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Shiodaira(Shioda Plain) designated as a Japanese Heritage Site - JUN, 2024

It's been nine years since I last visited the two local national treasure pagodas (the octagonal three-story pagoda of Anraku-ji Temple and the three-story pagoda of Daiho-ji Temple), which I wrote about in a separate article. In the meantime, the historic sites of shrines and temples in the area have been designated as Japanese Heritage sites, and it seems that the area is steadily becoming a tourist destination. Ueda City is home to Shinano Kokubunji Temple and its ruins, the main official road, the Tosando, and was the home of the Shinano Kuni no Miyatsuko, so there's no doubt that it was the center of Shinano Province in ancient times.

Although there is an estimated location for the provincial capital, its exact location has not yet been pinpointed. It is believed that the provincial capital lost its function during the 10th century when the Taira no Masakado Rebellion occurred, and was moved to Chikuma County, where Matsumoto City is located, but even here it is still difficult to pinpoint its exact location. The current Shinano Kokubunji Temple is located about 300m north of the site, and it is said that Minamoto no Yoritomo ordered the restoration of the deserted temple on his way back from a pilgrimage to Zenkoji Temple, but thanks to the devout Buddhist faith of the successive rulers of Shiodadaira, beautiful temples quietly stand here to this day.

Incidentally, as soon as you enter Shinano Kokubunji Temple, you will see a monument marking the site of the Tokugawa-Sanada meeting. During the Battle of Sekigahara, Tokugawa Hidetada led a separate force to attack Sanada Masayuki, who was holed up in Ueda Castle, but Hidetada had his messengers (Honda Tadamasa and Sanada Nobuyuki) stay at the temple to advise him to surrender and negotiate in a relaxed manner. Masayuki bought himself time and prepared for a siege, which delayed Hidetada's large army, as historical fact shows.

One of the reasons for the decline of the Shinano Kokufu was the rapid development of manors. Shioda Plain was donated to Kenshunmon-in (the daughter of Taira no Tokinobu, the mother of Emperor Takakura) at the height of the Taira government, and the provincial government land became a manor (Shioda Manor of Saishoko-in Temple, which Kenshunmon-in wished for). This area was a rich grain-producing region, centered on the river terraces created by the Chikuma River, but after the wars caused by Kiso Yoshinaka's uprising, the Shioda branch of the Hojo clan entered the area during the Kamakura period and protected Zen Buddhism and Kamakura Buddhism. During the Muromachi period, it was ruled by the Murakami clan, which descended from the Kawachi Genji clan and supported Ashikaga Takauji, and during the Sengoku period, the Takeda clan invaded, and the area came under the control of the Sanada clan, ushering in the Edo period. This area is like a miniature version of Japanese history, and is a feast for the eyes, especially for fans of medieval history, as there are many old temples and shrines remaining.

This time, I traveled around Sakudaira and Shiodadaira, with the fresh greenery of Karuizawa as my base, but it's a place I'd like to spend some time in, as there are many things to see around the castle and temples, but I recommend Bessho Onsen. It's easily accessible by car from the center of Ueda City, about 20-30 minutes, and it's a historic hidden hot spring that was discovered during Emperor Yamato Takeru's eastern expedition, but it seems to have been so famous at least during the Heian period that it is written in The Pillow Book that "the hot springs are Arima, Tamazukuri, and Nanakuri (another name for Bessho Onsen)."

After entering the hot spring area, we first visited Joraku-ji Temple, which has an Important Cultural Property stone pagoda. Stone pagodas from the end of the Kamakura period are rare, and along with the national treasure octagonal pagoda at the nearby Anraku-ji Temple, they are a must-see for tower enthusiasts.

Now it is one of the buildings of Jorakuji Temple, but there is a temple called Kitamuki Kannon near the source of Bessho Onsen. It was founded by Ennin (Jikaku Daishi), a successor to Kukai, and he is said to have opened over 200 temples in the Kanto region and 300 in the Tohoku region. Ennin was from Shimotsuke (Tochigi Prefecture), and the theory that he opened a temple in a hot spring area along the main road (Tosando) that led back to his hometown is quite convincing (^^).

There is an Aizenkatsura tree here. It is said that this tree was the inspiration for Shotaro Kawaguchi's romance novels, which were made into many films and dramas from before and after the war.

At the entrance to Bessho Onsen, there is a small circular tumulus called Shogunzuka, which is believed to be the grave of Taira no Koremochi, who served as the naval commander in the Tohoku region in the latter half of the 10th century. During the Heian period, the Tokaido was still inconvenient and people had to travel by sea from Sagami to Kazusa, so the main road to Kanto and Tohoku was the Tosando, and Kiso Yoshinaka, Minamoto no Yoritomo, and Ennin all traveled there. It was also an important strategic point where a powerful member of the Kamakura Hojo clan (Hojo Yoshimasa) was stationed.

This time, we also visited Zensan-ji Temple (Important Cultural Property Five-Story Pagoda) and Chuzen-ji Temple (Yakushido Hall) near Bessho Onsen, enjoying the Japan Heritage temple group.

The finale is of course an ancient tomb. I always make sure not to miss any 4th century tombs, and the keyhole-shaped tomb that proves the influence of the Yamato Imperial Court is called Mori Shogunzuka Tomb, and it is located on a mountain overlooking the plains where the Chikuma River soon merges with the Azusa River. It was probably the king of Shinano, who had just come under the control of the Yamato Imperial Court, who built this 100-meter-tall tomb in such a commanding location overlooking Shioda Plain and the distant Zenkoji Plain.

At the foot of the mountain is the Nagano Prefectural History Museum. It has the most impressive exhibits I have ever seen, and I was impressed that it is truly an educational prefecture. However, I also think that the history of the prefecture is truly worthy of having such a magnificent facility. If you want to know more about Nagano Prefecture, this is definitely the first place to visit.



Thank you for coming!

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