Hachioji Castle: History Amid the Ruins
Hachioji Castle was built on Shiroyama mountain in the 1570s and features defenses that sprawl across the mountain top, that take advantage of the steep paths and natural formations to enhance the castle’s strategic defenses. When Odawara Castle was surrounded by Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s forces in 1590, Hojo Ujiteru, the lord of Hachioji Castle, marched off with most of his forces to assist, leaving Hachioji Castle relatively defenseless with a token force of 1300 men. On June 23rd, 1590, a secondary army of Hideyoshi’s forces numbering over 50,000 men attacked the token forces left behind, and Hachioji Castle fell within a day.
Not content with merely defeating the castle defenders, Hideyoshi felt that the castle may be used against him in the future and ordered it destroyed. According to legend, all defenders were killed, the walls and defenses torn down, and even the families of those who were stationed at the castle were killed. It is said that the women and children of the Hojo family committed suicide and threw themselves into the small waterfall near the residential area at the base of the mountain, and that the water ran red for three days afterward.
Rumors and stories of strange occurrences and ghostly sightings quickly arose, giving rise to reports that the site of Hachioji Castle was haunted. These rumors were encouraged by Hideyoshi, as he felt it would decrease the likelihood that the defenses would be rebuilt. The stories worked, as Hachioji Castle remained in ruins and ultimately even the exact location was lost until the 1980s, when archaeological teams rediscovered some of the foundations of the living areas and the defenses, with the site being officially opened as a national park in 1990. To this day, it is still rumored to be one of the most haunted places in Japan. The first stop for any visitors interested in the history of the castle should be the Guidance Center at the base of the mountain. While most information is only available in Japanese, there are maps and models of the layout of the mountain and the defenses, as far as they have been able to be reconstructed.
At the base of the path up the mountain, one can see the ruins of the front gate of the castle, and follow a wooded path that wanders the base of the mountain to the site of the entrance to the Hojo family’s palace. While today it consists of little more than earthworks and stone steps, one can see the foundations that have been rediscovered by archaeologists as well as a reconstructed wooden gate and a bridge over the small ravine.
Further along the path is the waterfall, rumored to be the location (mentioned above) where the Hojo family left behind during the fall of the Castle committed suicide.
The walk up the mountain is through forested areas, and far less crowded than nearby Mt. Takao. The path up the mountain itself, while not particularly dangerous, does have a few steep spots and places with loose rock or tree roots. While climbing equipment is not necessary, wearing a good pair of sturdy hiking boots is recommended. Signs warn of mamushi (poisonous snakes), but the trails up the mountain offer some great views and the remains of the castle coupled with the Shrines make the hike a worthwhile endeavor. Near the Hachioji Jinja Shinto Shrine, there are picnic tables available in a small clearing offering more picturesque views and a great place to stop for a rest. The main enclosure, Honmaru, at the top is but a short walk from the shrine, and the location of the Komiya defenses, the location of which is marked by a small building and two stone statue guardians, is set back on a small trail through the forest.
To reach Hachioji Castle, take the Reienmae bus from Takao Station on the JR Chuo line. The Guidance center is roughly a 10 minutes walk from the Reienmae stop. The Visitor Guidance Center is open from 8:30 am to 5pm. Admission is free.