Ohtawara-jo was built in 1545 by Ohtawara Sukekiyo of the Ohtawara Clan who were vassals of the Nasu Clan during the Sengoku Period. In 1590 Toyotomi Hideyoshi fought a campaign against the powerful Hojo Clan in Kanto. The Nasu did not want to get involved but the Ohtawara Clan and neighboring Ozeki Clan wanted to assist Hideyoshi. The leader of the Ozeki, based at Kurobane-jo not far from Ohtawara-jo, was Ozeki Takamasu, the uncle of Ohtawara Clan leader Ohtawara Harukiyo. They both defied the Nasu to ally with Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Siege of Odawara, and as a reward the Ohtawara Clan was enfiefed with holdings of 7,000 koku. During the Battle of Sekigahara, the Ohtawara sided with Tokugawa Ieyasu and was awarded with a further 5,000 koku. The Ohtawara's luck backing winners seemed never to run out. Unlike many neighbouring clans, including the Ozeki, in 1868 the Ohtawara did not side with the Shogunate, but joined the revolution of the Imperialists, and as a result Ohtawara-jo was attacked by Loyalists from Aizu and the palace in the third bailey was razed. After the Meiji Restoration the new government had no need for castles such as Ōtawarajō and in 1873 it was abandoned and its structures were dismantled. During the Mid-Edo Period, Ohtawara-jo's Omote-chuomon (Central Front Gate) was relocated to a nearby temple. It burnt down in 1825 but was thereafter reconstructed. Even though it's not an original structure from the castle, it does represent one. The gate is at Koshinji and, whilst I didn't visit because I didn't realise how close it was to the castle, it turns out it's only a few minutes' walk away, and so is probably worth a look.
Ohtawara-jo is a hirayamajiro (a castle built around a hilltop and expanding onto flatland) ruin. It has dorui (earth-piled ramparts), moats and several cleared baileys. A small mizubori (water moat) segment is preserved at the foot of the hill (next to the car park) in the former Nishi-Kuruwa (West Bailey). The high ramparts are impressive and it's interesting to see how the natural terrain was sculpted into a fortification. The honmaru (main bailey) is ringed by high ramparts and it is pleasant to stroll around them. The north bailey is terraced. The lower north bailey runs adjacent to the road and bridge over the river: traditionally this road is the Oshu-Kaido, one of the five major transit routes of the Edo Period. The castle's main entrance opened out onto this road, along which were stables and bukeyashiki (samurai residences). A path from the north bailey loops around the back of the honmaru. If you look over the river from here you can see a large modern onsen building built very vaguely to look like a castle tower. The honmaru and ninomaru were connected by an earthen bridge and both were accessible from a gate at the foot of the hill. The honmaru and the sannomaru (third bailey) both once contained go'ten (palaces).
Admin note: original history and profile by ART. Photos renewed 2021 after Admin visit. You'll probably want to visit as part of a day trip to Kurobane Castle. Otawara Castle is along the same bus route that takes you to Kurobane Castle.
|English Name||Ohtawara Castle|
|Castle Condition||Ruins only|
|Designations||Local Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Pre Edo Period|
|Features||water moats, trenches|
|Access||Nishi-Nasuno Station on the Tohoku Main Line|
|Visitor Information||Free 24/7|
|Time Required||60 mins|
|Location||Ohtawara, Tochigi Prefecture|
|Coordinates||36° 52' 5.92" N, 140° 2' 4.81" E|
|Added to Jcastle||2018|
|Admin Year Visited||Viewer Contributed, 2021|
|Admin Visits||May 9, 2021|
|Friends of JCastle|
|Jokaku Horoki: Otawara-jo|