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Dōryō-dō – the Haunted Temple of Hachiōji

In Japanese History on October 15, 2015 at 5:47 am

Dōryō-dō (Dōryō Temple)

Dōryō-dō. Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn't have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn’t have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

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?

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

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

The so-called

The so-called “Silk Road” in its present state.

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.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu. I assume this picture was taken from the Kōshū Kaidō or the “Silk Road,” but I’m not sure.

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.

doryodo hachioji

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.

I couldn't find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it's a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

I couldn’t find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it’s a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

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.

old lady

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.

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul's University)

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul’s University)

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.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It's said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it's rarely in the correct place... or in one piece.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It’s said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it’s rarely in the correct place… or in one piece.

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.

suicide cliff

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.



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[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.

What does Hachiōji mean?

In Japanese History on October 8, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Hachiōji (8 Princes, more at “8-in-1 Godhead”)

Hachiōji Station

Hachiōji Station

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
Hiking up a mountain? Nice! Wait. Why is there a torii there?

Hiking up a mountain?
Wait. Why is there a torii there?

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 – 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.

Hachiōji Shrine

Hachiōji Shrine

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.”

one does not simply etymology

I hate this meme, by the way.

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??

Long time readers should probably know what I’m talking about. However, if you’re new to JapanThis!, then I highly recommend my last article about Ōji.

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.

In this case, we're going to A LOT of context. I apologize in advance for how long and confusing this is. But trust me, at the end, it's gonna get good.

In this case, we’re going to need A LOT of context.
I apologize in advance for how long and confusing this is.
But trust me, at the end, it’s gonna get good.

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.

I don't know why but gongen are usually depicted as angry pieces of shit who like stomping on stuff. Good for them.

I don’t know why but gongen are usually depicted as angry pieces of shit who like stomping on stuff.
Good for them.
This isn’t Hachiōji Gongen, btw.

8 Princes?

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].

A modern rendering of Hari Saijo

A modern rendering of Hari Saijo


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.


These are maiko (geisko in training).
Please click photo to see more photos by Rekishi no Tabi. Trust me, subscribe.

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.

han solo

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.

Kyōto's Yasaka Shrine in the early Meiji Period.

Kyōto’s Yasaka Shrine in the early Meiji Period.

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.


yo dawg


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.”

hachioji gongen

of course you are

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.

Hachiōji Castle was really defendable.

Hachiōji Castle was really defendable.

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.

The spot where the family and retainers are to have killed themselves.

The spot where the family and retainers are to have killed themselves.

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]

Ujiteru's grave

Ujiteru’s grave

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.

Hachiōji Unearthed

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?

This image offers a deforested vision of the castle.

This image offers a deforested vision of the castle.

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.

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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?

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[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.”

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