(I was going to give this blog the title of "Kawanakajima". But unfortunately I wasn't able to visit the actual battleground and there were other castles that played significant roles in those famous battles. So I resolved to give it the title "Legends" as a prelude to the heroes Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin whose domains I was able to visit.)

5AM day one. Still drowsy. Went back to sleep. We stayed up late the night before our travel which obviously ended up waking late. Grin. So we scampered that morning or was that noon already? Castle hunting season is here again and coincidentally Rya had a scientific conference in Matsumoto City home to my most frequently visited castle. We needed a new train schedule to replace the scrambled one I patiently prepared for a week. It was as if we were still in a stupor leaving the house that we even forgot the jyuhachi kippu and just realized it at the station. I even forgot my poor travel buddy The Dog. Fortunately, the travel time from Shizuoka to Kofu was more than 2 hours. We got to snooze and snore to wash away the stupor.

We went out of Kofu station to get a breath of fresh cool air. Well I guess it was too cool for Rya that she complained that her fingers were freezing when we took shots of Takeda Shingen's statue. I managed to shoot a few even with the sun way up disappointingly casting hard shadows. The "Tiger of Kai" was as menacing as he always was looking over his city. Born Takeda Katsuchiyo then later on, the shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu allowed him the formal name Harunobu. He later became Shingen, as nobu is shin when read in Chinese which means "believe" and gen means "gray", which signifies the color of intelligence and truth in Buddhism.

I already had a previous blog about Takeda Shingen in my Friendster account. It was more of his battle tactics against Tokugawa Ieyasu in Hamamatsu jo. For further readings visit this page.

Although Kofu was Takeda Shingen's domain which he ruled from Tsutsujigasaki palace and not Kofu jo, also known as Maizaru jo, ironically, it was founded & governed by Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1583 after their joint force of victory, led by Oda Nobunaga, over the Takeda family in the Battle of Nagashino. It has been said that along with Edo jo, Kofu jo was a formidable castle in the Kanto region. On a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji from the remains of the castle donjon.

We jumped to a train bound to Nirasaki just 3 stations off Kofu to wait for our train for Matsumoto. We were almost always asleep all the way, I didn't even notice that we already passed by KamiSuwa station where we were supposed to get off to visit Takashima jo. We arrived around 5PM and it was beginning to get dark when we reached Matsumoto city. Refreshed from our sleep, we walked all the way to our hotel. As we were settling in our room, I saw a flyer of a Pizza Hut. Rya was reviewing her presentation while we were having our pizza dinner when I kept on harassing her to pose for an indoor strobed shot.

The harassment turned quite convincing that eventually we ended up taking night test shots of nearby Matsumoto jo but we were about to set-up the tripod when the lights went off!

Strobist night shots lessons? You bet you! That is just what we did in the midst of a dropping temperature. Rya and I took turns to pose. Talk about being enthusiastic about a hobby!

After the wacky moments, acting as model for each other, we decided to venture further in the city and find our way to the venue of the conference. The Matsumoto Performing Arts Center.

5AM the following day. I knew the task at hand today was sizeable. It was the day that I will set my foot on Niigata Ken. But before that, I did some morning test shots of Matsumoto jo. In the freezing cold, I took note of the time and place the sun usually rises. I endured the cold and the threat of "imagined" frost bite just to get that perfect timing for a shot!

Rya said that she was having her breakfast at the hotel when I was already in Nagano taking this shot.

The Northern Alps was all covered in white as I was halfway to my destination. Now I am wishing I could stay a week around these mountains.

I knew one day I will be standing in front of Uesugi Kenshin's statue at the foot of Mt. Kasuga. The "Dragon of Echigo" gazing out in the direction of Kawanakajima. One of the most prolific and powerful daimyo of the Sengoku jidai. His original name was Nagao Kagetora, which means "shadow of a tiger" and later on took on Uesugi when he became the Kanto Kanrei. At the time he vowed as a Buddhist monk, he was given the title of Kenshin, meaning "new sword".

My climb to Kasugayama jo, also known as Hachigamine jo, was most enjoyable. The cool, crisp air and even the few slips here and there because of the wet muddy soil were all I needed to brave up to its honmaru. Counted as one of Japan's five greatest mountain castles, Kasugayama jo's exact year of construction is unknown. The citadel that we see at present is a successive reconstruction that started from Uesugi Tamekage, father of Kenshin, up to Kenshin's nephew Uesugi Kagekatsu. About 600 years ago the castle served as Uesugi Kenshin's citadel to protect the capital of Echigo. Literally the name Kasuga means "spring day" and has a strong tie to Kasuga Taisha, a major Shinto shrine in Nara.

On a side note, I would like to thank the taxi driver, Hideo Saeki, whose wife turned out to be a Filipina. He was kind enough to take me to Kasugayama jo and back to the train station and even gave me a discount and pointed me to the direction of Kasugayama's finest ramen house. If by chance you wanted to visit around Naoetsu I'd be glad to share his contact number.

Instead of a donjon, Tadateru Matsudaira, the 6th son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, built in 1614 a Triple Turret (Sanju-Yagura) which symbolizes Takada jo. A distinctive feature of this triple turret is the roof structure, which are of the Irimoya and Yosemune style projecting a "Kirizuma" roof. Although Takada jo lasted for 257 years and was home to 18 lords of 8 clans, it has been razed by 3 earthquakes and 2 fires. Last of which was in the 3rd year of the Meiji period and after that no further reconstruction of the castle was attempted.

There were a lot of sights along my way back to Matsumoto. If only I could jump off the train and stayed until the sun went down or waited for it to rise. But all I can do was take some snapshots from inside a running train. Breath out! 5PM.

Rya was already waiting for me at the station when I arrived in Matsumoto. She had here Lomowalk after attending the seminar and was so pissed with the prices of local films. Another lesson learned: bring films when you're on the road. You'll never know when you are peaked out to just shoot anything. After looking for a particular place to have dinner we decided to eat at one of the local favorites, gyuusuji ramen that looks like our soup no. 5 only with a twist of kimchi to warm another cool evening.

My feet was sore from my climb today. So we skipped night shots and spent almost an hour in the ofuro. Refreshing!

5AM the third day. Now I know the time when and where the sun will rise, and which features of the castle is hit by the light. The cold that morning was justified by the beauty that unfolded in front of my eyes. Matsumoto jo, also known as Fukashi jo and also called "Crow Castle" for its black walls seen like those of the crow's spreading wings. The donjon we now see was built by Ishikawa Yasunaga together with his father Ishikawa Kazumasa in 1590. Originally it was Shimadachi Sadanaga of the Ogasawara clan who first built a fort in this location in 1504. Later, the castle was under the rule of Takeda Shingen in 1550 during his Shinano campaign. During the Meiji restoration, Matsumoto jo would have been brought to the ground if not for the efforts of Ryozo Ichikawa and other people of Matsumoto.

After two hours, it was time to get back to the hotel for breakfast. Today was Rya's big day. I need to help her set-up her poster. And took some quick snaps of her together with her presentation.

I had blunders later that day which turned out to be quite interesting. I mistakenly rode a shinano train instead of a normal train heading for Nagano. 2,100 yen went off my pocket just like that. Argh! But the good part was I was able to reach Ueda city earlier.

No other castle was impressively defended during the Sengoku period as Ueda Castle. Built by Masayuki Sanada in 1583, not long after the repulsed first seige of the Tokugawa forces in 1585. But the most famous was the second battle, when Hidetada Tokugawa's 38,000 warriors en route to join his father in the Battle of Sekigahara was shamed by the castle's 2,500 defenders led by father and son, Masayuki & Yukimura Sanada who brilliantly used its well fortified castle town and rivers. As much as it was the Tokugawa forces who won, it was this seige that caused the delay on Hidetada to arrive and take part in the Battle of Sekigahara.

After I walked around the castle grounds and took images of the three original remaining turrets, tourist were being led by their flag-waving guides. I took shots of them but something below the moats was more interesting. A woman walking her dog. What a lovely sight. Afterwards I went back to the station.

Instead of heading directly to Nagano from Ueda I suddenly had the urge to get off at Kawanakajima station only to find out that there will be no train passing by until 5PM! Fortunately, at the end of the train station was a good vantage point for a train shot.

Once again, Rya was already waiting for me at the station when I arrived Matsumoto. We wanted to share our day and ended up sipping frapuccinos at Starbucks.

The night skies were a bit darker than the other nights before. So, I thought of ending the day with night shots! Rya had her share of enjoyment together with trusty S3IS and even scouted nicer angles.

Pleased, contented and personally justified. We ended up celebrating with kamameshi gohan for dinner.

5AM last day. I peered outside the hotel window and saw that it was raining. I opened the TV for the day's weather to further confirm the situation. Alas! I won't be able to go to Kawanakajima Kosenjo! I decided to go to KamiSuwa and visit Takashima jo instead. I thought it would be better that we go directly to Kofu on our way back.

Takashima jo, also known as the "Floating Castle of Lake Suwa", is the highest-located castle built on flat land. From a distance the castle gives an illusion that it rises above the waters. Eventhough the land was lorded by the Suwa clan for 270 years, Takashima jo was built by Takayoshi Hineno a retainer of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in 1592. It was not until 1601 that Yorimizu Suwa would replace him and the Suwa clan ruled until the 10th generation when the clan government system was abolished and replaced by prefectures and Tadaaya Suwa, last ruler of Suwa, was removed. In art, Ando Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai both depicted the castle in their views of Mt. Fuji ukiyo-e series.

On my way back to KamiSuwa station were old houses. I wished I had more time though to stop and shoot but my train was arriving soon. I only managed to take a few.

As usual, Rya was already waiting for me at the station when I arrived at Matsumoto. She just came from the closing ceremonies at Matsumoto daigaku. We saved the best meal for last when we had cold soba with duck soup for lunch.

Over lunch Rya told me that Kamada san, a student from Shizuoka daigaku, offered a ride. "Hitori de sabishii dakara" was all he explained when we met him at the other side of the station. Our travel time will be four hours max. The only difference was we didn't get to snooze and snore. I was able to practice my special kind of Nihonggo and most of all, earned another Japanese friend who happened to be interested in castles too. Kamada san even offered that we go on a road trip to his furusato Kagoshima. My eyes grew big hearing that offer or was it just dark when we passed by the tunnel?

And as Mt. Fuji peeks, I knew we were near. I looked at my watch and it was 5PM.


  1. kuya, as usual, well-documented journey. thanks for being unselfish in sharing your travels and escapades. sama mo na din ang mga history ng mga di ko kilala na mga nilalang.

    particularly liked all the castle reflections shots. wish i could take some in the near future too.

    looks like you mastered the strobing effects or kung ano man ang tawag dun. haha. paturo.

    thanks for the read uli

  2. henef sa fosing ang koya rading and ate rya! :D

    thank you for a wonderful journey :D you really should write a book. pwede ka na ring tour guide sa mga porenjer pag dating sa mga castles... ^_^ gusto mo koya? :D may site na parang "be a local tourguide" or something... ilalagay mo yung itenerary...hmm...sa facebook ko nakita yung ad na yun eh :) (extra income :D:D)


Post a Comment

Popular Posts