Monday, August 24, 2020

Arato Castle (Shinano) -With the tide of time-

Arato Castle (Shinano)

-With the tide of time-



Name: Arato castle (Arato-jo)
Place: Kamiyamada Chikuma-city, Nagano
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 1524
Remaining remnants: Clay walls 

Brief History

Arato castle (荒砥城) is placed on the ridge spreads from Kamuriki-yama mountain toward northeast, that branches eastward from main ridge near the end. Between castle site and another ridge at southward sheer slope like ski field exists, and flat space between castle hill and Chikuma-gawa river spa town of Kamiyamada-Onsen spreads.

Castle site is at the south edge of Nagano basin, where is the bottleneck of Chikuma-gawa river enclosed by Chikuma mountains and Sugadaira Kogen height. It is connected with Ueda basin along with Chikuma-gawa river, and also an entrance of mountain road toward Matsumoto basin through current Omi village.

Origin of Arato castle

Arato castle was built by local lord Yamada clan in 1524. Yamada clan was a branch family of Murakami clan, which was the descendant of Minamoto clan and major local lord of Shinano province resided at Katsurao castle (Nagano prefecture) at the opposite of Chikuma-gawa river.

At that time Murakami clan was its peak period under Yoshikiyo Murakami (1501-1573), expanded into Nagano basin and Ueda basin and Saku area. Build of Arato castle might be intended to control Chikuma-gawa river which flows the territory of Murakami clan, and also to prepare for Ogasawara clan which was the governor of Shinano province (Nagano prefecture) resided at Matsumoto basin but conflicted with Murakami clan.

However in 1540, Shingen Takeda (1521-1573) who succeeded Takeda clan which was the governor of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) accelerated invasion to Shinano province. Yoshikiyo Murakami once broke Shingen at the battle of Uedahara in 1548, and broke Takeda army which encircled Toishi castle (Nagano prefecture) in 1550.

Hold by Yashiro clan

But in 1551, Toishi castle fell by the plot of Yukitaka Sanada (1513-1574) who was the retainer of Shingen Takeda. Kunimasa Yamada (?-1551), the leader of Yamada clan which stayed at Toishi castle was involved in this incident and died at castle. Two years later in 1553 Shingen fell Katsurao castle, then Yoshikiyo Murakami escaped to Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province.

Arato castle fell at this time then Yamada clan was ruined. Instead of Yamada clan, Masakuni Yashiro (1520-1561?), who was also a branch family and important retainer of Murakami clan but turned to Shingen Takeda under negotiation with Yukitaka Sanada in 1553. 

Yashiro clan resided at Yashiro castle (Nagano prefecture) at the edge of long ridge from Gorigamine mountain toward north, but it was an important point for Takeda clan which aimed to proceed to Nagano basin then Yashiro clan was moved backward to Arato castle which lost the lord. Yashiro clan might reform Arato castle as their main base.

Structure of Arato castle

Arato castle is built by processing the edge of ridge into layer of terraces like a step. Central area of the castle is an oblong shaped one of about 30 meter long and 15 meter wide at the peak, and secondary area is same shape and size at the southeast of central area. Third area is a small landing space of climbing route, and fourth and fifth areas are crescent shaped one spreads along with the curve of slope.

At central area and secondary area the buildings of old castle such as residence, barrack and watchtowers, fences or gates are reproduced. It seems too much stone walls but stone walls are built by brick like stone pieces frequently seen in the castle of Shinano province, and the reality of medieval castle is mostly found by not building multi-story building except for watchtower.

As backward of the castle is a weak point connected to backside mountain there might be terraces and dry moats for separation but this part is not accessible. At the slope in the south of castle site there might be a residence of the lord and retainers, as it is a secure area being surrounded by mountain.

Deputy commander of former lord

Yashiro clan fought for Takeda clan for nearly 30 years. In 1553 Kenshin Uesugi who intruded to Shinano province to recover the territory of Murakami clan temporally fell Katsurao castle and Arato castle but soon Shingen captured them again. At the fourth battle of Kawanakajima between Shingen Takeda and Kenshin Uesugi, Masakuni Yashiro is said to die in the battle.

After the fall of Takeda clan in 1582, Hidemasa Yashiro (1558-1623), the successor of Masakuni Yashiro, once served to Nagayoshi Mori (1558-1584), the general of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) who ruined Takeda clan, But soon after Nobunaga died in the incident of Honnoji, and Nagayoshi Mori retreated from Shinano province.

Instead of Mori clan, Kagekatsu Uesugi (1556-1623), the successor of Kenshin Uesugi, proceeded into Nagano basin. Uesugi clan placed Kagekuni Yamaura (1546-1592), son of Yoshikiyo Murakami as the commander of Kaizu castle (Nagano prefecture, later Matsushiro castle). Hidemasa Yashiro served to Uesugi clan and became vice commander of former lord Kagekuni Yamaura and held former territory of Yashiro area.

Sudden leave of Yashiro clan and fall of castle

But as Yashiro clan formerly turned from Murakami clan to Takeda clan and became the cause of collapse of Murakami clan, the relationship between Kagekuni Yamaura and Hidemasa Yashiro was not good. Soon Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616), the warlord of Mikawa province (east half of Aichi prefecture), moved northward and captured Matsumoto basin and approached to Nagano basin.

In 1584, Hidemasa Yashiro suddenly left Kaizu castle and turned to Tokugawa clan, then besieged at Arato castle. But Arato castle was attacked by Uesugi army, and Tokugawa clan which confronted at central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) at Owari province (west half of Aichi prefecture) could not send reinforcement army to Yashiro clan.

Finally Yashiro clan left Arato castle then Yashiro castle fell. Hidemasa Yashiro became the retainer of Ieyasu Tokugawa and activated as the messenger of Ieyasu at various battles. Later Yashiro clan once became small lord of Komoro castle (Nagano prefecture) then the lord of Hojo domain of Awa province (south edge of Boso peninsula).

Afterward of Yashiro clan and castle

But Yashiro clan lost its territory due to misgovernment. But Yashiro clan continued as direct retainer of Edo Shogunate. Site of Arato castle was once developed as parkland next of Kamiyamada spa town but later abolished, then turned to historical site park and castle building were built in 1995. Utilizing scene of old castle without modern equipment at all, castle site is used for filming of historical dramas.

Now castle site becomes historical castle park, and due to sheer slope of mountain great scenery of Chikuma-gawa river and surrounding mountains. Katsurao castle seen from castle site opposite of Chikuma-gawa river shows complex relationship of departure and return between Murakami clan and Yashiro clan. Like a flow of Chikuma-gawa river looked down from castle, Yashiro clan and Arato castle survived with the tide of time.


30 minutes drive from Joshinetsu Jidoshado Expressway Sakaki interchange to parking of Chikuma-city Shiroyama Historical Park.

Related Castles

Katsurao Castle -Lone tiger lived on a cliff-
Toishi Castle -Might and plot-


Pictures (click to enlarge)

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