Sengoku Hauntings: Hachiōji Castle

Entrance to Goshuden at Hachiōji Castle

Just west of Tokyo lies the town of Hachiōji, now a town for commuting workers who want to get away from the metropolis. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, the town of Hachiōji seems like a great town to rest in after spending time in a busy city like Tokyo. Unfortunately, Hachiōji has been deemed as a portal to the nether world. Places like Shiroyama Rindo and the ruins of Doryodo Temple where an eighty-two year old woman named Asai Toshi was brutally murdered on September 10, 1963, are considered to be some of the town’s most haunted places.(1) Yet, there is another and it has ties to the Sengoku Jidai, and that would be the ruins of Hachiōji Castle.

History

Hachiōji Castle was built by Hōjō Ujiteru in 1587 after his previous castle of Takiyama was easily overrun by the Takeda clan in 1569. The following year, Ujiteru picked Mount Fukasawa (also known as Shiroyama) to establish his new castle.(2) It was in a better defensive position and the main reason for its construction was to provide another layer of defense for the Hōjō’s main castle of Odawara, which sat to its south. Completed in 1587, the castle managed to sprawl across the mountain top. It was built with barricades in strategic places to stall any attackers and even the lord’s residence was not at the top of the mountain, but rather at the base of it.(3) The stairs on the castle grounds are made entirely out of stone, and the bridge that led to the daimyō’s residence was originally built so that it could be easily destroyed, buying time for those living there.(4) This castle would soon be put to the test when Toyotomi Hideyoshi began taking the final steps towards reunifying the country.

In 1590, Toyotomi Hideyoshi marched to the Kantō region to take on the defiant Hōjō clan, leading over 200,000 troops to take them on.(5) The Hōjō only managed to gather 80,000. In response to Hideyoshi’s advance, Hōjō Ujiteru left Hachiōji with 1,300 men, taking the bulk of his army to help aide the Hōjō clan at Odawara. This would prove to be a costly mistake.

In March 1590, Hideyoshi ordered commanders Maeda Toshiie and Uesugi Kagekatsu to take their forces, which numbered to 30,000, and take the Hōjō positions that laid north of Odawara. Taking the Usui Pass, Toshiie and Kagekatsu took Matsuida, Minowa, Maebashi, Matsuyama, and Hachigata Castles before finally arriving to Hachiōji Castle in June 1590.(6)

On June 23, 1590, the Toyotomi army, numbering 15,000 surrounded the castle of Hachiōji. Despite their brave and best efforts, the defenders were fighting a losing battle. Fearing of falling into enemy hands, some of the women and children of the castle went to the top of a waterfall that is on the castle grounds and threw themselves into the sharp rocks below, while other women slit the throats of their children before killing themselves.(7) The castle fell in just one day, but the waterfall and river it flows into was said to have ran red with the blood of the dead for three days and nights.(8) After the Hōjō surrendered in August 1590, Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was given their lands, ordered for Hachiōji Castle to be destroyed. Hōjō Ujiteru would later commit seppuku on August 10, 1590. Considering that the Hōjō clan fell a mere month after the slaughter that took place at Hachiōji Castle, this is seen as the last battle for unification for Hideyoshi.(9)

It has been rumored that Hōjō Ujiteru’s wife was one of the few people to survive the battle. She spent her last days wandering the forest that surrounded the castle, playing her flute in tattered clothing, the sound echoing though the mountain. This just added more to the locals’ beliefs that the site where Hachiōji Castle once stood had now become home to many spirits. Due to the grounds being deemed as unholy, the remains of the castle went untouched by people for nearly 316 years.(10) The villagers did erect a statue in 1817 to appease the tormented spirits which simply bared the words “Lord have mercy on us.”(11)

The marker near the waterfall at Hachiōji Castle (Matcha.com/see sources)

During World War II, the top of the mountain began to look bald due to logging but after the war, trees were replanted. In 1951, efforts began to preserve its historical importance by declaring the remains of Hachiōji Castle as a historically valuable site.(12) Since 1977, many excavations have been done and the bridge has been rebuilt. All that is left in the on the site are foundations in the ground and shrines where the castle keep once stood. In 1990, the site was opened up to the public as a national park. In 2006, the castle became one of Japan’s Top 100 Castles by the Japan Castle Foundation.(13)

Despite the battle having been over 430 years ago, the spirits of Hachiōji Castle still walk the grounds, forever stuck in a moment in time, forever reliving their final moments.

Recorded Hauntings

The waterfall on the grounds of Hachiōji Castle

Hachiōji Castle is considered to be the most haunted place in the Kantō Region and with the recorded hauntings that have happened here, it is easy to see how it has earned this title. Due to the amount of death and the trauma that comes with war, the last moments for these spirits have been “imprinted” on the land, resulting in hauntings. Many have just been sounds from the battle that was fought over 400 years ago: horses braying, gunshots, metal clashing against metal, the battlecries of men, and the wails and screams of women and children.(14) Some claimed that the spirits would attack anyone who violated their resting grounds, going so far as to following people home and causing misfortune for them, their family and friends, hence why for many generations, the grounds were never tread upon. Apparently, when mist covers the mountains where the castle once stood, the sounds of the castle burning could be heard.(15) This is linked back to the siege of the castle which was said to have taken place on a day that had either misty or rainy conditions, which also increases the paranormal activity at the castle today.(16)

Chances to experience paranormal activity at Hachiōji Castle increase at night, with chances getting better with full moons, misty or rainy weather, and when the anniversary of the battle is close or has arrived. Most of the recorded activity happens around the infamous waterfall and the stream, a location of such loss and death. People who have been brave enough to visit the castle ruins during the night have reported seeing apparitions of women sitting on rocks, most likely their final moments before they took their lives by jumping.(17) Another strange phenomenon that apparently happens on the anniversary of the battle is that the river will turn red like it did so many centuries ago.(18)

Since it is believed that many tormented souls still linger in the ruins, many visitors bring offerings to the statue near the waterfall to appease the spirits.(19) On the anniversary of the battle, local people today prepare akameshi (red beans cooked in rice), which goes back to the battle itself where the bloodstained water ran into the farmers rice paddies and the famers found out during harvest that it had stained their usually white rice red.(20)

Entrance to Hachiōji Castle

Hachiōji Castle Ruins stand as a reminder of the horrors of war, but yet, it is still forgotten by history. Many books fail to mention what happened here as part of the narrative for the Odawara Campaign and Hideyoshi’s path to reunification. While Hachiōji Castle is not as impressive as Odawara, nor is it still standing, like its more famous counterpart, it is just as historically significant as the main castle of the Hōjō clan. This was the last battle that was fought before the Hōjō clan finally surrendered to the Toyotomi, which managed to bring peace to Japan for a little while. Yet, this peace was at the cost of many lives, many of which are still not at peace in the afterlife. If you ever find yourself at Hachiōji Castle, do not fear the spirits there: pray for them instead. Leave flowers at their graves. Help them by understanding the circumstances that brought them here and pray that they can one day be at peace.

Sources

  1. Ross, Catrien. Haunted Japan: Exploring the World of Japanese Yokai, Ghosts and the Paranormal (2020), p. 169. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  2. “Hachiōji Castle”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiōji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  3. “Hachioji Castle”, http://www.jcastle.info/view/Hachioji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  4. “Hachioji Castle Ruins: The Tragedy of Kanto’s Hojo Clan”, https://matcha-jp.com/en/4008, last visited 6/21/2021
  5. “Hachioji Castle”, http://www.jcastle.info/view/Hachioji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  6. “Hachiōji Castle”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiōji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  7. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 106. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  8. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 106. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  9. “Hachioji Castle”, http://www.jcastle.info/view/Hachioji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  10. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), pp. 106-107
  11. “Hachioji Castle”, https://japantravel.navitime.com/en/area/jp/guide/NTJsingle0011951-en/, last visited 6/21/2021
  12. Ross, Catrien. Haunted Japan: Exploring the World of Japanese Yokai, Ghosts and the Paranormal (2020), p. 169. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  13. “Hachiōji Castle”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachiōji_Castle, last visited 6/21/2021
  14. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), pp. 106-107. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  15. “Hachioji Castle”, https://japantravel.navitime.com/en/area/jp/guide/NTJsingle0011951-en/, last visited 6/21/2021
  16. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p.107. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  17. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p.107. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  18. Ross, Catrien. Haunted Japan: Exploring the World of Japanese Yokai, Ghosts and the Paranormal (2020), p. 169. Accessed on Scribd 6/21/2021
  19. “Hachioji Castle Ruins: The Tragedy of Kanto’s Hojo Clan”, https://matcha-jp.com/en/4008, last visited 6/21/2021
  20. “What does Hachiōji mean?”, https://japanthis.com/2015/10/08/what-does-hachioji-mean/, last visited 6/21/2021