Chōkōji Castle

Chōkōji Castle

place Area: Omihachiman access_time Published: 2020.07.23

Name in Japanese: 長光寺城

Pronunciation: chōkōjijō

Mt. Chōkōji was the site of a Buddhist temple which developed into a fortress during the Warring States period. It was originally under the control of the Sasaki and Rokkaku clans who were then the military governors of Ōmi, but they were evicted by Oda Nobunaga, who put his vassal Shibata Katsuie in command of the castle. The site is also known as Mt. Kamewari, the mountain of the broken jars. The origin of this name comes from an anecdote concerning Shibata’s tenure.

The Sasaki rebuilt their forces and in 1570, they besieged the castle. As the siege dragged on, stocks of water were running low, and the fall of the castle seemed only a matter of time. However, rather than sitting and waiting to die, Shibata Katsuie made his troops drink the last of the water then smashed the water jars to inspire them to fight instead of sitting and dying. Shibata led his men out of the castle to fight and drive away the besiegers. This action, along with a series of brilliant victories, earned him the nickname “Oni Shibata”, or “Demon Shibata”. Pictures of Shibata show a large, hairy man with a fierce and fiery face.

Chokoji Castle wall

At the time of the Ōnin War, the Sasaki clan was divided into eastern and western armies. These were based at Chōkōji Castle and Kannonji Castle respectively, from where they battled each other. The Sasaki clan was finally defeated by Oda Nobunaga, and with the completion of Azuchi Castle, the two earlier castles were abandoned.

The mountain was a source of high-quality granite and the skilled stone masons who were able to use it to good effect, the Mabuchi and Iwakura masons, worked on other major projects across Japan from the Momoyama to the early Edo period. These include the castles in Ōsaka, Nagoya, Edo and Hikone Castle, as well as celebrated bridges and temples.

Today, Mt. Kamewari shows no obvious signs of its embattled past, at least from a distance. But if you take one of the several paths up the mountain, you’ll find large boulders that were once incorporated into the defences, and a section of sloping wall that suggests a once formidable defensive enclosure. There’s a stone-lined well and an earthen bridge crossing a deep ditch. The mountain is little more than hill in fact, with an elevation of 234 m above sea level. It’s covered in attractive mixed forest, and bamboo grass. From its top, you can catch glimpses of the other major castle sites in the immediate area – Kannonji, Azuchi, and Hachiman.

Kannonji Castle from Chokoji Castle

The best path goes up from the southern side of the mountain. Here you’ll find an attractive temple, Myōkyō-ji, and the Funi Waterfall in the Inari Shrine. There are various signs and maps posted around the hilltop indicating the traces of the castle that remain.