I’ve never shied away from the darker side of the history of Edo-Tōkyō. I’ve always been forthright in my lack of a belief in the supernatural. But I have to admit, dark stories about ghosts and things that go “bump” in the night fascinate me. Today we’re going to stay in 八王子 Hachiōji and talk about ghosts. And why not? Halloween is right around the corner!
Wanna read my article on Hachiōji?
An Inauspicious Name
Hachiōji is home to the remains of a demolished temple that Japanese ghost hunters can’t get enough of. It’s called 道了堂 Dōryō-dō. The name means “Temple of the kami named Dōryō,” but it can also be read as “End of the Road Temple.” It was located on a well-traveled highway in the Edo Period, so “end of the road” could have been Edo branding for “stop and eat something or lodge here.” But since 1983, it’s conveyed the nuance that “this is the last place you will be alive.”
Let’s Look at the Kanji
|end of the road|
Shall We Look at the Timeline of the Temple?
This haunted spot is located on an Edo Period highway that was colloquially called 絹之道 Kinu no Michi the Silk Road. The route connected 八王子 Hachiōji with 横浜 Yokohama. In the late Edo Period it became a very active trade route.
Dōryō-dō isn’t a very ancient temple. Surprisingly, it was established in 1874 (Meiji 7)[i], when a wealthy merchant named 大塚吾郎吉 Ōtsuka Gorōkichi wanted to split and transfer the syncretic 神 kami deity named 道了尊 Dōryō-son[ii] from another temple in Hachiōji called 永泉寺 Eisen-ji[iii]. The kami was installed into a new sub-temple in the merchant town of 八王子鑓水村 Hachiōji Yarimizu Mura Yarimizu Village, Hachiōji. That temple was named 道了堂 Dōryō-dō and it prospered as a relay point on the so-called Silk Road. In 1890 (Meiji 23), 2 groups of stone lanterns were set up at the top of the stairs. This was to be the last major addition to the temple. The temple flourished briefly and then nosedived due to economic changes.
Decline of the Silk Road and Dōryō-dō
In 1908 (Meiji 41), the 横浜鉄道 Yokohama Tetsudō Yokohama Railway (today the JR 横浜線 JR Yokohama-sen JR Yokohama Line) opened and connected Hachiōji and Yokohama by faster, western technology. The railroad essentially killed off foot traffic along the Silk Road. Temples and shrines were often built on main roads because travelers and pilgrims would stop by and patronize the religious institutions. This provided a constant source of income[iv], but the rise of the railroads meant that shrines and temples located far from stations saw a sharp decrease in revenue. Relatively unknown temples like Dōryō-dō suffered in particular. People just didn’t know about them.
The once popular temple faded into obscurity. It experienced 3 事件 jiken “incidents” that ghost hunters say resulted in its demise – 1963, 1973, and 1983[v]. We’ll talk about those in a second, but for now the ruins rest in modern 大塚山公園 Ōtsuka-yama Kōen Ōtsukayama Park. For most people, the park is famous for its large population of 兎 usagi cute widdle bunny wabbits. But for those of more macabre interests, the park has a much more sinister claim to fame.
They Say You Can Hear Women Crying in the Park
Maybe it’s because of the legacy of 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle which dates back to the 1590’s, but Hachiōji is apparently ground zero for aficionados of so-called 心霊スポット shinrei supotto haunted places in Tōkyō. Maybe the tradition started there. Who knows. But believe it or not, the ruins of Hachiōji Castle are not the epicenter of “Haunted Hachiōji.” That great honor goes to Dōryō-dō.
In 1963[vi], an 82 year old woman who was in charge of maintaining the premises was approached by a robber. The woman resisted the criminal and was killed as a result. The temple’s meager savings were stolen and the old woman’s body lay where it fell. Almost from the beginning, rumors began to spread among the locals that if you listened closely, you could hear the ghost of the old woman sobbing in the forest. Some say she was crying because she didn’t want to die. Others say she was sobbing because she failed to protect the temple’s money – the temple would only last another 13 years, the structure itself exactly 20.
Exactly 10 years later, in 1973, a 4th year female university student had an unfortunate affair with the wrong professor at 立教大学 Rikkyō Daigaku Saint Paul’s University. The professor’s name was 大場啓仁 Ōba Hiroshi. He was a 38 year old professor of 19th century British & American Literature, married with 2 small children[vii] – completely normal by most accounts. He apparently stuttered, but was in good shape and had a cool, brooding look about him that girls who study literature loved.
Their relationship appears to have been genuine, however at the time Saint Paul’s University had a strict policy against sexual relations between teaching staff and students. When word of the relationship got to the university administration, an inquest was begun – one that could have resulted in very strong disciplinary action.
This was all very complicated. When the 24 year old undergrad[viii] confided in private to Hiroshi that she was pregnant, he wasn’t sure what to do. She began to beg him to divorce his wife so she could marry her instead. Hiroshi’s wife, who was also employed at St. Paul’s, started to get suspicious that he was banging a student and soon became despondent. She started to act out rashly and even attempted suicide in an order to force her husband to break off the relationship. The suicide attempt got his attention and he apparently wanted to reconcile with his wife, yet he continued to stay in contact with the girl[ix].
All of this stress, combined with a medical condition[x], took a toll on the poor girl who temporarily moved back in with her parents in 静岡県甲府市 Shizuoka-ken Kōfu-shi Kōfu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. She returned to Tōkyō for scheduled medical treatment at 慶応大学病院 Keiō Daigaku Byōin Keiō University Hospital. She met some Tōkyō family and friends, stayed in contact with her family in Shizuoka, and then suddenly – no one heard from her again[xi].
On 7/20/1973, Hiroshi met her at 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station to take her to his country home in Yarimizu, Hachiōji. His plan seems to have been “remove the girl from the equation and everything goes back to normal[xii].” After they arrived at the house, he strangled the poor girl to death. Then, he took her lifeless body up the obscure wooded path near the precincts of Dōryō-dō, dug a very shallow grave, dumped the body, kicked a little dirt and some leaves over it and headed back to central Tōkyō to meet a colleague.
Once he was back in Tōkyō, he met his colleague. But like a dipshit he hinted at the fact that he had murdered the 24 year old. He was vague, but when he asked his friend to tell everyone that they’d been together all day, she knew he was looking for an alibi for something. Ōba began asking other people to swear they’d been together the other day[xiii]. His interactions with other people became increasingly suspicious. He supposedly returned to Yarimizu once more to make sure the body was hidden well and covered it up a little more.
On 9/6, some fishermen in Shizuoka discovered the corpses of 4 bodies. These turned out to be the bodies of the Ōba family: Hiroshi, his wife, and their 2 small children. The police assumed he either coerced them to jump off a cliff together into the sea in an act of 一家心中 ikka shinjū familial suicide or he threw them off one by one and then jumped himself[xiv]. It’s hard to say what went down that day since there were no survivors. But the mother was known to be despondent and Hiroshi had obviously crossed the line. Many suspect that he realized he hadn’t thought through the killing of his undergrad lover very well and knew his colleagues would betray him sooner or later. After all, the co-ed was still missing. No one – except for Hiroshi (and possibly his wife in the end) – knew for a fact that she was dead at this point. Nonetheless, there was a police investigation and he had exposed himself to trusted colleagues. The familial suicide very well may have been agreed upon by both Hiroshi and his wife as a way to avoid the reality of dealing with his big fuck up. After all, if he were arrested, the family would have been disgraced and his wife and children could have been left destitute.
Here! I’m Here!!
However, the crime wasn’t solved yet. The girl was still missing. No one knew if she was dead or alive.
Ōba Hiroshi and his family’s bodies had been found, but the 24 year old undergrad was still missing. The police had leads from his colleagues because he had hinted to his transgression. They focused on Yarimizu, Hachiōji but were beginning to give up hope. The area is very rural today, but at the time it was much more so. However, about 7 months later, a woman’s partially mummified body was discovered near Dōryō-dō. One month later, it was determined that this was the body of the missing student from St. Paul’s. After her corpse was discovered, newspapers reported that local people had heard a young woman’s voice call out from the woods ここですよ、ここにいます koko desu yo, koko ni imasu “Here! I’m here!” Her remains were begging to be found[xv].
One final note about numbers. The ghost hunter types like to bring these up, so I might as well mention them. They say you can still hear voices in the area because there might be another body there. The first 事件 jiken incident was in 1963. The second incident was in 1973. The temple closed in 1983. The Japanese word for death is 死 shi which sounds like 四 shi 4. There might have been a fourth incident that is still crying out to be discovered at Dōryō-dō, begging to find peace.
[i] The temple was actually completed in 1875 (Meiji 8).
[ii] That was the Buddhist name. The Shintō name was Dōryō no Mikoto.
[iii] Established in the 1570’s under the rule of the 後北条 Late Hōjō.
[iv] Let’s face it; this was probably Gorōkichi’s actual motive for establishing the temple in the first place.
[v] Ghost hunters are full of shit and… well, the first 2 dates make sense, but the 3rd date wasn’t a criminal anniversary like the others are. Anyways, I’ll get to all these points and more in due time.
[vi] 20 years before the temple’s demise.
[vii] Ages 4 and 6.
[viii] Because of Japanese privacy laws, none of the names of Ōba’s victims or the people affiliated with his crimes are open to the public. So I will refer to his lover by terms like “undergrad.” In the Japanese media, she is referred to as K子さん K-ko-san.
[ix] Again, it seems they did have a genuine connection. Words like “polyamory” didn’t exist in either English or Japanese until quite recently. Which is sad. Now there are constructs for understanding these kinds of feelings. That said, a traditional Japanese woman of the day was not very independent and – even like some traditional women of today – was willing to take male promiscuity for granted.
[x] Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
[xi] Her family knew she was in contact with Hiroshi which made police suspicious.
[xii] This is called “19th century literary thinking.” Dude was an expert in it – not equations.
[xiii] Idiotically, he had set up alibis in different cities with different people so not a single alibi checked out.
[xiv] It’s somewhat implausible that he threw them over the cliff one by one and then killed himself. The victims would have fled or fought him. The family suicide is the most probable scenario. This speaks volumes of the culture at the time. Hiroshi, his wife, and his lover were all from rural Shizuoka, if I’m not mistaken. They were very traditional people.
[xv] Newspapers were reporting that ghosts were real. Ugh.