Ashikagashi Yakata 足利氏館
Founder Ashikaga Yoshikane
Year mid 1100's
Type Flatland
Condition Other Buildings
Alternate Name Ashikagashitakuato
Admin's Rating ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Historical Site National Historic Site
Historical Value Top 100 Castles
Location Ashikaga, Tochigi Pref.
Map Google Map
Access Ashikagashi Sta. (Tobu Isezaki Line), 15 min. walk; Ashikaga Sta. (JR Ryomo Line), 10 min. walk
Website Banna-ji
Visited June 23, 2007
Notes The temple and gates are very nice making this a worthwhile stop if you're in the area. It's just a short walk from the station and is only a few stops away from Kanayama Castle on the same train line.
History This site exemplifies one of the earliest forms of castles, a fortified residence. It is a square plot of land surrounded by a moat and guarded with gates at the entrances. The Ashikaga built this home in the mid 1100's. Ashikaga Yoshikane established the family temple on these grounds in 1196 and the site eventually became Bannaji Temple.

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  • furinkazan on My Page    May 16, 2017 at 09:51 PM
    Imo, this 'castle' should not be on the 100 meijô list, but it was a yakata and thus an important step to the castles of later periods. Personally i like also visiting temples and shrines. The hondô is the oldest building of it's kind, and inspired a lot of temples thereafter. If you're looking for a castle, you'll be disappointed, but the buildings on the grounds are historically and architecturally important. In the hondô you'll find the 100 meijô stamp. There i bought a book of the history of the temple. A part of it is translated in chinese, korean, english(yes), french(YES) and spanish.
  • ART    December 15, 2016 at 05:07 PM
    I write about the reconstructed Domain School next to the Yakata-ato: The Domain School of Ashikaga is a reconstructed hankō. Hankō were established be feudal lords to educate the samurai youth of their domains. There were many hankō throughout Japan by the Edo Period and they contributed to the nation’s proto-modernisation. Indeed, by the Mid-Edo Period, even low born urban Japanese could read and write, with Japan’s literary rate far outstripping those of the European states. Ashikaga’s hankō was reconstructed in 1990, but its history is very long, and there is also a Confucian temple on site which was built in 1668, making it Japan’s oldest surviving Confucian temple. The Gakkōmon (school gate) was also built in 1668. The characters emblazoned on it are Kyūjitai (old form kanji). The hankō possesses 17,000 classical books, many of them centuries old, others from Korea and China, as far back as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). These books, including 77 national treasures and 98 national level important cultural assets, are kept in the Meiji Period library built in 1915. All of the thatched roof structures you see are reconstructed. All ceramic tile roof structures are original, except the gate to the Confucian temple which had to be rebuilt in 1900 after a fire. The reconstructed portion of the school is surrounded by a mizubori (water moat) and dorui (piled earth) defensive perimeter. These fortifications were to supplement the adjacent defences around Ashikaga-shi Yakata, the fortified manor of the feudal lord, but also in peace time served as a fire-prevention embankment to insulate the school and its precious treasures when fires broke out in the surrounding town. The moat around the hankō ends just a few meters away from the corner of the yakata’s moat. History: The hankō as it appears today was founded in the mid-15th century by Uesugi Norizane, a government official of high rank. There was already some sort of scholastic community here before Uesugi’s patronage began but he revived it, donating books to the library and starting the system of school headmasters, whose oval graves remain on the site today. It is thought that Ashikaga-Hankō was originally the Shimotsuke-Kokugaku. Kokugaku were provincial schools (similarly to how Kokubunji were provincial head temples) established by provincial governments for the tuition of the elites under the Ritsuryō system of the Late Asuka and Early Nara periods (so between 700-794) whereby the Yamato polity was organised into provinces and districts and plots of land called Shōen, owned by autonomous barons. Ashikaga is named for the clan Shōen of the Ashikaga. They established a governmental branch here in their ancestral homeland when they came to rule Japan during the Muromachi Period. They likely maintained some sort of scholarly tradition here before the Uesugi took over. By the end of the 15th century Ashikaga was one of Japan’s greatest centres of learning with thousands of students enrolling from across the country. It even appears on early western maps of Japan from this time period. Ashikaga-Hankō ceased its function as a university in 1872 when the Meiji established the modern Japanese education system, which schools like Ashikaga-Hankō had already laid the foundations for. Whilst the Confucian temple (1668) was maintained, the school structures were lost and a modern school was built in their place; this in turn was demolished in 1982 and the hankō was rebuilt in 1990 after excavations. Edo-Period hankō and Japan’s high literacy rate were major contributors to the nation’s rapid modernisation during the Meiji Period. In addition to hankō, there were also privately funded school which educated the children of wealthy merchants as well as samurai, and there were even schools funded by the Daimyate for common people. Well known hankō like the one in Ashikaga also attracted pupils from other domains, not just Ashikaga-han.
  • ART    November 05, 2016 at 09:43 PM
    The Hankou, Domain School, is half encircled by a moat which begins a few meters from the southeast corner of the moat around the Yakata. It also has dorui. I consider it part of the same site. It's an incredible reconstruction and well worth visiting. There is also a hall to Confucius on site dating to 1668.
  • RonS    April 01, 2015 at 11:42 PM
    Can I "Like" RaymondW's comment? :-)
  • RaymondW    January 12, 2014 at 09:36 PM
    It is good to hear another castle fan, Ron, has a different opinion about the inclusion of Ashikaga Yakata in the Top 100 Castle List. JCastle is the only Japanese castle forum that I know of in English, which allows Japanese castle fans (mostly but not all non-Japanese nationals) to share their experiences and opinions about castles in English. Reading another people’s comments both here on JCastle and other Japanese castle blogs and sites in Japanese has helped me to plan my castle trips. In my earlier comment below, perhaps I have erred in not stating clearly that it was my opinion that Ashikaga Yakata should not be included in the Top 100 Castle List rather than stating it as a fact. Like Ron, I am aware of its historical and socio-political value, but the bottom line is unlike many other castle ruins, the overwhelming atmosphere and reality of this former fortified residence’s site is one of a functioning temple and not a castle ruin / castle site. There is little in the way of not just physical castle remnants but also educational signs and / or a museum which highlights and educates visitors on the historical / military / political / social significance of this national historic site. If one reads my earlier posting below carefully, I have not discounted the historical or religious significance of the site. Instead, the posting states that it is misplaced on the Top 100 Castle List and should be moved to the Top 100 Temple List. When you walk through the Roumon, you will come across a sign and with a map labeling the site as Kongouzanbannajigaranzu or Map of Kongouzanbanna Temple and not Ashikaga Yakata. It tells the reader in Japanese a little about the history of all the structures including the moat, the gates and the temple structures now found on the site. A closer inspection of the map shows apart from the gates, all the wooden structures on the site now are Buddhist temples, depositories for treasures and relics, and a pagoda. They are certainly national treasures and of historical significance. Many people come to this temple to pray and buy lucky charms. Moreover, near the sign with the map, there is a statue of the Buddhist monk, Kouboudaishi, highlighting the religious significance of this site. There are no statues of any of the Ashikaga lords that I saw during my visit. I will leave each visitor to draw their own conclusion as to whether this is really a Top 100 castle site or a Top 100 temple site. Yes, Ashikaga Yakata is a well preserved fortified residence of its type dating back to the Heian Period and should be on the radar of castle fans interested in the evolution of Japanese castles and fortifications. In my view, there do seem to be some questionable / debatable choices about some of the Top 100 castle sites. Take for example Nagashino Castle Ruin, which is very historically and militarily significant in the role or rather as a catalyst that it played in the overall Battle of Nagashino, hence its inclusion on in the Top 100 castle list. However, why isn’t a very similar castle ruin from the same period, Matsuoyama Castle Ruin included in the list? This is a mountaintop castle where Kobayakawa sat and watched the Battle of Sekigahara unfolded before he decided to defect from Ishida’s Western Alliance and throw in his lot with Ieyasu. He ordered his troops and allies to attack Mitsunari’s forces in the flank at a crucial moment in the battle and thus, turning the tide of the battle in favour of Tokugawa’s army. Surely, this castle site is just as historically, militarily and politically significant as Nagashino Castle Ruin. Another debatable exclusion from the Top 100 is Oko Castle Ruin in Kochi Prefecture. The main castle site from which the Chosokabe Clan came to dominant Shikoku before it was snuffed out by Hideyoshi must be another castle site that fulfills the aesthetic and historical qualities which Ron mentioned that the panel of castle experts used to assess a castle site’s worthiness for inclusion in the Top 100 Castle List. Moreover, not all “Top Three” sub-categories of castles, like the “Top Three Mountaintop Castles”, make it into the Top 100 castle list. For example, the Top Three Seaside Castles found mentioned numerous times in Japanese books and websites are Imabari Castle (Ehime), Nakatsu Castle (Oita) and Takamatsu Castle (Kagawa). Nakatsu Castle is not a Top 100 castle, but for some castle fans / experts, it is still rated as one of the Top Three Seaside Castles in Japan despite its exclusion from the Top 100 castle list. Our views and ways of appreciating Japanese castle and castle ruins are all different. It is good that there is a range of opinions about castle sites. At the end of day, visitors to JCastle can read all the comments posted about a particular castle site and decide for themselves whether it is worth the time, money and effort to visit it. Also, by reading other people’s comments about what they experienced / saw / learnt / liked / disliked at a castle site and how easy / difficult it is to get there by public transport or car, JCastle users can use those comments to plan trips to sites that they will likely enjoy. Ron has recommended two other mountaintop castle ruins in another posting. I look forward to more comments from Ron about his descriptions, experiences, and impressions of castle sites that he has visited. Ron and I may not appreciate every castle site in exactly the same way, but our postings will only add to the pool of information and opinions about castle sites on JCastle.
  • Ron    January 12, 2014 at 12:05 AM
    Oh! One more thing for what it's worth... The Ashikagashi Yakata was a fortified residence which is the definition of a true castle as opposed to a fortress.
  • Ron    January 11, 2014 at 11:55 PM
    The compilers of this 100 list have included every kind of fortified site in Japan from Ainu fortified hills called "chyashi" to "modern" Western style forts like Goryokaku. I think they are using the word 城 (shiro or -jo) very loosely. Perhaps they should instead use a term like 城塞 (jousai) or fortress, which might actually be more inclusive. Or leave out the chyashi, star forts and even Okinawan Castles and stick to what are undeniably "Japanese castles" or "城". If they really want to be specific, I guess they could omit any site earlier than Sengoku Period. But as long as 城 or castle is being used this loosely, I think the Ashikagashi Yakata belongs in the list because it is such a rare example of the kind of fortification that influenced the development of later (especially flatland) castles. I agree that this kind of discussion is a lot of fun. I envy you guys (including gals) in the Tokyo area who can actually meet and do that (I'm referring to Eric's "Year in Review" invitation). Are there any Jcastle readers in Kansai who would like to get together?
  • Eric    January 07, 2014 at 09:28 PM
    I admit it is an historically important step in castle development, but should it even be considered a castle? Personally, I would have left it off the list or if I include it I would have to drop something else to put another castle form Tochigi. It’s unfortunately the only representative from Tochigi Pref so other worthwhile sites like Karasawayama, Karasuyama and Kurobane Castles all get passed over. Actually, there is a reason for the big 3 mountaintop castles. Matsuyama is the only original mountaintop keep, Takatori has the largest elevation change, and Iwamura has the highest elevation from sea level. They may have limited this list to Edo Period castles (近世城郭) too. There’s actually another Big 5 Mountaintop Castles list too which seems to focus more on expanse and large size. These include: Kasugayama, Gassan Toda, Kannonji, Odani and Nanao castles. I guess what’s fun about these lists is the discussion it creates among castle fans, like sports fans arguing stats :)
  • Ron    January 07, 2014 at 12:30 AM
    RaymondW mentions below that this should not be a Top 100 castle site because the physical remains (ruins) are not impressive enough. However, it should be made clear that castle sites have not been placed on this top 100 list solely because of the beauty, impressiveness or extant of their physical remains. Their significance in history, either architecturally, socially or politically, is just as, if not more important. Therefore, the Ashikagashi Yakata’s connection to the Ashikaga family as well as the fact that it is perhaps Japan's best preserved example of this kind of fortified residence clearly qualifies it for inclusion in the top 100. Similarly, Takeda Castle, as beautiful and magnificent as it is, is not one of Japan's “official” top 3 mountain castles. That honor goes to Iwamura Castle in Gifu prefecture, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle in Okayama prefecture and Takatori Castle in Nara prefecture. Eric can probably verify me on this, but I think Iwayama gets in mainly because of it's connection to Oda Nobunaga. Takatori, qualifies due to its great size and Bitchu Matsuyama is both the highest mountain castle and it has one of the 12 surviving original tenshu. In my opinion, only Bitchu Matsuyama can match Takeda Castle in the impressiveness and beauty of its remaining features. However, for those who decide these things, beauty and impressiveness are only surface deep. Historical importance (and unique or superlative features) count too. And these are the areas where the Ashikagashi Yakata scored its points with the judges.
  • RaymondW on My Page    November 16, 2013 at 09:17 PM
    For a Top 100 castle site, this is a huge disappointment. While the earthen ramparts and water moat enclosing the main bailey of this site remain intact with four extant gates (built or rebuilt in the15th to 16th century) make this a decent fortified ruin to visit, it should *not* be rated as a Top 100 castle. Instead, it would have been more appropriately placed on the Top 100 temple list. I have been to other similar castle ruins with roughly the equivalent amount of ruins, and they are not inscribed in the Top 100 castle list. There is very little that actually relates to the original fortified Ashigakashi Residence. Instead, it is more about Kongozanbanna Temple, and the numerous historic buildings related to this temple complex found on the grounds. There just isn’t enough castle-related features like a castle / local history museum, extant or restored fortifications, a reconstructed palace or widespread and signposted ruins (not just the main bailey) to merit this site being in the Top 100 castle. Other more extensive castle ruins such as Naegi Castle or Tamaru Castle, which are not listed in the Top 100 castle list, have so much more to see and are much better signposted for castle-related features than Ashikagashi Yakata.
  • Kris on My Page    May 16, 2011 at 12:28 AM
    Went here today; 33/100meijo down, 67 still to visit or visit properly. I wonder what they would have picked for Tochigi if this site was just a bit closer to Kanayama. Made plans to go here then by coincidence the town was featured on the `Best 30` TV show last night so it was quite lively and all the yakisoba was sold out. Ashikaga-Bannaji has spacious grounds, old trees, and the moat is picturesque. The lady at the omiyage counter was very nice and gave me a free postcard to stamp my stamp on. Also very interesting was the nearby school, Ashikaga Gakko, with a list of notable students dating back to the 1400s.
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Ashikaga, Tochigi Pref.
Ashikagashi Yakata views
temple North Gate
Yakuimon gate close up. East Gate
West Gate moat
signboard map