Takatori Castle

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History

Ochi Kunizumi built the original castle on this site in 1332 as a satellite to their main fortification art Kaibukiyama Castle. The Ochi controlled the castle until the mid 16th C. It took part in several uprisings and was an important castle in the Ochi's defenses. Takatori Castle was abandoned by order of Oda Nobunaga in 1580 when he named Yamato Koriyama the ruling castle in the region. After the death of Nobunaga, Tsutsui Junkei began rebuilding the castle as part of his defensive network in 1584, but Tsutsui died shortly thereafter and his heir Sadatsugu was also moved to Iga. Toyotomi Hidenaga became lord of Yamato Koriyama Castle and with these lands also came Takatori Castle. Honda Toshihisa was assigned the defense of Takatori Castle and he redesigned the layout and defenses into what you see today. The Honda ruled the castle until 1640 when Uemura Iemasa became the new lord. The Uemura clan continued to rule until the Meiji Restoration.

As the Edo Period led to a more peaceful time in Japanese history, the Uemura lords moved their residence from the top of the mountain down to the castle town below, to the area known as the Shimoyashiki. For much of the Edo Period, the lord's residence was "lower" than his retainers who lived farther up the mountain. Around the former Shimoyashiki, there is a part of a clay wall remaining (sorry, no photos) and in the castle town you'll find a Nagayamon Gate that has been repurposed as the gate to a doctor's office. The gate to the Uemura's residence also remains in the castle town where their descendents still live there today.

Visit Notes

First of all, this is my favorite castle in Japan. There are no buildings but it combines a grandiose Edo Period castle with the mountain ruins I most enjoy exploring. It may be a one of a kind castle too. I can't think of another Edo Period castle that built so extensively atop such a difficult to access mountain.

There are a few trails that take you to the main areas, which are well signposted, but some of the most interesting areas are not signposted and the trails around them are not clearly marked. You really need to visit this castle in winter after the weeds have died back to find some of the paths and to get good views of the ruins. I have looked in detail at a lot of maps for this site and I think even the best maps leave off some of the ruins that extend along the ridge line past the Yoshinoguchi and some of those farther down the mountain around the Okaguchi Entrance and Yokogaki Bailey. I'll need to try and find these on my next winter trip to Kansai.

The Asia Air Survey company did an amazing LiDAR laser survey of the castle and surrounding mountains which has helped researchers to identify trenches and baileys not well known before. See the Asahi article link below for a fantastic 3D video fly-around of the castle.

The Nara Sangyo university has also done some amazing computer graphics reconstructing the main areas of the castle and the approach up the main road. Some of these graphics are use din signs around the castle and in the smartphone app linked below.

The Takatori Castle brochure combines some highlights from these projects and old maps into one of the best castle ruins brochures I've seen.

For such a vast and interesting castle full of historically significant ruins, I'm really surprised that there is no dedicated book with maps, photos, and diagrams. These projects and more should provide some good materials for such a book and I hope that further studies will reveal even more of this castle. I have heard from one inside source that Takatori Castle suffers from being in Nara, which is already rich in other older historical ruins so it doesn't get the funding or attention it certainly deserves. When I last visited, there was some work going on to repair erosion damage to the trails and stone walls. I sincerely hope it at least gets the attention it deserves to preserve this site for future research.


There are a few ways to get to the castle. You can certainly walk up the Ote Road from the station (approx. 5km uphill), but I think you will be exhausted by the time you get to the top and possibly too tired to explore the most interesting areas. Takatori Castle has the highest elevation change (390 meters) of the "Three Great Mountaintop Castles" (Takatori Castle, Iwamura Castle, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle).

You can also take a bus from the Station to Tsubosaka Temple (famous for mending eyesight) and then hike 40+ mins to the castle. This was what I did the first time. It's an interesting temple to visit and beautiful in the autumn with the autumn colors surrounding the temple and valley. There is a hiking trail near the bus stop that goes up to the castle. To get the best return on your time, however, it is probably ideal to take a taxi from the station to the Tsubosakaguchi Entrance to the castle. There is a sign right by the roadside and from the start you are already at the castle allowing you to explore this area that you probably would not go to otherwise. After visiting the main areas around the top of the mountain, hike down the Ote Road back to town.

The photos shown below are only a few highlights. Please look into the individual albums for more photos grouped by castle section.

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Gallery

Castle Profile
English Name Takatori Castle
Japanese Name 高取城
Alternate Names Fuyo-jo
Founder Ochi Kunizumi
Year Founded 1332
Castle Type Mountaintop
Castle Condition Ruins only
Designations Top 100 Castles, Top 100 Mountaintop Castles, National Historic Site
Historical Period Edo Period
Features trenches, stone walls, castle town
Visitor Information
Access Tsubosakayama Sta. (Kintetsu Yoshino Line), 15 min bus, 45 min hike
Visitor Information mountain park, open any time
Time Required 4 hours
Website http://sightseeing.takatori.info/sightseeingspot/siroato cg.project.html
Location Takatori, Nara Prefecture
Coordinates 34° 25' 45.84" N, 135° 49' 36.66" E
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Admin
Year Visited 2010, 2019
Contributor Eric
Visits November 21, 2010; March 2, 2019
Added to Jcastle 2011
Friends of JCastle
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4.09
(11 votes)
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JthaasPeasant

21 months ago
Score 0++
There is a samurai festival each November 23 in the castle town. It's great to combine this with the hike to and from the castle. Autumn is a wonderful time to see the ruins surrounded by bright red leaves. It is both peaceful and spectacular.
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Anonymous user #2

23 months ago
Score 1++
Thank you Suupaahiroo and RaymondW for your detailed comments and descriptions. I got 100 Meijo stamp number 100 here yesterday- wow can’t believe it! The lady at the information “center” was almost as thrilled as I was. I followed RaymondW’s suggestion and took the 2100 yen taxi to the top so I could have lots of time exploring and still have time to walk down to the train. As others have commented, this is one of the most impressive ishigaki displays, even if a bit overgrown- I went in mid-October. It took me 10 years coming to Japan from the US once or twice a year to get all 100 stamps.
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SuupaahiirooAshigaru

23 months ago
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Wow. Truly one of the best places to appreciate stone walls and the grand scale of castles. I highly recommend walking there from the station and walking back via the temple Tsubosaka-dera (壺阪寺, also known as Minami-Hokke-ji 南法華寺). It's a moderate hike, but it will take you the better part of a day if you take your time to appreciate the sights along the way.

If you follow the main road of the town, accessible from Tsubosakayama Station (壺阪山駅), you will find the path up the mountain without taking any turns. When you're still in town, the main road is lined with historical houses, like some of the bukeyashiki gates and Musōkan (夢創館). At Musōkan they have good maps of the castle and there's a video playing with an animation of the CGI reconstruction of the castle. A helpful lady working there did a good job explaining how to get to the castle and make the most of my visit. Here they also keep the 100 Meijō stamp, outside in a box, so you can use it even if the place is closed.

If you follow the road, you will soon leave the town and go up the mountain. Simple follow the signs. You will see some overgrown pieces of ishigaki (some sadly damaged by recent typhoons, I assume), but the real fun starts after you pass the saruishi (猿石), a very comical stone statue. The sign said that people might have brought it here from Asuka (where similar statues have been found) to serve as part of a stone wall, but they decided to display it at the castles entrance instead. Good choice.

After passing the saruishi, you will pass gate after gate after gate. Of course only the stone walls remain, but it really made me appreciate the grand scale of this castle. Before going on to the Ōtemon (大手門) and the Honmaru (本丸), be sure to make a quick detour to the Kunimiyagura (国見櫓) where you will get your best view of the day. You can see the Three Mountains of Yamato and the Osaka skyline.

Continuing further up the mountain you will be treated with some of the best stone walls you have seen. The tenshu-dai (天守台) is enormous and the yagura foundation is equally impressive. Spend some time walking around here to appreciate the vastness of the site.

I recommend descending back to town using the other route, via Tsubosaka-dera. Be careful: most of the route can be done using a hiking trail but if you don't pay attention you might be following the much less appealing car road. There are some side trails. The Hachiman Shrine (八幡神社) can be skipped, I'd say, but don't miss the buddha statues carved from natural rock surfaces (magaibutsu 磨崖仏). There are many signs pointing to these Five Hundred Arhats (五百羅漢), but if you follow the detour path called Five Hundred Arhats Walking Trail (五百羅漢遊歩道) you will see many more. There are literally hundreds of buddha statues here, very impressive.

If you descend further down the mountain, you will have to follow the car road for a few hundred meters before you reach the temple, worth a visit. There's another hiking trail from the temple back to town.

This was my first time visiting the castle, but judging by the comments below I'd say some things have definitely improved. There are good maps of the site and I think they are doing a good job at keeping most of the stone walls from being overgrown too much. Also, for those interested, the much sought-after stamp is available 24/7.
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Anonymous user #1

23 months ago
Score 2++
Thank you Suupaahiiroo for this lavish explanation. This makes me really want to visit the site. I discovered that the site is next to Asuka village. This makes me still more wanting to visit the area, since Asuka is a part of Japan where some 100 years of history was written.
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EricShogun

23 months ago
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This is definitely the place I most want to re-visit. I always end up going to someplace new instead. Thanks for the detailed comments. I've heard some criticism that Nara Pref. invests too much into developing the famous temples and Nara Period sites and they're not interested enough in preserving these old castle sites. It would be a shame for such a great place to crumble any more.
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RaymondWHatamoto

107 months ago
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Autumn is the time to visit this great yamashiro. It is quite an extensive mountaintop castle with lots of baileys, but more than half of them are overgrown and not accessible, particularly the Yoshinoguchi series of baileys and the 20-odd baileys located between the Ninomon (Second Gate) and Matsunomon (Pine Gate). Still, the area around the Honmaru (main bailey), the \palace"bailey and Ninomaru (second bailey) with its kaleidoscopic colourful autumn leaves certainly make this a great castle ruin to visit. Revised seasonal rating for this castle fan: four stars in autumn. BTW a taxi ride to just below the honmaru from Tsubosakayama Station cost 2 100yen. I got there late with my girlfriend so we decided to take the taxi up and walked down the mountain back to the station (roughly 4km). The taxi took Route 119 up but for hikers it is a different quiet country road passing through the heart of Takatori Town. One advantage of taking the taxi is that the driver will give you a pretty good map of the castle plus some other flyers about the town. BTW the tourist info office was closed again by the time we got down from the mountain. Still haven't got the 100 Meijo stamp yet despite going to this castle ruin twice"
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RebolforcesAshigaru

113 months ago
Score 0++
Great walk up mountain, lots of wall ruins, local town also nice
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RaymondWHatamoto

117 months ago
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See my earlier comment below. I have given this castle three stars because it only has ishigaki and ruins left. However, if you could visualise what the castle looked like in its day by just looking at all the stone walls left, it would be a four-star castle site for you. Either way, this is a wonderful castle site.
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RaymondWHatamoto

117 months ago
Score 0++
I went to this castle last weekend. It is quite an extensive castle complex with lots of baileys all over the place. Some of the baileys are seriously overgrown with undergrowth that even if you trample through the bushes and grass, you will not be able to see much. For example, the Yoshinoguchi Bailey was so overgrown, I decided not to venture into the bush to see pretty much nothing. For castle enthusiasts who love seeing ishigaki (stone walls) and ruins of some of the gates, this is one heck of a castle ruin. I walked from Tsubosakayama Station up to the top. It is a 5km walk with the last 1.5km or so being a single track climb up the hill. If you go, the asphalt road runs out a little after the Kuromon ruin (not much left, but there is a sign saying that the Kuromon was here). The trailhead starts a bit after that. If you take the trail, you will eventually get to the Ninomon ruin with a water moat to one side. This is signposted. Next, you will come to the Sannomon ruin, but it is not signposted, so you will walk right past it without knowing. Even with a map of the castle, I had to backtrack to find it. After that, you will go through a series of ruin gates like Yabamon, Udamon etc before you get to the Ninomaru (2nd Bailey). Once you get there, you will see the ishigaki that is usually featured in snapshots of Takatori Castle. The webmaster has recommended going in spring or autumn. I would also recommend going in early or late winter when the undergrowth has withered a little. By walking up the hill, you can really appreciated how knackered the attackers could become before they even got to the serious parts of the castle. This castle ruin has more ishigaki and gate ruins than Bitchu-Matsuyama Castle, but Bitchu-Matsuyama still retains its original wooden keep. Both of these mountaintop castles are fabulous places to visit. For those considering visiting Yamato-Koriyama Castle on the same day, it is possible to do both Takatori Castle and Yamato-Koriyama Castle in one day, but you will have to start early. I spent almost 6 hours at Takatori, which included the hike up and down the hill plus walking around the castle site and the town below. After that, I did make it to Yamato-Koriyama Castle at around 4pm. The original Ninomon is still around. It is now the gate to Kojima Temple. There is also the reconstructed Matsunomon on the way up to the trail to the castle.