Fuchu Castle (Hitachi)
Fuchūjō was built over the ruins of the kokufu (provincial capital) of Hitachi Province. The kokufu is thought to have been built in 700 when Kudaranokonikishi Enpō was appointed governor of Hitachi. Hitachi-kokufu was besieged in 939 by Taira Masakado, and devastated.
In 1214, Daijō Suketomo built a fortified residence on the site. Expanding from this, a medieval fort was built on the site in the middle 14th century by Daijō Akikuni. For most of the medieval era the Daijō Clan seemed to have maintained the site. The Daijō, also called the Baba Clan, were based at Babajō, which would later become Mitojō.
In the Edo period, Fuchū-jin’ya was the base initially of smaller local clans who could not maintain full-fledged castles. From 1602 the Satake Clan was relocated from Hitachi to Akita, and the Rokugō took over, in turn relocated to Dewa-Honjō and replaced by the Minagawa Clan in 1623. In 1700, however, Tokugawa Yoritaka, the fifth son of Tokugawa Yorifusa, lord of Mito Domain, established a sub-domain here, and the Fuchū-jin’ya was (re)built. The fort stretched about 400m north to south, and 500m east to west. It had three principal baileys and at least three detached baileys. Baileys were separated by dry moats and earthen ramparts, of which only a few segments remain. A gate survives from the time of the jin’ya, constructed in 1828, though it has been moved slightly from its original position owing to road development.
Of Fuchūjō, which mostly consist of earthworks though there is also an extant gate from the time of the jin’ya (Fuchūjō has a layered history which I discuss below), I found some dorui (earthen ramparts) and a karabori (dry moat system). Something was stirring as I entered the town of Ishioka, and things seemed lively, but I was a bit insensible as to what was going on, though I did note many stalls being set up. Just as I approached the extant castle gate, as though in co-ordination with my taking my first photograph, a festival float swung by. I considered this very fortuitous. Many people were watching the float and sitting in front of the gate. After leaving behind the growing crowds, I visited the castle ruins.
There are tall mounds of earthen ramparts surrounding Ishioka Elementary School, the remains of Ishioka-jin’ya, and a surviving gate has been relocated to in front of a public meeting hall nearby. Parts of the medieval structure of the castle are evident here and there, and the terrain is steep in parts, though suburbanisation has obscured much. The clearest remnant of Fuchūjō is a karabori, and grass and such in it has been cleared back so it is easier to see. I jumped down into it, of course. It goes a little way along before dropping into a climbing moat. I scrambled up the other side and found that dorui had been heaped up here to increase the height of the ramparts. There were flattened areas which could’ve been terraced baileys but the bamboo grew too thick to easily investigate. It seems more ruins may be found to the north where this moat system continued, but that is all private property and fenced off. Apparently there is a demaru (detached bailey) on the cliff to the north, but I couldn’t get close to the forested slope, and the top of the hill is in any case developed over with housing.
When I came back from my exploration of the castle ruins the festival was in full swing and it was much bigger than I had anticipated! The main road was by now shut down to vehicular traffic and along it came lurching large festival floats, much taller than the smaller one I had witnessed earlier. I enjoyed a shandy whilst watching the festivities. It was a tremendously fortunate thing, I thought, since I had not known about the festival in this small town before coming.
Along the streets leading to the main roads many old houses had their shutters and doors wide open to visitors, showing their beautiful interiors. Some hosted shop stalls, others banquets. Children and dogs popped their heads out of windows and balconies as the float came around; this smaller float, which went along the smaller roads to visit people’s individual homes, was led by a dancing dragon (a real one no doubt!).
The main road hosted large floats with ornate effigies atop. People sat atop and within the floats to beat drums, play music, and dance. The shrine-shaped portable structures opened up to the front with a stage area where comic dancers wriggled their limbs and wore jocular, whistling masks. The rear of the floats had banners proclaiming the name of the neighbourhood responsible for their parading. There was ‘Midtown’, ‘Forest District’, and so on. These beautiful, lurching pavilions on wheels were hauled along on a series of ropes by a score of men and women (children and dogs helped too). The pivoting of one of these floating pavilions was an incredible feat, and the crowds cheered as one of largest swung about a full ninety degrees to trundle down a side road.
In addition to many stalls and shopfronts wide open, I might also comment on some other things which caught my attention. The skyline of the town changed as the floats moved in procession. I noticed some older architecture, Taishō period, I think, including kanbanźukuri with long oxidised copper plating. These complimented the floats. Whilst taking a gulp of my pink lemonade shandy – refreshing with plenty of pulp – I noticed a little boy crawling about at my feet. He was chasing a tiny gold-coloured bauble which had probably come loose from somebody’s bracelet. The preoccupation with the small and trivial whilst the main show surged on unheeded by him was something amusing.
Many people had come out in kimono and geta, and those involved directly in the pulling or manning of the pavilions wore either splendid kimono or, for those to whom more physical duties were deputised, something like a carpenter’s apron with dungarees and tabi (two-toed footwear). Many townspeople, young and old, were in these matching aprons, and they appeared to me the salt of the earth, especially the burly, young men who pulled on the thick ropes from the front of the floats. I happened to look into a café, and saw an older man there, his face stoic like a moai’s; from the collars and cuffs of his shirt protruded the heads and claws of dragons.
I felt in some way that all of Japan was represented at the festival, and that Japan itself was well represented. I am maybe a sensitive type in my own way, and when I go into large cities like Tōkyō or London, I feel there a sense of alienation from the surrounding country, as though one has entered into ‘the global city’, with its mere flavouring of Japan in Tōkyō, or its glossing of Englishness in London, in each country maintaining a portal into the same many-faced city with its soulless, materialist core – a great and hungry monster. But in the small town and provinces the people are at home, and their roots go deep and firm. I pray for their traditions to go unbroken, and for their character and population to remain robust. (I hear in Tōkyō only a minority is born in the city – and other great global cities have minorities born in the country – and so it, which grows whilst the rest of Japan shrinks, seems to hollow out the people of the towns, tearing them from their crafts, fields, and a measured pace of life tinged with green and girdled with mountains... and perhaps I am just so romantic.)
|English Name||Hitachi Fuchuu Castle|
|Founder||Kudaranokonikishi Enpō; Daijō Suketomo; Tokugawa Yoritaka|
|Year Founded||700; 1214; 1700|
|Castle Condition||No main keep but other buildings|
|Designations||Local Historic Site|
|Historical Period||Pre Edo Period|
|Artifacts||Karabori, Dorui, Gate|
|Access||Ishioka Station on the Jōban Line; 15 minute walk|
|Visitor Information||Access Limited|
|Time Required||30 minutes|
|Location||Ishioka, Ibaraki Prefecture|
|Coordinates||36° 11' 25.04" N, 140° 16' 12.68" E|
|Added to Jcastle||2022|
|Admin Year Visited||Viewer Contributed|
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