between. The sixth bōrui is the lowest and nearest the terminus in the ridge. To climb up to this point one can come via a gentle path which leads to the 'moon-viewing hall' built in the Meiji period as a place to compose haiku. Today in this gazebo there is a schoolroom desk with a drawer with notepads and pens there. Most people just leave messages rather than writing haiku, and so I wrote one on a back leaf, signed Adam Turner of Birkenhead, proclaiming my conquest of the entirety of Shiodajō. My odyssey was at this point largely over, and I took a moment to gather my thoughts and rest myself, seated in seiza at the writing desk. The safe way to visit the Shiodajō-Nishibōrui-gun is to ascend via the Kanźukidō and go back down again. Climbing up or down the cliff between the two ridges carries with it 'no guarantee of life', and is very dangerous. Did they use ropes and ladders back in the castle's day? Shiodajō is truly an amazing site. It took me over six hours to cover it all.
Shioda Yakata / 塩田館

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Having descended from the Shiodajō castle mount and regained my starting place via the expediency of 'Azalea Road (not in blossom)', I cycled into the plain and to the site of the Shioda-yakata, where had once stood the fortified manor hall of the Shioda-Hōjō. This was my final destination in relation to Shiodajō. The site today, which is centrally located within the wider valley and thus quite distant to Shiodajō, is fields and housing. There is a rise in elevation on which the yakata sat, but other than that there's nothing to see except a small marker stone. As I was photgraphing it a group of junior-high schoolboys came by and said "konnichiwa". They kept looking back at me, probably perplexed at what on earth I was there for photographing some old stones. I can imagine though. Imagine if I as a youth (please imagine me with close-cropped hair and a tracksuit) encountered some foreigner pouring over red bricks and photographing the disused docks and railroads of my hometown, I would've been perplexed too.
Shiozaki Miyama Fort / 塩崎城見山砦

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I set out planning to go on a four hour plus hiking circuit covering many fortification sites in Obuse. But during the train ride there I noticed something terrible: I wasn't wearing my hiking boots. I was wearing completely inappropriate footwear. It's like I always forget one thing, but forgetting my boots is pretty devestating - and embarassing. Embarking upon a 500m high climb and massive hike without proper footwear was simply out of the question. It was too late to turn back in any reasonable time so instead I got off on a whim at Inariyama to investigate a very minor site. This site was Miyama-toride. It's a satellite fort of Shiozakijō, which I've already explored, and so I thought I should visit just for the sake of completion.

Since the mountain wasn't too big I was able to get up in my casual footwear. I actually overshot the site, assuming it to be from what I'd read online on the peak to the north of Shiozakijō, but in fact the fort was located somewhat lower down. The taller peak had evidence of a barn or something being there, and the mountainside was terraced with ishigaki made up of large stone blocks. These weren't castle ruins, and the piling method was dubious. Since there were no fort ruins I wondered if they'd been destroyed, which I suspected was the case because I couldn't find any recent pictures of them online. I had a set of co-ordinates but I had been unable to confirm their accuracy. Another set I found through 'official channels' were actually wrong.

Subsequently I have confirmed the location of Miyama-toride through the cross-referencing of materials. And, regrettably, I can report that the fort site is now utterly destroyed, and in its place there is a solar panel array. This array has eaten into the mountain itself. From the plain below it's hidden, being in a carved out section of the ridge, and so I initially had doubts as to this being the site of the fort, but alas...

The site of Miyama-toride is now unrecognisable. As for the 'solar park' we see today, I don't know when it was built, so it may be that the fort ruins were destroyed to make way for something else first. It is merciful that the array cannot be seen from below. Still, I was very unhappy with the situation. Solar panels have their place. Some homes can use them and they can be used to generate electricity off-grid, but they are not a viable alternative to other power sources, nor can they be. It is deeply concerning then to see them popping up and engulfing Japan's mountains and countryside.
Shoujina Yakata / 正科館

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Shōjina-yakata is a cliffside fortified manor hall site which sits at elevation above the a fertile plain. There are the remains of dorui (earthen ramparts) on the opposite side of the cliff, from which we gather an idea of the yakata's layout, and it seems that it was a square of about 50m on each side. This dorui forms an 'L'-shape, and is now the site of a small grave plot. Beneath the southern side a moat was apparently once evident, but I couldn't make it out. Another detached residence was located 'inland' on the plateau to the east, but no ruins of this remain, and it is now rice paddies.
Suda Castle / 須田城

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My initial plan in visiting Sudajō was to visit several yamajiro in the municipality of which Sudajō was the most accessible on its own little hill. But I got a very severe puncture which popped by bicyclette tire like a party balloon. Luckily Sudajō, in Garyū Park, is not far from the train station. The castle ruins are maintained as part of the park. Features include kuruwa (baileys), some dorui (earthen ramparts), tatebori (climbing moats), horikiri (trenches) and other earthworks, most notably a masugata (angled) gate complex. The entrance to the castle area from the eastern ridge is a horikiri, but now there is a modern bridge spanning it, and the lower eastern baileys of the castle are used as a cemetery. The eastern bailey beneath the main bailey is now the site of the mausoleum of Lord Hori of the Suzaka Jin'ya, and various Hori Clan graves now occupy the site of the castle of the lords which came before them, the Suda Clan.
Sunuma Yakata / 須沼館

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Set on sloping terrain, Sunuma-yakata is now just a gaggle of rural homesteads, but a sole row of mounded earth supporting a large tree can be found, and it is thought that this embankment is the remnants of dorui (earthen ramparts) which once surrounded the yakata (fortified manor hall). A rectangular lane goes around the whole site, indicative of perhaps a moat.
Suzaka Jin'ya / 須坂陣屋

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There are many minor jin'ya sites which were simply scattered to the winds after the fall of the Shogunate, but some buildings survived, and the Suzaka-jin'ya is an example of a jin'ya with several surviving structures. Jin'ya were more practical than castles for the new order of things, and into the Meiji period their buildings could be repurposed unlike large castle towers. Suzaka-jin'ya has a surviving shōrō (bell tower), ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), and a relocated nagayamon (gatehouse) which is now part of a local saké brewery. Suzaka-jin'ya is now the site of Okuda Shrine and Suzaka Elementary School. The ishigaki can be found on the north side of the school, and the shōrō is at the shrine. There is also part of a building, a large gable, displayed outside of the local history museum. A tag on Googlemaps, which is not an authoratative source, labels this as the Relocated Suzaka Domain Shoin Genkan (parlour to drawing room), but the sign next to it calls it the gable of the 'tsumesho (詰所)', which would be a guardroom or place for retainers of the lord to gather. I asked in the museum to resolve the issue. A lady in her forties had no idea and called upon a man in his sixties. I thought he might know his stuff. But he had no idea and went to call on someone else. I thought 'this is it, some grizzled old nonagenarian wizard who has lived here all his life will come and settle it', and so was quite surprised when a young lady who looked fresh out of school came out wearing the jacket of a municipal worker. Well, the young commissar was also unfamilair with the so-called 'shoin'. Perhaps it relates to oral tradition; the structure was previously used at the Endō brewery before beig relocated to the museum, and it may be that the brewers simply referred to it as a shoin because that sounds fancy, usually referring to the central part of the palatial residence and workspace of a feudal lord. I joked to the museum staff that they should leave a review on Googlemaps to clear up the matter. The museum also has the onigawara (gable finial on a temple roof) of an old temple by the main entrance. The tsumesho genkan is around the side, facing the park.
Tezuka Yakata / 手塚館

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Teźuka-yakata site I visited on the way to Shiodajō, having alighted at Bessho-Onsen Station with my folding bicycle. There is nothing to see particularly. The site, which is slightly elevated above surrounding fields, is now an abandoned farmstead. The site is also known as 'Teźuka Great Castle' but I don't buy the "Great Castle" part for a second; this was a simple fortified residence which the term 'yashiki' amply covers.
Toishi Fukuzawa Fort / 砥石福沢砦

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The Fukuzawa-toride, also called the Fukuzawa-demaru (demaru means "outer detached bailey"), was a branch fortification of Toishijō above. If one descends into the cool riverside and walks along beneath the enscarpment, one will come across a signboard saying that the Fukuzawa-demaru, named for the Fukuzawa Clan, vassals of the Murakami Clan, is located across the river. However, there are three plataeus here, each separated by deep creeks. I investigated the lowest which looked artificially flattened with different levels, but it's not clear where exactly the fort stood. Tradition fancies the taller, more forboding plateaus, but others see the lowest as a potential fortification site. One map I've seen places it just below the main bailey of Toishihonjō. I climbed up in a place which had an angled configuration of embankments not unlike a gate ruin, and photographed the flattened area I found there. I also photographed the upper plateaus from below, but decided not to climb up as they seemed completely covered in bamboo.
Toishi Kikubatakeno Castle / 砥石菊畑之城

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Kikubatakenojō was the furthestmost fort in the Toishi Castle Complex but virtually nobody goes there now since there are no obvious ruins of a castle. It seemed to me like it may have been destroyed in landslides.
Toride Fort / 取手砦

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Toride-toride could be translated as 'Fort Fort', which I think is amazing. Castle blogger extraordinaire Yogo-sensei recommends that the fort's name be changed to something else, suggesting 'Kodamashi-toride', but he's no fun; 'Toride-toride' is an awesome name! The name of the area is Toride, now using different kanji, 「取出」, so I don't know but perhaps the area was named for the fort, its original name unknown, and then subsequently the fort was named for the area? The kanji for Toride is 「砦」, from the Chinese meaning 'fort with stockades', but it can be also rendered phonetically as 「取手」 in Japanese. Toride bus stop is located opposite the Thunder Shrine. The ruins of Toride-toride in Toride (I'm still amused that each of those 'toride' take different kanji) consist of earthworks such as baileys, dry moats and earthen ramparts, but it is mostly on private property. The main section can be seen from the road. The most notable feature is a 50m long karabori (dry moat). Since Toride-toride is a clifftop fort this karabori then does down the steep hillside to form a tatebori (climbing moat). A marker for the castle is positioned atop of the dorui (earthen ramparts) which sit above this moat. The marker used to have the fort's name on presumably but it has since faded and is now illegible. It's still nice to see the piece of wood, as its brother marker at nearby Iwabuchijō is now gone; both markers were erected under Shiga Village Municipality which was annexed into the expanded Matsumoto Municipality in 2005.
Tougeyama Noroshidai / 垰山狼煙台

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A noroshidai (fortified beacon tower) was built upon the summit of Tōgeyama in conjunction with Yabuhara-toride below. The peak is now the site of a broadcasting array used by NHK, Japan's national broadcaster. Not only does NHK have the barefaced, shameless cheek to ask me to give them money, they've also built on one of my precious yamajiro (mountaintop castle) sites. Well, well, what a nuisance! Any ruins on the peak have been crushed by the broadcasting equipment. However, on the hike back down to the Torii Pass I did note, just beneath the ridge, a terraced area in a few bands. There was a flattened lower area which was wide enough to be a bailey, and it terminated in a prow-like up-turn in the earth which I fancied could be the remains of earthworks for the fort. It's possible these are the sole remains of Tōgeyama-noroshidai. No one has yet, at least on any of the major castle blogging sites, posted online about this site (Ranmaru-sensei mentions it on his account of Yabuhara-toride and shows a picture of the mount from below); I was going in blind. Since no map appears to exist on the internet, I have tried to make my own of the site's nawabari (layout). Even though my map is really amateurish, I'm proud to plant my flag here since it was quite a slog to get to. It's possible to reach the site from just above the Torii Pass. One should take the narrow trail which goes by the Reijin monument in that case. I descended here, but I actually climbed up via some dubious trails cutting between a forest road which runs to the NHK facility. I took a steep ridge, a sort of 'ladder' between the 'snake' of the road, which took me directly below the noroshidai site. It was about an hour's detour from Yabuhara-toride and I jogged back along the old Nakasendō trail to get back to Narai-juku in time for my train back to Matsumoto.
Toyo Castle (Murakami Clan Fort Network) / 村上豊城

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Toyojō is one of the smaller forts in the Murakami Renju Toride (村上連珠砦), a network of fortifications strung about the mountains like a 'pearl necklace'. I had hoped, since it is featured in a book of yamajiro in the area alongside larger forts, that Toyojō might be nearly as exciting as Hanagoyajō which is located nearby. However, it is a fairly small and basic fort. It has a main bailey with a trench to the rear. There is a lower bailey. Possibly there used to be more baileys going like a ladder down the hillside, but this area is now cultivated and so the land may have been modified for use by farmers in subsequent centuries. Toyojō is at least located on a relatively lower hill and so not difficult to climb to. This was my first castle visit with the onset of spring; the weather was pleasant and there were many birds out, including some big fat blue ones, and so I was quite optimistic about the day ahead.
Yabuhara Fort / 藪原砦

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Whilst the Battles of the Torii Pass are famous locally, little information can be found online about Yabuhara-toride. The ruins are divided into four parts which can be accessed from the hiking trail which runs through the Torii Pass on the Yabuhara side of the watershed. These areas consist of three baileys, of which the first is now the site of the Ontake shrine, the second is now Maruyama Park, and the third is the former site of the 'forest weather station'; a final stretch of ruins can be identified along the ridge descending from the third bailey. The trail is actually the old Nakasendō (Main Interior Route) used by countless generations of travellers.

The main bailey complex consists of a central enclosure with terraced sub-baileys bracketing it. To the west the earth rises up into what look like old ramparts in two tiers. The lower sub-bailey has four large pits inside the dorui (earthen ramparts) and I have no idea what to make of this. Normally I'd assume it were the remains of a dug well, but I don't know why there would be four together like this.

The second bailey, 'Maruyama', is just a flat space which serves as a small park. The sides of the slope were made steeper and the portion atop was flattened for use in the fort. Beneath the second bailey where the trail runs there is a right-angled bend with earthen embankments on three sides. This would've made a formidable gate complex for the fort.

The third bailey has a resthouse and the large flattened area which would've constituted the fort's bailey is now labelled on maps of the trail as 'former site of weather station'. According to maps of the fort ruins there should be tatebori (climbing moats) either side of the resthouse which would've formed a narrow chokepoint for entering the bailey; however, these moats must've been filled in because I couldn't see any sign of them. Beneath the third bailey running parallel to the trail is a series of dorui and terraced minor baileys, including a lower part which looked to me like a former gate complex with another angled turn. From here we can see the peak of Tōgeyama, upon which a signal beacon was built by the fort's defenders.
Yaguchi Yakata / 矢口館

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Nothing remains of the Yaguchi-yakata and the site is now farmsteads and rice paddies. This area is full of large homesteads surrounded by fields, making for some picturesque scenery. One home I went past which is on the site of the yakata or just adjacent to it, I saw, still had an outhouse by the road.
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