Wednesday 20 September 2017

One of Japan's top 100 castles - Hachioji castle (八王子城)

At the end of the last post I left a message inviting people to leave me a message with a letter of the English alphabet and a number.  What I would then do would be to find a train line in the Greater Tokyo area beginning with the letter provided and then find a station along the line that matched the number (train stations here recently have been given a designated number to assist foreign tourists make their way around.  I would then try to find something in the area to write about.  The first person to leave me a message was Ms B.  She left me B 22.  I searched long and hard around the Tokyo area for a train line beginning with the letter B, but no luck.  Sorry Ms B but I had to move on to the next letter in the alphabet, C.  Immediately I thought of the Chuo Line.  Now station number 22 happens to be Hachioji.  Next problem, what is there in Hachioji?  I started searching and found that Mount Takao is located in Hachioji city but I have already written about that (post can be found here).  A little more searching and I stumbled across Hachioji castle.  "What is this?" I mused, having not heard of Hachioji castle before.  I little more searching and I realised that this was it.  I was going to visit Hachioji castle!  I was also to find out that not many Japanese people know of Hachioji castle, even people who have lived in Hachioji city for years.  What a hidden gem!

Hachioji castle has a very short history, and a very violent finale.  Construction of the castle started in the 1570's by Ujiteru Hojo of the powerful Hojo clan.  The Hojo clan controlled most of the Kanto area which is comprised of Tokyo, Kanagawa to the south, Chiba to the east and Saitama and Gunma to the north.  Possessing such a large tract of land gave them a huge amount of power.  Their main castle was located at nearby Odawara but Ujiteru built Hachioji as a defensive fortress.  Located at the top of a mountain, it was thought that it would be much easier to fend off enemy forces.

Skip ahead to 1590 and another guy by the name of Hideyoshi Toyotomi was well on his way to unifying all of Japan under a central rule.  One of the final pieces of regional power left to fall was the Kanto area.  He marched 150,000 men to Odawara, surrounded the castle and started a waiting game.  He didn't attack the castle, just lay siege to it.  What he did do was to send a force of men around the Kanto area taking down each of the smaller Hojo family castles, slowly whittling away their power.  Our friend, Ujiteru Hojo heard this news and quickly made his way back to Odawara castle leaving a force of 1,300 men protecting Hachioji castle.  Hideyoshi Toyotomi sent two of his military commanders, Toshiie Maeda and Kagekatsu Uesugi, along with a force of 50,000 soldiers to take down Hachioji castle.  It fell in less than a day. This victory was influential in finishing the resistance of the Hojo family at Odawara caslte and they surrendered the next month.  A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to Hachioji castle.

The nearest station to the castle is Takao station and while technically not station 22 (it is 24) it is within Hachioji city.  I met up with friends Tetsuya and Jarrett at Takao station and headed out the North exit to where the bus stop is.  We jumped on the bus (which is clearly marked in English "For Hachioji castle" and within 15 minutes we had arrived at the entry point to the castle.

We started in toward the castle and the forest was thick around us.

This is in the area where the front gate of the castle used to be.

Walking through here I could imagine the Hojo soldiers viewing the sight of the massive Toyotomi army marching toward the castle gates.  I could imagine them retreating from the front gates back into the main castle area.

The path kept winding up the hill toward the castle proper

eventually arriving at the last obstacle before reaching the castle, Hikihashi.

It was one final obstacle as the bridge was built so that it was easily collapsible, thus forcing attacking enemies to find an alternative way across the river to get to the castle, effectively buying the inhabitants a little extra time.  In this case, it was futile as Toyotomi's men soon found a way in, as did we.  We had it a little easier than those 427 years ago as those who had reconstructed the bridge in recent times kindly made it sturdier and non-collapsible.

Reaching the other side, we made our way up the stone stairs just as Toyotomi's men had 427 years ago.

and into the grounds of the main castle building.  All that remains now are a few foundation stones and the foundation of the main castle residence where Ujiteru Hojo lived.

The silence was mystical and mesmerising, while at the same time, sombre and haunting.  Just a handful of people wandering around wordlessly taking in the atmosphere of this place, this place which had been, historically, a crucial part of one of the most significant episodes in Japan's history, the re-unification of Japan under a centralised rule.

Turning around, I noticed a path leading back into the forest behind the castle so I wandered in to have a look.

I kept following it deeper into the tangle of trees and undergrowth

further deeper until the path started fading away

and I began to feel as though I might just about to have my own Blair Witch moment so I turned around and made my way back along the path and back into the clearing.  Heading off to the right I made my way down a path that led me away from the main area of the castle ruins.

In front of me was a worn path

that led to a waterfall.

It was here on that fateful day, in 1590, that thousands of soldiers and regular townsfolk fled to get away from the oncoming forces.  It was here that they took their own lives rather than be captured or killed by the enemy.  Exactly how many people died here that day is unknown, lost in time.  Some reports say 50,000 people died here (although that number may have been inflated by the sands of time).  Legend says that the river water ran red for 3 days after.

A memorial to the fallen, perhaps.

I made my way back down to the entrance of the castle area, again, surrounded by silence, a silence that cloaked what had happened all those years ago.

I think I will end this one here.  There is more to the castle are than I saw, I just had to leave when I did to get back to the bus stop to catch the bus back to the train station.  As it turned out, we had missed the last bus and had to walk back to Takao station!

Thanks again for reading and I hope you enjoyed that Ms B.  That one was for you.  Please leave a comment below and tell me what you thought of this post about Hachioji castle.  Also, feel free to sign up for email updates when I put up a new post.  See you next time.


  1. Looks like a great spot to build a holiday camp! I think the Blair witch path was created by people like yourself checking out where it goes. You've done your bit to extend it a foot I guess :)

    1. Hey Scott, good to hear from you! You're right, lots of open space for tents, if you can put up with the ghosts! It is a popular spot for ghost hunters! Hope things are well with you.

  2. Love a bit of serendipity! Also am a huge fan of Japanese castles so really enjoyed hearing the story...cheers,
    Ms B.

    1. Hi Ms B. Happy you enjoyed it. If it wasn't for your suggestion, this would never have been found, so thank you!

  3. Can't sit tight for another blog by this essayist.