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Castle Ueda Castle

This article is in the series Walking the Japanese Castles
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Ueda Castle (上田城 Ueda-jō) is located in central Nagano Prefecture. It was the stronghold of the Sanada clan (真田氏 Sanada-shi) and withstood the onslaught of Tokugawa Ieyasu's armies twice.



Sanada Masayuki (真田安房守 昌幸, 1547-1611) built Ueda Castle along a branch of the Chikuma River in 1583 with the help of his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu. It was the time when the Sanada established themselves as an independent power among the Tokugawa, the Hōjō and the Uesugi after the demise of the Takeda.

The first conflict between Masayuki and Tokugawa Ieyasu broke out in 1585 soon after the castle was completed. Ieyasu attacked because the Sanada had formed an alliance with the Uesugi. The Sanada forces consisted of only 2,000 warriors, while the Tokugawa mustered an army of 7,000. Ieyasu took a terrible beating due to Sanada's skilful tactics in the Battle at Kami River; it was said that 1,300 Tokugawa samurai were killed. Later, Toyotomi Hideyoshi forced Masayuki to submit to Ieyasu. Masayuki's first son Sanada Nobuyuki (真田信之, 1566-1658) married an adopted daughter of Ieyasu, while his second son Sanada Yukimura (真田幸村, 1567-1615) was married to an adopted daughter of Hideyoshi.

In the run-up to the decisive battle at Sekigahara, Nobuyuki remained loyal to Ieyasu. Masayuki and his son Yukimura, however, sided with the Toyotomi forces and the Western army. On his way to assist his father at Sekigahara, Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川秀忠, 1579-1632), Ieyasu's third son and second Tokugawa shōgun, launched a massive attack on Ueda Castle, employing an army of 38,000. Although the Sanada forces consisted of only 2,500 defenders, he was forced to give up his siege of Ueda Castle and arrived too late for the Battle of Sekigahara (1600).


The map is based on GSI Map powered by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan. The location of the enclosures is estimated.

Sanada Masayuki submitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu and was dispossessed. Nobuyuki received Ueda Domain (95,000 koku) but was transferred to Matsushiro Domain (modern-day Nagano City) in 1622. Ueda Castle was later administrated by the Sengoku (until 1706) and the Matsudaira clans. After the Meiji Restoration, it was partly demolished and turned into a prison, a zoo and eventually a public park with two shrines and a local museum of history. After World War II, two yagura (turrets) were restored; in 1990, a gate was reconstructed. The castle was designated a National Historic Site of Japan in 1934 and is listed as one of Japan's 100 Top Castles.

Nowadays, the castle appears to be a common middle-sized castle. It is hard to imagine that it once was such a strong castle. Even the local castle guide explains that "it does not seem to be impregnable at first glance". However, it was actually heavily fortified utilizing the topography of Chikuma River at its southern side and Yadesawa River flowing in the north and west side, as well as huge moats originally located at the site of the current baseball and athletic field.

Three corner turrets exist at the castle, as well as a stone wall, earthworks and a moat of the main and second enclosure.

Visiting Ueda Castle

If you take the train, it takes more than 10 minutes from Ueda Station. If you arrive by car, there is a free parking lot on the southern perimeter of the castle.

① On the western side of the Ni-no-maru ( 二の丸, second enclosure) is a flower garden. Remaining earthworks and dried moats are still visible.


② The baseball and athletic fields were formerly ponds rather than large-scale moats.


③ North Entrance (北虎口 Kita-koguchi)


④ Cutting corners (隅欠 Sumi-otoshi): as a characteristic of this castle, the northeastern corner of the enclosure is cut off; the northeast is considered to be an unlucky direction, and cutting corners has the meaning of preventing bad luck from happening. The lord's residence had similar features.


⑤ An hour bell (時の鐘 Toki-no-kane); it is on the earthworks in the northern side of Ninomaru Bridge. It had told time to the castle town during the Edo Period and was later transferred here.


⑥ Ninomaru Bridge and the East Entrance to the castle.


⑦ Remains of the castle moat at the Ni-no-maru. In the Showa Period, a railroad ran here. Nowadays, it is a popular promenade.


⑧ The Turret Gate on the right, and the Southern Turret to its left. The North Turret is located at the right side of Turret Gate. North and South Turret had once been demolished and were restored later. The Turret Gate was reconstructed in 1994.


The turrets are open to visitors (extra admission).


⑨ The Sanada Well; it is said that a secret path leads outside the castle.


⑩ The West Turret; unfortunately, it is not open to the public.


The view south of the main enclosure. Where once the Chikuma River flowed is a parking lot now.


Looking up the castle from the parking lot. What appears to be a cliff was a former riverbank.


Date of visit: 12 October 2013


  • Address: Ninomaru, Ueda-shi, Nagano
  • Transport: 15 minutes from JR Nagano Shinkansen, Shinano Railway Line Ueda station on foot
    5 km from Joshinetsu Expressway Ueda-Sugadaira Interchange via National route 144
  • Parking: Southside of the castle site / Second enclosure (free: Spot 'P' pointed on the map above)
  • Other sights: Ueda Tourist Attractions (English PDF)
Next article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Sanada Residence
Previous article in the series 'Walking the Japanese Castles': Sano Castle
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Hiroto Uehara
Hiroto is an ordinary Japanese office worker, but his true mission is searching for castles on the weekend.


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