Friday, July 24, 2020

Mitake Castle -Castle of sacred mountain protected by mountain monk-

Mitake Castle

-Castle of sacred mountain protected by mountain monk-



Name: Mitake castle (Mitake-jo)
Place: Mitake-san Ome city, Tokyo
Location: 35.783073625474835, 139.1497487256954
Type: Mountain Castle
Remaining remnants: Clay walls and dry moats 

Brief History

Mitake castle (御岳城) spreads over current place of Musashi Mitake Shrine and attached shrine town on the top of Mitake-san mountain. Mitake-san mountain is one of about 930 meter height from sea level at 10 kilometer west of current Ome city central, and popular mountain walking spot next to Takeo-san mountain, both equip ropeway from hillside to hilltop area but Mitake-san mountain has more strong religious atmosphere.

At the west end of Tokyo metropolis, two lines of ridges spread from Mitousan mountain toward northeast and southeast like a compass. The end of northeast line is Mitake-san mountain, and the end of southeast line is Takao-san mountain. Both mountains locates at the eastern end of the line of ridges then has a spectacular view of east ward Kanto plain, and also are the entrance to the line of ridges toward inner area of mountains. This is the reason why Mitake-san mountain and Takao-san mountain are famous mountaineering spots.

In medieval era, above situation made both mountains as places of mountain worship. The shape of mountain directly seen from flat area became the target of worship, especially for stabilized water supply for the purpose of cultivation. Besides, mountain monks (“Yamabushi”) of Shugendo (a mixture of Shinto, Buddhism and mountain worship widely seen at mountains in medieval era) held temple at both mountain for their dwelling and visit of secular people, and bases for their training at deep mountain area.

Origin of Musashi Mitake Shrine

The origin of Musashi Mitake Shrine is not clear but it might have been the target of worship since ancient era. It is recorded that in 738, a famous monk Gyoki (668-749) placed the statue of Zao Gongen, the main god of Shugendo, at the top of Mitake mountain praying for the stabilization of eastern provinces.

In 11th century and 12th century, due to the origin of the Shrine, Musashi Mitake Shrine was worshiped by local samurais. Shigetada Hatakeyama (1164-1205), a brave general activated at many battles and contributed to the establishment of Kamakura Shogunate, donated vivid colored old style armor set and sword still remain on the museum of the shrine.

After the fall of Kamakura Shogunate, Muromachi Shogunate established by Takauji Ashikaga (1305-1358) and the South Court lead by Emperor Godaigo (1288-1339) once cooperated and broke Kamakura Shogunate conflicted each other. Inferior South Court relied on the military power of mountain temples all around the nation such as Kasagi temple or Yoshino temple.

Mountain temple as military base

Mountain temples had flat spaces in deep mountain and easily turned to temporal castles adding fences and moats. And mountain monks were small numbers but well trained at mountain walking and military arts for self-defense, and suitable for guerilla tactics in mountainous area. The south court was totally outnumbered but kept resistance in mountain area over 50 years.

In the beginning of 15th century, the resistance of the South Court mostly ceased but Kanto region was involved in endless battle between Kamakura Kubo Highness, the representative of Shogunate in Kanto region, and Kanto Kanrei, the chancellor of Kamakura Kubo Highness nominated by Shogunate.

In 1416, the army of Norimoto Uesugi (1392-1418), the Kanto Kanrei, stayed at Mitake castle and broke the army of Zenshu Uesugi (?-1417), the ex Kanto Kanrei rebelled to Kamakura Kubo Highness. It is recorded mountain monks of Musashi Mitake Shrine served military roles in the army of Norimoto Uesugi.

Seizure by Hojo clan

In the beginning of 16th century, Mitake area became the territory of Mita clan, a strong local lord which resided at current Ome city area. But Mita clan was ruined by Hojo clan, the warlord of Sagami province (Kanagawa prefecture) which seized large part of Kanto region, being blame for support Kenshin Uesugi (1530-1578), the warlord of Echigo province (Niigata prefecture) who attacked Hojo clan in 1560.

As a new comer overwhelmed ancient regime of Kanto region formed by Kamakura Kubo Highness and Kanto Kanrei, Hojo clan thought important of religious powers such as Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine to enhance their authority and keep loyalty of retainers. Hojo clan also kept worship to Musashi Mitake Shrine and directly protected the shrine.

Furthermore in 1568, Hojo clan broke with Shingen Takeda (1521-1573), the warlord of Kai province (Yamanashi prefecture) opposite of mountains, blaming for the invasion of Shingen to Imagawa clan of Suruga province (Shizuoka prefecture), former ally of triangle treaty between Hojo clan, Imagawa clan and Takeda clan.

Prepare for mountain road

As the territory of Takeda clan was a mountainous area, Takeda army was good at maneuver at mountains. Mitou-san which was the west edge of mountain line directly faces Kai province, and once climbing on ridge line there is about 20 kilometer of same height ridge road to the edge of both lines.

Ujiteru Hojo (1542-1590), the relative of Hojo clan and lord of Hachioji and Ome area, relied on the economic activity of the river transportation of Tama-gawa river, and had his main base Takiyama castle (Tokyo metropolis) at the side of the river. Mitake area is at the upstream of Tama-gawa river, and once Takeda army arrives along with the ridge they can obstruct the economy of the river.

Preparing for the invasion of Takeda army along with the ridge line or the valley of Ome Kaido road runs at the side of Mitake-san mountain, Hojo clan used Musashi Mitake Shrine not only for religious purpose but also for military purpose. Considering the fame of the Shrine and existing structures, minimum facilities were added for the Shrine to use as a castle.

Structure of Mitake castle

Mitake castle roughly consist of three parts. Current Shrine area at the peak of the mountain spreads over 300 meters might be the core part of the castle. This part includes over 10 terraces surrounded by sheer slopes, and two ridges spreads from the end of the area have exterior of castles including small terraces and dry moats.

Middle part of the castle currently used as the ground of lodges for worshippers have relatively flat and large ground, and might be used as residence of mountain monks in the past. Entrance into this area from lower part is like a gate ahead of curved road and has the atmosphere of castle gate.

Lower part of the castle also used for the lodges for worshippers has a clear remnant of dry moat toward outside. At the south of central area there is a long flat terrace called as Nagao-daira, but it is not clear if this is a remnant of the castle or not. Total length of the castle is over 1,000 meter, and it seems as a mountain fortress city rather than castle.

Afterward of castle

Takeda clan was ruined by central ruler Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582) in 1582, and then in 1590, Hojo clan was ruined by next central ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1537-1598).  Ieyasu Tokugawa (1543-1616) was appointed as the lord of former Hojo territory. Ieyasu protected Musashi Mitake Shrine but did not use it as a castle any more.

Edo Shogunate established by Ieyasu Tokugawa built current main hall and attached halls as a guardian at the west of the capital. Ordinary people of Edo era organized pilgrim group and visited the Shrine, and former mountain monks turned to the owner of lodges to accept such pilgrims.

Now due to the progress of transportation, Mitake-san mountain changes to casual daytrip spot for Metropolitan residents but still gathers many visitors. Traditional shrine buildings and pilgrim lodges surrounded by aged cedar trees still keeps atmosphere of sacred place since ancient era. On the other hand, not eye catching but carefully watched, slight remnants of castle structure shows this mountain once served as a castle.


30 minutes walk from Mitake-Tozan Tetsudo cable car Mitakesan station. Drive or bus ride from JR East Ome-sen line Mitake station to Mitake-Tozan Tetsudo cable car Takimoto station.

Related Castles

Pictures (click to enlarge)

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