Ueda and Sanada – Following the Trails of the Samurai
If you are traveling around in Japan, you will come across many historical places for sure and most of them are applied to the Sengoku-era or "Age of Warring States" which lasted from 1477 to 1573. It’s one of Japan’s most famous historic events that is also still a popular genre in Japanese pop culture media including drama, anime, manga, or video games.
Many warlords participated in this war and one of them was Sanada Yukimura (1567 – 1615) from the Sanada clan that had its roots here in Ueda and Sanada.
Ueda, in Nagano prefecture, is an idyllic town with a shopping street and some restaurants around the station. When you leave the station you can see a statue of Sanada Yukimura who welcomes you.
If you’re a big anime fan, you might recognize some characters from Mamoru Hosoda’s animated movie "Summer Wars" in the form of figures or beverage dispensers.
There’s much more to investigate. When you walk around the town, you will see a lot of different cartoonish characters from the Sanada clan. Some are well hidden and it’s a lot of fun to find all of them.
The famous landmark of Ueda are the ruins of the Ueda Castle. Unfortunately there’s nothing much left. When you enter the park you can see the huge rebuilt wall that you can enter for a fee and the flags with the six coins, the family crest of the Sanada, are blowing in the wind. You can also visit the Sanada Shrine in the park. And if you take a closer look, you will see an old closed well that was said to be an ancient gateway of the castle.
If you want to check out the area around Ueda, I’d recommend to go by rental car. Of course there are other possibilities like buses (one-day pass ¥300) or rental bicycles which are free.
One historical place that is located between the mountains in the north of Ueda, is Sanada. You can visit the Sanada Museum which has a lot of interesting replica to offer, especially from the 2016 NHK TV drama Sanada Maru.
Not far away from the museum are the ruins of the Sanada Clan residence. You have a beautiful view down of the valley from there.
In the south eastern part of Sanada is the Hasedera. A temple that looks like the others on the first view. But if you take a closer look, you can find a small passage that leads you behind the building and you are standing in the middle of a beautiful garden with a small waterfall. Stairs lead you up a small hill and along old family graves surrounded by trees to the grave of Masayuki Sanada, Yukimura’s father. The grave is full of six coins people leave during their visit to depict the family crest. If you plan to visit the grave, you should have some coins in your pocket to show some respect for Masayuki.
Sanada and Ueda are beautiful places to enjoy history and nature at the same time. At the end of the day it’s nice to check out some izakaya or restaurants around the station and have a hot bath in one of the hotels that offer an onsen.
How to Get There:
Ueda from Tokyo:
By train: Bullet train from Ueno Station bound for Kanazawa. (90 min. and costs about ¥6,660)
By train: Ueda Station on JR Nagano Shinkansen, 12 minutes by foot
By car: 15 minutes from Ueda Sugadaira IC Joshinetsu Expressway. Parking lot close to Ueda castle is free.