Sawayama Castle




Sawayama Castle was originally established as a small fort of the Sasaki in the early Kamakura Period by Sabo Tokitsuna, the sixth son of Sasaki Sadatsuna. It's strategic location controlling traffic between Kyoto and the eastern provinces would make it the pivot point of many historical events.

The Sasaki clan split into the Kyogoku and Rokkaku factions with Sawayama Castle being a border castle of the Rokkaku. When the strength of the Rokkaku waned, the Azai took control of the castle. The Azai became at odds with Oda Nobunaga who was securing the Owari and Mino regions. In 1570, after the Battle of Anegawa, Nobunaga attacked and captured Sawayama Castle.

Nobunaga stationed one of his important commanders, Nagahide Niwa, in command of Sawayama Castle and frequented it himself as Azuchi castle was being completed. After the death of Nobunaga Ishida Mitsunari was appointed commander of Sawayama Castle in 1590. Mitsunari renovated the castle into a modern fortification including a large main keep (tenshu). After the Battle of Sekigahara, the castle was abandoned when plans for Hikone Castle were made. It is said that Tokugawa Ieyasu had such dislike for Mitsunari that he completely demolished all remnants of the stone walls atop the mountain and even removed the topsoil to the complete the destruction of his foe's famous castle.

Visit Notes

Thanks to Tokugawa's destruction of the castle after the Battle of Sekigahara, there is not much left to see. There are a couple trenches and if you follow the trail down into the Taiko Kuruwa, you can see some nice remaining earthen embankments around the bailey. Around the Honmaru, there are 2 places where there should be a few stones from the original stone walls, but I could only find one. The second was recently uncovered and may have been weeded over again when I visited. The best reason to visit Sawayama Castle is for the great views of Hikone Castle.

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Castle Profile
English Name Sawayama Castle
Japanese Name 佐和山城
Founder Sabo Tokitsuna
Year Founded 1190-1198
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Features trenches
Visitor Information
Access Hikone Sta. (Biwako Line); 20 mins walk
Visitor Information open 24/7
Time Required 120 mins
Location Hikone, Shiga Prefecture
Coordinates 35° 16' 47.24" N, 136° 16' 9.59" E
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Added to Jcastle 2020
Contributor Eric
Admin Year Visited 2019
Admin Visits March , 2019
Friends of JCastle
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Shirobito - Sawayama-jo

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8 months ago
Score 1++

Sawayamajō (Hikone)  佐和山城 [彦根]

Exploring the remains of Sawayamajō proved to be a greater undertaking than I had anticipated. Ron Sabitini accompanied me on this tour, which lasted for the best part of the day. Firstly we set-off from Hikone Station and came to an abandoned theme park with a structure which presumes to be a reconstruction of something at Sawayamajō, but it isn't. Although the fake Sawayamajō was quite the spectacle, in due time we left it to seek out ruins of the real castle.

First we came across some ishigaki (stone-piled walls, but I'm not sure if related to the castle) in a bamboo grove where I narrowly avoided falling to my death down a well covered only by rickety bamboo. Thankfully our adventure did not end prematurely in my tragic demise (assuredly it would've been tragic, you needn't tell me). At the foot of the castle mount we found the impressive stretch of ishigaki which once formed the ramparts of the residence of Ishida Mitsunari. It was not unusual for yamajiro (mountain castles) like Sawayamajō to have had fortified residential areas at their feet or lower slopes. These were the places residential in nature and / or of day-to-day business and easier to access than the heavily fortified mountain citadels.

Next we came to the temple Ryōtanji. Ryōtanji is where the trail to the yamajiro (mountain castle) starts. Ron had beforehand looked into gates relocated from Sawayamajō after its destruction, and had identified three in total. However, Ryōtanji claims to be in possession of a fourth. There was only one gate at the temple which fit the bill and I even double-checked with a curmudgeonly fellow who worked at the temple, but the gate we found did not seem aged enough to have known Sawayamajō. I'm rather philosophical about these things: it might be a case of Theseus' ship or grandfather's axe. From Ryōtanji our climb to the ruins of Sawayamajō began in earnest.

First we passed through the nishinomaru (western bailey), which is actually split into three kuruwa (enclosures): upper, middle and lower, with trenches and embankments between the different levels. We ascended to the honmaru (main bailey) without difficulty. It is a wide open space. There is what looks like a single corner piece of ishigaki sticking out of the slope at the back of the bailey. This is apparently all that is left of a once mighty stone wall. From the honmaru the fake "Sawayama Castle" can be seen below. Hikone Castle can also be seen.

Adventuring on we descended from the honmaru through several koshikuruwa (sub-baileys) etched into the mount. Following the ridge brought us to a horikiri (trench), beyond which we found the taikomaru (drum bailey), which is split into two parts, one of which still retaining dorui (earth-piled ramparts) around one of its sides. Returning to the horikiri we noted another path leading to the hokkemaru (lotus bailey) but didn't take it, since it is only small and would require climbing down and up again.

We did try to loop around the honmaru to reach the second and third baileys but this proved too dangerous. I was fast running out of peach chocolate rations at this point so we decided to descend via the back of the castle. I knew a hiking trail existed here but what I had failed to realise was that it was no longer being maintained. Nevertheless we got through with a bit of bush-whacking and emerged at the Ôte, which was the old entrance area to the castle. Here we found the overgrown remnants of dorui. The fields which we passed were once the site of bukeyashiki (homes of retainers). Even though this was once the main approach to the castle and site of the attached township, now it is the countryside of Hikone, the modern city developing around the castle that was built to replace Sawayamajō there, Hikonejō.

We walked back around to the aforementioned themepark. The weather was better by now so we took some nice pictures of the uncanny abandoned park from the roadside. We'd already done a lot of hiking, but the adventure wasn't over yet. Ron had identified two relocated gates of the castle said to be preserved at temples in town. These are at Myōgenji and Sōanji. The Akamon (Red Gate) of Sōanji was the Ôtemon (main gate) of Sawayamajō, and it was the sole survivor, says the signboard, of a fire that burned down the temple in 1701, so that's lucky. After a forced march we made it to the last gate just before it got too dark. What a day! My gratitude goes to Ron for joining me on this adventure and persevering with me over mountain and yonder roads.