Kitanosho Castle (Omi)


GamouKitanoshoujou (1).JPG


This history of Kitanoshōjō is near non-existent. That is to say that even though a lot of stuff may have gone down here, history does not know of it, and we are left only with theories. It is, for example, a theory that the castle was built in the 1570s, and that, based on its structure, it was built to garrison thousands of soldiers, but that, due to rough working of some of the ramparts, the castle was not fully completed and was instead abandoned after a short time period. Further, the scale of the earthworks suggests this later date, and that it may have been the intention of the castle's builders to incorporate stone walls into it if they had the time. One theory is that the castle was built by Rokkaku Sadayori as a branch castle of Kannonjijō. Another theory is that Mano Yukinori, sixth son of Sasaki Tsunekata, built Kitanoshōjō as his new headquarters after establishing the Inui Clan, but this would mean a much earlier origin (Heian period or just after). It is also speculated that Oda Nobunaga may have made use of the site after his conquest of the province but there are no historical documents to verify this. Generally speaking theories put the castle's time period, at least the structure we see today, in the late Sengoku period due to its advanced structure. Another mysterious feature of the castle are its six ponds, thought to have been built as a reservoir system. It's amazing that such a large (and possibly relatively recent) site is so obscure to us.

Visit Notes

Kitanoshōjō is as mysterious as it is vast, and this sense of size and mystery is compounded by the site's general inaccessibility owing to it being incredibly overgrown. Only the hiking trail that runs through the site and along the length of its western ramparts is maintained, and much of the rest of its ruins are obscurred by flora and foliage. Yet, perservering, I was able to identify some key features. Unfortunately it is not possible to follow the large ramparts which ensconce this site all the way around, but if one could, one would find them encompassing a modest upper bailey, and a sprawling lower bailey. The latter lower bailey is very large and is terraced and segmented into various sub-baileys. Some of these smaller baileys are themselves surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts). In the middle of the lower bailey are six circular ponds which used to be wells - I suppose they're pig wallows now.

Kitanoshōjō is one of those rare types of yamajiro (mountaintop castles) in which the ridges of the mountain themselves have been moulded into towering ramparts. Both upper and lower bailey complexes are accessed via masugata koguchi (box-shaped gate complexes). There are two peaks along the ridge in the north, one to the west and one to the east, and these would've made ideal platforms for towers. Parts of the ridge are bisected by deep horikiri (trenches).

The history of the castle is not well understood, and it is on the same mountain as Ōmi-Hachimanjō with its impressive stone walls, and so this poor neglected site goes unloved, but it is fascinating and really ought to be better maintained (to that end some clear sign posts from Ōmi-Hachimanjō would be a good idea). Kitanoshōjō can be accessed via the trail which runs from the northern bailey of Ōmi-Hachimanjō and right through to the opposite side of the mountain, or from a trail which climbs up from Kitanoshō Shrine, Kitanoshō Village, which is where I descended.

  • the site is lower down than Hachimanjou. note the ringed upper bailey and terraced lower bailey group.
  • masugata. those ferns are hiding earthen walls!
  • masugata. sheer earthen walls of gate site, now coated in ferns.
  • entrance to masugata (square box) gate ruin.
  • Karabori
  • Dobashi, earthen bridge

Castle Profile
English Name Omi Kitanosho Castle
Japanese Name 近江北ノ庄城
Alternate Names Gamō-Kitanoshōjō
Founder Mano Clan?
Year Founded Muromachi Period; Sengoku Period
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Artifacts Dorui, Kuruwa, Dobashi, Karabori, Masugata-Koguchi, &c.
Features trenches
Visitor Information
Access Hike down from Ōmi-Hachimanjō or up from Kitanoshō Shrine
Visitor Information 24/7 free; mountain
Time Required 60 minutes
Location Omi-Hachiman, Shiga Prefecture
Coordinates 35° 8' 59.17" N, 136° 5' 9.56" E
Loading map...
Added to Jcastle 2022
Contributor ART
Admin Year Visited Viewer Contributed
Friends of JCastle
Jōkaku Hōrōki
Oshiro Tabi Nikki
Masaki Shibata
Jōkaku Tanbō

(one vote)
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16 days ago
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In replying to Eric: Yes, I had noticed you shifting to province names recently! I'll switch to putting domain or other names in brackets where appropriate. I've gone through and done that for Shiga already. I'll standardise my other profiles across the website at some point (except for Shinano and Kai because that's too much - for now).

I'll avoid obscure district names if possible. As I mentioned to you, there are districts with the same names throughout several provinces, and there is also the issue with district names which share prefecture names. 'Yamanashi' is an example. Where I've used it it refers to the district, and another site with the same name is in another district, but they're both in the modern prefecture.

Even if the profile names are disparate, it's still a bit nonsensical to use a name which could also reasonably apply to another site. But there are a couple of sites, ruins and all, in Nagano I've put up with that problem (there two Chausuyama-s in Chikuma, Shinano, alone, and god knows how many more across Japan). There's no inconsistency-free way of doing it, I suppose.

By the way, the English for 甲賀 is actually 'Koga'. Ask any ninja fan.


18 days ago
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@ART. No worries about the feedback. I think the massive amount of work that you have done on JCastle has helped raised the interest in Japanese castles by bringing to Japanese castle fans’ attention some of the little-known castle ruins in Shiga and other prefectures. You certainly deserve kudos for that. However, for your Shiga castle profiles I have noticed you tended to go for some very minor sites with very little or no ruins before having visited and written about the more “major” castle ruins with (substantial) stone wall and / or earthwork remnants. Many of these castles with substantial ruins have been covered in castle books (published in Japanese) such as Nakai’s Top 70 Ōmi Yamajiros.

There are certainly some inconsistencies in naming castles, but I usually try to follow the names used in published books and by most online blogs / websites in Japanese. Naturally, a few of the more famous castles like Iyo-Matsuyama and Bitchu-Matsuyama use the old domain names as additional prefixes to distinguish them.

You’re right about the romanisation of Japanese names. I should stick with what is generally the accepted standard of using a line above a long vowel sound such as Ōmi for 近江. That’s what I learnt many years ago when I studied Japanese at uni.


17 days ago
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Well, I have my own reasons for choosing where to go, but I'm anyway happy to leave the other, more better known sites to you and Eric ^ ^


25 days ago
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Good on you for changing the name to Omi-Kitanosho Castle from Gamo-Kitanosho Castle. It makes a lot more sense utilizing the old provincial name for Shiga Prefecture instead of a local district name, given its location next to Omi-Hachiman Castle. I can see your logic in adding a prefix with the old district name to catalogue castle sites on JCastle, but some of those names are no longer in use or hardly known by people who live outside those districts. Also, I reckon you wouldn’t have this problem with multiple castle / fort sites having the same name in one prefecture if you are more selective in adding castle profiles with actual ruins to see. I know I don’t see this problem in castle books published in Japanese and other Japanese websites covering medieval castles here in Japan. None of them add to the names of Shiga castles with prefixes like “Kanzaki” or “Yasu”. I also noticed when you added Yamanaka Castle in Aichi Prefecture to distinguish it from the more well-known Yamanaka Castle in Shizuoka, you prefixed it with “Mikawa”, which is the former provincial name for Aichi Prefecture instead of “Nukata”, the old district name. There is certainly inconsistency with how you have named sites in Shiga (formerly Omi Province) compared with ones listed in prefectures outside of Nagano Prefecture. Why not just use “Omi” if you want to use a historical prefix for the Shiga profiles that you have added? Particularly if you want to systematically distinguish them from castle sites with the same name in other prefectures on the JCastle website. Many more people know of “Omi” than “Gamo”, “Kanzaki”, or “Yasu”, and when we contribute profiles to JCastle, it should be organized and named in such a way to make it easy for visitors to the JCastle website to understand and use. Of course, I still consider using the modern prefectural name in parentheses after the castle name as the easiest and clearest way for JCastle users to know where a castle is in Japan. I wonder what the JCastle creator and owner, Eric thinks of all this.

It's great that you have added photos of the masugata gate ruins here. The less overgrown gate ruin is the 下段虎口1 shown in the photo of the map. Apparently, there is supposed to be a trail leading down the mountain to somewhere near La Collina, a local tourist attraction, listed on a map that I have in one of books, but I could not see any trace of it on my visits to this yamajiro. The more overgrown masugata gate ruin covered in ferns is the 上段曲輪虎口 on the map in one of your photos.


23 days ago
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Naming conventions vary greatly across There are no clear rules, and many inconsistencies. Different users also employ different conventions, it seems (I thought that added to the site’s character, haha). The webmaster has used both province and district names. Sometimes province names come first, particularly if the site is often referred to as such in Japanese (the ‘Matsuyama’ castles, for example, or ‘Aizu Wakamatsu Castle’). Sometimes the province is given in brackets after the castle name (for example: ‘Nakao Castle (Yamashiro)’). More commonly the prefecture name is used in brackets afterward (for example: ‘Takeda Yakata (Ibaraki)’).

District names are rarely but sometimes used for castles in Japanese sources. A well-known one, for example, is ‘Shirakawa-Kominejō’. On this site that castle is listed as ‘Shirakawa Castle’. The castle is in the modern municipality of Shirakawa and may be so called, but technically Shirakawa is the district name and the castle’s proper name is Komine. Another example is Nitta-Kanayamajō (listed as such on Japanese language Wikipedia), though that one is also commonly referred to as 太田金山城. On jcastle, district names can also be found in brackets after the castle name, as with the recent updates for Koka – though this is also the municipality name as of 2004/5.

I’ve discussed naming conventions with Eric. He prefers to put the name of the castle first, with distinguishing information afterward in brackets. This makes castles easier to find in an alphabetic list if the province / prefecture name is unknown. I agree this is most sensible! As for prefecture or province, I prefer to go by province names as many Japanese sites do. My assumption is that most people interested in such minor sites as I share will have familiarised themselves with historical provinces. Province names in Japanese come first, but I think it’s acceptable to put them in brackets afterward in English, certainly. I don’t know if I’m stuck in a rut or going on inertia, but I’ve kept with following the Japanese order. I am happy to switch to using brackets, and even to change all old profiles, if necessary, but it would take some time to change all the names I’ve already registered.

As for district names in Shiga, whilst it does help me keep track of what’s where, I agree that it could be confusing or obscuring for others. The district thing works fairly well in Shinano, but it may not be appropriate in Oumi. I’m not sure how to proceed here.

I see you also suggested that I should not upload (very) minor sites. I was aiming to be near exhaustive in my cataloguing, excluding only those sites where there is little to no information available in addition to no physical remains above ground. My approach has been that if the information could be made available, even for minor sites, then there’s no reason not to add to the database. I guess that’s a whole other conversation. I’ll say that sometimes there are sites with remains with the same name in the same places though. Admittedly, sometimes even in the same district!

Other inconsistencies in profiles names on the site are related to romanisation. This also depends on users. Take おお. On this site it is shown in English as ‘O’, ‘Oh (my preference)’, and ‘Oo (maybe your preference)’. I also noticed in a comment you rendered ‘Futoh’yama’ as ‘Futo’oyama’ instead. Likely because you know how the reading of the kanji falls, though an apostrophe is used in many romanisation systems as a pronunciation guide, and it certainly would help non-Japanese speakers in this case. Most sites don’t have well known anglicised names like ‘Osaka’ or ‘Tokyo’, so should we homogenise distinct sounds when making profile names? I’ve avoided this because I’ve been concerned with overlapping names (the reason for all my compounded errors). Incidentally, I also prefixed a lot of Shiga sites with ‘Oumi’ before switching to district names. ‘Omi’ would also work because it would be unambiguous among province names, of course.

Thanks for the feedback.


17 days ago
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I'm honestly at a loss for what to do with all the similarly named castles too. I'm not too hung up on precise naming conventions for prefectures/domain names, I just prefer them in parens ( ) after the name so it is easier to identify in an alphabetical list. Whether it's a domain or prefecture is up to you. I preferred prefecture originally because my thinking is that most typical foreign born castle go'ers who are likely to use this site won't know the domain names, but domain or province name is growing on me (see recently added Kameyama Castle (Kii) but there are times like the Koka castles where it seems to make sense to use Koka. As the site expands and we add hundreds more with the possibility of similar names we might need some flexibility for both Pref/Domain if there happens to be 2 castles with the same name in the same pref or distinguish those that could be potentially confusing in the future. As for diacritics and extra "u" for long vowels I personally dislike them both in most cases. Diacritics are not ASCII characters, not used in English (only a few borrowed words and never used consistently), and (at least in the dark ages) caused lots of havoc with programming, so for these reasons I have avoided them at all costs. When romanizing Japanese city names the cities don't do it in most cases so we shouldn't go against what is the common names (e.g. Koka/Kouka) as it could also lead to confusion. That's my 2 yen.


4 months ago
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Added some masugata pictures.


5 months ago
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@ART. It’s good to know that one other expat castle fan has made it to this little known yamajiro ruin in Omi-Hachiman. The history about this castle is certainly sketchy even in Japanese castle books about castles in Shiga and Kansai. It seems there is a paucity of historical records or documents about this mountaintop castle.

Kitanosho Castle indeed incorporates the ridges into its defence as you have noted, and this feature in a mountaintop castle design is not so common, but it is not as rare as you think, certainly not in Shiga. There is another mountaintop castle called Oomori Castle (大森城), about 15km east of Kitanosho Castle, which has the same kind of design, utilising the ridges as defensive ramparts and the baileys surrounded by ridges. Actually in Shiga, some of the yamajiros do not have the main bailey on the highest point of the castle complex like at most yamajiros but rather have the main bailey tucked in below and protected by other baileys higher up on the mountain or on overlooking ridges. Kannonji Castle, Kozutsumishiroyama Castle, and Mikumo Castle are several obvious examples in Shiga that come to mind.

Going to Kitanosho Castle from the Kita Kuruwa at Omi-Hachiman Castle is the better way to go, even if you have to descend before ascending the trail again before it joins up with the track from Kitanosho Shrine. The lower part of the trail from Kitanosho Shrine is quite overgrown with waist-high mini-bamboo bushes. When I went up from Kitanosho Shrine on one of my visits to Kitanosho Castles, I could barely see the trail.

I’ve never seen castles in the Omi-Hachiman area or in present-day Higashi-Omi, Hino, or Ryuo being labelled “Gamo XXXXXX Castle” on any signs, in Japanese castle books, or websites. Gamo might have existed as a district in Omi Province近江国 once, but it makes more sense to call it Omi-Kitanosho Castle if you want to distinguish it from Shibata`s Kitanosho Castle in Fukui. The nearby and better-known castle is called Omi-Hachiman Castle not Gamo-Hachiman Castle. Alternatively, you could easily put (Shiga) in brackets after the name to the distinguish it from other Kitanosho castles in Japan such as Kitanosho (Fukui.) Prefixing Kitanosho Castle with “Gamo” will lead to some confusion. There is still a Gamo-gun in present-day Shiga, so people may think Kitanosho Castle is in either Hino or Ryuo, and not in Omi-Hachiman. I reckon it’s better to use Omi- if you want to add a prefix to the castle name.

This mountaintop has some several zig-zagged masugata-styled gateways which are clearly labelled on the map you have uploaded. If you have photos of them, you should include them here as it is one of the features of this mountaintop castle.


5 months ago
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"Kitanosho Castle indeed incorporates the ridges into its defence as you have noted, and this feature in a mountaintop castle design is not so common, but it is not as rare as you think, certainly not in Shiga."

Yes, I also noted the feature at Iwakurajō (Yasu Iwakura Castle < does that work in comments?).

Naming castles is very difficult. I've tried to develop consistent naming methodologies as I've visited more, obscurer sites. On jcastle I've been concerned about taking up name slots for better sites, so most sites I consider minor I tend to either add on the province or district name. I much prefer historical names for several reasons.

Districts / counties. It actually took me some getting used to districts in Ômi / Shiga. I was visiting many sites so I thought I should go with county names. I may have unnecessarily complicated matters in certain places by trying to be consistent. Using counties in Shinano, a vast province with some 'gun' larger than all of Shiga, is perhaps more intuitive, and people familair with the place all know where Azumi, Ina, Suwa, Saku, &c., are. The province name is fine until, of course, there are multiple sites in the same province with the same name, and Shinano has many sites. The same goes for prefectures. Some people use municipality names but they're forever changing... just wait until the Reiwa mergers land! For some sites which share names within the same county or municipality, one just has to add the neighbourhood or settlement name instead.

Anyway, in this case "Omi Kitanosho" is fine, especially in contrast to Echigo, so let's change it to that.

I'll check my pictures of the masugata complex; i remember it was quite overgrown.