Motodoriyama Castle


Motodoriyamajou (1).jpg


It is believed the Uesugi Kenshin constructed Motodoriyamajō in 1547 in preparation for the Kawanakjima campaign. 'Motodori' refers to how the hair is tied on the head in the manner of a Buddhist statue, and so the castle's name comes from the shape of the mountain said to resemble that hairstyle. Legend has it that at the 'Kenshin Horse-Washing Pond' stones were placed at the bottom of the pond to cool the feet of Uesugi horses whilst they bathed. It seems there were a lot of stones to go around on this mountain; it was in the past a site for the quarrying of andesite, a type of volcanic rock.

Motodoriyamajō saw combat and was besieged as part of the campaign for Kawanakajima, and, according to oral tradition, at that time the castellan was Usami Sanetsuna, who was a vassal of Uesugi Kenshin. There are indications in historical documents that Motodoriyamajō was subsequently captured by Takeda forces, and this was likely between 1561 and 1564, following the largest battle of Kawanakajima in 1561 after which the Uesugi retreated from Zenkōjidaira, and the final battle of the Kawanakajima campaign in 1564 (possibly the fort was traded back and forth).

The subsequent history of the yamajiro is unknown, but if it was maintained it may have paralleled that of Naganumajō on the plain below. Uesugi Kagekatsu re-took much of northern Shinano following the deaths of Takeda Katsuyori and Oda Nobunaga in 1582, but was ordered to relocated to Aiźu-Wakamatsujō in 1598; Motodoriyamajō was probably abandoned at that time at the latest.

Visit Notes

Motodoriyamajō is a yamajiro (mountaintop castle) ruin above the village of Hiraide in the Iiźuna Township of Kamiminochi County. Ruins feature ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), dorui (earthen ramparts), karabori (dry moats), tatebori (climbing trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and other earthworks. I accessed this site following an old forestry road climbing the mountain out of a valley with orchards from the east; the road was flooded, blocked, overgrown and such in places, and I wondered off the trail both in the ascent and descent, eventually coming upon the castle ruins via one of its northerly sub-baileys.

I'm glad I came this way because one of the first things I discovered was a beautiful segment of ishigaki which has not been mentioned by any castle-bloggers. I suppose I'll have to name this new discovery 'Adam's Rampart', haha. It is larger than the well known segment at the entrance to the main bailey, but hidden at the edge of a terraced koshikuruwa (sub-bailey) above a tatebori.

Motodoriyamajō has an interesting layout and is essentially a castle in two parts. The eastern portion is a fortified mount, a simply but sturdily built single bailey complex with a series of terraced sub-baileys to the north. The main bailey is surrounded by tall dorui. Dorui segments are apparent throughout. In addition to the above mentioned hidden ishigaki segment, there is a very nice portion of remaining ishigaki at the entrance to the main bailey too. Inside the main bailey there is a small pit formed from dorui, and this may have been a firepit used for sending smoke signals. The main bailey had a koguchi ('tiger's maw' gate) at both the east and west ends (there is no path from the eastern entrance today).

There is an impressively dug karabori (dry moat) at the bottom of the fortified area, and by tradition it is held horses were hid here, though it seems to have been chiefly intended as just a deep moat to secure the entry area to the castle-mount. But the stubby little ponies the samurai used might have fit snugly within, especially during the harsh winter. The karabori joins with a tatebori in the east as part of a trench complex.

The western portion of the castle is more mysterious. It consists of a stair-like terracing of the earth in over half a dozen bands, all surrounded by karabori and dorui. I wasn't able to fully explore this area as it seemed overgrown, but I did make out various earthworks from above, including tatebori and dorui. This strange structure seems like it may have been built to host barracks for a large number of soldiers.

On the way back down the mountain I came by two interesting features: a kofun (ancient burial mound), called the 'Mud Tree Mound', and a pond called 'Kenshin's Horse-Washing Pond'; did Uesugi forces wash their horses at this place? It's a muddy bog now. I figured I could make it back to my rented e-bike (I cycled most of the way up the mountain) if I descended from the otherside of this pond, having already been that way to Motodoriyamakojō, a satellite fortification of Motodoriyamajō, and so began a trailless descent here, popping out of the trees literally right on top of my bicycle.

Note: Bear Warnings in Effect

Ranmaru, castle-blogger, says that when he visited this mountain he saw a missing person's poster for an old man; he suspects foul play by bears. Reading the commentary and comments on the blogs of Shinano mountain-castlers, it seems that the shadow of Mr Bear is ever upon them. Generally I'm not scared of bears, but one does occassionally come across evidence of them in the forms of prints, scat and fresh tree-carvings. I don't think I can fight a bear - not even a small black one (Apparently the average American male thinks he can best a grizzly in a fight! I read that somewhere. I respect their gumption but... well, most fellas overestimate their fighting effectiveness.). But I also bet, being still somewhat vigorous (or hefty) and on the taller side (at least in Japan), that a bear does not want to fight me either. And so, the only way a bear would be likely to attack me is if I surprised it and triggered the wrong side of its fight-or-flight response, and so as a precaution I carry a bear-bell, and that's enough for my peace of mind.

  • Main bailey and dorui

Castle Profile
English Name Motodoriyama Castle
Japanese Name 髻山城
Founder Uesugi Kenshin
Year Founded 1547
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Artifacts Tatebori, Dorui, Karabori, Kuruwa, &c.
Features trenches, stone walls
Visitor Information
Access Nearest stations are Toyono Station and Mure Station on the Kita-Shinano Line
Visitor Information 24/7 free; mountain
Time Required 80 minutes
Location Iizuna, Nagano Prefecture
Coordinates 36° 43' 13.91" N, 138° 14' 36.96" E
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Added to Jcastle 2023
Contributor ART
Admin Year Visited Viewer Contributed
Friends of JCastle
Kojō Seisuiki
Nippon Shiro Meguri

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