6 Castles Around Yamagata
For Culture Day (文化の日) this year I took my folding bike on an overnight trip to Yamagata where I visited 6 castles over the 2 days. My plans for a 3 day trip however were cut short due to rain. There are many other castles and fortifications around the Yamagata and Yonezawa area that I would like to explore more if I get another chance.
The castle is well maintained with many signs including a recommended route through the castle. The recommended route was actually quite good and takes you to parts of the castle with nice views that you might typically miss. It is interesting how Hasedo Castle and Narisawa Castle
flank the road to Yonezawa from Yamagata. It gives you an indication of the tensions between the two regions. Even though Hasedo Castle isn't a very big castle it is well defended and nearly covers the small mountain providing good lines of sight to many different directions.
The mock main keep is nothing like the main keep that would have stood here and it's even in the wrong place. The main reason to visit this castle is to see the 4 samurai homes behind it. The museum is a nice local history museum and the top offers nice views of the valley but it is light on castle information. You could skip it if you don't have time.
Kaminoyama is also conveniently located between Yamagata and Yonezawa and has some hot springs. I used this as my base for 2 days of castle exploring between Yamagata and Yonezawa. The ruins of the mountaintop castle, Takadate Castle, can also be found on the mountain behind Kaminoyama Castle but I did not have time to visit on this trip.
For a small and relatively unknown castle, this site is well maintained with many signs. There are some busses that pass by as well. I actually caught a bus from near the Hachiman Shrine to Kaminoyama which was useful to visit Kaminoyama Castle
afterwards. There are a few different entrances to the castle. I entered from the old trail behind the Hachiman Shrine and came back out through the Oteguchi (Narisawa Oteguchi) because they were closer to the bus stops.
There are only a few busses per day here so plan carefully. There is also a local train that goes to the nearby Nishi Yonezawa Station from which you could walk, but again, there are not many trains per day. A combination of the bus and train will likely serve you well to get there. You can also rent a bicycle for the day at Yonezawa Station and explore all the historical sites around Yonezawa too. I used the cycling option but took my own bicycle.
This is a fascinating castle to visit and it exemplifies some of the best in recent castle research. First, the trails are well maintained with signposts pointing out the different features of the castle. it is actually on private property, but the owner (whom I met) is very open to visitors and does a lot of work to keep up the site. The stonework around the masugata entrance was only discovered a few years ago and theories about the size and history of the castle are changing as people study the area more. As a result of these efforts and new discoveries, Tateyama Castle was named a National Historical Site in 2016.
This castle is much bigger than you might expect and is really one of the best castles to visit in Tohoku. The East Main Gate was rebuilt in wood many years ago, but recently the Honmaru Masugata Gate has been splendidly rebuilt and they are still excavating around the honmaru with plans for further development. When you visit this castle, take time to walk around the top of the earthen embankment that encircles the Ninomaru and above the moat. You can catch many nice views of the moat and see the stone walls of the other three gates and the foundations of 2 more yagura. A couple of the gates are complex with very nice stonework.
Apart from the moat there is nothing to give you the feeling of being at a castle. The main attraction is obviously the Uesugi Shrine. The Uesugi Museum was also quite nice. I picked up some good castle materials in the gift shop and pamphlets for Tateyama Castle (Yamagata)
at the museum too.