Nagano Castle Update from ART Part II

From Jcastle.info

Nagano Castle Update from ART Part II

2022/03/19


Second installment of Nagano Prefecture castles from ART.


 

Chiisagata Yashima Castle / 小県矢島城

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Yashimajō is easy to get to as it’s on a road just above the plain in the sort satoyama area which separates man and mountain. Surprisingly there’s some well preserved castle features here. There are two baileys situated on a promontory of rock earth overlooking the plain. A short terrace intercedes between the two baileys. What impressed me was the large earthworks at the rear of the site. The tongue of earth is quite wide but a karabori (dry moat) spans its width. Dorui (earthen ramparts) are piled above the karabori, and remain tall and imposing today. On the other side of a dobashi (earthen bridge) the karabori turns into a falling moat as it careens over the cliff side.
 
Kitsuneyashiki Yakata / 狐屋敷館

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Kitsuneyashiki-yakata, a curiously named yashiki and / or yakata (fortified residence) site, is still inhabited and now various old homes built in the vernacular architectural style remain; it is a family hamlet surrounded by fields and rice paddies beneath the castle-mount of Hayaotoshijō.
 
Kokuzousan Noroshidai / 虚空蔵山烽火台

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Kokuzōsan-noroshidai, the first step on our miyagura tour in Saku, is a fortified signal tower site with a reconstructed miyagura in the main bailey. To the rear of the bailey there is dorui (earthen ramparts) heaped up over a horikiri (trench) which protects the rear of the fort where it connects with the ridge. Even though there is a watch tower, during our visit the whole fort was buried in a cloud and there were no views to be seen. On the way the mist was white, as of the mist of snow, but at the noroshidai it was grey, as of the mist of rain, and this atmospheric greyness surrounded the whole site. It goes to demonstrate that even though a noroshidai and miyagura are useful defensiveness measures, the enemy could still go undetected in adverse atmospheric conditions.
 
Komiyama Yakata / 小宮山館

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The site of both the Komiyama-yakata and the Ibuka-gochō is now idyllic rice paddies and a grand old house with traditional architecture and stone walls, which is great compensation considering now no ruins remain of either site. Sometimes the Komiyama-yakata is called Komiyamajō but I don't know why. It was the kyokan attached to Ibukajō, and not really a castle in itself. Perhaps due to its association with the site of the Gochō which served as a provisional Kokufu (Provincial Capital) some people call it that? There is a nearly eight century gap in time separating the Gochō and the yakata though.
 
Kouji Yakata / 越氏館

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It was already dark by the time I got to the former site of the Kōji-yakata. Luckily, the site's most prominent feature, an embankment beyond which the fortified manor hall sat, is right by the road. Since I was passing by here regardless I figured I may as well look.
 
Koyamura Yashiki / 小屋村屋敷

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I visited the site of Koyamura-yashiki, a minor local site, as part of a castle walk. I began my castle walk for the day at Shiojiri Station. Once one passes over a bridge of the River Ta, the town of Shiojiri suddenly shifts to a more rural setting. No ruins remain of this fortified residence built on the terrace of the Ta River.
 
Kurahone Castle / 鞍骨城

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Kurahonejō is a top yamajiro ruin, albeit not so well known, but this may be due to how inaccessible it is. Also, the site can be dangerous and difficult to navigate. Starting at the trail from Matsushiro I had climbed for so long that I was beginning to worry that I would find nothing worth all of the effort at Kurahonejō. Surely only a small fort would be located so high up? And, I came from the site's rear, so that initially I didn't see many ruins. But by degrees I would realise, incredulous with each new panorama, what how incredible the ruins of Kurahonejō really are! From my perspective, coming down the ridge from the mountainside, I first saw several trenches eating into the ridge. This was a good start. I came on the main bailey from the rear. I spied an errant segment of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) some little way down the sculpted mountaintop, and I "goated" along the steep side of the castle to get a good view. I climbed back up and found the main bailey surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts), piled tallest to the rear. There was an obvious place for the gate. This was just the beginning. Ishigaki is everywhere, and some segments are quite tall and long. The tallest is 3m. Segments around the main bailey are about 1.5m tall, but I judge were 3m tall originally. The layout essentially follows the ridge, with terraced baileys climbing it. There is an impressive double trench system at the front part of the castle. Features include horikiri (trenches), tatebori (climbing moats), koguchi (gate ruins), koshikuruwa (terraced sub-baileys), kuruwa (baileys), dorui, and more ishigaki than one can shake a hiking pole at. To find such an extensive ruin so high up in the mountains is a humbling experience. Having visited several other sites along the ridge, all in all I was on the mountain for about five and a half hours; for me Kurahonejō made the exertions of that day wholly worth while.
 
Kuruma Castle / 来馬城

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Kurumajō is an earthworks yamajiro with such features as kuruwa (baileys), horikiri (trenches), embankments and terracing and the like. The mountainside rear of the site features intimidating rock formations poking out from the ridge. The site has a signboard with a map of the castle layout. It can be accessed via road, though I climbed from below where I found an old trail up. From the road a large land bridge converys one along the narrow ridge to just below the castle site, marked by a heap of boulders, and so it's an easy enough site to visit if one can get there.

The road goes to a weather station which is also a park. One can park a vehicle here, and there are toilets. The park has a viewing platform which gives one a view similar to the one the caslte mount would've before it was covered in trees. Kurumajō was built on a hill at a bend in the Himekawa, being bounded by the river on the north, east and south, and joining up with mountains to the west. To the southwest flows the Urakawa. It has been intersected with countless huge wiers of concrete to prevent river-borne landslides. The river and mountains seem to rise up into a vast, grey skydome, with hints of wintry peaks beyond. This is the site of the Great Hieda Landslide, or the "Collapse of Mount Hieda (稗田山崩れ)", one of the "Three Great Landslides of Japan (日本三大崩れ)".

Although the exact cause is unknown, it is said that heavy rain four days prior instigated the collapse of Hieda in 1911. The scale of the landslide was incredible. The northwest summit of the mountain collapsed, burying the Urukawa and blocking the Himekawa. Earth and rock flowed like liquid around the ruins of Kurumajō. Kuruma village below was innundated and destroyed, and dozens of people lost their lives. Mountain detritus was cast as far as 6km and the valley floor was raised up to 100m at the landslide's deepest point. The natural damming caused a large lake to form. When the dam became waterlogged surviving residents tried desperately to drain it, but the earth inevitably collapsed again, leading to flooding down stream. The landslide buried many homes and left fertile fields barren. The Kita-Otari municipal hall was swept away. Fish in the river died en masse. Life became untenable and the valley was depopulated. To this day the area is heavily managed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (Kokudokōtsu-shō), and corridors of otherwise cultivatable land are given over to nature. The ruins of Kurumajō oversaw the destruction from high ground, avoiding obliteration.

Matsugaminejō is another name for Kurumajō but one source lists a Matsugaminejō as a separate site located on the north side of Kuruma village, rather than the south, where there is a smaller but similar (to Kurumajō) projection of earth at a bend in the Himekawa. It's opposite Kita-Otari Station on the west side of the Himekawa. I had intended to check it out on my way back to the station but whilst I was at Kurumajō it had started raining and the rain became quite heavy thereafter, and so I did not climb the hill to check for evidence of fortification. I went past the hill but saw no obvious route up or signposts. It may have to remain a mystery.
 
Kusamahizennokami Yakata / 草間肥前守館

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Nothing remains of Kusamahizennokami-yakata. The site is now a shrine and modern housing plot. I visited as part of a tour of yakata sites throughout Aźumi but I’d say this site was the least interesting site of the day.
 
Machimura Fort / 町村砦

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The original contours of this fortified settlement have been obscured by development, but the main fortified area, which is now a cemetery, I found quite easy to identify. Essentially there is a single small bailey surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts), some segments of which are quite tall and thick. To the front of the bailey is natural elevation, and to the rear there is a depression which looks like it was excavated as a trench. These earthworks are all that remain. It is thought that the main bailey contained a watch tower.
 
Michikusa Fort / 道草砦

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Michikusa-toride is located across Eagle Gorge from the main site of Natsumichi-toride, and it is bounded by another gorge in the west. There are supposed to be some baileys here but I found the site quite overgrown. Since this hillside was once cultivated with mulberry plantations, and now hosts pylons, it seems the contours of the fort have been obscured. A heap of stone blocks I found suggested to me the former existence of an altar for some god connected with the production of silk. Toward the rear, just before the last gorge, the earth was heaped up suggestively, and it was easy to imagine that a gate had stood here on the Summer Road where the path bends around to cross at the top of the final gorge.
 
Minochi Asahi Castle / 水内旭城

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Asahijō is a fascinating site. I was primed for more mystery during the hike up and the ruins of Asahijō offer it. The second bailey, which I reached first, is surrounded by several tiers of terraced earth. Some of these are not well situated for defence, and so they may have been contorted for use as orchards in later times. At the edge of one such sub-bailey is a pit which looks like an excavated tomb. Things get more clear as one climbs. Just under the second bailey core there is a trench complex, a climbing trench which becomes a karabori (dry moat) in an angled box shape. Dorui (earthen ramparts) are piled around it. Whatver enemy came up to the castle via this trench would've fallen into a deadly trap. The second bailey is the site of another well preserved ancient tomb that the castle was built over. It seems the castle was carved out of these mountain tombs.

The first bailey is more standard and has a koshikuruwa (supporting bailey) beneath to the southeast, but between the first and second bailey is a huge karabori which appears to split the mountain in two. This is a piece of work to behold! Scattered around both baileys are the remnants of stone walls which would've encased the ramparts. It is suggested that the first bailey was also surrounded by dorui but that this was levelled when the shrine to Inari was built. I was surprised about how much this site offered even though it was only a satellite fortification of Asahiyamajō above. It's a wonder how many people even visit here; I missed it the first time because I had assumed Asahiyamajō and Asahijō to be one and the same site, perhaps understandably, but they're not. One should visit Asahijō too after hiking to Asahiyamajō.

The best way to go to Asahijō is via a road which leads directly to the shrine to Inari which the castle site now hosts. I ended up going around, up and past here though. Getting a little lost I came upon the abandoned village of Hirashiba. Although the area was inhabited since ancient times, I believe there is only one inhabited home left (I saw someone at a distance whacking fruit from a persimmon tree). Trying to get back on track I took an old dirt road past several abandoned homesteads, vehicles, rubbish and plots of land.

I came to a miraculous thing. It was a twin burial mound, or a single large mound with two burial chambers. As I said, this place is ancient. If you wonder that I am insensitive to how creepy sounds an abandoned village with ancient tombs yawning darkly from amidst the ruins, know I am not as scientific as all that, and although I had a sense of forboding I was morbidly drawn to explore the chambers. Well, it was just as one would expect, for inside I found the kind of Lovecraftian horror which sent Randolph Carter fleeing manically across the Big Cypress Swamp. Indeed. Cave Crickets! Giant ones with hunched, loathsome legs and throbbing stingers, scurrying on the underside of the lintel just above my head. Terrifying.
 
Minochi Yomogidaira Castle / 水内蓬平城

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Yomogidairajō ("Mugwort Plateau Castle") was the first castle site I visited in Kinasa. The site is quite curious and unusual. Essentially there are two baileys, with an intermediary terraced bailey in between. The main bailey, or upper bailey, is surrounded by the second, chiefly to the south, but also to the west where it forms a narrow sub-bailey. I came up via this area. There was no trail. Interestingly the main bailey is not at the top of the hill. Instead there is a narrow, flattened ridgeline which functioned as a sort of natural earthen rampart segment to protect the castle's east. One can see from below that this ridgeline has been worked into a series of flat, stair-like platforms. I initially climbed up onto the ridge expecting to see more of the castle not its terminus! The main bailey likely was the site of an Obinata Clan residence. There are some more terraced areas below but these are now homesteads.
 
Momose Yashiki / 百瀬屋敷

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There’s nothing to see of the site of Momose-yashiki, a fortified residence, and the site is now disused farmland.
 
Murakami Ara Castle / 村上荒城

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Arajō sits above Ushibusejō on the same ridge. It cannot be missed climbing from Ushibusejō but the way is quite long and steep. It is another single bailey fort, like Ushibusejō, with trenches to the rear dug into the ridge, except overall its dimensions are smaller than Ushibusejō’s. One interesting feature of Arajō, however, is that the mountainside dorui (earthen rampart) segment is very thick, almost as wide as the bailey it protects it seems. Given its girth maybe this dorui was used as the foundations of a small tower? Beneath it are two horikiri (trenches).
 
Murakami Hanagoya Castle / 村上花古屋城

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Hanagoyajō is quite an impressive site. It has many baileys, trenches and such like earthworks which are carved into the ridgeline like the stairway of some terrible giant. The shukuruwa (main bailey) is surrounded by tall dorui (earthen ramparts), and there is a curious pit dug into the middle of it, creating a depression which occupies most of the bailey. There is ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) in various places around the shukuruwa, ninokuruwa (second bailey) and sannokuruwa (third bailey), particularly in the forward facing areas of the latter two. To the rear of the shukuruwa is a fairly complex trench network in several bands, though a modern pylon separates those immediately adjacent to the shukuruwa and a further trench. The trench behind the shukuruwa is very deep and I had to climb it in order to break into the shukuruwa and inspect some remnant stonework there.

The first few baileys beneath the shukuruwa are the most impressive. Because they are large their terraces are necessarily tall. The ridge starts to flatten out beneath them, but even so there are many more horikiri (trenches), kuruwa (baileys) and some dorui all along the ridge almost to the bottom. I lost count of the number of horikiri.

To reach Hanagoyajō I continued to ascend from Arajō toward Mount Tarō. I thought the way from Ushibusejō up to Arajō had been quite steep but the climb between the Tarō shrine and Arajō is twice as steep again! Or nearly so. This was taxing me somewhat so I didn’t go all the way to the peak, despite its friendly name, and instead when I found where the ridge lines connected I immediately descended again. Descending this ridge from Mount Tarō brings one to Hanagoyajō which sits on the ridge opposite from Ushibusejō and Arajō. There is no trail down off the mountain except from just at the back of the shukuruwa, and so, since I didn't want to climb all the way back up there, I took myself off the mountain via the unorthodox conveyance of sliding down through the leaves. It was like riding a toboggan! I caught myself once or twice on a helpful tree after sliding too quickly, and when I came to the end of the ridge I lowered myself down on a vine. I got dirty no doubt but it was a lot of fun.
 
Murakami Iizuna Castle / 村上飯綱城

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Iiźunajō is a phenomenal site and I would rank it as the best site visited that day. Below Kameijō, the last fort on the topmost central ridge, Iiźunajō is located in a forward position to be somewhat independent of the other forts it protects on Mount Kokuzō. This was a formidable fort which could hold its own. Iiźunajō is easterly from Kokuzōsanjō, and Wagōjō in the west where the main ridge comes to an end likely had a similar position, but I would say Iiźunajō is the greater of the two. Its main features are the huge trenches carved into the ridgeline which cut through sheer rock, the very spine of the mountain.

Iiźunajō has four principal baileys. To the rear is the fourth, with two considerable trenches one after the other protecting its rear. Beneath the fourth is the first or main bailey complex, and it has three parts to it, an upper, middle and lower. The upper is separated by a terrace from the middle, and the middle from the lower by dorui (earthen ramparts). On either side of the lower portion, which contains a well ruin, are climbing trenches down the sides of the bailey.

The site’s most impressive sight is the large double trench system between the first and second bailey. Dorui is piled between two dry moats, and the trench on the side of the second bailey, which is situated above on its own small peak, is very deep, having been cut into the rock. This formidable arrangement, a solid stone wall hewn from the mountain itself, would’ve been deadly to attackers. The second bailey has dorui atop, and even some ishigaki (stone-piled rampart) remains.

Between the second and third bailey is yet another double trench system. Once again bare rock has been exposed and cut into, forming defences out of the body of the mountain. The third bailey complex is made up of an integral bailey and many sub-baileys beneath it which terrace the elevation. These terraces continue down the ridge continually and are interspersed with a fourth and final double trench system, and then a single lone trench before the castle’s precincts gradually taper off.

Iiźunajō can be accessed via two different routes. I took the route from the “former helipad”, now a parking area for hikers, which goes by old fields with stone-lined terracing up to a point on the ridge at the top of the castle site. The route that descends from there could also be taken from the bottom up. I got to the old helipad site by climbing up from Mochikoshijō to the Rabbit Pass, and them coming down again. The Rabbit Pass is the site of a humungous boulder which stands tall on the ridgeline which runs up to Mount Kokuzō. Climbing to this point rewarded me with stunning views. Probably though it would’ve been easier to go back to the bottom of the mountain from Mochikoshijō and re-ascend to get to Iiźunajō. Needless to say I regret nothing, though the hike down from the Rabbit Pass to the “heliport” was grueling. The steep sections lined with ropes meant that I basically went down the mountain backwards whilst clutching the ropes like an abseiler. At one point I gave myself too much slack and fell with my buttock right onto a cut stump a few inches across, which smarted, though a bottle of tea in my back pocket may have dulled much of the blow. My bear bell is still up there somewhere between the ropes. Then there came a series of interminable switchbacks beaten into a cascade of loose rocks which poured from some point far up the mountainside like a lava flow. In comparison to this the trail from the heliport to the castle ruins was a doddle.
 
Murakami Mochikoshi Castle / 村上持越城

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Zama-jinja grants access to Mochikoshijō (“Deferred Castle”) via a path that climbs up from the left of the main hall. Mochikoshijō is quite an atypical site in its layout. It features ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts), dorui (earthen ramparts), tatebori (climbing trenches) and other earthworks. There are two main enclosures, the lower and the higher. The lower is long with remnants of ramparts and ishigaki heaped to the right (ascending) and to the left there is more ishigaki but one has to look beyond the old parapets to the steep sides of the bailey to see the remains of the stone walls. The upper bailey is terraced, with a lower and upper portion, and the lower is protected by a prominent row of dorui. To the rear of this bailey is a climbing trench to the left and a dorui segment to the right which would’ve formed between them a secure rear gate.
 
Murakami Tsubame Castle / 村上燕城

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Tsubamejō (“Swallow Castle”) features dorui (earthen ramparts), kuruwa (baileys) and horikiri (trenches). To the rear of the shukuruwa (main bailey) is a double trench system bisecting the ridge. The shukuruwa is vaguely triangular, with dorui piled highest to the rear. The remains of additional baileys which terraced the mountain slope can be seen below. There is another horikiri between the shukuruwa and ninokuruwa (second bailey). The ninokuruwa also has a koshikuruwa (straddling bailey) located slightly beneath it. I had intended to visit Tsubamejō after visiting Kemurinojō, which sits right above it, last year, but I followed down the wrong path and so exited the ridge too soon, missing it, by which time it was already getting dark. This time I approached from below. I found some trails but there are none that go all the way to the castle, so eventually I just assaulted the thing directly. Because of fallen leaves my progress was slow, often taking one step just to slip back two. Proper hiking gear is a necessity in these situations. On the way back I “fell” down the slope, bouncing from tree to tree like an excited pinball. I descended the mountain via Kamishiojiri-jinja, a shrine with some ishigaki which provided in its causeway an easy way down. I walked along the road just a little to get to the causeway to Zama-jinja, another shrine. By the way, this area of Ueda has a lot of old and rustic architecture to appreciate.
 
Murakami Ushibuse Castle / 村上牛伏城

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Ushibusejō consists of a large singular main bailey with a wide and long double moat system to the rear. Apparently there are the remains of stone walls around the main bailey but I found nearly the whole perimetre blanketed in felled logs. It seems the centre of the bailey has been cleared at the expense of the sides! Along the ridge at the bottom of the main bailey there was what looked to me like more ruins, including dorui (earthen ramparts) around what I took to be a sub-bailey. There is also another small enclosure within a conglomeration of rocky outcroppings. It seems the path which goes between here and the dorui may have been a trench. Ushibusejō is accessed via a trail which begins at a small temple in the Tokiwagi neighbourhood of Ueda town. The trail forks immediately into the Mount Tarō Trail and the White Snake Trail, and it is the former which goes to the castle ruins.
 
Myougiyama Noroshidai / 妙義山烽火台・妙義山狼煙台

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Myōgiyama-noroshidai was the site of a fortified signal or beacon tower, used to send smoke signals and keep watch over the surrounding plain and nearby mountains. The site was built over a kofun (ancient burial mound) complex, and these kofun can still be made out today (they have markers on them so they're easier to identify). As for the fort ruins, that's much more difficult, but there is a cleared area at the edge of the ridge which was likely the fort's main bailey. I looked for trenches along the ridge but only found a deeply set path descending the hill side. Just below Myōgiyama is a mogi ("Mogiyama" would be an easy slip of the tongue there) of sorts. Somebody built a scaled-down (about half-size) pretend castle on the roof of a (love) hotel building! The site no longer functions -- but is still inhabited (by an elderly lady) and so I must ask that if you go here not to trespass. This mogi site is certainly curious and alluring to a certain morbid type such as myself. I had come past before, but from Myōgiyama I was able to get a much better view, and I descended the mount to a forest road which ran by the site, and so I saw much more of the curious structure this way. The kofun were interesting but the highlight of this site was obviously getting close to this stupid mogi thing, haha. It's about a 12 minute drive (or 45 minute walk) from Matsumoto Castle, so you could swing by here if you visit the (real) castle.
 
Nabebuta Castle / 鍋蓋城

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Nabebutajō is one of those Sengoku period castles which can be considered the antecedent of the nearby Edo period castle. No ruins remain of Nabebutajō ("Pot Lid Castle"), but the house on the site is quite nice and has an explanatory board about the site's history. The house has loopholes in its walls! So that was nice to see.
 
Nabeyamajou Fort / 鍋山城砦

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Nabeyamajō-toride is a single bailey fort ruin with some scant traces of terracing to the rear. Climbing from Kemijō I came to a fork in the ridge. The right I followed to Saminejō and Sasanojō. I backtracked and then followed the left, taking a well developed trail down to Nabeyamajō-toride ruins. The path wraps around this site, with the peak rising above; it'd be easy to miss. These minor fort remnants have very little to offer but I came by the site on the way down the mountain to Ametoyajō and Sasagajō. The name is somewhat amusing. It's like it was originally called a "castle" but "toride", meaning "fort", was tacked on the end in admission of how small the site is; the full name could be rendered in English "pot mountain castle fort".
 
Nakagayahori Yashiki / 中萱堀屋敷

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I believe I identified the remains of earthen embankments surrounding an old residence which may be the inheritor of the Nakagaya-yakata. The big book of medieval fortification sites lists the two sites of Nakagaya-yakata (Nakagayashihori-yashiki) and the Tada-ashiki (Tadashihori-yashiki) separately, but the two are often conflated. The village of Nakagaya seems to be centred around the Tada-yashiki, which was also used into the Edo period and of which some clear ruins remain.
 
Nakata Yashiki / 中田屋敷

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I came across this old residence by chance! The Nakata Residence was historically the Nakata-yashiki, the fortified residence of the Nakata-Idegawa Clan located in Idegawa Village, of which the partriarch was also village headman. In the mid' Edo Period there was adjacent a fortified checkpoint between domain boundaries. It is likely that throughout the later course of the Edo Period these fortified features were gradually minimalised, and if any survived they have since been developed over. Since this residence was used as a place to rest by the Lord of Matsumoto Castle, however, security would've been kept tight. The residence is not open to the public. It was at some point but has closed its doors citing influenza concerns. There is currently no schedule for re-opening. These photos show exteriors only, and no garden unfortunately.
 
Nakayama Fort / 中山砦

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Whilst taking a break from serious castling, I used my spare time here and there this summer to visit a host of very minor sites in my locality. This included a complex of fortifications built upon Nakayama. The most significant remains of these are the Nakayama-toride, of which some vestiges of earthworks remain, though are much deformed now with time. Adjacent to this fort was a signal beacon and look-out tower known as Kuwagatahara-noroshidai. This is set on the peak of Nakayama but there is nothing left except a small trench trace. Lastly there is the Nakayama "Second Peak" Fort, or Nakayama B Site, located much further along the mountain than the other two sites. Nakayama is an island of elevation detached from the mountain chains which hem in the Matsumoto Plain. Today its southern end, up to the peak, has been developed as a vast cemetery. At the top of the cemetery is the site of the Nakayama-toride. A toride is merely a small fort. Not much remains because of the development of the mount, and a mallet golf course surrounds the ruins of this fortification. The most tangible ruins are in the forms of earthworks. We can make out a square-like accumulation of earth which formed the fort's principal bailey. A small shrine is located here now. Surrounding fortifications, such as any moats, have been destroyed to make way for the mallet golf course and other facilities. Surveying and archaelogical research carried out at around the time of the mountain side's development in 2004 identified the remains of various trenches around the fort.
 
Nakayamaniyama Fort / 中山二山砦

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This minor site offers very little even to seasoned yamajiro (mountaintop castle) explorers. However, it's basically behind my apartment so it would be a great shame if I didn't thoroughly investigate it. Nakayama stretches from the Namiyanagi area of Matsumoto to the city's greener borderland areas adjacent to Shiojiri Municipality. On the southern peak is the main fortification, the Nakayama-toride. Half-way down, as the ridge undulates as it climbs, there is the 774 peak. This is the site of Nakayamaniyama-toride, or Nakayama Fort II.

It doesn't take long to climb from the north of Nakayama to the southern peak; about forty-five minutes up and half that down. The climb is not steep. The northern extreme of the mountain terminates in the Kōbōyama-kofun, a tumulus of times so ancient that mystery obscures them. This kofun (ancient burial mound) is known locally as a premier cherry blossom site. The most famous kofun are huge artificial hills built on the plains, but in Nagano somewhat more compact kofun were built atop of mountains. The mountains themselves became tombs. My walk started here. Climbing the ridge, there are remains of "flag mounds", a type of burial mound, here and there. I thought I crossed at least three. One had an irregular depression at the top which made me think that the sarcophagus within had been removed from there. The eternal sleep of some great rice baron, no doubt, didn't last so long after all.

The climbing elevation picks up here though not too dramatically. I made it to peak 774 easily enough. The experts say a fort used to be here. Now, the ridge line between the fort has been altered through landslides, and the area of the fort itself has also been eaten into by these mountainous movements. Ruins have been obscurred by the movements of the earth, though there is a suggestion of an emabnkment around a portion of the wide, flattened area at the peak. The fact that this peak is so flat is itself the greatest testament to its former fortification. I imagined a gate ruin where the ridge continued on, and that's as far as I could really put together for this one. A ridge spur descends from the fort eastward, and I checked a little along here but didn't see anything noteworthy. Nor did I find any trenchwork along the ridge. After this I continued up to Nakayama-toride, or Nakayama Fort I.
 
Narai Castle / 奈良井城

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Naraijō is sited on a terrace above the historic inn town of Narai-juku. The earthworks of this small site remain, and dorui (earthen ramparts), dobashi (earthen bridge) and a prominent karabori (dry moat) system are in evidence. Although often called Naraijō (奈良井城), the sign post at the site reads Narai-shi Kyokan (奈良井氏居館), and the latter title is more explicit: this was the fortified manor hall of the Narai Clan (and not a full-on castle). I visited Naraijō when the peak mountain-castling season had already ended, for winter had come early it seemed. I was planning to take the famous trail between Narai and Yabuhara which is the old Nakasendō (Interior Trunk Route), visiting the Torii Pass and several fort ruins situated nearby, but I found that the mountains here were already covered in snow. It was even snowing as I was inspecting the ruins of the castle. This surprised me since the weather in the Matsumoto Basin had been ideal! I retreated from Kiso rather than put up with the cold and the wet, but Naraijō was worth coming out for, and it was nice to see the old town again. Many travellers come to Narai-juku but few know about the remains of the castle.
 
Natsumichi Fort / 夏道砦

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The Natsumichi-toride ruins consist of some earthworks ruins and some trace amount of stone walls. The fort site is situated between two large gorges, Maebuchizawa in the east, and “Eagle Gorge” in the west. An annex of the fort, sometimes called Michikusa-toride, was located across Eagle Gorge to the west. The Summer Road is a trail which wraps around these gorges, and on the east side there are earthworks. Below the fort is the site of what appears to have been a wooden gate, and there are some suggestive stone blocks lying about here. Ascending up and around beneath the roadway berm brings one to a flattened area used as the fort’s bailey. The flattened space to the north of the road remains well delineated and there are the remains of stonewalls poking out from the ground here. The south side slopes upward. There is a pylon here. Possibly shacks were erected here to house the hostages of Lord Kiso. Natsumichi-toride means “Summer Road Fort”. The Summer Road refers to a mountain route taken in summer between Hida or Kiso and the Matsumoto Basin which linked up with the Zenkōji Route. This summer route follows a relatively flat stretch of mountains on the south side of the Azusa River valley. The winter route was on the north side. As the name implies, the Summer Road Fortresses were built along the Summer Road. To reach the ruins of Natsumichi-toride I ascended via one of the forestry roads a little west of Shinshimashima Station, and passed by many old fields with stone walls.
 
Nezumiana Castle / 鼠穴城

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Nezumianajō is the site of a fortified look-out. The name, meaning "Mouse Hole Castle", my seem strange at first, but it apparently had the original meaning of "sleepless vigil (寝ず見)", which would have the same pronounciation. Such a cool name would be appropriate for a watchtower! Anyway, there was a little more than I expected here but still very little. The main bailey, if one can even call it that, is a decent sized mound from below, but once one gets to the top the space is very narrow, about the size of a room in the average Japanese family home, which is to say not very spacious at all. There is some terracing of the ridge beneath here on the plainside though, and on the mountainside a horikiri (trench) can be seen, forming a respectable barricade of earth out of the peak.
 
Nezumiana Yakata / 鼠穴館

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"Mouse Hole Manor Hall" is a very quaint name. Apparently the original meaning of "nezumi" was not 鼠 ("mouse") but 寝ず見 ("sleepless vigil"), which says a lot about a fort used as a fortified look-out. The yakata arguably has more to see, however, than the yamajiro (mountaintop castle), which is not common I can tell you. The site has earthworks in evidence such as a karabori (dry moat) on sloped terrain. There is an old home there now which seems to be the rightful inheritor of the old estate.
 
Nirekubo Yakata / 楡窪館

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It is now the site of Hōan Temple.
 
Nomura Fort / 野村砦

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No definite ruins remain of Nomura-toride, a small hilltop fort, and the site is now that of a shrine, Futabashira-jinja. It seems some pits were dug for water to collect, and a sunken path runs to the side of the shrine down the hilltop, but it is difficult to relate any earthworks to the fortification site, except in that the area behind the shrine structures is wide and flat, like a fort's bailey. The peninsula-like shape of the hill overlooking the surrounding fertile land is ideal for a fortified space.
 
Nomura Yakata / 野村館

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The site of Nomura-yakata is located close to a crossroads and small park called Hannokihara Park. The area is periurban, at the border of the industrial settlement of Hirôka and surrounding countryside. Hannokihara Park has a dried up pond with an explanation board which explains that the area was well known for the quality of its water. I took pictures of the park but could not confirm any ruins of the yakata.
 
Nyuunomi Castle / 丹生子城

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Nyūnomijō was really interesting. I couldn’t find a map to guide me at the time so I was going in blind, but I found an earthworks castle ruin with many impressive features. Nyūnomijō is guarded to the mountainside rear by four horikiri (trenches that cut the ridge) in a row, with dorui (earthen ramparts) in between. Along the eastern side beneath the main bailey is a most wonderful Sengoku period mountaintop castle feature known as unejōtatebori, which is a series of tatebori (climbing trenches) arranged in a row one after the other. The shukuruwa (main bailey) is surrounded by dorui. Below the shukuruwa is the second bailey, and between the second bailey and the third bailey is a double trench system. The third bailey complex has many koshikuruwa (sub-baileys) spilling down the mountainside before it in a series of protective “U” shapes. This no-name site proved to be a solid yamajiro and I was quite happy with it. I hiked to the ruins of Nyūnomijō from Aokijō by carefully following a series of ridges. Even though there weren’t trails as such I met with no serious impediments.
 
Odatsuno Yakata / 小立野館

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This site was on the way (it's an "on the way" type site) to an abandoned village I went to explore but there were explanation boards and even a prominent karabori (dry moat) to see, so that made me happy. The karabori segment was very deep and intimidating. The site is now fields. Odatsuno is also the name of the village (how many different readings of 小立野 do you suppose there are?). The site is also called Odatsuno-Nakakaidō-yakata because it was built on the old Nakakaidō trade route. I guess many people encountered this yakata "on the way then" just like me...
 
Odoriba Fort / 踊場砦

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I could see the general area of this satellite fortification from Tenjin'yamajō. It is located on the slope behind the temple Onsenji, where the temple's necropolis now is, or slightly above it. These places are terraced in areas but it's impossible to determine if any of these earthworks were originally for the fort, and I had no reason to believe they were because I could not identify its main bailey. I worked my way up to the top of the steep slope behind the temple. The path from the cemetery was overgrown and gave way to trails used more by deer - for I saw some - than people. Likely the fort was located on higher elevation. Let's say we found the "top" where the land was sloping gently enough again for more suburban expansion, though the elevation continues to climb again soon after; if the fort was here then it has now been long developed over. Odoriba-toride is a super minor site, and does not show up in many catelogues of castles, but I did enjoy re-visiting Onsenji in the process. The temple has fine architecture, including a relocated gate and a Noh stage from Takashimajō. In the temple's necropolis can be found the monumental funerary monoliths of the lords of Takashima Domain. For more pictures and for information on how Onsenji related to Takashimajō please follow this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/japanesecastles/posts/2292481010877973/
 
Ohmachi Kitahara Yakata / 大町北原館

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This site, Kitahara-yakata, appears to be shown on Edo period maps as a square plot surrounded by a dry moat. Castle bloggers have identified dorui, but since their time even more development has enveloped the site, and the fields have been filled in gradually with new homes and maisonettes (between 1960 and 2021 the municipality’s population has declined from 41,000 to 25,000, but it seems urbanisation has slowly continued around the town centre). So I wasn’t able to find the dorui. Satellite images of what the site used to look like are our best clue now to identifying where ruins may have been.
 
Ohmachi Minamihara Yakata / 大町南原館

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A fortified manor hall site said to have been located at the site of a large factory, itself now defunct, Minamihara-yakata ("South Plain Hall") appears to be twinned with Kitahara-yakata ("North Plain Hall").
 
Ohmiyahachiman Yakata / 大宮八幡館

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Ômiyahachiman-yakata is a yakata (fortified manor hall) site. It is named for a shrine 200m to the north. The site today is made up of agricultural fields and a farmstead. Where the earth rises up at the road side and above the field beyond is thought to be the remnants of the earthen ramparts which surrounded the manor hall. One castle blogger suggests that a small irrigation channel here represents the remains of a moat. A large tree marks the spot of the corner of the fortification.
 
Ohmura Yakata / 大村館

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Ômura is a peri-urban area of Matsumoto town. Archealogical digs carried out in 1993 showed that the area has been consistently settled and cultivated for millenia. The Ômura-yakata, a medieval fortified manor hall, was located at the site of and to the immediate south of Ômiyadaijin, a shrine in the village of Ômura.I found embankments which surrounded the shrine precincts like dorui (earthen ramparts).
 
Ohtaridaira Yakata / 大足平館

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This yakata site, Ôtaridaira-yakata, is located close to the Kōji-yakata. I was passing by so even though night had fallen I thought I'd give it ago with my camera's flash. There is an embankment by the roadside, and this is where the fortified manor hall sat. I could make this out more clearly than my camera as there were some street lamps nearby (lucky in rural Japan). I ascended a path up the embankment. There is a cemetery here with graves for the Horidaira and Takizawa families. I had already encountered Horidaira graves that day when I went to Sasanojō. It was strange to find graves up on a mountain like that, but the Horidaira lived up until modern times just below the castle there. Perhaps they moved down into the valley then? No one is around to tend the old graves on the mountain, and many of these tombstones look more modern. "大足平" is an interesting clan name, as it literally means "big foot plain". One thing that you may not know about me is that I'm an avid bigfoot enthusiast, which is to say that whilst I may not believe in the existence of bigfoot I am none the less intrigued by the cryptozoological phenomena - I may draw parallels between it and the ninja phenomena!
 
Okada Chikayoshi Yakata / 岡田親義館

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Not much remains of his Heian period site, the former manor hall of Lord Okada Chikayoshi. There is a sign board which explains about it though, which is nice. It even has pictures and a map. The remains of a moat encircling an enclosure have been identified. Now the site is rice paddies, a residential area which is part of Okada village, and the Okada Shrine dedicated to the Heian lord. I noticed that the shrine sat at the bottom of a hill, so I climbed up to investigate this. Generally a yakata (fortified manor hall) was made for living in, so it needn't take advantage of terrain to the extent of a dedicated fortified redoubt, yet I thought I should check to see if the hill had been fortified or not. This was whay back in the Heian period of the Classical Era, of course, so I didn't count on finding much. Yet I definitely made out earthworks. Yet... of a castle? Nay, but of a kofun, an ancient burial mound! It turns out little Okada has quite an extensive history, serving as a manor hall and township in the Heian period, a settlement in the Yayoi period, and the site of a large mausoleum in the Kofun period, making it truly ancient. I, a castle hunter, didn't know about the kofun. Now, s'pose a kofun hunter came here and didn't know about the yakata? Hah! Those kofun hunters... they are our shadow, tramping about the hills of Shinano. One day I expect to encounter one photographing the earth of some desolate peak. We'll look at each other, and each supposing the other could only be after the same purpose, he'll break the silence and say "Kofun?", and I'll say "...castle". Our eyes will narrow and we'll slowly back away from each other...
 
Onikuma Yakata / 鬼熊館

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The fortified manor house of the "Demon Bear Clan (Onikuma-shi)" sits on a plateau overlooking a river. The site is now on private property, but I had a look from below. The advantage of the terrain is obvious enough but I found no ruins of the yakata.
 
Onjouyama Fort / 御城山砦

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I tried very hard to find something definitive here but it was ultimately in vain because the site of this fort site, Onjōyama-toride, has been completely obliterated. The layout of the mount is nonetheless quite interesting as it terminates in a cultivated area with a good view of the fertile slopes of Nakayama. So at least I was able to get a sense of how the area would have been suitable for a small fortified look-out like Onjōyama-toride. And nearby I also found the site of an ancient state-owned ranch. I had no idea that such places existed. It seems these pastures, subordinated to the Imperial Ministry of War, were used as places to breed and keep horses for use by the Imperial army, as well as for farming. This site, the Haibara-maki, was one of two in Chikuma District (though another source I found includes an additional smaller one), and one of sixteen in Shinano, that province accounting for half of all such ranches in eastern Japan. A signboard I found by chance informed me of this.
 
Oyobiki Yakata / 及木館

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Possible moat traces and remnants of earthen ramparts remain here at the site of Oyobiki-yakata, also called Oyobikishihori-yashiki ("Oyobiki Clan Moat House"). Many of the old homes in the area feature "yashikibayashi", or garden forests, with trees growing around them. A local brochure I found eloquently describes the village with its forested ramparts like a fortress floating atop of the rice paddies.
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