Chōjayamajō was a hirayamajiro (hilltop castle) built atop a 20m tall cliff. Legend has it that it was a Yashiki (residence) from the Heian Period, but the castle's layout, or what remains of it today, dates to the Sengoku period. According to tradition, this was the site of the fortified residence of Ichimori Chōja, a local strongman who entertained Minamoto Yoshiie here on the latter's way to Ōshū. Ichimori held for Minamoto an elaborate feast which lasted three days and nights. Minamoto, as history knows, pacified Ōshū, and, so the story goes, upon his return journey to civilisation, was once again elaborately entertained by Ichimori. The celebrations went well and all, but afterwards Minamoto got to thinking that the party had been a little too elaborate, and that Ichimori, in order to put on such grand festivities, must be incredibly rich. In fact, too rich! He could fund a rebellion against the central government with that kind of money. I guess there's such a thing as being too eager to please, because Minamoto put Ichimori's estate to siege with the intention of killing him.
Ichimori escaped into a secret tunnel which exited via the Naka River. However, his enemies were in close pursuit and so, in desperation, Ichimori tried to jump into the river to escape but was drowned. Legend also says that he drowned carrying a golden chicken. I suppose that his inability to let go of the golden chicken due to greed may have ensured that he drowned, and that this was the same golden chicken somehow responsible for Ichimori's vast wealth - perhaps it would lay golden eggs. Needless to say, this is just folklore. In fact, the golden garden fowl may be a reference to the Seven Treasures of Qibao. Qibao, lit. 'seven treasures', is the name of a town near Shanghai. I have been to Qibao, and so by this I know of the legends. One of Qibao's treasures was a golden cockerel. The bird would call out very early in the morning, rising the town's populous from slumber so that they could get to work. The early bird catches the worm, they say, and so it was that the town's populous were very productive and became prosperous. And so the fantastical bird was really just a regular one, perhaps lightly coloured, whose timely crowing at dawn allowed people to make their own money. Subsequent re-tellings, however, may have neglected this nuance and re-cast it in a similar light to the golden goose of Germanic folklore. How Ichimori Chōja got the golden chicken is not elaborated upon and so we will never know if it was the very same bird, or one of its ancestors, from Qibao, but according to the legends of Qibao, the golden cockerel was mysteriously purloined one night and never heard crowing again...
Returning to Japan and historicity, the Sengoku period Chōjayamajō was 250m east to west, and 350m north to south. It was controlled by the Haruaki Clan, vassals of the Edo Clan, and functioned as a branch castle of Mitojō, protecting its north.
The ruins of Chōjayamajō consist of large dorui (earthen ramparts) and karabori (dry moats). Segments of dorui can be found around the former main and second baileys. The castle was built in the "corner" of a cliff, but between the baileys and the cliffline runs a long moat system, giving an extra layer of defence. I descended into this overgrown area from the karabori in front of the main bailey, and encountered several right-angled turns, meaning the moat worked its way in between the main and second baileys in a zigzagging fashion. Originally Chōjayamajō consisted of five baileys. The main, second and third were situated in a ladder-like layout, and smaller baileys existed to the side of the main bailey. The site today is now agricultural land and farmsteads.
|Pre Edo Period
|Dorui, Karabori, Yokobori, Kuruwa
|Akatsuka Station on the Mito Line; 54 minute walk
|24/7 free; private property
|Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture
|36° 24' 44.46" N, 140° 26' 0.96" E
|Added to Jcastle
|Admin Year Visited