Sunday, January 5, 2020

Kumamo Onigajo Castle -Castle above spectacular rock-

Kumamo Onigajo Castle

-Castle above spectacular rock-



Name: Onigajo castle (Onigajo-jo)
Place: Kimoto-cho Kumano city, Mie
Location: 33.891168116833825, 136.11390940224328
Type: Mountain Castle
Built: 1521
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 
Title: World heritage as "Onigajo" landscape

Brief History

Onigajo castle (鬼ヶ城) spreads over a ridge plunges into Kumano-nada Bay, just at the northeast of current Kumano city central. Muro Mountains which is a part of Kii Mountains directly faces the Pacific Ocean between Owase city and Kumano city, and a sawtooth shaped coast line is formed by this geographic condition.

Castle site is at the south edge of this ria coast line. From castle site a long sandy beach called as “Shichiri-ga-hama” spreads toward Shingu city about 25 kilometer, with flatland at backside. This flatland of Shingu area is one of two large flat area of mountainous south half of Kii peninsula along with Tanabe area, and worked as the territory of Horiuchi clan in medieval era.

Pilgrim roads to Kumano Shrines

Around Shingu city, there are three Shrines called as “Kumano Sanzan”, it mean Kumano Hayatama Shrine at Shingu city, Kumano Nachi Shrine at Nachi Katsuura city, and Kumano Hongu Shrine at upstream of Kumano-gawa river. In medieval era, these Shrines gathered worship of the Imperial Household and high class nobles, and many pilgrims walked long road to the south edge of Kii Peninsula toward Kumano area.

Nobles of Kyoto city mainly used westward road which starts Tanabe area and enter Kumano area from westward. On the other hand, especially in Edo era, Ise Jingu Shrine which was the head Shrine of Shinto religion became most popular pilgrim site for the people of Eastern Japan. As Ise Shrine is 60 kilometer east from Kumano area, some part of pilgrim of Ise Shrine additionally walked to Kumano area from eastward.

This eastward pilgrim road runs roughly the route of current Route 42 and Kisei-Honsen line, but cross mountains of ria coast by mountainous road instead of tunnels. To avoid sheer cliff and shorten the distance, the pilgrim road runs the root of each small peninsular, and the road passes by castle site through Matsumoto-Toge pass, only 200 meter north from castle site.

Landscape of fictitious "Onigajo castle"

From eastward, Matsumoto Toge pass is the last one toward Kumano area, and travelers could see slightly curved Shichiri-ga-hama coast continues to Shingu area, the destination of the walk. This also means Onigajo castle was an important defense point at eastern edge of Shingu area, toward east. Furthermore, a narrow water between next peninsula was suitable as anchorage point of ships.

Currently the coast line of the ridge is known as fictitious “Onigajo castle”, a famous landscape. Along with the uplift of the land, sea caved dug by raging waves emerged above water line, and looks like hall or corridor surrounding the peninsula. Combination of blue water, white wave, black rock half covers the cave roundly and blue sky is surely a spectacular view.

For these caves, there is a tale that Tamuramaro Sakanoue (758-811), the legendary military noble, subdued Tagamaru, a pirates lived at these caves and was feared as ogre by frequent robberies to neighbor area. Actual military operation of Tamuramaro is not confirmed but considering its location this place might be used for a hiding place of pirates in ancient era. Because of this history originally this place was called as “Onino Iwaya (ogre’s cave)”.

Origin of real Onigajo castle

In medieval era, Kumano area was governed by Kumano Betto family, a group of the monk of Kumano Shrines. But along with the decline of the family, local lords which were branch families of the family or descendant of central nobles separately governed each territory.

Around 15th century, north half of Shichiri-ga-hama coast and ria area between Kumano city and Owase city was governed by Arima clan. Arima clan was a descendant of Kumano Betto family, and might have its main base at Arii area, the southward of current Kumano city central.

In 1521, Tadachika Arima (?-?), the leader of Arima clan, built real Onigajo over the peninsular as his retirement place, might be also intended as the front fort of main territory. However, Tadachika once adopted his nephew Tadayoshi Arima as his successor but later his actual son Magosaburo was born, thus Tadachika killed Tadayoshi.

Furious relative of Tadayoshi attacked Onigajo, and broken Tadachika killed himself at the castle. But Arima clan significantly declined by this internal conflict, and Magosaburo who succeeded leader position died without successor. At this time Horiuchi clan which was the local lord of Shingu area significantly increased their power, then Horiuchi clan sent their son Ujiyoshi Horiuchi (1549-1615) as successor of Arima clan and took over the clan.

Structure of Onigajo castle

Onigajo castle spreads straightly along with the ridge of the peninsular. Central area of the castle is a oblong shaped flat terrace of about 30 meter long and 10 meter wide at the center of the castle. At the south of central area, there is a secondary area of about 50 meter long and 10 meter wide at the saddle point, and third area of 20 meter diameter which has a huge rock basement of watch tower.

At the north of central area, several terraces are built to protect the entrance of enemy from Matsumoto Toge pass. Vertical and horizontal dry moats are built along the road from the pass. At two small ridges spreads toward west there are layers of terraces but there is no road to access these areas.

At eastern slopes, there are numerous small terraces having stone walls. Mainly they might be the ruin of orchards of later period, but stone walls at upper height near the castle could be the ruin of castle. Total length of the castle is about 500 meter long, and it is one of the largest castles in the south half of Kii Peninsula.

Afterward of castle

In the latter half of 16th century, Horiuchi clan further expanded their territory toward Kii Nagashima area being supported by economic activity of Shingu port and Kumano navy. At the same time Kuki clan which originally started from Owase city but later moved to Shima province (Shima Peninsula) grew as the navy of central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582), and Horiuchi clan cooperated with Kuki clan.

After the death of Nobunaga in the incident of Honnoji in 1582. Horiuchi clan once resisted against next ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598) but later followed. After the death of Hideyoshi, Horiuchi clan belonged to Mitsunari Ishida (1560-1600) at the battle of Sekigahara but lost it. The territory of Horiuchi clan was confiscated, and Onigajo castle might be abolished at this time.

Now no building remains but structure of the castle well remain on the peninsula. Hilltop area was renovated into park, and its climbing road from hillside is covered by cherry blossom in spring. “Onigajo castle” at the coast is nominated as a part of world heritage “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Route in the Kii Mountain Range”, and entertains many visitors along with the ruin of old road and shrines collectively. 


10 minutes drive from Kunano Oodomari Interchange of Kumano-Owase Doro road to hillside parking. 20 minutes walk from hillside parking to hilltop castle, and 30 minutes round walk for "Onigajo" scenery.

Related Castles

Pictures (click to enlarge)

"Onigajo" scenery


Real Onigajo Castle



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