Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Hōjō Clan & Hachiōji Castle

You may never have heard of Hōjō Soun, and that's because in war the winners have the bragging rights.

Hōjō Soun was a conspicuous warlord during the Sengoku warring period in the south Kanto region and there's even a statue of the chappie in front of Odawara JR Station.

He's featured in the weighty tomes 'Hōjō Soun's Twenty-One Articles. The Code of Conduct of the Odawara Hōjō' by Carl Steenstrup, 'Ideals of the Samurai: Writings of Japanese Warriors' by William Scott Wilson & Gregory Lee, and 'War in Japan: 1467-1615' by Stephen Turnbull.

He's also attributed with the telling aside, "A man shows his inmost self by a single word".

This erstwhile leader (really named Ise Shinkuro Nagauji - he became a monk and adopted the name of 'Soun') had humble beginnings, with apparently just six men under his command in 1480; his success was such that by the time of his great-great-grandson in 1590 the clan possessed tens of thousands of them.

In 1493 Soun gained control of Izu province and the following year he secured what would be the Hōjō Clan's future capital: Odawara.

Word is that in order to do so he arranged for the young lord of the castle to be (ahem) murdered while he was out hunting.

In 1512 the ancient capital of Kamakura was added to the Hōjō territories, followed by Arai in 1518.

It was around this time that Soun took on the ancient aristocratic name of Hōjō in order to associate his new and powerful family in this part of Japan with that of the shikken who ruled for 150 years. The new Hōjō family (also known as the Odawara Hōjō) took on the Kamakura Hōjō's mon, or badge.

There's even a t-shirt you can get online with their family crest here at Zazzle.

Hōjō Soun died at the impressive age of 88 but the clan he set up wasn't so lucky.

While their power in the Kantō region in the 16th century grew to rival that of the Tokugawa clan, but eventually they were eliminated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi after the long Siege of Odawara (May to August 1590).

Before Odawara fell, however, Hideyoshi's forces laid siege to the unfinished Hachiōji-jō, the castle of Hōjō Ujiteru, brother of clan leader Hōjō Ujimasa.

After he left his own fortress to assist his older brother at Odawara Castle, Ujiteru's keep was left undermanned. While considered unassailable in its position astride Mount Fukazawa, only around 1,300 soldiers were there to defend when 50,000 or more of Hideyoshi's troops arrived; legend has it that families threw themselves into the nearby waterfall and that the waters of the river ran red with blood.

The castle fell in just over a day and was later destroyed by the victorious forces.

As a tourist spot, Shiroyama (as the site is now called), despite being a short bus ride from JR Takao Station, has been pretty much overshadowed by the crazily popular nearby Mount Takao.

That's the joy of the place.

It's a huge national forest that has easy hiking trails and castle ruins, and that infamous waterfall is still there - beside the beaten-down ramparts. The Hachiōji Castle site is in fact one of the hidden gems of Japan, as the pictures here may (or may not) attest.

And it's a beautiful place that's eerily empty.

Possibly this is because of the rumour that the place is haunted keeps some people at bay, or equally it's the ignominious fate of the original owners.

So what did happen to them, anyway?

As I mentioned, the losers rarely write the history. After the Hōjō were defeated in the siege of Odawara, Ujiteru was forced to commit seppuku along with his brother Ujimasa.

But Ujimasa himself still lives on, however, in the video game Sengoku Musou 3 (Samurai Warriors 3), released in Japan for the Wii in December 2009.

Quite bizarrely the Hōjō Clan bigwig's weapon is a cane that has a sword hidden inside, which can also fire bullets.

The Siege of Odawara is the climax of Hideyoshi's story in the earlier game Samurai Warriors 2, while Shuranosuke Sakaki is a long-running manga character and had his onscreen debut in the rather sub-standard 1990 animation Sword for Truth by anime director Dezaki Osamu, which tells of the struggles of the defeated members of the Hōjō Clan to save face by obtaining two mythical swords - and they contract the bad-ass master swordsman Shuranosuke Sakaki to do so.

Shuranosuke Sakaki and the ragtag fleet of Hōjō survivors also pop up in the 1996 live-actioner Legend of the Devil, directed by Masaru Tsushima (Ninja Women) and starring Masaki Kyômoto (Legend of Eight Samurai).

So there is some life after death after all, even for the also-rans.

5 comments: said...

Thanks for this post. I decided to go there on Sunday. Great place to wander around, but huge numbers of insects!


Ha Ha Ha - really? Bugs?! I actually went there last autumn (been meaning to do this feature for months!), so no bugs then but bloody cold! ;)
Thanks, mate!

tatsuo said...

Enjoyed reading your account of Hojo Clan and the history - especially of Hachioji Castle. I belong to "Hachiojijo to Otaka wo mamoru kai"(NPO) and visit the castle and Fukazawayama 7 or 8 times a year. The site, as you most appropriately described, is one of the hidden gems of Japan.
Thanks, Andrew and Yoshiko Caraway Ohara


Wow, thank you, Tatsuo - what you're doing with the NPO is great to see! Definitely going to check out more on those links now. ;)

tatsuo said...

Why don't you re-visit the ruins and the Fukazawa-yama (Shiroyama) together with Ms Caraway Ohara sometime in the coming season that commences in early November.