Nōkenjō has many mysteries, including its construction date. By tradition it was first established by the Moriya Clan who were vassals of Takeda Shingen, though this has not been ascertained. The castle is widely held to have been developed as a satellite of Shinpujō around 1581 to protect Takeda Katsuyori's new base from the north. Though slightly later in 1582 is also contended it may have been built by Tokugawa forces in their war with the Hōjō to dominate Kai. It's possible, of course, that the fort was rebuilt by multiple factions at various stages, though that still leaves the question of when the ruins which remain today originated.
See also: Shinpu Castle
Trying to uncover the mysteries of the ruins of Nōkenjō was an adventure. This hilltop (hirayamajiro) castle site, located in Anayama Township, Nirasaki Municipality, Yamanashi prefecture, is quite vast; the hilltop, its slopes, and the surrounding flatland were all fortified, and there are further several satellite fortification sites. The defences of both the main castle and at least one of the satellite forts make extensive use of yokobori (lateral moats), relying much less on terracing and tatebori (climbing moats).
When there is a dearth of historical materials then the structure of a castle is the biggest clue we have to go on as to who built it. Since it is not known who built Nōkenjō, we have only theories and the ruins themselves. Part of the fun of visiting such a site is figuring out such things for ourselves I think.
My initial inclination was to assume that the Takeda had built Nōkenjō around 1581 for the defence of Shinpujō, Takeda Katsuyori's new base, to the south. It seemed to make strategic sense, and there is a tradition that the Moriya Clan, Takeda vassals, already had some fortification in the vicinity. But after seeing the castle for myself I'm not sure. The structure of the castle is quite different to other Takeda castles, which tended to rely more on terracing to fortify slopes, rather than lateral trenches. Of course, castle construction techniques changed over time, and this one was built quite late in the day of the Takeda. Yet comparing the site to Shinpujō, built at the same time, Nōkenjō strikes me as still very different. I can't come to any definitive conclusions, I feel, as I'm not as familiar with Tokugawa fortifications of that time period, but speculating on this as I uncovered ruins sure was enthralling.
I should say, most of Nōkenjō is not easy to explore. Also, the castlemount has been heavily modified in more recent times, and is carved with wide terraces and modern retaining walls all the way around (behold the wonder of modern engineering: some of these have already collapsed). I assume these were cultivated fields at one point. Many ruins must've been lost. And yet the large yokobori at the foot of the mount in the north remains in good condition.
The top of the hill has a monument for the castle and the Moriya Clan, as well as some kind of water pumping station (for now abandoned fields?). There is a small building, a temple, which looks like a scout hut or something. Behind this temple hall are what appear to be earthworks, including dorui (earthen ramparts) and a trench with embankments. Parts of the upper terracing turn up at the edges like dorui, which would indicate to me castle ruins. But then the modern terracing becomes apparent with the lack of mounds and concrete retaining walls. It's possible the whole mount was terraced for the fort, but that these terraces were expanded, reworked, and ultimately effaced with the conversion of the hillside into fields, probably for potatoes or some other durable crop. Or perhaps more yokobori existed but were filled in.
I opted to find my way down the hillside via these terraces, which saw me climbing and 'flomping*' down the walls. Eventually I came to the great northern trench. At the western end, where I came first, is the middle masugata (square gate complex) ruin, as well as a small bailey. Following the trench leads to the north masugata site which is overlooked by another bailey enclosed with dorui, and a complex of earthworks and minor gate ruins. Here the large yokobori turns and descends down and off the castlemount as a tatebori. These earthworks were exciting to find but difficult to photograph due to how overgrown everything was.
A final masugata site, the west masugata, can be found very easily as it is in someone's driveway, visible from the road side. I actually went there first. The structure is easy to see and the dorui is thick, though only one half of the gate ruin remains, forming an angled bend segment. This is found by turning right from the station where one sees the name of the castle in large characters on a modern retaining wall at the bottom of the hill. After walking for a couple of minutes the masugata is on the right. This is the only part of the castle to visit which doesn't involve hard work. So enjoy it!
I'll cover the satellite forts of Nōkenjō is separate articles. Many castle bloggers have attempted to explore this site and not really succeeded, indicating that it is a high level boss castle. I did a decent job I think! But I am seriously indebted there to the castle blogger yamashiro2015, or Kojō Meguri Shashinkan (Old Castle Tours Photo Gallery); not a site I visit too often but it came in clutch - as they say - at Nōkenjō. Link here:
- 'to flomp', meaning 'to lower oneself down over the edge of a high drop and release oneself, and then to soften one's body, despite its inclination to stiffen in descent, on impact with the ground by rolling or sprawling, thereby completing a high drop from one point to the next without injury'. I can find no definition of 'flomp' specific to jumping, so it may be a vernacular limited to ne'er-do-well youths on Merseyside circa early 2000s.
|Moriya Clan; Takeda Katsuyori; Tokugawa Ieyasu
|Late Sengoku Period; 1581; 1582
|Pre Edo Period
|Yokobori, Dorui, Masugata
|Anayama Station on the Chūō Main Line; 2 minute walk to trailhead
|24/7 free; mountain
|Nirasaki, Yamanashi Prefecture
|35° 45' 4.03" N, 138° 25' 6.24" E
|Added to Jcastle
|Admin Year Visited
|Friends of JCastle
|Kojō Meguri Shashinkan
|Oshiro Tabi Nikki