Chosen as Hitobashira, a human sacrifice to ensure the construction of Maruoka Castle, O-shizu were promised a bright future for her children. But when the promise were not honoured, her ghost came back to haunt the castle grounds.

The Maruoka Castle (丸岡城) is sometimes called the Mist Castle (霞ヶ城), because according to legend, there will be a protective mist around the castle whenever an enemy is close to hide it. It stands on the top of a hill protected ramparts as well as a pentagonal-shaped moat and perhaps it is the spirit of the human sacrifice entombed in the castle’s foundation that keeps it hidden in the mist? 

The Maruoka Castle is one of the oldest castles in Japan, sometimes called one of the twelve original castles and is located in the Fukui Prefecture and built at the end of the Sengoku period around 1576 by Shibata Katsutoyo. According to the legend, it was built with a human sacrifice to ensure its endurance.

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Hitobashira — Human Sacrifices Entombed in Buildings

The act of a human sacrifice to be a pillar of a building can be seen throughout the world. In Asia, it was especially done to appease the deities and for protection. In Japan, the practice is known as Hitobashira (人柱), meaning human pillar and has been used since the 500 AD at least. 

As well as the spiritual belief it was believed that large constructions like castles, dams and bridges would destroy the feng shui of the land because of the moving of the soil. Because of this, the buildings would then be in danger of all sorts of disasters, both natural as well as man made disasters. The cultural practice of Hitobashira was done then to protect against evil spirits, natural disasters and to make the buildings strong. 

It wasn’t necessarily people that were forced to become the human pillars. Some actually chose this path for various reasons. The word Hitobashira can actually be linked to becoming a God as well. Hito is related to the word, kami, which means God in the Shinto tradition. Bashira can be a term used when being enshrined in an important way. So that the sacrifice would actually be more connected to the gods. 

But then again, there were also more earthly reasons to choose to become a Hitobashira. Poverty for one, as is the case with the Hitobashira that are under the grounds of the Maruoka Castle. 

The Human Pillars of Maruoka Castle

When they were building the Maruoka Castle, they kept running into problems that they couldn’t seem to find a solution to. The stone walls kept collapsing no matter how many times they tried to set it up and they were running out of ideas. Then a vassal suggested that they should have a hitobashira, a human sacrifice. 

The choice fell on O-shizu, a one-eyed woman with two children to feed. She agreed to be the sacrifice on one condition, that one of her children would be made a samurai. She was a poor woman and this way she could ensure a safer future for her children. 

She was then buried under the pillars of the castle, one stone on top of the other as she was slowly being crushed to death. It is said she was stoically standing there as the builders slowly killed her, fully knowing her children would be better off. After the sacrifice were done, the walls didn’t budge and the building of the rest of the castle continued without further problems. 

But Shibata Katsutoyo, the one building the castle didn’t follow through on his promise of making her son into a samurai, she came back to haunt the castle. Her spirit became resentful and she was the cause of the moat overflowing every spring by the rain.  They called the rain that overflowed the moats the ‘Tears of O-sizu’.

To appease the spirit they erected a tomb to sooth her spirit and we today have a handed down poem about her haunting:

“The rain which falls when the season of cutting algae comes Is the rain reminiscent of the tears of the poor O-shizu’s sorrow”

The Castle Today

Today we probably would say that the castle had a problem in its design, not because of the deities. And had it had a more stable way of construction, a hitobashira would probably not have been needed. But again, the castle is still standing to this day, so who is to say, really?

Gratis arkivbilde med årstid, blomster, dagslys
Cherry Blossom Festival: Today the castle is known for being a good place to watch the cherry blossoms every spring more than one of the hitobashira buildings.

Today when the mist is clearing and the castle is visible, there are cherry blossoms blooming in the spring. The castle grounds is a part of Kasumigajo Park and is well known for its 400 cherry blossom trees. There is an annual cherry blossom festival during the first three weeks of April. And in the evenings, there are over 3000 paper lanterns lit up in the dark. 

Perhaps this is appeasing the ghost of O-shuzu enough to not overflow the moat with her tears anymore?

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References

Featured Image: baku13/Wikimedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitobashira

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maruoka_Castle

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