Sengoku Hauntings: Oiran Buchi

Oiran Buchi Bridge Daytime

Just outside the city Tokyo is the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park. It has eight peaks and spans over 2,000 miles. This beautiful park covers over four prefectures in Japan: Saitama, Yamanashi, Nagano and Tokyo.(1) In Yamanashi Prefecture, in between the city of Kōshū and the village of Tabayama, just off of an old road that was once a part of National Highway 411, lies a gorge with a beautiful waterfall, called Saiko Waterfall by the locals.(2) To many, this seems like a beautiful area to stop after driving through the Japanese countryside, but you might not want to wander too close, for this is the spot where fifty-five women were killed by Takeda soldiers.

The History

One of the richest clans in Japan during the Sengoku Jidai was the Takeda. The landlocked province of Kai had to find ways to fund their armies and campaigns, and they found a way to do so: gold. In the hills near Mount Kurokawa, the Takeda clan had a gold mine. Gold had been mined from these hills since the Heian Period (794-1185) and during the Sengoku Jidai, the Takeda took advantage of the mines. This was a major operation which required miners, guards and women to entertain the men during their off hours.(3)

Not all of the gold that was mined from these hills was used for war. Some were buried in the hills as offerings to the gods, mainly as offerings for good fortune for the Takeda in battle and many believe treasure caches that were also buried in the hills might still be there today.(4) Unfortunately, the offerings could not stop the fall of the Takeda clan.

While the mine and the clan did well under Takeda Shingen, the Takeda began to decline under his son, Takeda Katsuyori. The clan became a shell of its former self after their devastating defeat at the Battle of Nagashino in 1575. The Takeda clan collapsed entirely with the death of Katsuyori on April 3, 1582, and the race was on to hide family secrets, mainly the gold mines(.5) Even though the mines were beginning to run dry, members of the dying clan were worried about people finding out the location of the mine and the gold caches. To keep information about the gold from spreading, they targeted the women. They were afraid that the prostitutes learned information from the men who worked there, which could be valuable in the wrong hands. So they came up with a plan.

A large platform was constructed over the Yanagisawa River, near where it flows into the Ichinose River. Once it was completed, the prostitutes were invited to come and practice a dance for a farewell party. At the height of their dance, soldiers hacked away at the wisteria vines that held up the platform, causing it to collapse. All fifty-five women fell into the gorge below. Some were killed in the initial fall, but the others who survived the fall were swept away and killed when they went over the waterfall.(6) Their bodies were found downstream by the villagers of Tabayama and they were fished out and buried. They later built a monument in memory of the victims.(7)

Saiko Waterfall

Were they Oiran…or Kunoichi?

While it has been called “Oiran Buchi”, many people and historians have pointed out a couple of facts. First, what happened to the miners and guards? Would they not have been killed too? Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any information regarding the men that worked the mines, so I cannot say anything as to their fates. Even the Japanese Wikipedia page that Google translated did not mention anything about the men. The focus seems to be primarily on the women, which brings us to the next point that has puzzled people. The name “oiran” is a high class prostitute. They were above common prostitutes, known as yūjo, for while they might have been sex workers (the highest ranking oiran, tayū, might not engage in sex work), they also had talents in traditional arts, and were known to be exclusive and expensive.(8) These ladies would not have entertained miners, but yūjo would have. On top of this, the profession of oiran came about during the Edo Period (1603-1868), years after this incident occurred.(9) Perhaps the name “Oiran Buchi” came about during this era and even though they might have been lower class prostitutes, perhaps the name was given to them out of honor due to the violent nature of their deaths. It is just a theory of mine, but there is another that many historians entertain and that is that the women were not prostitutes at all.

Under Takeda Shingen, the Takeda clan used female “ninja” to help gather information about their allies. This meant that these ladies not only had information on the enemies of the Takeda clan, but they had information on the Takeda clan as well. Historians have entertained the idea that the death of “prostitutes” might have actually been a cover for killing some of the female ninja that was under the employ of the Takeda clan. The performance would have been a good cover to lure these women to the platform, and the death of these women makes more sense once you change it to “ninjas” instead of “prostitutes”. This is just a theory that has been proposed to explain the deaths of the women, but it still does not explain why the miners and guards were not killed.(10)

The Hauntings

Oiran Buchi Bridge at Night

Oiran Buchi is considered one of Japan’s most haunted places.(11) Much like what happened with Hachiōji Castle, due to the instant and sudden death that happened at this location, the land has been “imprinted” by the spirits of those who have died. Most of the activity that has been reported here at this location have mainly occurred at night. The most common thing that most people experience here are the cries and screams of women falling to their deaths. Singing has also been heard on the bridge where the platform once stood, marking the women’s final moments before they died.(12)

Those who are able to reach Oiran Buchi are advised to go during the day because one could easily fall off the edge. This is another reason why men are cautioned about going to the area. It is said that the vengeful spirits might retaliate against any men who dare come near the site by pushing them off the edge, making them experience the same fate as them.(13)

A sign stands near the bridge today as well as a monument, and even the sign is considered to be haunted. The sign tells the story about what happened at Oiran Buchi, but according to legend, it is said that if you read the sign in its entirely, a curse will be placed upon the reader.(14) I managed to find a picture of this sign on Google. Dare to read it?

Cursed Sign at Oiran Buchi

I do not know how credible this is considering that I have only found this on a top ten list, but apparently the stretch of road that runs near Oiran Buchi has been the spot of numerous fatal car crashes. Whether this is tied to the spirits of the gorge is uncertain, but it does make one question how safe this area actually is.(15)

Despite it being declared a historical site, and since the part of National Highway 411 that ran near Oiran Buchi was closed years ago due to landslide damage in 2011, this haunted site is nearly impossible to get to.(16) This has not stopped ghost hunters from making their way to the site, for even the Google Maps page has a video that was uploaded in March 2019 of a couple of Japanese men trying to get a reading from the spirits of Oiran Buchi.(17) If you manage to make your way to this rusty looking bridge in the middle of the night, you have been warned, especially if you are a man. For you could end up falling to your death like the fifty-five women did over four hundred years ago.

Sources

  1. “Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichibu_Tama_Kai_National_Park, last visited 7/2/2021
  2. Google Translate on Japanese Wikipedia article on “Kakaibuchi”, https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fja.m.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2F花魁淵&prev=search, last visited 7/2/2021
  3. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 116. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  4. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 118. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  5. Google Translate on Japanese Wikipedia article on “Kakaibuchi”, https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fja.m.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2F花魁淵&prev=search, last visited 7/2/2021
  6. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), pp. 116, 118. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  7. Ross, Catrien. Haunted Japan: Exploring the World of Japanese Yokai, Ghosts and the Paranormal (2020), p. 173. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  8. “Oiran”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oiran#Oiran, last visited 7/2/2021
  9. “Oiran”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oiran#Oiran, last visited 7/2/2021
  10. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), pp. 118-119. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  11. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 116. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  12. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 119. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  13. “Landmarks: Oiran Buchi”, http://urban-folklores.blogspot.com/2016/12/urban-legends-5-oiran-buchi.html, last visited 7/2/2021
  14. Yoda, Hiroko & Matt Alt. Yurei Attack!: The Japanese Ghost Survival Guide (2012), p. 119. Accessed on Scribd 7/2/2021
  15. “9 Most Haunted Places In Japan Besides Aokigahara Forest and Gunkanjima”,https://thesmartlocal.com/japan/haunted-places-japan/, last visited 7/2/2021
  16. Google Translate on Japanese Wikipedia article on “Kakaibuchi”, https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fja.m.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2F花魁淵&prev=search, last visited 7/2/2021
  17. Video can be found here: https://www.google.com/maps/place/花魁渕/@35.8076179,138.8558356,3a,79.4y,90t/data=!3m8!1e2!3m6!1sAF1QipN-cj8r_jyNkRmv94l0kRrNCOFgtrFy4C5P7Wvy!2e10!3e12!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipN-cj8r_jyNkRmv94l0kRrNCOFgtrFy4C5P7Wvy%3Dw203-h152-k-no!7i640!8i480!4m14!1m6!3m5!1s0x0:0x397d2eec747c9148!2z6Iqx6a2B5riV!8m2!3d35.8075535!4d138.8561454!3m6!1s0x0:0x397d2eec747c9148!8m2!3d35.8075535!4d138.8561454!14m1!1BCgIgAQ?hl=en-US, last viewed 7/2/2021