Hiking Up Through History: The Twin Ruins of Hayashi Castle

Thu, Sep 3, 2020
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In a recent post we visited Kotokuji, the family temple of the Ogasawara clan located on a hillside overlooking an area known as Hayashi. Along the walk back toward the Susuki River and toward town we passed a few notable sites, one of them the entrance to the trail up to the former site of one of the twin castles that together made up Hayashi-jo, Ogasawara stronghold for a hundred-year stretch of Matsumoto’s history.

Today we’re heading up – then down and then up again – to check these two sites out. But first…

A Bit of Background

For a century the Ogasawara clan lorded over this Shinano region from the flatland castle of Igawa-jo. Familial power struggles and the threat of attack from neighboring clans, however, compelled Ogasawara Kiyomune to build a new residence in the hills to the east. Like Igawa-jo, the exact year of the establishment of Hayashi-jo is not known. The best clue we have can be found in the Ogasawara archives, which tell of the birth of Nagaasa, Kiyomune’s son, taking place in 1443 in Hayashi Castle.

As mentioned above, Hayashi-jo was comprised of two neighboring castles. The ruins of Hayashi-oh-jo, the larger of the two, sat atop Higashijo-yama, the ‘East Castle Mountain’, while remnants of Hayashi-ko-jo can be found atop the sloping ridge running between Higashijo-yama and the Hayashi neighborhood where at least a few of the descendants of the Ogasawara ruling clan still live.

There is an interesting issue regarding the name Hayashi-ko-jo. While it is accepted that Oh-jo means ‘Large Castle’ there is debate whether Ko-jo originally meant ‘Small Castle’ or ‘Old Castle’ as ‘ko’ can mean either small or old, depending on how it is written. Present consensus based on archaeological research – specifically and mainly the methods of construction of the stone ‘ishigaki’ walls and the earthen defenses – seem to indicate that the Ko-jo was built after the establishment of the Oh-jo, perhaps closer to the construction of nearby Kirihara and Yamake Castles (built around 1460 and 1480 respectively).

The road leading down to the Hayashi-ko-jo trail head.

Hiking Up to Hayashi-ko-jo

If you’re out here exploring the history of Hayashi and the serenity of Kotakuji Temple you’re in the perfect spot to head up into the hills to check out the vestiges of Hayashi Castle. Walk along the foot of the ridge on the eastern edge of the neighborhood and you’ll come to a square post with (at the time of this writing) peeling white paint. The half-buried car tires at your feet; the initial switchbacks overlooking the rooftops to the right; the wire fencing on your left; the beginnings of the trail may not instill a sense of the history and beauty of this place, but keep winding your way uphill, through the gate (remember to replace the chain!) and up the gulley and before you know it you’ll be in the thick of the woods.

Head for 林小城 – ‘Hayashi-ko-jo’
Through the gate and up the gulley.

Unfortunately, a plague of tree-killing locusts or some such vermin ate their way through here a couple of years ago. The dead wood is still being cut and cleared. On the bright side, this affords a nice if brief view of the mountains to the west.

A few minutes hiking up the gulley brings us to a sign pointing left, up a path that quickly brings some more switchbacks. Another five minutes or so there will be another sign. Here a path splits off to the right leading around to the back of the castle ruins, where you can reach the top via a short but steep path on the left or, if you’re feeling crazy, you can turn right and head up into the higher hills (where you’ll find plenty of nature and little else).

Turn right to go around to the back of the ruins. I recommend going straight.

Continuing straight, you’ll soon come to another fork in the trail. Remember this place; you’ll be going down to the left before long.

Remember this fork!

For now, walk up the trail bending around to the right and you’ll quickly come to a man-made embankment. Welcome to the Hayashi-ko-jo ruins!

This embankment – not much to look at now – once marked the front of the castle.

Okay, so it’s basically a mound of dirt. But you’ll see there’s much more to it as you keep making your way around, going either left or right, up to the rock and earth foundation of the ‘shukaku’, the former center of the castle. While there’s little left here on this flat expanse of former feudal glory, the crescent-shaped embankment along the back and the ‘ishigaki’ rock walls that do remain might be enough to spark your imagination and envision what this place might have looked like from the mid-15th to the mid-16th Century.

That humble rock wall and others just like it have been here for over 500 years.
The place where the shukaku of Hayashi-ko-jo once stood.

The Descent into Ohtsuki

Going back down the path you’ll come to the split you wanted to remember. Bear right and head down the winding path that will lead around to the far (east) side of the ridge. Through the trees you’ll see the houses and fields of Ohtsuki down below. Up above is Higashi-jo-yama. Keep your eyes open (and your voices down) as you walk and you may get lucky and spot a deer bounding through the trees.

Before you exit the woods you’ll come upon a spot of wet muddy muck. This is Jigoku-no-kama, meaning ‘Hell’s Oven’ though this hardly seems to make sense. One side of the white post standing by explains how this was an important source of water for the denizens of Hayashi-ko-jo, and was known to the locals as ‘Kanba-sama’ though no one knows quite what that meant. On the other side of the post are two more bits of legend with no known origin. One, this was once believed to be a man-made pond with no bottom. Two, it is said that a horse that had come to drink here was pulled down into the water, never to be seen again.

The wise move here would be to keep out of the muck.

 

Past this mysterious spot is another metal gate (replace the chain please!) and the quiet community of Ohtsuki. Turn right when you hit the road, and right there on the corner is a sign post, with the arrow pointing left signifying Hayashi-oh-jo. It’s kind of a steep walk up the street through Ohtsuki, so take it slow and in the details: the old storehouses of mud, the stone walls, the simplicity in the ways the people here make their homes.

 

Along the way you’ll pass the site of Shinkan-ji, a temple that stood here until the fall of Hayashi-jo when Takeda Shingen’s forces invaded the region. The temple was moved to the Asama Onsen area, but after a while was razed, never to be rebuilt.

Post indicating where Shinkan-ji Temple stood a half millennium ago.

Heading for Hayashi-oh-jo

Passing an old yellow-walled storehouse you’ll see you’ve reached the end of town. Just ahead is yet another post with an arrow pointing left up a narrow, paved road – from where you get an unusual look at the city of Matsumoto.

 

At the split in the road bear right, then head across the grass, up along the left side of the orchard and back into the woods, up to Ohtsuki Shrine.

Walk across the grass, up along the left side of that orchard. Trust me.

 

Ohtsuki Jinja is not going to make it into any book on Japan’s greatest shrines. But the story behind this diminutive place of kami-worship is interesting to note.

In the Edo Era the mountains were more than merely supportive of daily life, but were something that the common people could barely do without. Particularly in villages surrounded by mountains but also in the larger, more influential towns the people made sure to secure and maintain their rights to all that the mountains provided. For their part, they enshrined and honored the ‘Yama-no-kami’ – the gods of the mountains – to ensure the mountains’ protection.

These Yama-no-kami, however, were not especially esteemed in the new Meiji government, and began to disappear from the annual festivals and celebrations thanking the broader pantheon of gods for their blessings. Small and independent Ohtsuki village, however, held their ties to the mountains close to their hearts and kept honoring the deities that protected them.

To this day they carry on their traditional August festival celebrating the gods of these hills.

 

Above Ohtsuki Jinja the trail turns steeper, taking you through a handful of switchbacks. But the trail is easy to follow, up until you hit your next intersection. Turning right takes you deeper into the mountains. The two trails on the left merge after a short stretch; take the high road or the low road, whichever suits your personality.

 

Here’s the point where they merge again. If you are hiking in the opposite direction, this is what it looks like – just in case.

 

The trail turns steep once again, but only for a short stretch before you find yourself at the edge of an access road. Straight ahead up the short slope is the site of the former Oh-jo. For a quick diversion, turn right and follow the access road around the bend and dip down the trail at this sign.

 

Walking downhill through the vegetation encroaching on the path you may think that I have finally succeeded in leading you astray (if I haven’t gotten you lost already). But forge ahead until you reach the point of this side trip: the Hime-no-kesshosui-ido, the ‘Well of the Princess’s Lotion’.

The name, as the attendant sign indicates, has no discernible basis. Nor does it make sense that there could be a well all the way up here; it much more likely served as a reservoir. While no thorough land analysis or excavation has been as yet undertaken, it seems unlikely that there could be, as there are at nearby Bansui-jo, any sort of water system here on top of Higashijo-yama.

The mysterious Well of the Princess’s Lotion.

Back at the top of this side trail, instead of retracing your steps down the access road take that short path up the slope right across from you. This puts you on the spot where the rear section of the castle stood. To the right, up one more quick slope, is the place where the shukaku of Hayashi-oh-jo stood.

 

The curving embankment of earth and rock mimics, to an extent, the one at Hayashi-ko-jo. Along to the right there is a dip in the dirt; this was a side entrance to Hayashi-oh-jo, called the ‘Tora-no-guchi’, the Tiger’s Doorway’ – which seems odd as there were no tigers in Japan.

At the far end of the site of this sizeable shukaku site you’ll find four round stones, each with a square hole cut into the top. I’ll admit this is speculation, but these stones could possibly have collectively served as the base for the front gate, or maybe wall, of the castle building. 

 

From here it’s all downhill.

Two sets of stone steps, apparent leftovers from Hayashi-oh-jo, bring you down to the site of the front section of the castle stood, then down to the access road (same one). Across the way the trail continues, winding down through the trees, past periodic and clearly visible dugouts in the earth. These ‘akihori’ (or ‘akibori’) served as dry moats, cut across the slope of the mountain as defenses against attacking forces.

Evidently they did little to deter Takeda Shingen and his men.

As you descend the sound of the Susuki River arises, along with the low rumble of the occasional car. If you are out here on a weekday you may also hear the pleasant and lively ruckus of the children of Yamabe Elementary School out on the playground.

I lied, by the way. It’s not quite all downhill from the castle grounds. The trail runs quickly uphill for one last bit, to the ‘Ichi-no-mon’, the First Gate, site of a guard post, located on top of a small hill in the middle of the slope, another aspect of Hayashi-oh-jo’s defenses.

One more thing: as you hike down through the final switchbacks the trail seems to split. Like before, the two paths meet right up again. Another half dozen turns and you’ll hit the end of the trail, just across the road from the Kinkabashi Bridge, the Susuki River and your way back to town.

From start to finish, a complete tour of Hayashi-jo should take two hours and a bit, walking at an easy pace and allowing for plenty of picture-taking. If you decide to make this hike, and want to tie it into a visit to Kotakuji Temple and a stroll around the old Ogasawara neighborhood of Hayashi, keep in mind you’ll be walking up and over two mountain ridges which, while hardly alpine, do require a bit of energy. Start here at the Kinkabashi Bridge if you want to tackle the hike with fresh legs.

Either way, these twin forested trails with a walk through Ohtsuki in the middle is a great way to see some of Matsumoto’s lesser-known places of history while enjoying the woods and the mountains without having had to go too far from downtown.

The trail head at the Hayashi end of the hike is here:

The Kinkabashi Bridge trail head at the other end is here:

As always, happy hiking!