Hachiōji (8 Princes, more at “8-in-1 Godhead”)
Hachiōji is made of 2 Japanese words:
|A prince; a child born of a 神 kami divine being; a kami split from another kami and re-enshrined at another location|
This spring, I was lucky enough to take a hike[i] around the ruins of 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle with my friend Eric from Jcastle.info – the premier purveyor of Japanese castle info in English on the internet™. The castle was built on a mountain (more about that later), but as we hiked towards the top of the mountain, near the 本丸 honmaru main encincture[ii], we arrived at a simple, wooden shrine. The building bore a single, modest placard that read 八王子神社 Hachiōji Jinja Hachiōji Shrine.
Faced with this shrine, I had to wonder which had come first. Was the shrine named after the place name or was the place name named after the shrine? These are legit questions to ask and both of them were questions I had never looked into before. After all, Hachiōji – while part of the Tōkyō Metropolis – is well outside of the 23 wards and kinda off my radar. “So, does Hachiōji mean there were 8 princes here?” Eric asked.
Yeah, on the surface, the name reads as “8 princes.” But I said I doubted the name should be taken that literally[iii]. Earlier in the year, I had begun to research a place called 王子 Ōji[iv] in Tōkyō’s 北区 Kita-ku Kita Ward and found myself bogged down in more religious mumbo jumbo and mythology than actual history. To make matters worse, I had “lost” my article on Ōji. I couldn’t find it anywhere[v]. So I just speculated that the name had more to do with Shintō kami that had been divided from another location and installed in this shrine at the top of the mountain. Anyways, that’s what I had taken away from my preliminary research on Ōji. I probably gave a half-ass explanation followed by “to be honest, I don’t fucking know.”
But It Is! This Shit is Really Frickin’ Complicated
First of all, when you introduce religion into the discussion, things naturally get complicated. When you start talking about syncretic religions, things get waaaaay more complicated. When you talk about religions that were once syncretic, then separated by rule of law – often arbitrarily – and then later allowed to merge again under the banner of the constitutional freedom of religion and a newly found fear of religion as a mechanism of control by a former regime, things get even more complicated.
Oh, I forgot to mention. Since Buddhism traveled from Northern India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, to Thailand, as well as northwards through Afghanistan, the Himalayan Kingdoms, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and finally to Japan – well, let’s just say that a lot got lost in an insane game of telephone.
Whoa. WTF Are You Talking About??
It’s long. It’s rambling. But it does a lot of the heavy lifting you need to understand this place name.
Syncretic is an adjective derived from the noun syncretism. Syncretism is the reconciliation or union of opposing religious concepts. Japan has been historically and still is a polytheistic culture. Before the introduction of Buddhism, it was polytheistic in the classical sense. As a result, introducing 菩薩 bosatsu bodhisattvas (enlightened teachers) of the Buddhist tradition was not such a big problem. The buddhas, while not gods in the Western sense, were accepted as kami (divine spirits) in Japan. Today, even Christianity, a monotheistic religion, can find a reconciled position in polytheistic Japan[vi].
In 1868, the Meiji Government passed an edict called 神仏判然令 Shinbutsu Hanzen-rei Order to Separate Shintō and Buddhism. I’ve gone into this a lot and don’t want to get into again, so you can read more here. But in short, Shintō and Buddhism were seen to be a little too syncretic. Shintō had strong historical ties to the imperial family. Buddhism had a strong association with the samurai class and the shōgunate in particular. In efforts to rebrand itself, the new imperial government wanted to throw off those ancient Buddhist trappings and play up the divine right of the emperor as the legitimate ruler of Japan.
The thing that is really important to know is that before 1868 (ie; before all of our story today), Buddhism and Shintō syncretism was the norm. And in the early days of Japanese Buddhism, the foreign religion was actively incorporated into the native Shintō to give it legitimacy. But just for the record, there’s a lot of archaeological evidence dating back to the Jōmon Period that shows that Shintō has always been syncretic and probably integrated various foreign influences even before the earliest written record.
OK, So What Does Hachiōji Mean?
You’re asking the wrong question. The correct question is, “what does Hachiōji mean and why are there places called Hachiōji all over Japan?”
八王子権現 Hachiōji Gongen is the name of a kami that is the syncretic incarnation of 日吉山王権現 Hiyoshi Sannō Gongen (the Shintō aspect[vii]) and 牛頭天王 Gozu Tennō (the Buddhist aspect). Incarnation is a good word in English if you don’t take it literally[viii]. Gozu Tennō is usually attributed to the Indian god, Gavagrīva[ix]. The connection is obscure, but tradition says[x] worship of Gavagrīva is a possible origin of the 祇園祭 Gion Matsuri in Kyōto[xi] because Gozu Tennō was the deity invoked to prevent plagues and ward off crop failures due to insects, same as Gavagrīva. Gozu Tennō is often considered the Buddhist avatar of 須佐之男命 Susano’o no Mikoto[xii], god of storms at sea and summer.
There are always 8 王子 ōji associated with Hachiōji Gongen, hence the name. At the beginning of the article, I listed 3 possible meanings of the word 王子 ōji. In Modern Japanese, the most common meaning is “royal prince.” But in this case, we have to turn to the more obscure meanings. Unfortunately, there are a few religious traditions that are at odds with each other. So, Hachiōji Shrine can refer to any shrine housing the first 8 child gods of Gozu Tennō and 頗梨采女 Hari Saijo[xiii]. It can also refer to any shrine housing the first 8 child gods of Susano’o no Mikoto and Hari Saijo. In most traditions, Gozu Tennō – a male – seems to have been merged with the female Hari Saijo. But depending on whom you ask, Hari Saijo is either the feminine aspect of Gozu Tennō or his wife[xiv].
You’re not the only one. I’m literally pulling out my hair, shouting at the screen of the computer. But hang on. Things are about to get a whole lot weirder.
The Gion Connection
Anyone who has ever visited Kyōto knows 祇園 Gion. This area of the city is located at the entrance of 八坂神社 Yasaka Jinja Yasaka Shrine. It’s a lively area that preserves a lot of traditional aspects of the city’s culture. Yasaka Shrine is a huge religious complex and it hosts one Kyōto’s most famous 夏祭 natsu matsuri summer festivals. Since the Edo Period, the area has been famous for both the festival and as a 花街 kagai red light district[xv]. The most prized aspect of this area is without a doubt 芸子 geiko – the Kyōto word for what most of us know as 芸者 geisha.
In Japanese Buddhism, Gozu Tennō is revered as the protector of 祇園精舎 Gion Shōja. This is the Japanese rendering of “Jetavana Monastery,” the place where 釈迦 Shaka Gautama Buddha[xvi] is said to have given his most influential lectures. By association with that spot, this kami is considered the patron saint of Buddhism – or at least the patron saint of Japanese Buddhism.
Hari Saijo’s association with Jetavana and Gozu Tennō makes this story even more complicated because it’s not clear if she is a Buddhist, Shintō, or purely syncretic construct. It’s not even clear if she was a female aspect of Gozu Tennō or his wife.
Yasaka Shrine’s Ancient Connection with Hachiōji
But as I said before, Jetavana is written as 祇園 Gion in Japanese. In 656, 祇園社 Gion-sha Gion Shrine (Jetavana Shrine) was established in Kyōto. The shrine was also known as 祇園神社 Gion Jinja Gion Shrine. Among the kami enshrined there was Susano’o no Mikoto, the brother of Amaterasu Ōmikami[xvii]. Until the Meiji Coup in 1868, the shrine served the syncretic deities of Gozu Tennō/Susano’o no Mikoto /Hari Saijo. This kami kluster™ was believed to protect not only Kyōto but all of Japan from plagues and pestilence. But after the Meiji Government issued the decree to separate kami and buddhas, Gion Shrine found itself in a difficult position.
To make itself right with the law and strip away its obvious Buddhist trappings, the shrine was renamed, 八坂神社 Yasaka Jinja Yasaka Shrine, which literally means Shrine of the 8 Hills. This was a shrewd move by the priests who recognized that Kyōto is a hilly city and number 8 is an important reference to 8 child gods of Gozu Tennō or Susano’o no Mikoto. Surely to the believers, there was no difference. This was just an act of compliance to an imperial decree.
Adopting the kanji 八 ha/ya 8 strikes me a classic Kyōto “eff you.” Kyōto revels in its ancient traditions and prides itself in its esoteric culture. The priests of Gion Shrine (now Yasaka Shrine) probably knew nothing of Hachiōji Shrine in Kantō, but the renaming of the shrine reflected their astute understanding of what kami they were worshiping.
You Gave about 1500 Years of Backstory. Can You Talk About Hachiōji in Tōkyō?
That’s Why I’m Reading Your Blog, Asshole.
Yes, of course.
NOW FOR THE STORY OF WHY HACHIŌJI IS CALLED HACHIŌJI
In 913, a Buddhist priest from Kyōto named 妙行 Myōkō came to this area and climbed to the peak of 深沢山 Fukazawa-yama Mt. Fukazawa. He sat for a few days at the peak of the mountain meditating and reflecting… or whatever it is that Buddhist priests do at the tops of mountains. On his last day, at night time, strong winds began to blow. There was loud thunder and ominous lightning. During the course of the night, he was visited by many different kinds of 妖怪 yōkai strange apparitions. He wasn’t afraid of them and persisted in his meditation… or whatever it is the Buddhists priests do alone late at night on the tops of mountains. The yōkai disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Later, a giant snake approached him, but he tapped the snake on the head with his walking stick and the serpent also disappeared. When dawn arrived, a 神 kami god flanked by 8 boys. He announced that he was Myōkō’s guardian deity. Naturally, Myōkō was curious about who this deity was. When Myōkō asked his name, the kami said, “I am 八王子 Hachi Ōji the 8 Princes who accompany 牛頭天王 Gozu Tennō. We are eight in one.”
Myōkō was moved by this vision and founded 8 shrines dedicated to this kami on 8 different mountain peaks[xviii]. He also founded a temple called 牛頭山神護寺 Gozu-san Shingo-ji at the base of Mt. Fukazawa. As far as I could find, there are not 8 shrines preserved today[xix]. Legend says that the Hachiōji Shrine that I visited with Eric from Jcastle marks the location where Myōkō had his visions. So that site is most definitely preserved. The temple, Shingo-ji, still exists, but under a different name and in a slightly different location. More about that later.
Because of the mountain’s association with Hachiōji Shrine, locals began to affectionately refer to the mountain as 八王子山 Hachiōji-yama Mt. Hachiōji rather than Mt. Fukazawa. The area has always been quite rural and was even more so until recent years, so having such an ancient syncretic shrine was quite prestigious. Remember, it was established in the 900’s and was indirectly related to one of Kyōto’s most famous religious complexes, Gion Shrine (Yasaka Shrine).
The place name, 八王子村Hachiōji Mura Hachiōji Village, is first recorded in 1569 in a letter written by北条氏康 Hōjō Ujiyasu[xx]. Ujiyasu was a fierce samurai warlord who was at constant warfare expanding his family’s holdings in the 関東 Kantō area. Despite being at constant warfare, he was apparently also conducting constant cadastral surveys. As a result, a lot of Kantō place names were either first recorded or formalized in his time.
Hachiōji Castle – A Dark Claim to Fame
In the 1580’s, 北条氏照 Hōjō Ujiteru, second son of Hōjō Ujiyasu, chose Mt. Fukazawa to build a mountain top castle. The castle was named after the village and was thus known as 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle. Ujiteru and his family became patrons of Shingo-ji and used it as a 菩提寺 bodai-ji funerary temple. The castle and temple could have both had illustrious histories. However, the Hōjō clan collectively refused to bow down to 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Since 1585, Hideyoshi had been the imperial regent in Kyōto – essentially the most powerful man in Japan. The Hōjō clan stubbornly stood their ground and they would pay a terrible price.
On June 23rd, 1590, 前田利家 Maeda Toshiie and 上杉景勝 Uesugi Kagekatsu under orders from Toyotomi Hideyoshi attacked the castle. The lord of the castle, Ujiteru, was in 小田原 Odawara helping his older brother, 北条氏政 Hōjō Ujimasa, fight off Hideyoshi’s siege of 小田原城 Odawara-jō Odawara Castle. Most of his fighting men were with him in Odawara and so Hachiōji Castle was manned by a skeleton crew – mostly women, children, servants, but also some samurai retainers[xxi] entrusted with protecting the castle. The castle fell in a matter of hours and the battle is generally described as an all-out slaughter.
A quiet waterfall and creek a short distance from the residence of Ujiteru and his family was chosen by his wife for the defenders’ final act. The women killed the children by throwing them over the waterfall, and then committed suicide themselves. Samurai also assisted in the “mercy killings” and then committed 切腹 seppuku ritual disembowelment. The creek was said to have run red with blood for 3 days and 3 nights. The bloody water flowed into the rice paddies located downstream. The farmers were appalled to find that their rice has been stained red when they harvested the next crop.
A few weeks later, on July 7, 1590, Odawara Castle fell to Hideyoshi. Kantō was no longer independent and Hideyoshi’s control over the realm was more or less complete. After the fall of Odawara, both Hōjō Ujiteru and his older brother Hōjō Ujimasa were ordered to commit seppuku. Hōjō control ended in the Kantō region[xxii].
After The Fall of Hachiōji Castle
The main structures of Hachiōji castles were burned in the attack and after 徳川家康 Tokugawa Ieyasu was given control of the 8 Kantō Provinces, he didn’t regard the site strategically important. As such, the castle was never rebuilt and just fell into ruin. It was soon reclaimed by the forests of the mountain.
The Hōjō funerary temple, Shingo-ji, was now tainted by the bloodbath that saw the destruction of its largest benefactor. It chose to re-invent itself as 宗関寺 Sōkan-ji a year after the fall of the castle[xxiii]. Sōkan-ji is still home to the graves of Hōjō Ujiteru’s family, though they are in abject dereliction today. Over the years, the locals began to call Mt. Fukazawa 城山 Shiroyama “Old Castle Mountain.[xxiv]”
The Haunted Mountain
Old people who live in the immediate vicinity of Shiroyama claim it’s haunted by the ghosts of the Hōjō and their retainers. As far back as the Edo Period, people said that when mist covered the mountain, you could hear the din of a samurai battle, the sound of the burning 御主殿 go-shuden lord’s residence, the neighing of warhorses, and – most disturbingly – the wailing of noblewomen as they slit their children’s throats and threw their lifeless bodies into the river.
A few families with a long history in the immediate area (元八王子 Moto Hachiōji Old Hachiōji) have a tradition of serving 赤飯 akameshi[xxv] rice with red beans on the anniversary of the attack. The color of the red beans bleeds out and stains the white rice – a reminder of the slaughter that took place on “Old Castle Mountain” staining the rice of their ancestors.
During WWII, the mountain was heavily deforested. However, in the post-war years, the mountain was reforested with ﾋﾉｷ hi no ki Japanese Cypress trees, a particularly tall tree[xxvi]. The main reason that I mention this is because when I visited the castle ruins with Eric of Jcastle, I commented on how rich the vegetation was and how tall the trees were. Of course, felled trees could be used to build wooden fortifications, but it really looked like a lot of work for people with 1590’s technology to hack through a forest to construct a castle. Considering how far apart some of the military installations and residential installations were spaced, it just seemed overwhelming.
Well, I’m not a castle expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it got me thinking. I wonder if the mountain’s vegetation was different prior to 1945? Would that have even made any difference?
From 1951, excavation and restoration of the castle began in earnest. While most of the wooden structures were lost to the sands of time, many 石垣 ishigaki stone walls were located. In the 80’s and 90’s, a few interesting attributes of the castle emerged. The first was that most of the stone walls were simple reinforcements of the hillside paths to prevent erosion. However, the go-shuden (residence of Hōjō Ujiteru himself) featured impressive walls with a more esthetic purpose, very in line with Azuchi-Momoyama castle construction of the time. These walls seemed to project the lord’s authority and his sophistication. In the early 90’s shards of pottery from Venice and China were found on the site of the lord’s residence. All of this physical evidence led some scholars to believe that Ujiteru’s 1580 audition with Oda Nobunaga may have influenced the design of the residential area of the castle and… maybe, just maybe… he acquired these exotic goods from Nobunaga himself[xxvii]. Furthermore, some scholars have pointed at the discrepancy in stone wall construction as evidence that the castle may not have been finished at the time of the attack.
Hachiōji Castle Reborn
In 1973, a tradition was started by some local history nerds who took particular pride in the castle. With the cooperation of Sōkan-ji, they decided to perform a Buddhist memorial service on June 23rd at the 御主殿之滝 go-shuden no taki palace waterfall to appease the spirits of those who died in the battle. The service took place at the 六字の名号塔 Mutsu-ji no Myōgō-tō 6 Kanji Tower[xxviii] erected in 1817. One commentator I read said that he thinks this memorial tradition should be considered the rebirth in the interest in Hachiōji Castle as the site has only grown in popularity, culminating with its inclusion in the 日本百名城 Nihon Hyaku Meijō 100 Famous Castles of Japan in 2006. I don’t know if they still do it now. But when I visited the castle, there were offerings at the Mutsu-ji no Myōgō-tō left by castle fans or maybe Sōkan-ji.
Today, the castle is mostly a hiking spot. But it has a small museum that takes the site quite seriously. They have a volunteer staff that is enthusiastic and outgoing. The reconstructed stone walls and roads around Ujiteru’s residence is pretty amazing, I have to say. But as far as archaeological sites from this period in Japanese History go, I’m 100% impressed. I actually want to go back when the leaves start changing colors.
Wanna read more about Hachiōji Castle?
- Hachiōji Castle on Jcastle
- Hachiōji Castle on Walking the Japanese Castles
- Hachiōji Castle on Must Love Japan
- Hachiōji Castle pix by yours truly
[i] If you want to go hiking in Japan, this is really a fantastic spot – even if you don’t care about Japanese History.
[ii] As a person used to castles built after the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (ie; state of the art at the beginning of the Edo Period), I was surprised to see how small the honmaru was. It was essentially the last refuge for the lord should the very worst befall the castle. And while Hachiōji Castle was, in fact, built during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period, its design was much more like the fortress type “castles” of the Sengoku Period than the impressive and luxurious castles ushered in by the stability afforded by the “relative peace” of 織田信長 Oda Nobunaga and 豊臣秀吉 Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Those later castles – while clearly military installments – were much more palace-like than fort-like. The scale and design is more beautiful and expresses the wealth, might, and military authority of the residing lord. At Hachiōji Castle, the honmaru seems like the place to make your last stand or commit suicide.
[iii] 王子 ōji, while it does mean “imperial prince,” has another meaning of a kami that has been split for enshrinement in another shrine. The process of 分霊 bunrei dividing spirits is the way clan members could bring their ancestral tutelary kami with them as they expanded their territories. The policy of 参勤交代 sankin-kōtai alternate attendance brought tutelary kami of all the daimyō families to Edo. Because of this, it’s not unusual to find satellite shrines of major from all over Japan in Tōkyō.
[iv] Please, please, read my article on Ōji first.
[v] This is why you shouldn’t write your blog under the influence of alcohol. Ugh!
[vi] That said, it’s famously unpopular in Japan because of its own lack of toleration for the traditional kami (deities) of Japan. Religion – what a goof.
[vii] This kami is closely connected to the Shintō aspect of 日枝山 Hiezan Mt. Hie in Kyōto. This mountain’s kami and Buddhist temple, 延暦寺 Enryaku-ji, are famous for the 僧兵 sōhei warrior monks that pissed off Oda Nobunaga to such a point that he allegedly surrounded the mountain and ordered his armies to march up the mountain and kill everything that moved until they reached the top. Then they burned the temple to the ground. My article on Tameike-Sannō touches on this.
[viii] The meaning of the Latin word incarnārī to be made into flesh was a Christian neologism used to explain away Jesus’ physical, human aspect – despite being a god. I’m pretty sure buddhas and kami don’t physically become flesh and blood. But I think “incarnation” is more readily understood that “avatar” which sounds like a picture on your Twitter account or that stupid movie about the blue space cats.
[ix] I say “usually” because as Buddhism spread from India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Afghanistan, the Himalayan kingdoms, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Korea, and eventually Japan, it had evolved. Some teachings were lost and some new teachings were acquired. With each new kingdom came new languages and new translations and new iterations of the tradition. Japan, the latest to get on board with Buddhism, had inherited most of its tradition from Korean and China. Gozu Tennō is associated with Gavagrīva by tradition, but the connection is tenuous at best.
[x] This article looks at the relationship of this syncretic kami with Gion.
[xi] More about this in a bit.
[xii] Long time readers hopefully remember Susano’o no Mikoto as the brother of the sun goddess 天照皇大神 Amaterasu Ōmikami, the mythical mother of the imperial family. I directly mentioned this kami in my article on Ushima. I didn’t mention specifically, but he’s associated with this shrine and also this shrine and bridge.
[xiii] A kami that may or may not also be derived from a Hindu god.
[xiv] And this is exactly why I hate religion. The shit is just retarded.
[xv] This word can also be read as hanamachi. I’m not going to get into which is correct because it’s a bit of a mess too…
[xvi] Also known as Shakyamuni or Siddhārtha Gautama. He was the founder of the Buddhist religion.
[xvii] The sun goddess. The imperial family claimed descent from her line.
[xviii] See what he did there?
[xix] Also, a shrine doesn’t necessarily have to mean a formal wooden structure. In theory, it could simply be a simple monument. My sources don’t go into details.
[xx] Not familiar with the name? Samurai Archives has an excellent article on Hōjō Ujiyasu. And just for the record this is the so-called 後北条氏 Go-Hōjō-shi Late Hōjō Clan.
[xxi] None of whose names are relevant to our story.
[xxii] Interestingly, the family line was not abolished. Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu recognized the intelligence of Ujiyasu’s 4th son, 北条氏規 Hōjō Ujinori and his branch of the family were the lords of 河内国狭山藩 Kawachi no Kuni Sayama Han Sayama Domain, Kawachi Province, a minor domain near Ōsaka.
[xxiii] The Sōkan-ji was rebuilt in its present location in 1892 (Meiji 25), not so far away from the location of the original Shingo-ji.
[xxiv] Literally, it’s just “Castle Mountain,” but I added the “Old” to convey the folksy feeling of the Japanese.
[xxv] In the local dialect, 赤飯 is read aka manma.
[xxvi] And one this is allergenic to many people.
[xxvii] As far as influencing castle design, I don’t know how much influence visiting Nobunaga would have actually had. Rich and powerful people always flaunt their wealth and authority and with the “relative stability” of the Azuchi Momoyama Period, there was a definite trend toward flashier residences. As for where Ujiteru acquired the foreign items, without a document saying he got them from Nobunaga, I think this is just a flight of fancy.
[xxviii] The 6 kanji are: 南無阿弥陀仏 Namu Amida Butsu “I believe in Amida.” The Buddhist equivalent of “lord have mercy on me.”