My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Search of Tsubakio-jo Castle.

   There is very little I can tell you about the layout of Tsubakio-jo, just to say that it was a "Yamajiro", or "Mountaintop Castle", like "Iwakuni-jo" in the image above. 
   Tsubakio-jo was constructed between 1523-&-1555, during the Sengoku Period, by Tsutsui Jinkei (1549-to-1584). The castle was used as a refuge for Tsutsui while his main castle (Honjo) Tsutsui-jo, was under attack by forces loyal to Matsunaga Hisahide. The battle lasted for two years, from 1559 and, when it was all over, Tsutsui went on the become the Lord of Yamato Province, a position bestowed upon him by Oda Nobunaga. Tsutsui then constructed a new castle at Yamatokoriyama (Yamatokoriyama-jo) and Tsubakio-jo was abandoned and left to rack-and-ruin.

   My adventure commences and finishes here, at the J.R.Obitoke Station. I have been to this area many times over the years, both on foot and bike, and it is always a pleasure to return and check-out new destinations. The Yamanobe-no Michi Path, a leg of Japan's oldest road, passes through this area and my route joins it, albeit for a few hundred meters.
Map Location.
The sights & sounds of the busy roads are about to become a distant memory as I reach a junction that soon becomes a narrow rural lane..... 
....and I get my first taste of rural Japan, at it's very best. It is so easy to become attached to this scenery, along with the serenity. Maybe that is why I am so addicted to it.
Map Location.
   My narrow rural lane is about to become a narrower, and more hillier,  rural lane, as I arrive at this junction. I am now entering unfamiliar territory, and am becoming excited as to what lies ahead. The sign is directing travellers to Shoryaku-ji Temple, erected some 563-years before Tsubakio-jo was constructed.
   A few hundred meters on and I arrive at the settlement of Kitatsubao-cho. I often wonder what it would be like to live in an isolated environment like this, with the nearest convenience-store/supermarket some kilometers away and having to use land-line phone services because you are out of cellphone range. It sounds so tempting. From here I am on the lookout for, believe it or not, a more narrower lane that will eventually take me to Kasuga-jinja Shrine. Isolated shrines are a favorite of mine and, when researching my route, I pay attention to any shrines that may be in my vicinity. 
Map Location.
My turn-off soon appears and I ascend up the lane.... 

....into a quaint wee settlement nestled-amongst the hills and surrounded by trees. This has to be paradise at it's very best. Although that is easy to say on a nice warm, fine Autumn day. In winter it would be a very different story.
I reach a junction where four lanes converge and, as I am debating as to which I should take, a local, out walking his dog, stops and gives me instructions. As he can speak some English (in Japan, if someone can speak English, they love to stop and chat), we strike up a conversation - Where do you come from? How long have you lived in Japan? Do you like it here? - and I am invited to join him for a coffee or cup-of-tea. Sadly I decline his offer as I want to keep on the move. But I will return here and take-up his offer at a later date. As I take the path to the shrine I pass this collection of logs. These are used for the cultivation of  Shiitake and one can come-across these sites in some of the most isolated of places.
Map Location.
   I turn a bend and, without warning, I stumble-across this concrete lantern and, amongst the trees, the distinct vermilion-colored Torii,  signifying the entrance to Kasuga-jinja. The shrine has served the needs of the locals for some 400-years, which is young in comparison to other shrines I have visited. Some dating back 1,200-years and more.
As I ascend the steps into the complex proper, two locals are busy sweeping and tiding-up the grounds. As I wander the grounds I notice the absence of any Haiden, but there are a few Sessha/Massha
    The Chozuya is always of interest to me, in particular some designs of the fountain. In this instance it's just a common house tap. This is my video of Kazuga-jinja.
Map Location.

   My lane from the shrine takes me around the back of the settlement of Minamitsubao-cho. From this point I get a view of the Tenri City area of Nara Prefecture before I descend back onto my original lane....

....and some more picturesque rural scenery.
Map Location.

   I soon reach the end of the road, when the sealed lane becomes a dirt track. I am mindful, after studying my map, that my next junction, where I turn off to the castle, is about 1-kilometer away. As I walk through the forest, I can't help notice the many side-tracks, so I remind myself to be vigilant.

Map Location.

   As you can see in the image above, the track joins from a very sharp angle and can be easily missed. As I did, and found myself walking an extra few-hundred meters and had to u-turn. About 20-meters in and another junction. My instructions were to take the track on the left to the ruins. 

As I make my way deeper into the forest, I begin to notice a mound on my right. At this time I find some large stones that indicate that this may indeed be the foundation of Tsubakio-jo. My track takes me in a circular route around the mound.

Map Location.

   Partway around I notice this icon atop the mound. I investigate and, while up there, decide to take a look around. From where I am standing, I get an idea of the layout of the castle and what the view must have been like when Tsutsui resided here. Today, the site is shrouded in trees, no bad thing, but, back then, the view over the Yamato Province below must have been spectacular.
   Back onto the track, and onto my next destination - Mt Shiro (Shiroyama). 
    As I beat my way through the dense grass track, I am suddenly confronted by this (very new) Torii, and I immediately knew where I was.
Map Location.
   Directly behind the Torii, and other religious icons, was the summit of Shiroyama. I spend several minutes at the summit taking-in the surroundings, plus the obligatory photos and video, and am reminded that it has been some hours since I last ate. I was aware that I was about midway through my planned route and needed to restock my fuel supplies. So I set off in search of a suitable place to sit.

And I soon find it. A track, branching-off between the ruins and the summit, takes me to this small shrine where I dine on a flask of hot curry, bread, bananas and washed-down with a cup of cafe au lait. After checking-out other sites in the area, I begin my descent. 
Map Location.
   I have decided to be bold and descend down the other side of Shiroyama, where there is no formed track. On my way down I could hear the sound of a running stream and head for it. This requires some bush-bashing and, after a few hairy moments, I reach the stream. 
Map Location.
Trudging downstream I soon discover a dirt track and climb the bank and commence my exit from the area. With all the recent storms the area experienced, there was still plenty of debris lying about. 
Map Location.
   Two kilometers later I arrive at the junction, with the road I turned-off earlier in the day (the one that goes to Shoryaku-ji Temple). I know of another track from this road that takes me back in the direction of Obitoke Station. I am now back in familiar territory and am aware of what distance I have left to walk. I am also in need of another fix of cafe au lait and some fruit-loaf.
Map Location.
   After emerging from the forest I take a short detour to check-out this interesting site. This is a Tumulus Pond and, where the Torii are situated, is the Ookawaike Kofun, or burial mound. There are five located within this area.
   I soon rejoin my earlier route and, 2-kilometers later, arrive back at Obitoke Station, and in dire need of sustagen. But, as luck would have it, my train was only a few minutes away and I would have to wait until I got home. 
   Well, it's been another great outing and I am already planning my return. Maybe then I will be able to have that coffee with the resident of Kitatsubao-cho. I hope you have enjoyed this post. So,until next time, happy hiking.

   I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the guys at "JCastle" for the use of their image of Iwakuni-jo.

  This is the full Video of the hike.

   Course details and map -