Ueda Castle, in Nagano, was originally built in 1583 during the Sengoku (“Warring States”) period by Sanada Masayuki, a minor warlord. The castle, consisting of seven yagura about a central keep but lacking a donjon, helped the Sanada clan retain independence via rapidly changing alliances among its stronger neighbors. The castle withstood sieges from the vastly superior forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1585 and by Tokugawa Hidetada (third son of Ieyasu and the second shogun) in 1600 in a side battle to the Battle of Sekigahara.
Following Sekigahara, Sanada Masayuki submitted to Tokugawa Ieyasu and the castle was dismantled. Possession was transferred to the Sengoku clan, which rebuilt part of the castle, and then to the Matsudaira clan in 1706. Finally, at the end of the Meiji restoration, the castle was again dismantled, leaving only the ramparts and one yagura.
Reconstruction began in 1949, with the restoration of two yagura. The gate was completed in the 1990s. The castle is considered one of the finest 100 castles in Japan, and is home to a historical museum (with a virtual reality presentation of the castle as it once stood) and the Sanada Shrine, which honors the Sanada, Matsudaira and Sengoku clans. Visitors to the castle surged in 2016 due to the airing of Sanada Maru「真田丸」, a season of NHK’s popular Taiga drama, which recounted the role of Sanada Nobushige in the 1615 Siege of Osaka.
According to tradition, a traveler was seeking shelter for the night when Monju Bosatsu (bodhisattva Manjushri) appeared in the form of a deer and led him to this ancient hot spring. Hence the name Kakeyu (鹿教湯), “deer guide hot spring.” Now, centuries later, the village has adopted the deer as its mascot. Unfortunately, while visitors can spot the deer motif in multiple locations throughout the area, they’re unlikely to see any actual deer.
The village and its resort spas are separated from Monju Temple by the Uchimura River. Visitors cross via the covered wooden Godai Bridge adjacent to Monju no Yu, the original hot spring which has been in use for 1,200 years. From there it’s a brief climb through a dense wood to the temple.
The temple itself, a prefectural treasure, is reached via a stone stairway leading between two enormous keyaki trees, and sits in a clearing. Although in a state of disrepair — when we visited, the roof of an outbuilding had fallen in on the two Nio guardian statues inside — the temple holds many surprises, including the dragon painting that spans the ceiling of the portico.
Separated from the main temple by a rushing mountain stream is a serried rank of jizo topped by statues of Bosatsu Monju and Buddha.
The village’s other attractions include a small shrine housing Ebisu and Daikoku, guardians of the spa. Although remote, Kakeyu Onsen is a worthwhile adventure for travelers seeking a peaceful spa experience with access to the nearby Ueda and Matsumoto castles.
This “waterfall of white threads”, 70 meters wide, is heated by nearby Mt Asama — a Category A active volcano. As a result, the water temperature is a constant 11C year-round. The water seeps from the ground above the falls, and spills gently down the three-meter drop. The resulting idyllic falls and pond are surrounded by green nature in a remote area of Karuizawa, in Nagano Prefecture.
From the pond, the water spills down a series of step-like falls (before running down to the road, where the stream disappears into a culvert).
Despite the remote location, the falls are a popular tourist attraction. Shops by the entrance serve oyaki, fresh roasted fish and other delicacies to the crowds. Buses run from Karuizawa Station once or twice an hour at most, so check the schedule before arriving.