Mt. Hachiman Castle

Mt. Hachiman Castle

place Area: Omihachiman access_time Published: 2020.07.23

Name in Japanese: 八幡山城
Pronunciation: hachimanyamajō

The town of Ōmihachiman extends southwards from a long mountain with a ridge running north to south called Mt. Hachiman. For a short time in the Warring States period, this mountain was the site of a significant castle. The top of the mountain can be reached by cable car or by a pleasant hiking trail, and if you take a boat ride on the moat of the castle, you can look up and see the walls of the main enclosure at the top of the mountain.

The castle was built for Toyotomi Hidetsugu, nephew of the second unifier of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, following the violent death of Oda Nobunaga whose splendid creation, Azuchi Castle stood a few miles away. Hachimanyama Castle became the successor to Azuchi Castle, which burned down shortly after it was built, but Hachimanyama Castle also proved to be short lived.

Hachimanyama Castle cable car

It was built on the steep-sided Mt. Hachiman (283 m), one of several mountains dotting the plain. When the castle was built, it resembled Azuchi Castle in being protected on its east and west sides by subsidiary lakes of Lake Biwa, with a castle town in the plain to the south. A moat, Hachimanbori, was dug around the castle, fed by the water of Lake Biwa. It served as a canal as well as a defensive feature. In the 1970s, there was a plan to fill it in to create a park and parking spaces, but the townspeople protested. Today it’s a major attraction of the town, and it’s often used for filming historical dramas.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi made Hachimanyama Castle the provincial castle of Ōmi Province instead of Azuchi Castle, and Hideyoshi himself supervised its construction. The walls of the castle incorporated the foundations of several Buddhist temples, suggesting that it was built in a hurry, using cannibalised materials. Hachimanyama Castle was one of several castles in Ōmi Province, and Hideyoshi’s goal was to establish a network of castle towns here, controlled by loyal vassals, making it a very strong military and economic strategic region. From the Middle Ages the saying “Whoever controls Ōmi controls the world” was taken seriously, and the province was the site of many battles for control of the world at the time, which is to say, central Japan.

Toyotomi Hidetsugu entered the castle in 1586 at the age of 18. In 1590 he was transferred to Kiyosu Castle. But in 1595, Hideyoshi accused Hidetsugu of treason and forced him to commit suicide. All his family were executed too. Since it was so closely associated with him, Hachimanyama Castle was pulled down, just ten years after it was built. Hidetsugu’s mother Nisshu had a temple, Zuiryū-ji, built in Kyōto to mourn her son, and the surviving gate of this temple was moved to the site of Hachimanyama Castle in 1963.

Hidetsugu was regarded as a skilled administrator whose far-sighted policies established Ōmihachiman as a prosperous town. He required boats passing on Lake Biwa to pass through the castle moat, ensuring that Ōmihachiman became a commercial hub. This policy was reinforced by deregulation of markets and guilds, so that the town became the base of the Hachiman Merchants, one of the main groups of Ōmi Merchants.

The stone walls of Hachimanyama Castle are still impressive. You can get to the top of the mountain by taking the cable car from the station next to Himure Hachiman Shrine, or by following the hiking trail behind it. Near the cable car station is an observation deck with a magnificent view towards Mt. Azuchi and Mt. Kinugasa, both sites of famous castles. There’s Zuiryū-ji Temple and a pretty Shintō shrine. Paths wander among the remaining stone walls, affording vistas of Lake Biwa, the Suigō Meguri, and the mountains around.

A clearly marked footpath leads right across the ridge of Mt. Hachiman, and it’s an easy walk back from there to the starting point, dropping into La Collina on the way back.