Kuroi Castle, Sumoto Castle, Ohmizo Castle and other updates

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Kuroi Castle, Sumoto Castle, Ohmizo Castle and other updates

2024/06/23


This update brings together several renewed or update castle profiles. Except for Tanba Kameyama Castle and Ohmizo Jin'ya the original profiles were written by others but now updated with my own photos.


 

Kuroi Castle / 黒井城

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The castle offers a stunning 360° scenic view of the surrounding area and with a little zoom you can easily see the mountaintop stone walls from far away. It must have been an impressive site! There are a couple ways to get here. From Osaka through Sasayama and then Fukuchiyama Line to Kuroi, or from Kyoto to Fukuchiyama and and then Fukuchiyama Line to Kuroi. Both routes offer other famous castles that could be combined for a day trip.

This was a great mountain castle to visit. The views of the surrounding plains are absolutely stunning and you can really understand why a castle was built here. The mini castle site used by Akechi Mitsuhide as his encampment for his attacks on Kuroi Castle looks like a child's fort in comparison. It is not particularly huge nor sprawling across the mountain like many mountaintop castles but given the size and shape of the mountain it didn't really need to be! It is mostly isolated with great views and lines of fire. There are no easy to access ridges that would allow for a surprise attack. Anyone who tried to attack could be easily seen.

From the bottom, the climb probably looks harder than it really is. There are two trails. The "easy way" is the main trail and is obvious from the signs and parking area below. It starts from the left of the parking area and takes a somewhat more indirect winding path to the top. The "harder" and supposedly faster route starts from the right side of the parking area and goes much more directly to the top. I planned to go up the easy route and down the harder one but from the top I couldn't find the way back down via the harder route. Once at the bottom I turned around and took the harder route maybe 1/3 of the way back up to catch some terraced baileys that I did not want to miss.

The red gate is picturesque but unfortunately has nothing to do with the castle. It was moved here when the temple it was located at was abandoned. It is obviously a temple gate with spots on either side for Nio type statues. There is however a gate from the castle that now serves as the Somon Gate to the Kozenji Temple. This temple itself is also a very interesting site. It was the site of the lord's residence at the foot of the mountain. The moat and high stone walls are definitely a must see part of this castle site.

I visited on Dec. 21, my first day of winter vacation. With snowfalls in the forecast, I jumped at the last likely opportunity for the year to visit this site that was high on my to-do list. I had planned to visit some other spots in the area too but it was so windy and so cold that just hiking up and back drained all my energy. It was absolutely worth the trip though. If you go in the wintery season though maybe you should be prepared for more wind and colder temperatures than you might expect.
 
Ohmizo Castle / 大溝城

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There is only the stone base of the castle keep left here but the stone remains are impressive for their size and that they survived in the middle of the town this whole time. There are some signs of districts that existed around the castle town to help provide some sense of the original castle. I found it to feel even smaller than it looks on the maps! A few of those photographs may be found below, but to be honest I'm not sure if they should belong to the castle or Ohmizo Jin'ya.
 
Ohmizo Jin'ya / 大溝陣屋

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The jin'ya lands overlap some with the former castle but for all intents and purposes they are two distinct fortifications and the jin'ya developed over the castle remnants that were not carried off to build Minakuchi Okayama Castle. Remnants from the jin'ya include the Somon Gate, which is often erroneously attributed to "Ohmizo Castle". Likewise, the old samurai home (despite its horrible condition) also dates from the Edo Period. The Kasai Residence, a bukeyashiki a short walk from the Somon, was occupied until recently. It is now in very poor shape but photos from just a few years ago show it in much better condition with a tended garden. The house also used to have a Nagayamon Gate but it was dismantled in the Taisho Period. The repairs to the gate were completed in March 2024. I do plan to visit this summer and take new photos.
 
Sumoto Castle / 洲本城

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This was probably my (admin) most exciting and expectation exceeding castle visit of 2023. The weather was perfect, the views incredible and the stonework was truly amazing. I had largely written off Sumoto Castle because of the silly little fake keep or lookout tower at the top of the mountain but it has stone walls to rival Marugame Castle, Iyo Matsuyama Castle or Hikone Castle.

The castle is mainly comprised of the several large baileys around the top of the mountain with the smaller "lower castle" at the base of the mountain for administrative purposes. From roughly both sides of this lower castle are two fantastic climbing stone walls. Some of the stonework is easily visible from the trails but there is so much more than can be discovered by a few explorations into the woods. For this visit some trails were even closed off for repairs, but at least according to signs at the time, they should be reopened in the Spring of 2024.

The castle and stonework we see today dates to when it was rebuilt by the Hachisuka in the 1630's. Some of key features of the castle mount are two particularly huge baileys. The "Mushadamari" is an unusually large bailey just to the east of the main bailey. It has the best views of the East Climbing Stone and amazing views of the sea. As the Japanese name implies it may have been barracks for troops or an evacuation area for the townspeople. Likewise, the Nishinomaru (west bailey) is another huge bailey that is a bit farther out along with ridge from the honmaru and functioned as a dejiro or extended fortification from the main castle. Some of the stone was quarried around here and 1 large stone with wedge holes can also be found along the trail. This bailey has stone walls on 2 sides and even a small section of unejo tatebori (parallel vertical trenches) buried in the woods.

In the town you can also find some original structures from the castle:

Sumoto Hachiman Jinja - The Kintenkaku was built in 1641 as part of the Sumoto Castle palace intended for receiving guests. In the Meiji period it was relocated multiple times and eventually moved to the present location at the Hachiman Shrine during the Taisho period.

Tokushima Hanshi Nagayamon - This gate was built in 1787 at the residence of one of the top retainers of the Hachisuka. The vassal was an accountant and had his home in a strategic location near the main gate to the lower castle.

Inada Residence Nagayamon - This gate was rebuilt or raised onto a platform matching the footprint of the gate itself. The building is now a garage and opening to a parking lot! You can still see the original structures from the streety however and they have obviously taken care to keep it well maintained. It is certainly one of the more uniquely preserved nagayamon gates I've seen.
 
Zeze Castle / 膳所城

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Visiting Zeze Castle Ruin can be a deceptively underwhelming experience, and this is completely true if a castle fan just strolls around the public park where Zeze Castle’s honmaru or main bailey had once stood. There is little vestige of Zeze Castle at the park apart from a reconstructed gate and some stone wall remnants, some of which are modern reconstructions. Much of what was Zeze Castle has been built over and subsumed by modern day Zeze. However, if you are willing to spend time walking around Zeze, Ishiyama, and Kusatsu, there are 10 relocated gates and buildings from Zeze Castle to be seen. In addition to these relocated structures recognized by Otsu City, there are three more possible relocated gates, one in Ritto, another one in Kusatsu, and a third one at Zeze Shrine.

If you are done tracking down relocated Zeze Castle gates and buildings, there are three nagayamons (長屋門) from former samurai residences in the castle town. They have been moved to three different temples along the former Tokaido Road in Zeze. Furthermore, at Enshin Temple, one can see the tombs of Toda Kazuaki, the first lord of Zeze Castle and Honda Toshitsugu, the fourth and then again, the eighth lord of Zeze Castle.

At Zeze Castle Park, in recent years, a new sign with a map has been installed at the site of where the castle keep had once stood. The map is a bird’s eye view of Zeze Castle. It is a copy of an old map created in 1894. While the map on the new sign is informative, the castle model of Zeze Castle at the Otsu City Museum of History raises it to another level. It is an amazingly detailed model of Zeze Castle and the castle town, bringing the castle and its town “back to life” for castle fans to experience. Looking at this model one can see why Zeze Castle was rated as one of the Top Three Lakeside Castles in Japan. Unfortunately, for copyright reasons, I am unable to upload any photos of it.

In sum, there are eleven relocated structures, two possible relocated structures, three nagayamons, two tombs of Zeze Castle lords, and a brilliant model of Zeze Castle that castle fans can check out if they want to do more than just briefly visit Zeze Castle Park.

Most of the relocated gates and buildings are within walking distance from the JR stations, Ishiyama and Minami-Kusatsu and Keihan stations, Kawaragahama and Zeze-Honmachi. Otsu City Museum of History is a 5-to-6-minute walk from Keihan Otsu Shiyakushomae Station.

If you just walk around Zeze Castle Park, my rating is still half a star, but if you spend hours tracking down all the structures listed here and visit the Otsu City Museum of History, the total Zeze Castle experience gets bumped up to 2 stars.

The original (2012) and revised castle profile (2022) are by RaymondW.

~Admin Update Jun 2024~

RaymondW has already put together a comprehensive profile here, so the only photos or information I added are a few photos of some dobei clay walls from the samurai district in the town and a new sub album of lakeside photos from when the water level was very low.
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