From down in our onsen town, Togura-Kamiyamada, you can see a wooden lookout tower at the top of Jo-Yama, the hill behind our town. The tower belongs to Arato-jo, a mountain fortress. The compound was rebuilt to match its presumed original configuration in 1995.
Most people typically picture a lowland castle like Matsumoto’s or Himeji’s when they think of a ‘Japanese castle’. Those castles are more projections of the local lord’s power than actual defensive battlements. They date back more to the end of the Warring States as well as Edo eras.
During the middle of the Warring States era, however, thousands of fortresses like Arato-Jo were constructed on hilltops throughout the country. They were designed strictly for military purposes, with the majority of their structures built low to the ground so as not to be visible from down below.
All of these mountain fortresses have since disappeared, destroyed by fires, battles or simple erosion. Arato-jo is hence the only such fortress existing in a resemblance of it’s original shape. Hence it is often used as the backdrop for historical TV shows.
I took a couple of guests up to Arato-jo for a tour. This was my first time to go in the middle of winter. With a touch of snow, the fortress has an even more foreboding feel to it. The view from the top, with the Chikuma River valley below and the surrounding mountains in their winter state, had a surreal feel to it.
The guests and I wondered what life must have been like for the samurai posted here in the winter. One whistfully fantasized about returning to that era and experiencing a samurai’s life for a day.
Down here at our inn, our guests often follow our recommendation and drive or walk up to see Arato-jo. This time I was fortunate to see the fort with my own eyes, in its harsh winter guise.
|Name||Arato-jo (荒砥城) aka Chikuma City Jo-yama (‘castle mountain’) Historical Remains Park (千曲市城山歴史跡公園）||Description of business||Public bath house|
|Address||3509-1 Kamiyamada, Chikuma City 389-0822|
|Access||From Togura Station on Shinano Railway Line take #9 bus to ‘Joyama Iriguchi’ (城山入口) stop (approx. 9 min.) and walk up the hill; castle parking lot entrance on right after the temple/shrine complex (25 min.)|
|Operating dates and hours||9am-5pm (Entrance until 4:30pm). Closed 28-Dec thru 03-Jan.|
|Prices||¥300 for adults; free for middle school and under|
|General information for Chikuma City||Chikuma City on Wikitravel|