Shiga Prefecture: 4 new castles, 1 update


Shiga Prefecture: 4 new castles and 1 update


I'm still cleaning up lots of castle profiles from 2022. This covers 4 new castles in Shiga Prefecture and 1 updated castle profile Minakuchi Castle. They are all photos I've already shared to the Facebook Page.


Hoshigasaki Castle / 星ヶ崎城


Hoshigasaki Castle is a relatively small and simple mountaintop castle, built as the mountain fortress of nearby Kagami Castle (Inoue Yakata) but with a fair amount of stonework for the castle fan to explore. This site is well known among castle explorers to Shiga, but some of the stone walls that we found well below the main bailey are rarely if ever seen on other websites so it was exciting to get some good photos of them. With a good map in hand and an extra pairs of eyes (ART) we could cover everything. The castle is mainly comprised of a single stone walled central bailey with some minor fortifications along the same ridge. The simple layout and lack of supporting fortifications indicates it likely also served as a branch castle of Kozutsumi Castle. In this respect it reminds me of Sasou Castle which is in a similar relationship to Kannonji Castle.
Inoue Yakata (Shiga) / 井上氏館


I have often introduced a fortified home (yakata) and mountaintop castle pairing that was common in the Sengoku Period. Hoshigasaki Castle and the Inoue Yakata is another. The Inoue Yakata is one of the better preserved yakata sites I've seen. The nearly 3 meter high embankment and deep trench is quite impressive.
Kamaha Castle / 鎌刃城


This was possibly my highlight for 2022 castle visits. It combined a great hike, great views, outstanding weather, fall colors, lots to explore, stone walls and just a little bit of danger. First, the castle is somewhat difficult to get to since it is a 1 hr walk just to the hiking entrance from which it's another hour hike to the start of the castle. There are infrequent busses from Maibara Station to the Banba-juku. You could also rent a bicycle at the station or take a taxi. Plan accordingly.

Kamaha Castle runs across three ridges with fantastic views of the surrounding domains including up to Lake Biwa, Sawayama Castle, Odani Castle, Yokoyama Castle and the Mt. Ibuki area. Kamaha Castle was once famous for its white limestone stone walls that could be seen shining from far away. Most of those walls have since crumbled but there are four main places where ishigaki stone walls can be seen today: main bailey walls, two gates and one "great stone wall" (a section of stonework 4 meters high and about 30m long). Scattered throughout the castle you will also find small bits of stonework along the sides of walls and under your foot buried in leaves. Significantly more stonework has been discovered through several studies but it was all reburied. You can see some photos of what was uncovered at the Kamaha Information Center near the trailhead.

The south ridge is a very narrow ridge with seven horikiri cut into the bedrock. This course is labelled for "advanced hikers". It was not so difficult but good shoes and caution are recommended. The stones were quite slippery in the autumn morning covered with moss and leaves and you may need to navigate some fallen trees along the narrow ridge. The central area is comprised of a main bailey and 2 sub baileys, also labelled as the south baileys. More interestingly however is the north ridge of the castle with 7 stepped baileys. The furthest bailey has a commanding view and is where a large, main keep sized, yagura once stood.

The western ridge is a treacherous downslope also recommended for advanced hikers. I would not dare it without good shoes and a trekking pole to help keep balance and prevent sliding down the slopes. This is another set of 8 small baileys in steps down the ridge with a few large horikiri in between. The most fascinating feature here is a set of about five successive tatebori (畝状竪堀) around the fifth and sixth bailey. They are signposted but they are a bit tricky to find because they are farther down the slope than the map would have you believe. According to the guide at the little museum/information center this type of successive tatebori is rare in the Kansai area and was probably an influence from when the Hori and Asai were allied with the Asakura who did employ such tatebori more often. See the history below for details.

Hiking Map:

You can find the ruins of the "lord's palace" just behind the information center too. It's not known for sure what this was but the structure was larger and more elaborate than most commoner homes so it may have been a palace for the lord or other high retainers, or given the proximity to the post town it may have been an inn for higher class travelers.
Minakuchi Castle / 水口城


Most people will probably visit this castle for the reconstructed yagura, gate and bridge, but the large Edo Period stone walls are really the highlight of this castle. It is not huge, so I highly recommend walking the full circumference of the Honmaru to admire these walls. The museum inside the yagura has some nice displays including information about nearby Koka Castles. The first castle in Minakuchi, Minakuchi Okayama Castle, was actually built to the east of present day Minakuchi Castle by the order of Hideyoshi to help pacify the Koka region. The museum also had some information about two extant gates from samurai homes in the town so it was a good opportunity to find those as well (despite being the middle of a typhoon!).
Yuhigaoka Castle / 夕日ヶ丘城


The castle is relatively small but covers the hilltop. The main bailey area has a dorui embankment around it and the peak likely had a watchtower (yagura) itself. Just below this point is also a stone kofun in quite good shape. One source says it was used for storage when the site was a castle. I don't see that supported anywhere else but it seems to make sense. We found a good looking tatebori trench. Supposedly there are many more but it was hard to identify them through the weeds, maybe they would be more visible in the winter. There are a few different routes into the castle. The most obvious is to find the 夕日ヶ丘登山口 signs on the North or South side of Mukaiyama (向山). There is a fence and gate that you need to open and pass through, just make sure to close it on your way back to help keep animals out. The hiking course and hilltop seem to have been developed as a part of some Lake Biwa area nature development project but it has been sadly neglected since. The lookout point (photo above!) is too heavily overgrown to see anything and the play areas for kids are dangerously dilapidated.
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