Sunday, August 22, 2010


On 17th July, hubby and I visited Kasugayama in Joetsu city of Niigata prefecture. We explored the ruins of Kasugayama Castle, as well as visited Kasugayama jinja Shrine and Rinsenji Temple. Kasugayama is a mountain where Uesugi Kenshin, a 16th century warrior, built and resided in his castle. The place is now popular as a hiking course.

Kasugayama is about 365 kilometers away from our home. We left our home at about 8 am, and it took us about six hours of car ride to reach Kasugayama. We could drive up to the base of the ruins of Kasugayama Castle, which is halfway up Kasugayama Mountain. As soon as we parked our car we saw a grand statue of Uesugi Kenshin right in front of us.

Uesugi Kenshin
On the mountainside, we saw a bronze statue of Uesugi Kenshin gazing out in the direction of Kawanakajima. An original stone wall of the castle was also seen under the statue. Uesugi Kenshin was a daimyo who ruled Echigo province in the Sengoku period. He was born in Echigo in 1530 as the youngest son of Nagao Tamekage, the deputy protector and retainer of Uesugi clan. On becoming lord of Kasugayama Castle at the age of 19, he subdued the Echigo area and later became the chief of all the samurai in the Kanto area. Along with the Battle of Kawanakajima where he fought on five occasions against his enemy Takeda Shingen of Kai province, he went to war in Kanto, fought against Oda Nobunaga, and also visited Kyoto, in an attempt to unite Japan. Over the course of his lifetime, Uesugi Kenshin fought in 70 major battles and gained the reputation as one of the best generals of his time. Because of his fearsome skills in the martial arts displayed on the battlefield, he is often referred to as the Dragon of Echigo. Due to an illness, he passed away in 1578 at the age of 49.
A stone wall of Kasugayama Castle and the bronze statue of Uesugi Kenshin

Statue of Uesugi Kenshin

Statue of Uesugi Kenshin as seen from another angle

Kasugayama jinja Shrine
Hubby looked up the map of the area and we decided to first visit Kasugayama jinja Shrine. The shrine is located halfway up Kasugayama Mountain, and is situated adjacent to the huge bronze statue of Uesugi Kenshin. The shrine was constructed sometime between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century with donations, and it enshrines Uesugi Kenshin. In the treasury within the shrine precinct, articles left by Uesugi Kenshin such as the battle flags, battle weapons, and armor are exhibited. I prayed for peace and harmony at the shrine.
Hubby looking up the map of the area

I am standing at the entrance of Kasugayama jinja Shrine complex

I am standing in front of a torii gate of the shrine

Kasugayama jinja Shrine

Kasugayama jinja Shrine

I am ringing the bell of the shrine

I am standing in front of the main altar of the shrine

Premises of the shrine

Ruins of Kasugayama Castle
After visiting Kasugayama jinja Shrine, hubby and I started climbing up Kasugayama Mountain to visit the ruins of Kasugayama Castle, which is considered as a premier medieval mountain castle of Japan.
Hubby climbing up Kasugayama Mountain

Kasugayama Castle was the primary fortress of Sengoku period warlord Uesugi Kenshin. It was situated in Echigo province, in what is known as the present-day Joetsu city of Niigata prefecture. The castle was originally built in the 14th century and ruled by Nagao clan. Uesugi Kenshin became the lord of the castle in 1548. After his death in 1578, his nephew Uesugi Kagekatsu gained control of it, after a series of battles with Uesugi Kagetora, the adopted son of Uesugi Kenshin, over the inheritance. Twenty years later, Hori clan became the lords of Kasugayama; but they decided to build a new castle at Fukushima and, in 1607, the last lord of the castle left. The name of the castle Kasuga comes from its connection to Kasuga Taisha, a major Shinto shrine in Nara. The castle is counted among five greatest mountain castles of Japan, along with Nanao Castle, Odani Castle, Kannonji Castle, and Gassantoda Castle. The castle encompassed an extremely wide area and covered the whole of Kasugayama Mountain. Presently most of the castle is in ruins and has been designated as an important historic site. Although the buildings are no longer there, vestiges of the medieval mountain castle still exist, like earthwork outer walls, a few stone walls, and a dry moat. The place now serves as a recreation and relaxation spot for the citizens.

As we climbed halfway up the mountain, we started getting beautiful view of the city. There was greenery everywhere surrounding us.
Greenery around us as we climbed up the mountain

Beautiful view of the city we got while climbing up the mountain

After climbing up the mountain for some more time, we saw a temple named Bishamondo. A holy statue of Bishamonten, which Uesugi Kenshin professed, is laid in state in this sacred hall. Bishamonten is known to be a god that makes demons surrender. The original statue was moved to Yonezawa in the days of Uesugi Kagekatsu and was damaged by a fire in 1849. In 1928, the 15th direct descendent of Uesugi family, Uesugi Noriaki, asked the Tokyo Fine Arts School to repair the statue. Master Takamura Koun spent one year in the repair of the statue. On that occasion, Master Takamura decided to make the same as a holy statue, and in 1930 offered it to Kasuga village. In November 1931, the village authorities built a small shrine at the site of the former hall to enshrine the statue. Uesugi Kenshin was known to make the follower generals of his army swear their oaths in front of the ancient hall.
Bishamondo Temple

Front view of Bishamondo Temple

Yet another view of Bishamondo Temple

After climbing up the mountain for some more time, we saw the Gomado Sanctuary. Uesugi Kenshin prayed alone in Bishamondo Temple before setting off for a battle. But it was in the Gomado Sanctuary that he offered prayers of thanksgiving after a victory or good fortune. His use of the goma style of invocation, as well as his belief in the deity Bishamonten, shows the intensity of Uesugi Kenshin’s faith in Shingon esoteric Buddhism.
Gomado Sanctuary

After a few more minutes of climbing, we reached the mountain top which was the site of Honmaru, the Castle Keep. Together with Tenshudai adjoining it to the south, it was known as the ‘heaven’ of Kasugayama Castle. From the site of Honmaru, which is at an elevation of 180 meters, we enjoyed a sweeping view of the city of Joetsu.
Site of Honmaru, the Castle Keep, at the mountain top

Yet another view of the site of Honmaru at the mountain top

Sweeping view of the city of Joetsu from the mountain top

We stayed at the mountain top and enjoyed the panoramic views of the city for about ten minutes, and then started walking down the mountain. After walking for about 15 minutes we reached halfway down the mountain. We turned around to see the glorious mountain forest where Kasugayama Castle once stood. We felt a bit sad and pondered about the fact that no major trace of Kasugayama Castle stands on this mountain now, which was once the base of powerful Sengoku daimyo Uesugi Kenshin. In fact on seeing the ruins of Kasugayama Castle, the famous Edo period poet Matsuo Basho wrote a Haiku stating that if the spirit of Uesugi Kenshin still dwells on this mountain, it would have been sad.
The famous general
Awakening on this mountain
Saw a sad moon
Kasugayama Castle once stood at this place

We were sad and also rather tired because of the hot and humid weather. But our spirits were lifted by seeing a few mountain lilies. After walking for ten more minutes we reached back the area where we had parked our car. We saw an original stone wall of the castle on the top of which the huge statue of Uesugi Kenshin is installed. We said good bye to the statue and next visited Rinsenji Temple, which was about ten minutes drive by our car.
Hubby tired due to the hot and humid weather

Beautiful mountain lilies we saw while walking down the mountain

A stone wall of the castle and the statue of Uesugi Kenshin

Rinsenji Temple
Rinsenji is a Zen Buddhist temple located at the foot of Kasugayama Mountain. The temple was constructed in 1497 by Nagao Yoshikage, who was an advisor to Uesugi clan. Eou Donei was Rinsenji Temple’s first chief priest who was most highly regarded priest in all of Japan at that time. Large number of trainee priests came to Rinsenji Temple to undergo religious training. One of Nagao Yoshikage’s grandsons was adopted by Uesugi clan as their heir, who in later life was known by the name Uesugi Kenshin. For seven years from the ages of seven to fourteen, Uesugi Kenshin was educated and trained in civil, military arts, and religious matters at Rinsenji Temple under the 6th chief priest, Kouiku Tenshitsu. Under the 7th chief priest, Shuken Yakuo, he learned Zen meditation. These teachings gave Uesugi Kenshin the strength to devote himself in reestablishing Japan as a peaceful and warless nation. Due to the close association of the temple with both the Nagao and Uesugi clans, it flourished. Even after Uesugi Kenshin’s successor, Kagekatsu, was transferred to a fief in Aizu by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the temple continued to flourish as the new daimyo, Hori Hideharu, chose this temple to be his principle place of worship. After the Hori clan fell out of favor with Tokugawa clan and were replaced by Matsudaira clan, a branch family of the Tokugawa, the temple continued to receive great treatment and donations.
Hubby looking up the map of Rinsenji Temple Complex

The first entrance gate of Rinsenji Temple Complex is known as Soumon. This gate originally belonged to Kasugayama Castle and was later moved here. This gate was closed and we had to walk down a road adjacent to the gate.
I am standing in front of Soumon Gate of the temple complex. Sanmon Gate can be seen behind it.

Next, we passed through another gate named Sanmon. This gate was originally constructed by Uesugi Kenshin but it burned down due to an earthquake at the end of Edo period. The present gate was built in Taisho period. This gate has a pair of large guardian statues called Nio, one on either side of the entrance. These fierce looking Nio statues, one open-mouthed and the other close-mouthed, are supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. We noticed beautiful paintings on the ceiling of Sanmon gate.
Sanmon Gate of the temple complex

I am standing next to the open-mouthed Nio guardian statue at Sanmon Gate

Hubby standing next to the close-mouthed Nio guardian statue at Sanmon Gate

Wonderful painting on the ceiling of Sanmon gate

Sanmon gate as viewed from inside the temple complex

Inside the temple complex, we saw a temple bell, a cute tiny statue of Jizo bosatsu, a small pond, and lots of greenery.
Temple bell

A small pond

Statue of a tiny Jizo bosatsu

Next, we saw the Main Hall of the temple named Hondou. This Main Hall was rebuilt in 1997, during the 500th anniversary of the temple. Honzon Shakamuni is the principal statue of this hall. In an adjacent room, a statue of Uesugi Kenshin is installed and worshipped. We prayed at this hall for peace and prosperity. Standing at the Main Hall, we got a beautiful view of the temple complex.
Hubby standing in front of Main Hall Hondou

Main Hall Hondou

Closer view of the entrance of Main Hall Hondou

Principal Buddhist statue Honzon Shakamuni inside Main Hall

Statue of Uesugi Kenshin in an adjacent room in Main Hall

Beautiful view inside the temple complex

After this, we visited the graveyard located inside the temple complex. We saw a tombstone erected in memory of the war dead in the Battle of Kawanakajima. Adjacent to this, we saw the tombstone of Uesugi Kenshin.
Tombstone erected in memory of the war dead in the Battle of Kawanakajima

Tombstone of Uesugi Kenshin

We spent a lot of time inside the temple complex. At about 5 pm, we left the temple and drove up to Niigata railway station. It was 132 kilometers up north and took about two hours to reach there by our car. We stayed at a hotel near Niigata railway station for two nights. The next day, we visited Sado Island about which I will write in the next few posts.


Ina said...

Hey, just wanted to say Thank you for the lovely blog, which I accidentally found while researching the Dragon of Echigo. It was very useful for me, especially the bit where you mention Kenshin's religion. Are you positively certain he practiced Shingon Buddhism? I just want to make sure as that will be a stepping stone for me to go deeper in my research if I can. Once again, many thanks for putting all that info online!

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Ina for your nice comment. Well, regarding Kenshin's religion, I read about it in the pamphlet the shrine staff gave us when we entered the shrine premises. Hubby and I are more interested in the historical and the architectural aspect of the place. Hope you found other information here useful.

Ina M. said...

It's me again, several years later :) Really sorry for the delay and thank you very much for the reply :) Well, here I am, still researching Kenshin but in a different aspect :) I was wondering, did you give the names of the two Rinsen-ji priests he studied under in the Japanese or Western fashion? Say, in Shuken Yakuo which is the surname? Also, what is the correct way to address a head priest? Would it be Master + Surname?

P.S. I plan on visiting Kasugayama next June, but I'll be arriving in Joetsu by train. Do you think it's feasible to do it in one day from Tokyo (the travel is only two hours) and be able to see Kasugayama, the two shrines and Rinsen-ji without rushing?