Summer 2021 Castle Travels Update


Summer 2021 Castle Travels Update


It was a slow summer for castle travels but I did get out to a few sites. Generally I pause most castle adventures after Golden Week. I tend to prefer mountain castle ruins which are generally not as enjoyable in the summer. This was just two days however. One in Gunma and one in Mito just after the newly reconstructed Sumi Yagura was opened to the public.


Mito Castle / 水戸城


My first visit to Mito Castle in 2008 was a less exciting experience than the second time around. In 2008 time there was only the Sannomaru Moat and the Yakuimon Gate to remind you that a castle was here. Since that time, the city has faithfully reconstructed the Sakashita Gate (2015), Sugiyama Gate (2015), Otemon Gate (2020) and the Ninomaru Sumiyagura (2021). The latter two get most of the attention but the two gates from 2015 are equally deserving of appreciation. The grounds of the Sannomaru house the Kodokan Mito Domain School (藩校) and the grounds of the Sannomaru, Ninomaru, and Honmaru, while covered in government buildings and schools, more or less retain the shape of the castle and are well sign posted. Everything taken into consideration, Mito Castle should now be considered as a must see site for castle fans. For many years, the big Yakuimon was the symbol of Mito Castle, but recent reconstructions of the yagura and yaguramon gate have changed that. The Yakuimon is original, but you may be surprised to know that it is not a National Important Cultural Property. Actually, it is not know for sure that this was a gate of the castle. The likelihood is very high, but there is no good evidence. Further the original thatch roof has been replaced by this metal one which could also contribute to it not being an Important Cultural Property.
Nagurumi Castle / 名胡桃城


The castle was significantly restored for the 2016 Taiga Drama Sanadamaru. The the wooden palisades were built, earthen embankments restored, and many new signs added to make this a most enjoyable site to visit in Gunma. It can easily be combined with nearby Ogawa Castle, Numata Castle, Shiroi Castle. Nagurumi Castle is built atop a steep mountain overlooking the Tone River. Across the river and about 5km away is Numata Castle. If you were to attack Nagurumi Castle from Numata or across the river it would be almost unassailable given the steep cliffs protecting it. However, from the opposite side, the castle is actually more like a flatland castle. If you visit the castle I recommend you pay attention to this unique aspect too. It's also interesting that Numata Castle is built atop a mountain across the other side of the river. I can just imagine the rivals looking out over the Tone River valley at each other.

I biked from the Jomokogen Shinkansen Station to Nagurumi Castle and then on to Numata Castle. You could also walk from the Jomokogen shinkansen stop. It's just a few minutes more walking but it's mostly flat and would allow you to stop by Ogawa Castle along the way. As a Shinkansen stop there are also several taxis waiting that could take you to Nagurumi Castle to save time too. The visitor center has a diorama and several good maps of the castle and brochures for nearby castles and historical sites.

Shibukawa Yorii Castle / 渋川寄居城


There are two castles called Shibukawa located somewhat close to each other. Shibukawa-Yoriijō is on flat land whilst Shibukawa-Irisawajō is located in foothills. I went only to the site of Shibukawa-Yoriijō, which is now that of a temple and homes. The most obvious sign that there was a castle here is a wide karabori (dry moat) segment. And there is also a literal sign to tell us at the temple. Admin Update (Jan 2022): Added a few photos and GPS coordinates to existing photos.
Shiroi Castle / 白井城


This site had been on my radar for a long time, but if I had known how great it was I surely would have gone sooner.

Shiroi Castle is well known for the Shiroi-juku post town running alongside it. The castle was actually abandoned in 1624 but the post town prospered throughout the Edo Period. The street has a nice waterway down the middle but nothing seemed to be open and I did not want to spend much time in between bouts of rain so I moved on to the castle. If you follow the signs from the post town area you first run into the main feature of this castle which is a giant crescent shaped dry moat/trench. Along the outside of this trench is a narrow "obi-kuruwa" or "belt bailey" running most of the length of the crescent.

Following along the bottom of the crescent trench will take you up to the honmaru entrance which is a masugata with some stonework remnants and earthen embankments around the honmaru. You should notice here that it is not just a masugata entrance but there is a narrow "earth bridge" leading into the masugata with the trenches on either side. In the honmaru I do suggest you go to the back of the Honmaru and use the path to the top of the embankment to walk this edge around the Honmaru for better views of the masugata and embankments. In the back of the Honmaru is also a small sub bailey called the Sasakuruwa.

After the Honmaru the Ninomaru, Sannomaru, and Kitakuruwa baileys are all farmland or houses today, but they have some small stone pillars to mark the boundaries. At the entrance to the Kitakuruwa Bailey is a large hill with a little temple on top. This was likely a watchtower/yagura location.
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