Shuzan Castle

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History

Shuzan Castle was built by Akechi Mitsuhide in 1579/1580. The castle was abandoned shortly after his death so it is likely that this stone walled castle was mostly untouched since Mitsuhide built it. That also makes it and the ruins a contemporary of Azuchi Castle which was built shortly before it and am important link to Jurakudai which would have been built shortly after it. Most castles of this scale were rebuilt, redesigned or otherwise renovated during the Edo Period but this has been left untouched making an important insight into castle developments at the time and one of the very few pre-Edo Period main keep foundations. You may start to see the more advanced development of sangizumi corners in the stone walls and a large main keep foundation with three entrances into it.

There are some seemingly inexplicable aspects of Shuzan Castle. Its purpose was to complete the pacification of the Tanba Region, but by this time there were few holdouts left to warrant such a vast fortress. The castle ranks in the top 5 for castle size in region at that time. Further, while the highway into northern Kyoto was important it may not have demanded such a large castle to protect it either. By this time, Mitsuhide's relationship was already worsening with Nobunaga so maybe he had other contingency plans for this mountain redoubt...

While all sides of the main compounds of Shuzan Castle were built with stone walls, there is also a small satellite fortification built along the western ridge that has no stone work at all. It is even deeper into the mountains and farther from town than Shuzan Castle with no special views nor clear advantages. It is a little mystery what purpose this fortification may have held. You can see the pictures at the end of the set below starting with those labelled "West Castle".


Visit Notes

This is one of those castles where all the accounts and books and webpages do not do it justice and it actually exceeded my expectations. There is stonework scattered everywhere around the castle. It is mostly in crumbled conditions but there are a few fantastic stretches of stonework that are a must-see for serious castle fans. The best parts are actually not well marked and easy to overlook so take a good map or just pay attention and follow all the little trails around the honmaru until you find them! Apart from the major stone walls, if you look around the embankments you will see small remains of stonework all around the site. In the Honmaru there are remnants of large stone walls and earthen embankments in a square that indicate Akechi Mitsuhide probably intended to build a main keep here, but there is no evidence that one was ever constructed.

Another 15-20 min hike along the western ridge is a satellite fortification, simply called the "western castle." This earthworks castle was just discovered in the 1990's. I've seen it listed both as part of Shuzan Castle and as an entirely separate satellite castle. This castle is a much simpler construction and has no stonework. There are several well defined baileys with earthen embankments and koguchi entrances. Some accounts make it sound like this is a difficult trail from Shuzan Castle, but if you've made it to Shuzan Castle anyway, the rest of the trail to the Western Castle is no more difficult. It's worth visiting if you have the time. It's not even depicted on most maps so try to find one with the West Castle (西城) if you intend to go. I happened to run into another castle fan at the site and between the two of us we figured out how to get there. It is not obvious but there is a small side trail back at the entrance to the Kosho Bailey (小姓曲輪), also called the West Bailey on some maps, that leads you around this bailey and out to the West Castle.

This castle had been on my to-do list for a long time. Several reports about fallen trees, washed out trails and off limits areas put me off for awhile but it seems that much of the damage and obstacles have been cleared recently making the main compounds more accessible again as of November 2021. A couple of the extended baileys along ridges were still off limits, but as far as I can tell they are simple ridgeline baileys without much to see. The highlights are all open. I would still recommend good shoes and possibly a trekking pole to visit this castle. Some of the trails are very narrow and slippery.

You can also get off the bus a stop or two earlier at the Woody Keihoku Service Area to get a map of the castle. It's only an extra 5-10 mins walk to the castle entrance. I had extra time before the next bus after I finished the castle and returned to this service area for a nice lunch while waiting for the bus.


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Gallery


Castle Profile
English Name Shuzan Castle
Japanese Name 周山城
Founder Akechi Mitsuhide
Year Founded 1580
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Designations Top 100 Mountaintop Castles
Historical Period Pre Edo Period
Features trenches, stone walls
Visitor Information
Access Kyoto Station (JR Tokaido Line); 90 mins bus
Visitor Information mountain trails, open 24/7
Time Required 240 mins
Location Kyoto, Kyoto
Coordinates 35° 9' 24.08" N, 135° 37' 22.48" E
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Admin
Added to Jcastle 2022
Contributor Eric
Admin Year Visited 2021
Admin Visits November 3, 20121
Friends of JCastle
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RaymondWHatamoto

one month ago
Score 1++

It’s great that you have put up a castle profile for this fantastic late Sengoku Period yamajiro. I went to this castle ruin in spring 8 years ago, and it certainly looks like autumn is also a good time to go. Were there still lots of fallen trees near the trailhead for around the first 100 to 200m along the trail? Great photos of all the ishigaki and earthworks remnants. You’re totally right about the amount of ishigaki and ishigaki remnants all over the place. I have photos of scattered spots of ishigaki, some of them covering just a few mere square metres, but it is obvious they are part of more extensive stone walls that have collapsed and slid down the mountain over time.

I only explored the castle ruin as far as the horikiri near the West Castle as I didn’t know at that time there was an outlying West Castle further on. It also looks like there is now a much more detailed map of the castle ruin on site. When I went in 2014, there was only a truncated map of the castle, covering only the baileys around the Honmaru and not all the outlying baileys and the West Castle of this extensive yamajiro. This is another castle ruin on my re-visit list in Kansai as I want to enjoy this fabulous castle ruin again and suss out the West Castle and a few of the outlying baileys that I have missed. I do remember visiting one lower bailey that is the site of a NHK broadcasting tower.

If it weren’t such a long bus ride from Kyoto Station to get there, I probably would have been back for a re-visit already. I love re-visiting castles, and I reckon hardcore castle fans will benefit from multiple visits to quality castle ruins. It’s the only way to really appreciate some of these sprawling yamajiros.