Kamaha Castle

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The castle was built by the Hori clan who were sandwiched between several larger powers of the time including Rokkaku, Kyogoku and Asai. While it may seem like an out of the way location today, originally Lake Biwa had an inlet and swampy areas nearby so that the Nakasendo went through this valley. Banba-juku, at the base of the mountain was one of the post towns along the road. The castle also had commanding views up to Lake Biwa and other significant territories in the area making it an important defensive castle along the borderlands of Asai territory.

The Hori originally allied with the Asai but were forced to submit to the Rokkaku Sadayori in 1538 after the Rokkaku took the castle and Asai Sukemasa died. After Sadayori died in 1560, Asai Nagamasa attacked the Rokkaku and retook Kamaha Castle. When Nobunaga turned his attentions towards the Asakura, the Asai upheld their alliance with Asakura but the Hori defected to Nobunaga's side. During Nobunaga's conflicts with the Asai, the Asai actually attacked Kamaha Castle but it withstood their attacks with the help of Hideyoshi. After the Asai were defeated the Hori were made made subordinate to Hideyoshi but they did not get along well and a year later in 1574 the clan was demoted and the castle dismantled. One might wonder what would have happened to Japanese history if the Hori had not defected to Nobunaga and instead cut off his routes back home to Gifu.

Visit Notes

This was possibly my highlight for 2022 castle visits. It combined a great hike, great views, outstanding weather, fall colors, lots to explore, stone walls and just a little bit of danger. First, the castle is somewhat difficult to get to since it is a 1 hr walk just to the hiking entrance from which it's another hour hike to the start of the castle. There are infrequent busses from Maibara Station to the Banba-juku. You could also rent a bicycle at the station or take a taxi. Plan accordingly.

Kamaha Castle runs across three ridges with fantastic views of the surrounding domains including up to Lake Biwa, Sawayama Castle, Odani Castle, Yokoyama Castle and the Mt. Ibuki area. Kamaha Castle was once famous for its white limestone stone walls that could be seen shining from far away. Most of those walls have since crumbled but there are four main places where ishigaki stone walls can be seen today: main bailey walls, two gates and one "great stone wall" (a section of stonework 4 meters high and about 30m long). Scattered throughout the castle you will also find small bits of stonework along the sides of walls and under your foot buried in leaves. Significantly more stonework has been discovered through several studies but it was all reburied. You can see some photos of what was uncovered at the Kamaha Information Center near the trailhead.

The south ridge is a very narrow ridge with seven horikiri cut into the bedrock. This course is labelled for "advanced hikers". It was not so difficult but good shoes and caution are recommended. The stones were quite slippery in the autumn morning covered with moss and leaves and you may need to navigate some fallen trees along the narrow ridge. The central area is comprised of a main bailey and 2 sub baileys, also labelled as the south baileys. More interestingly however is the north ridge of the castle with 7 stepped baileys. The furthest bailey has a commanding view and is where a large, main keep sized, yagura once stood.

The western ridge is a treacherous downslope also recommended for advanced hikers. I would not dare it without good shoes and a trekking pole to help keep balance and prevent sliding down the slopes. This is another set of 8 small baileys in steps down the ridge with a few large horikiri in between. The most fascinating feature here is a set of about five successive tatebori (畝状竪堀) around the fifth and sixth bailey. They are signposted but they are a bit tricky to find because they are farther down the slope than the map would have you believe. According to the guide at the little museum/information center this type of successive tatebori is rare in the Kansai area and was probably an influence from when the Hori and Asai were allied with the Asakura who did employ such tatebori more often. See the history below for details.

Hiking Map: https://www.city.maibara.lg.jp/material/files/group/47/k-mp.pdf

You can find the ruins of the "lord's palace" just behind the information center too. It's not known for sure what this was but the structure was larger and more elaborate than most commoner homes so it may have been a palace for the lord or other high retainers, or given the proximity to the post town it may have been an inn for higher class travelers.

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  • Site of the large yagura
  • Large stone wall
  • Large stone wall
  • end of a complex water system to carry water into the castle

Castle Profile
English Name Kamaha Castle
Japanese Name 鎌刃城
Alternate Names Kamagawa-jo
Founder Hori clan
Year Founded 1400's (possibly earlier)
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Designations Next 100 Castles, Top 100 Mountaintop Castles, National Historic Site
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Features trenches, stone walls
Visitor Information
Access Maibara Sta (Tokaido Line), 20 min bus (infrequent, plan accordingly)
Visitor Information mountain, open any time
Time Required 300 minutes (round trip hiking from the trailhead)
Website https://www.biwako-visitors.jp/shiro/select50/castle/d21/
Location Maibara, Shiga Prefecture
Coordinates 35° 17' 49.31" N, 136° 18' 55.40" E
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Added to Jcastle 2023
Contributor Eric
Admin Year Visited 2022
Admin Visits November 19, 2022
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(2 votes)
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17 months ago
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Eric, thanks for adding this detailed castle profile to your JCastle website and bringing it to the attention of the expat Jcastle fan community. It is one of the many little-known castle gems in Shiga that some castle fans don’t know about. Your castle profile is superb and covers many things that I have read about the castle and heard from a volunteer guide at the museum. We often think that the Nakasendo just ran through the valley floor, but Kamaha Castle was built astride the older trail that ran through the mountains here. This can clearly be seen in the way the castle was organized defensively according to the guide at the little museum with, for example, the seven horikiri’s (ditches) cut into the bedrock along the southern ridge (as you have pointed out) extending away from the castle and overlooking the trail heading south, and the set of tateboris (ditches running vertically down the mountainside), protecting the lower western baileys from an attack from the flatter river side.

Kamaha Castle certainly has some beautiful views of the surrounding area. The mountains where other castle ruins are situated can also be seen from a few of the Kamaha Castle baileys. Apart from the castles you have mentioned as visible from Kamaha Castle, you can also see Futo’oyama Castle, Hyakuhabo, Joheiji Castle, and Yamamotoyama Castle. Actually, if you don’t mind, I can upload a photo of the mountain where Kamaha Castle is located as seen from Futo’oyama Castle to this profile. The photo clearly shows the ridges where this yamajiro is located and can give castle fans a good idea of how this castle ruin is sited.

I have been to this highly enjoyable yamajiro multiple times. When I first visited, more than 10 years ago, the two wooden viewing platforms weren’t constructed on the Northern Baileys IV and VI, and there were a lot less signposts around to guide visitors. There weren’t any signposts identifying all the individual baileys except for the Main Bailey and the two adjacent Southern Baileys. It’s good to see the work that the local volunteers have done over the years to make this castle ruin, particularly prior to it being listed as “The Next 100 Top Castles” more accessible and enjoyable for visitors to this fabulous castle ruin. It is much easier now to identify the various baileys of this yamajiro, and the trails are fairly well maintained.

It's interesting that Kamaha Castle was a “shiny white” castle built with limestone. It reminds of Okinawan gusukus, which were also built with limestone.

For those planning to visit Kamaha Castle, I recommend going down the Western Baileys rather than up because they are quite steep, particularly the section between a koshikuruwa located below the Southern Bailey II and Western Bailey II. Also, it is easy to miss the tiny sign for the way to the Western Baileys from the fire trail. The fire trail is marked as 林道滝谷線.

There are indeed very few infrequent buses from Maibara Station to a bus stop located a few hundred metres from the trailheads (3 possible ways to get up to the yamajiro that I know of and have used.) After my first visit, I decided on subsequent visits, using a taxi was the best transportation option for getting to near the trailheads.