Hachiõji castle, Hachiõji, Tõkyõ, the “haunted” castle ruins.
Built in the late 1570’s by the feudal warlord Hõjõ Ujiteru of the powerful Hõjõ clan, Hachiōji castle was a great sprawling castle built across an entire mountaintop. Taking advantage of the steep terrain and the mountain’s several deep ravines, the castle grounds originally encompassed over 500 hectares of land spreading 2 kilometres east to west and 1km north to south. Stone barricades were built in strategic positions to stall would be attackers or spies, and several wooden towers were placed atop high points to warn of oncoming forces. Hachiōji castle was one of the biggest defensive structures ever built during Japan’s late feudal period. The 460 metre high mountain on which the castle was built is Mount Fukasawa but it is alternatively called Shiroyama which means “castle mountain.”
Hachiōji castle was a shijõ, a satellite castle, which was a part of the huge Hõjõ clan network of castles spread across the Kantõ plains. From their honjõ (main castle) of Odawara, the Hõjõ ruled what was then the Sagami province. From Hachiōji castle, Hõjõ Ujiteru ruled the western Kantõ area all the way from the southern end of Musashi province (present-day Saitama prefecture) to present day Yokohama.
When Toyotomi Hideyoshi laid siege to Odawara castle in 1590, Hõjõ Ujiteru, Hõjõ Ujimasa and Hõjõ Ujinao headed off to Odawara leaving Hachiõji castle nearly defenceless with around 1,300 samurai. Hideyoshi had anticipated this and had sent forces under the command of the warlords Maeda Toshiie and Uesugi Kagekatsu to Hachiōji castle via the mountain trails that led to the north of the castle town. Hachiõji castle came under attack from 50,000 of Hideyoshi’s forces on June 23rd 1590 and fell in just 5 and a half hours.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi soon defeated the Hõjõ at Odawara castle leading to his unification of Japan. Toyotomi Hideyoshi fearing Hõjõ Ujiteru for his military prowess, demanded that both Ujiteru and his older brother Ujimasa commit seppuku (ritual suicide) as a condition of a peace treaty. On July 5, 1590 the two brothers each bathed, dressed in white, and composed their death poems. They committed seppuku at Odawara castle with their brother Hõjõ Ujinori as their kaishakunin (the attendant to behead them). It is recorded that when it was seen that Hõjõ Ujinori was about to join them in suicide (junshi) upon seeing that Hõjõ Ujinori was “brave and stalwart, showing no sign of fear or remorse,” he was stopped by the general Ii Naomasa who grabbed his hand and removed his short sword.
Hideyoshi commanded that Hachiõji castle be destroyed and began spreading rumours that it was haunted by the ghosts of the slain women and children as he worried that the castle could be used against him. For centuries afterwards, the entire mountain area remained abandoned because it was believed to be haunted by the ghosts of the slain women and children. Scrolls depicting the fall of Hachiōji castle recount how villagers in the area could hear the sound of galloping horses, gunshots and screaming echoing throughout the mountain’s forests long after the battle had ended. Even today, on June 23rd each year, households in the nearby Motohachiõji district continue to practice the grim observance of preparing blood-coloured azukimeshi (red beans cooked with rice) to remember the slain defenders of Hachiõji castle.
Over the last 420 odd years the castle was eventually reclaimed by nature and although the area was designated a historical landmark in 1951, it wasn’t until the 1980’s during a series of excavations that the true cultural value of the ruins were realised. Excavations on the site of the castle’s palace revealed a treasure trove of priceless earthenware from Korea, China and even a Venetian glassware jug from Murano Italy - something very unique in 16th century Japan, having been found in only three other locations in the country.
Excavations soon uncovered the remains of huge stone walls, as well as an eight-metre-wide road that led to a stone stairway below the castle’s main gate, the remains of which can be seen today. There are a few small places where the remains of stone walls around the very top of the mountain can be seen, but little remains and much is still inaccessible.
Spears, swords, pieces of armour, arrows, tools, and hundreds of pieces of broken lacquerware have been found on the mountain. In 1993 a pit filled with the remains of banquets shed some light on the types of dishes that were served in the castle palace. Numerous wild boar, dog, deer, and pheasant bones were found together with shards of clay pottery and fine china plates - some of which were dated and signed.
Not far from the castle site are the graves of Hõjõ Ujiteru along with the graves of the other Hõjõ family members who lived at Hachiōji castle. The ancient castle roads built alongside the Shiroyama River which led to the castle, and the castle’s wonderfully reconstructed hikibashi bridge, which leads to the stone foundations of the castle itself are historical treasures. Today 159 hectares of the vast site are designated as an important historical site.
Next to the castles goshuden palace area there is a waterfall which is the source of many of the tales of ghosts in the area. It is claimed that when the castle fell, the women and children of the Hõjõ family committed suicide at this little waterfall. It is recounted in documents after the battle that for three days and nights the river water was stained red with their blood. For this reason Hachiōji castle is well known as one of the most famous haunted sites in Tõkyõ.