Ueda Castle in Nagano Prefecture once stood prominently on a cliff overlooking the Saigawa River. Also known as Amagafuchi-Jo, Isesaki-Jo, Matsuo-Jo, and Sanada-Jo, it was built around 1583 by its first master, Sanada Masayuki. This sturdy yet small fortress cleverly utilized the surrounding natural defenses, including the river, steep rocky cliffs, the layout of the town below, and the strategically designed waterways to hinder attackers. Ueda Castle was fortified with seven defensive yagura (watchtowers) atop robust stone walls and had two large gates with watchtowers above them.

Ueda Castle is renowned for having repelled the powerful Tokugawa clan twice. The first siege occurred from August to December 1585 when 7,000 Tokugawa troops faced 2,000 Sanada defenders. The second defense was in 1600, just before the Battle of Sekigahara, where 2,500 Sanada samurai held off 38,000 Tokugawa warriors led by Tokugawa Hidetada.

In the Battle of Kami River, Sanada Masayuki lured the Tokugawa attackers close to the castle before ambushing them with a reserve army. The Tokugawa forces, confused and unable to recover, hastily retreated. Support from the powerful Uesugi clan of Echigo further deterred the Tokugawa, solidifying Sanada Masayuki's reputation. In 1600, Hidetada's siege delayed his arrival at Sekigahara, causing his father, Tokugawa Ieyasu, great frustration as Hidetada arrived hours after the battle had ended.

Following the Battle of Sekigahara, Sanada Masayuki and his son, Yukimura (Nobushige), were exiled to a temple on Mount Koya. Tokugawa Ieyasu gave Ueda Castle to Sanada Nobuyuki but ordered its destruction. Nobuyuki complied after moving to nearby Matsushiro Castle. In 1622, daimyo Sengoku Tadamasa began rebuilding Ueda Castle, restoring the moats and the central Honmaru and Ni-no-Maru baileys. Although the seven yagura watchtowers and two main gates were completed, further construction ceased upon Sengoku's death. The current three yagura date from Sengoku Tadamasa’s period. The Sengoku clan ruled the castle from 1622 to 1706, followed by the Matsudaira (Fujii) clan until 1872.


In 1871, Ueda Castle was abandoned, and three years later, its grounds and remaining structures were auctioned off. The Nishi Yagura watchtower remained, while the North and South Yagura were dismantled, moved to the outskirts of town, and used as a brothel. Later sold to a restaurant in Tokyo, these two yagura were eventually bought by Ueda citizens and returned to the castle's stone walls in 1949. The fate of the remaining four original watchtowers is unknown.

In 1927 and during later excavations, it was discovered that Ueda Castle's roof tiles were gilded in gold. Evidence of golden shachihoko (tiger-fish roof ornaments) was also found. Gilded roof tiles were common in larger castles like Oda Nobunaga’s Azuchi Castle and Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Fushimi and Osaka Castles, but rare for a smaller castle like Ueda.

In 1994, the main Yagura-Mon gate was reconstructed, 110 years after the original was dismantled. Near the gate is the Sanada Ishi, a massive rock measuring 2.5 x 3 meters, built into the stone rampart. Such large rocks were a display of the lord’s power and wealth. A well by the Sanada Shrine within the castle grounds is believed to have been a secret tunnel leading out to the north of the castle.

From 1929, the West Yagura served as a museum featuring the Matsudaira family treasures, including weapons, armor, and manuscripts. The Ni-no-Maru now houses the Ueno City Museum, displaying an impressive collection of samurai armor and weapons. Ueda High School stands on the site of the Honmaru Goten palace, with the moats and gate now serving the school.

Nagano Prefecture’s Ueda Castle, though small, holds significant historical importance and remains one of the most popular samurai castles to visit.


See also 

  • Yoshida Castle


    Yoshida Castle is renowned worldwide, particularly through the intricate woodblock prints by Edo Period artist Hiroshige. His famous series, depicting the 53 stages of the Tokaido—the historic route between Kyoto and Edo (modern-day Tokyo)—includes the 34th print, which shows workmen repairing a castle overlooking a wooden bridge crossing a wide river. This scene captures the Toyokawa River at Toyohashi in southeast Aichi Prefecture, and the castle is Yoshida Castle.

    Read more …

  • Yamato Koriyama Castle


    The impressive ruins of Koriyama Castle sit atop a small hill, surrounded by two rivers. The strategic positioning and strong layout of the castle served it well through the final years of the Sengoku period and the peaceful days of the Edo period.

    Read more …

  • Yamanaka Castle


    Yamanaka Castle, established by Hojo Ujiyasu in the 1560s, is located in what is now eastern Mishima, Shizuoka Prefecture. This castle served as the first line of western defense for the main Hojo Castle at Odawara. Carved into the side of a 586-meter-high mountain, Yamanaka Castle was strategically positioned along the Tokaido Highway, offering superb views of nearby Mt. Fuji, the ocean, and the road leading to Odawara.

    Read more …

  • Uwajima Castle


    Uwajima Castle, located in Uwajima City, Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku, is one of the 12 remaining Japanese castles with an original keep. Known for its small size, Uwajima Castle is relatively difficult to access, which means it is less frequented by tourists.

    Read more …

  • Tsuyama Castle


    Tsuyama Castle, located in Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture, is celebrated as one of Japan's top three major hilltop (Hirayama) castles, alongside Himeji and Matsuyama Castles. Originally, Tsuyama Castle comprised 77 structures, including the main keep, various yagura (watchtowers), gates, palaces, and living quarters. For comparison, Hiroshima Castle had 76 structures, and Himeji had 61. The first castle on this site was built in 1441 but was soon abandoned. The large-scale construction that we recognize today began in 1603 under the orders of Mori Tadamasa. The castle served as the administrative base for the Tsuyama Han daimyo, the Mori clan from 1603 to 1697, and the Matsudaira clan from 1698 to 1871.

    Read more …

  • Tsu Castle


    Tsu Castle, located in Tsu City, Mie Prefecture, was originally built by Hosono Fujiatsu in 1558 and was known as Anotsu Castle, named after the old region. The site was strategically chosen at the confluence of the Ano and Iwata Rivers, which naturally formed a moat around the castle, while the nearby port served as a vital trade route.

    Read more …

  • Sasayama Castle


    Tamba Sasayama Castle, also known as Sasayama or Kirigajo (Mist Castle), is a flatland castle (hira-jiro) situated on a gentle rise in the Tamba region of Hyogo Prefecture. It was constructed in 1608 as part of Tokugawa Ieyasu's strategy to prepare for an attack on Osaka, aiming to bring an end to the Toyotomi clan. Ieyasu ordered the castle's construction using the Tenka Bushin system, engaging 20 former enemy daimyo and their forces to complete the complex within six months. This system kept the former enemies close and preoccupied, financially straining them and limiting their capacity for further conflict. The stones used in Sasayama Castle feature engravings called kokumon, indicating who made each part of the walls and preventing theft by other lords' men.

    Read more …

  • Sadowara Castle


    Sadowara Castle in Miyazaki Prefecture was a mountaintop yamajiro castle, initially built by the Tajima clan during the Nanboku-Cho period (1334-1394). As was typical of castles from that era, Mt. Kakusho, the chosen mountain, was terraced to create various baileys, or kuruwa. While defensive structures were constructed at the top and around the mountain, the lord's main living quarters and administrative offices were situated at the mountain's base.

    Read more …



Contact: samuraiwr22@gmail.com