Kurahonejō is thought to have been built in the early 16th century by Kiyono Katsuteru. The Kiyono (also called Seino (alternate reading of the same characters, 清野)) were a powerful local clan who eventually became vassals of the Murakami. The Kiyono Clan and the neighbouring Terao Clan would betray the Murakami in 1550 by siding with Takeda Shingen in his war against them. They attacked Murakami Yoshikiyo at Shiodajō in 1553, and as a result clan leader Kiyono Ukontayū (清野右近太夫) was esteemed by Takeda Shigen. After the fall of the Takeda in 1582, the Kiyono fought for the Uesugi against the Ogasawara.
Kurahonejō is a top yamajiro ruin, albeit not so well known, but this may be due to how inaccessible it is. Also, the site can be dangerous and difficult to navigate. Starting at the trail from Matsushiro I had climbed for so long that I was beginning to worry that I would find nothing worth all of the effort at Kurahonejō. Surely only a small fort would be located so high up? And, I came from the site's rear, so that initially I didn't see many ruins. But by degrees I would realise, incredulous with each new panorama, what how incredible the ruins of Kurahonejō really are! From my perspective, coming down the ridge from the mountainside, I first saw several trenches eating into the ridge. This was a good start. I came on the main bailey from the rear. I spied an errant segment of ishigaki (stone-piled ramparts) some little way down the sculpted mountaintop, and I "goated" along the steep side of the castle to get a good view. I climbed back up and found the main bailey surrounded by dorui (earthen ramparts), piled tallest to the rear. There was an obvious place for the gate. This was just the beginning. Ishigaki is everywhere, and some segments are quite tall and long. The tallest is 3m. Segments around the main bailey are about 1.5m tall, but I judge were 3m tall originally. The layout essentially follows the ridge, with terraced baileys climbing it. There is an impressive double trench system at the front part of the castle. Features include horikiri (trenches), tatebori (climbing moats), koguchi (gate ruins), koshikuruwa (terraced sub-baileys), kuruwa (baileys), dorui, and more ishigaki than one can shake a hiking pole at. To find such an extensive ruin so high up in the mountains is a humbling experience. Having visited several other sites along the ridge, all in all I was on the mountain for about five and a half hours; for me Kurahonejō made the exertions of that day wholly worth while.
|Early 16th Century
|Pre Edo Period
|Ishigaki, Kuruwa, Dorui, Horikiri
|trenches, stone walls
|Trails begin in Matsushiro (10 minute walk from Matsushiro Station (no. 30 bus from Nagano Station)), and at Washio Castle ruins in Kurashina village (nearest station is Yashiro Station on the Shinano Railway).
|24/7; Free; Mountain
|Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture
|36° 32' 34.48" N, 138° 10' 51.49" E
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