User Contributions Update Oct2018


User Contributions Update (October 2018)


For those of you not in Japan, we've had a couple three day weekends recently. It gave me just enough time to finish all my own major updates and now here are all the user contributed profiles so far in 2018.

All the castle profiles are from actually from ART. All the photos except one for Sonobe Castle are from RonS.

If you've visited castles not on the site and have photos, anyone is welcome to contribute profiles. Follow the Contribute link in the footer for more details.


Hanamaki Castle / 花巻城


Hanamaki Castle is a great site up in rural Iwate. There are baileys, mizubori (water moats), ishigaki (piled stone walls), earthworks, original and reconstructed gates. The original gate along with substantial ishigaki can be found at the site of Toyagasaki Shrine. A bell tower originally from Morioka Castle can be found in town. The west gate of the honmaru (main bailey) has been reconstructed. In the sub-bailey before the honmaru used to stand a nagaya (row house), probably to house guards. The tenshudai (platform for main keep) is to the south of the reconstructed gate, although whether a tower was built in the Sengoku Period is unknown, although a turret was erected in the Edo Period. Dorui (earthen embankments) surround the honmaru. The bailey south of the honmaru now contains a butokuden (martial arts hall), and we saw kids practicing archery here.
Iino Taira Castle / 飯野平城・大館城


There is little to see here other than the flattened hilltop which forms the castle ruin's L-shaped bailey. Apparently there are traces of moats but I didn't find them. I came because it's close to where I live and I happened to be in the area with some time to spare; I'd previously gone by it several times. I'm glad I did finally come though because it's a pleasant park at least with memorial stones and as I walked around the hill which contains the central bailey I was able to get an impression of the dimensions of the castle. The hilltop is the central bailey and there are at least two more baileys around the hillside. The original castle would've also occupied surrounding flatland. The site also contains a shrine, Yudonosan-jinja.
Iinuma Castle / 飯沼城


Iinumajō is made up of a central enclosure with wings in the north and south. The north bailey is now the field of an elementary school and the southern bailey is a cemetery. To the east of the castle is the temple Fukushōji. Dorui (earthen embankments) surround the cleared central enclosure and run along in front of the side of the bailey where the entrance is, forming a barrier with the temple (now quite worn down). There is also an earthen mound in the middle of the central enclosure which may have some religious significance. This castle site is small but the adjacent temple is nice too.
Isawa Castle / 胆沢城


Isawa Castle was a classical era Jōsaku style fort. These earlier types of fortification consisted of wooden palings, moats and pounded earth walls with archer platforms and imposing gates, resembling walled administrative centers or palaces in their layout. Isawa Castle is rendered Isawa no Ki in contemporary Japanese but is now also called Isawajō (same kanji). I also call it Isawa no Saku. Nothing remains today except some mounds of earth, and the site is mostly fields and rice paddies. There is also a shrine on the former castle grounds, Chinjufu-Hachimangū, which venerates the historical figures connected with the construction of the castle. I found some description boards and stone markers. There are some earthwork remains here but I did a bad job photographing them. The land is mostly fields now.
Ishigami Castle / 石神城


Ishigamijō is a little smaller in scale than Ushikujō but has similarly impressive deep trenches. Features include karabori (dry moats), kuruwa (baileys), dorui (earthen embankments) and dobashi (earthen bridges). The layout of the castle is also interesting with a small inner sub-bailey beyond the honmaru (main bailey) looking over a cliff face and waterway. This raised section of the castle was likely the site of a lookout tower. To access the honmaru one must pass through an outer ninomaru (second bailey), which gives the castle a hashigo-nawabari (ladder layout). The trenches dug into the hill provided protection between baileys, typical of hilltop castles. When we came here nature was out in force and I was chased into a trench by a wasp. I was able to climb over a fallen tree over the moat around the second bailey. Balancing precariously over the moat gave me an appreciation for its depth which is not otherwise easily gleaned from the parapets. Plus the moat was full of snakes and carnivorous plants. For samurai assaulting back in the day you can imagine a muddy pit with slippery walls impossible to climb and studded with bamboo stakes, capped with palings and manned by the defenders of the castle.
Kawawada Castle / 河和田城


Kawawadajō is now the site of the temple Tentokuji. If you go behind the temple there is a small graveyard enclosed by earthen embankments. If you go along this shaded area you will come to a dead end where the swampy remains of a water moat fester. Dorui (earthen embankments) remain here and there, including most prominently next to the temple gate (an embellished kabukimon).
Koibuchi Castle / 鯉淵城


Some overgrown embankments can be discerned, hinting at the layout of the castle. Otherwise there is not much to see of the castle but the site is also the location of a 17th century dwelling of a jizamurai family, the Nakazaki. Given the difference in time periods, the dwelling is not linked to the castle. The site also now hosts a shrine, Kashima-jinja.
Kurobane Castle / 黒羽城


Kurobanejō is a Sengoku period mountain castle and Edo period jin'ya (fortified administrative centre akin to a smaller scale castle) ruin. It has sweeping earthworks, moats, trenches, gate complex ruins, and a reconstructed miyagura (watchtower). There are many impressive dorui (earth-piled ramparts) at Kurobanejō. Between the honmaru (main bailey) and umadashi (barbican) sub-bailey is a deep trench, and the earthwork ramparts around the honmaru are 50m high. Following the Ôtedō (castle's main road) and entering through the main gate ruin one passes a deep trench whilst ascending to the honmaru flanked on both sides by tall dorui, a double-rampart configuration. The honmaru is accessed by another gate complex after the trench, and here one finds a wide open space where the lord's palace used to be surrounded by high earthen ramparts. Along with the reconstructed watchtower, there is a Noh stage here now. A museum to the poet Matsuo Banshō now stands in the castle's sannomaru (third bailey), and it is built with ishigaki (stone walls) beneath an elevated walkway to simulate a castle gate, but this, whilst nice, is not a historical structure. It is immediately adjacent to the koguchi ('tiger's maw', a gate) of the umadashi ('horse's flight) next to the honmaru. The ninomaru (second bailey) is now the site of large modern structures with traditional flare. They're sort of like traditional architecture fused with brutalism. Objectively they are ugly, but one of them is clearly 'castle-esque' in its design, although now it is abandoned. Mizubori (water moats) and tall dorui enclose an area where the jin'ya building was subsequently erected, now covered in bamboo. In the area beneath the sannomaru (third bailey) bukeyashiki (samurai homes) existed, and this area is now a garden with adorable clumps of grass, but a small gate there is a nod to the bushi residences that used to be. Sharing the castle mount is Daioji, a temple with thatched roof structures designated important cultural properties, which I recommend visitors to the site don't overlook. Admin Update: Original profile and history by ART. Photos renewed by Admin in 2021. There is also an original samurai home gate, the Onuma Residence Gate. The gate seems to have been recently (May 2021) restored. The outer support pillars are clearly newer wood and even smell very fresh, but some of the panels are a darker much more aged look. It could be that only the panels remain from the original gate. I would recommend you get off the bus near the Daioji Temple and visit here before continuing on to the castle.
Mibu Castle / 壬生城


The Many Gates of Mibu Castle: Mibujō has several relocated gates spread across central Tochigi Prefecture. I was able to locate two of them, one north of Mibu and one close to Gion Castle in Oyama. Another gate still stands where it was originally built in the second bailey of Mibujō. I found another gate which looked likely but I couldn't positively identify it as the one I was looking for since it was located in a near but different location as that indicated on my map. It's not included here. The main site has been done up, with water moats restored and stone blocks stacked at the bottom of earthen ramparts. An old photograph shows what the dorui (earthen ramparts) looked like before the park was renovated. The site is now home to a museum which mostly contain Kofun Period relics but has an interesting model in of what Mibujō looked like, showing the inner and outer compound surrounded by dorui. The inner compound of Mibujō contained the go'ten (Lord's palatial residence). It had a front and back gate. The configuration of the castle was rinkaku-shiki (ring style) with the second bailey looping wholly around the main bailey. The outer bailey also had at least two gates; the gate at the main entrance still stands today. The castle was surrounded by bukeyashiki (samurai homes). A castle is the residence of a lord in the feudal system, although Mibujō looked like a large, fortified manor house. The jōkamachi (castle town) still contains old storefronts today.
Mikawa Castle / 見川城


Was rather overgrown and hard to access when I visited
Mizusawa Castle / 水沢城


Mizusawa Castle is now the site of Mizusawa Town Hall and the only clue remaining that a fort once stood here is the reconstructed kabukimon style gate. However, Mizusawa also has a handful of preserved samurai homes, two of which retain their exterior appearance and are open to the public, and so that's why I visited. Mizusawajō consisted of four baileys surrounded by embankments: the first, second, and third baileys plus a smaller bailey (it was either called the south or west bailey but they wouldn't have called it the fourth bailey, four being an unlucky number due to its "on" pronounciation being homophonous with death), which each contained residential buildings rather than any large turrets.
Musashi Masugata Castle / 武蔵桝形城


I came to this castle because it is right next to the Nihon-Minaka'en, an outdoor museum with folk homes. The castle site is a flattened mountaintop with a reconstructed wall segment and kabukimon gate. There is a large viewing platform on site. I couldn't climb it because it was swarming with schoolchildren. They were like an army mustering at the castle. The castle site consisted of a main bailey and subsidiary bailey (with narrow obiguruwa attached) a little down the mountain.
Mutsu Iwasaki Castle / 陸奥岩崎城


There is a stage here used for performances. A castle-style observation platform used to stand here but it was demolished after being damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Obara Castle / 小原城


Obarajō is a single bailey fortification which was surrounded by tall dorui (earthen embankments), of which the northern corner remains prominent. There are traces of dorui in the countryside surrounding the castle and so at some point the castle may have had up to two outer baileys. Formerly mizubori (water moats) also surrounded the castle but they were filled in in 1991, despite the castle being a historically designated site from 1982. The reason for this was apparently "environmental maintenance", according to a sign. Possibly it was due water levels in nearby rice paddies. The bailey is now the site of a shrine to the fox-god Inari, called aptly O'Shiro-Inari-jinja.
Ohtawara Castle / 大田原城


Ôtawarajō is a hirayamajiro (a castle built around a hilltop and expanding onto flatland) ruin. It has dorui (earth-piled ramparts), moats and several cleared baileys. A small mizubori (water moat) segment is preserved at the foot of the hill (next to the car park) in the former nishi-kuruwa (west bailey); it is shown here frozen over. The high ramparts are impressive and it's interesting to see how the natural terrain was sculpted into a fortification. The honmaru (main bailey) is ringed by high ramparts with cherry blossom trees on top (but I went in winter) and it is pleasant to stroll around them. The ninomaru (second bailey) contains some modern concrete monuments: one is a 'peace tower' but it does not take the form of an Indian stupa like they usually do. The north bailey is terraced. The upper part contains benches and children's swings (in Japanese 'blanco', presumably from Portuguese). The lower north bailey runs adjacent to the road and bridge over the river; traditionally this road is the Ōshū-Kaidō, one of the five major transit routes of the Edo period. The castle's main entrance opened out onto this road, along which were stables and bukeyashiki (samurai residences). A path from the north bailey loops around the back of the honmaru. If you look over the river from here you can see a large modern onsen building built very vaguely to look like a castle tower. The honmaru and ninomaru were connected by an earthen bridge and both were accessible from a gate at the foot of the hill. The honmaru and the sannomaru (third bailey) both once contained goten (palaces). Admin note: original history and profile by ART. Photos renewed 2021 after Admin visit. You'll probably want to visit as part of a day trip to Kurobane Castle. Otawara Castle is along the same bus route that takes you to Kurobane Castle.
Sekinomori Castle / 関ノ森城


Earthworks, such as baileys, karabori (dry moats), dobashi (earthen bridges) and dorui (earthen embankments), can be easily identified, and the site is now the location of Shirakawa Shrine. Nearby is a park with traditional architecture. An Edo Period style checkpoint guardhouse has been built here.
Sonobe Castle / 園部城


Sonobejō has three original structures intact, dating to the very end of the Edo Period. They are a gatehouse, guardhouse and turret on site. The Taiko Turret also survives, but has been relocated to the Anraku Temple. A modern "cultural hall" has been built nearby the castle. It is a castle-inspired structure but has a glass atrium built into the mock ramparts, so I think it's pretty absurd. Profile by ART, most photos by RonS.
Tochigi Castle / 栃木城


There's not much left to see at Tochigijō today. There is a corner segment of mizubori (water moat) partially surrounding a small hill, which I presumed to be a yaguradai (platform for a turret structure). The stonework wrapping around the hillock is immediately recognisable as modern, smooth egg-shaped stones held in place by concrete. The watermoat is likewise lined with concrete. The honmaru (main bailey) is now a small park. Looking at a sign about the castle in front of a big western-style house, I noticed an old lady in the garden there and asked her about the castle (being in front of her property it felt rude not to say something). It turned out her house had a small museum inside about the castle. The display was focused on a scroll, a renga, handed down by Minagawa Hiroteru, the castle lord, to his retainer Sakamoto, an ancestor of the old lady. I had noticed that the name plate on the large traditional house next door read 'Sakamoto'. The old lady brought out a copy of the scroll, for the original she kept under lock and key in the study. Meetings for composing Renga were also important chances to exchange political information and clandestine intelligence for bushi, she was saying. His lordship gave Sakamoto the makimono as a token of appreciation for his service at Tochigijō and it was preserved as a an heirloom by the family which still lives next to the castle to this day, which I think is incredible. The house on Google maps is labelled Sakamoto Yohē Gallery.
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