Looking out from Kaoburi Pass (顔振峠), waves of blue mountains roll out across the horizon and into the distance. Warm summer wind caresses the branches of trees and bamboo, who sigh in response. Red, blue, and grey rooftops below stand out amid the greenery, while a curtain of grey clouds wraps the sky. This is the central scene of Saitama Section 11 of the Fureai Trail: The Path with Waterfalls and a Yoshitsune Legend.
This path spans 8 km through the old state of Musashi from Agano Station over Kaoburi Pass to the Three Black Mountain Waterfalls (Kuroyama Mitaki, 黒山三滝). The pass itself is not particularly high or remote (a paved road runs right over it), but it is known for having a rather charming view of the area to the west, including waves of mountains rising off in the distance, among them Mt. Fuji if the weather is good.
This section is one painted in history. According to legend, the medieval general Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1159-1189) crossed over it while fleeing northward from Kyoto. Though the forces of his brother Yoritomo were in hot pursuit ready to take his head if they should capture him, the view from the pass was so beautiful that the fleeing general couldn’t help but looking back at the view again and again. For this reason, the pass was named Kaoburi or “Head Turner.”
Outside of the above military story, this trail is also a place to enjoy religious history as Black Mountain, the course’s conclusion, was once prosperous as a site for practicing ascetic Buddhism. It’s even believed that one of Japan’s most famous early ascetics, En the Pilgrim (634 – c.700-707), once practiced his mystic arts there. Perhaps the draw to the area was its mysterious deep valleys, within which can be found the Three Black Mountain Waterfalls (Kuroyama Mitaki, 黒山三滝), for which this section is named.
Trail at a Glance
The Path with Waterfalls and a Yoshitsune Legend (義経伝説と滝のあるみち)
This post is a continuation of last week’s post on Section 9 of the Kanto Fureai Trail in Saitama. Be sure to check out last week’s post for general information, bus timetables, and additional points of interest.
More Points of Interest
A Mountain with a Class-1 Triangulation Point
In 1888 the Department of Land Survey (陸地測量部) set out to produce the first modern survey of the country and so installed a network of triangulation points across the country to serve as a standard of measurement for this endeavor. The 1/50,000 scale maps that were produced from this survey became the gold standards for Japan’s first generation of recreational hikers. Today these original markers are known as Class-1 Triangulation Points and can be found spaced at roughly 40 km intervals all across the country, one of which can be found at the summit of Castle Peak.
In Saitama Prefecture alone there are eleven Class-1 triangulation points. Five of these are located on top of mountains: Three Jewels Mountain (Sanpōzan, 三宝山, 2,483m), Cloud-Catcher Mountain (Kumotori-yama, 雲取山), Mt. Dōdaira (堂平山, 876m), Lookout Mountain (Monomi-yama, 物見山, 375m), and Castle Peak Mountain (1038m). From the summit of Castle Peak, the first three of these are visible. In addition, many other Class-1 points outside of Saitama are also visible from the summit, including Mt. Nantai (男体山), Kesamaru Mountain (袈裟丸山), Jizo Peak (地蔵岳) at Akagi Mountain (赤城山), Hotaka Mountain (武尊山), Komochi Mountain (子持山), Tanigawa Peak (谷川岳), Mt. Haruna (榛名山), and Akakuna Mountain (赤久縄山).
Castle Peak’s Legendary Tragedy
In the first half of the 10th century, the warlord Taira no Masakado, a rebel against the central Japanese state based in Kyoto, subjugated the Eight Kanto States, or Kanhasshū (関八州), which once occupied the broad plain where Tokyo now lies. Shortly after he captured the state of Shimōsa (下総) Masakado established a castle on the top of a mountain far to the east, which was then known as the Peak of Ishima (石間ヶ岳). From then on, the local villagers began to call the mountain “Castle Peak.” At least, this is according to tradition.
In those days, the Kanto area was on the hinterlands of state authority and could have been considered particularly valuable in and of itself, but Masakado’s subjugation could not be left unchallenged. Therefore, Fujiwara no Hidesato (藤原秀郷) was dispatched to bring the Eight States back under imperial control. According to legend, the two faced off in Chichibu, with Masakado occupying the high ground at Castle Peak.
Staying in the fort with him at the time was his beloved wife, Bellflower (Kikyō, 桔梗). Unbeknownst to him, however, she would at times disappear from the fort, but for what reason is unclear. Some stories say that she was betraying him, reporting secret information to Hidesato, while other stories say that Masakado, upon discovering her absences, merely assumed this to be the case. Regardless, all accounts agree that Masakado had her executed for this offence. Shortly thereafter, Masakado himself was defeated and executed. Thereafter, bell-flowers ceased to bloom on the mountain.
Taira no Masakado and Mt. Castle Peak
The above legend notwithstanding, there actually isn’t any hard evidence that Taira no Masakado ever personally set foot in Chichibu, let alone Mt. Castle Peak, and yet a great number of Masakado legends have been passed down through the ages all over the region. This appears to be due to the fact that the area became a stronghold of the Bandō branch of the Taira family (坂東平氏). Since Masakado became such a famous figure, the Bandō Tairas likely spread these rumors in order to secure an association with their more famous family member.
That said, there are many signs of military activity times past. For example, great many military-sounding place names can be found all over the mountain, including “Horse-Washing Pool” (Uma-arai Fuchi, 馬洗い渕), “The Estate Grounds (O-Yashiki Ba , お屋敷場), Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城), King’s Castle (Ōjō, 王城), Castle Valley (Shiro-no-Sawa, 城の沢), and Castle Flat (Jōdaira, 城平). On top of those places, an excavation survey carried out by prefectural government discovered a flat area on Castle Peak that is thought to be the remains of a lookout site. Despite this, experts believe that these all date to the Warring States Period rather than to Masakado’s time.
Castle Peak Shrine
Shortly after descending from the summit of Castle Peak, the trail visits Castle Peak Shrine, whose founder is said to be Yamato Takeru no Mikoto, the same figure who founded Hodo-san Shrine in the same area. According to legend, he climbed to this point during his famous Eastern Expedition to subjugate western Honshu to the central government in Kyoto in the 1st century CE. According to legend, when he reached the area, he deemed that it would be an excellent place to worship the gods, and so he enshrined an arrow there. Even today there remains a place on the north side of the ridge known as Yanō (矢納), or “Arrow-Offering.”
One of the interesting points about this shrine is the fact that it has a campground attached to it. This provides a rare experience for hikers spend the night sleeping on temple grounds. For this reason, I recommend anyone hiking this section to plan an overnight stay so you can take advantage of this chance.
Taira no Masakado in Japanese Culture
As a member of the Taira Clan, Taira no Masakado belonged to one of Japan’s oldest and most distinguished samurai clans, whose pedigree extends back to the earliest recorded history of the country. Thus, though in actual terms he was hardly more than a minor rebel who only briefly defied central authorities, he has nonetheless become an incredibly well-known figure, and has even become the subject of religious worship. This worship has typically taken two forms.
The first of these is the formal worship of his spirit at Shinto shrines dedicated specifically to him. Two prominent examples of these are Kanda Shrine (Kanda Myojin, 神田明神) and Torigoe Shrine (Torigoe Jinja, 鳥越神社), both in Tokyo. The second of these is the worship of Masakado’s severed head. After Fujiwara no Hidesato ended the rebellion and decapitated the rebel leader, he sent the head back to Kyoto to be put on display. Various stories have circulated about mysterious events connected to the head, including that it would laugh and passerby and also that it actually flew away back to Masakado’s hometown. The common people, hearing these stories and believing in the power of Masakado’s spirit, build kubizuka, or “Head Mounds,” to worship this mysterious power. Today you can still find some of these mounds in the Kanto area, for example at Enpuku Temple (円福寺) in Minano Town and another in Ōtemachi (大手町) in Tokyo.
Photos from the Trail
Trail at a Glance
The Path for Seeking Masakado Legends (Masakado Densetsu wo Saguru Michi, 将門伝説を探るみち)
On a day in November of 2018 I stood on the mountainside to the east of Nagatoro, overlooking a long arm of the Chichibu Basin stretching out towards the Kanto to the east. Below, the town spread out along the blue line that was the Rough River (Arakawa, 荒川), and past that the wall of mountains beyond which lay Gunma Prefecture, the next stage of the Fureai Trail. For nearly a year now, I had been making my way steadily to this point. And along that ridge, the highest peak rose up, towering over the basin, a perfect vantage point. I had stood there myself some months before. Then it was a peak wrapped in mist so thick that I could hardly see more than a few kilometers. At that time, I had no idea what view was hidden from me, nor how important that view has been in the past.
What I was looking at was Mt. Castle Peak (Jōmine-san, 城峰山), the focus of Section 9 of the Kanto Fureai Trail in Saitama Prefecture. At 1037.7 meters tall, the mountain is the tallest within Chichibu’s Jōbu Nature Park (上武自然公園) and commands a sweeping view of the mountains of Inner Chichibu (奥秩父), the Chichibu Basin (秩父盆地), Nikko (日光), and also the mountains of Jōshinetsu (上信越). It’s a shame that on the day I passed through it was too misty to see any of that, but such is a common experience for hikers in Japan.
Given that the peak makes for such an excellent lookout position, it comes as no surprise that over the centuries it has been associated with prominent military figures, in particular the Heian Period (794 – 1185) rebel Taira no Masakado and also the Warring States Period (1467 – c. 1600) general Takeda Shingen. Even today there are numerous place names on and near the mountain that reflect this history: King’s Castle (Ōjō, 王城), Castle Mountain (Shiro-yama, 城山), Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城), and Castle Valley (Shiro-no-Sawa, 城の沢). As such, this section of trail makes an excellent stop not just for nature enthusiasts but also for fans of history as well.
At 14.3 km long, this section is the longest course on the trail since Section IV, all of which have been less than 10 km. As such, those who are more interested in hiking than simply strolling will definitely get their fill on this trip. The trail picks up some distance up the road from the end of Section VIII and is accessible by bus from Minano Station (皆野駅), but Google doesn’t have the bus line in its system yet, you’ll have to rely on this timetable. You should get off at Nishi Montaira (西門平). From the bus stop, walk further up the road a short distance until you see your first Fureai Trail marker.
The first half of the trail sticks to footpaths all the way to the summit of Castle Peak, but shortly after descending down to Castle Peak Shrine, the trail begins to follow predominantly roadways, though there are still some sections of actual trail. Towards the end, this section meets up with Section X before ending at Tosen Bridge (登仙橋). Google can carry you home from there.
Points of Interest
“The Bugs’ Farewell” of Montaira
If you’re planning on hiking this section in mid-August, consider planning your trip for the 16th so that you can witness a distinct local celebration: Montaira Village’s Mushi Okuri or “The Bugs’ Farewell.” In this event, the villagers perform a sort of exorcism to remove evil spirits from the village who were once believed to cause disease, pestilence, natural disasters, and all sorts of other misfortunes. The event features a parade of people in traditional dress marching to the edge of town while playing musical instruments such as taiko drums and flutes or carrying special flags, called segaki hata (施餓鬼旗), all the while chanting a special prayer.
This parade occurs on the last day of the Bon festival, a Buddhist celebration for honoring deceased ancestors celebrated all over Japan and is often compared to the Thanksgiving holiday in North America. The last day of the festival, on which Montaira’s Bugs’ Farewell occurs, is known as Okuribon (送り盆), or “Farewell Bon,” because on this day people would traditionally hold a ceremony in which they bid the spirits of their ancestors farewell.
What sets the Bugs’ Farewell apart from the more typical version of the festival is that in Montaira the focus of this ceremony is not to see off the spirits of their own ancestors, but rather to do so for the spirits of those who don’t have families to tend their graves. According to tradition, people who die childless or whose family line dies off are left in a deeply unsatisfied state and therefore cause all sorts of trouble for those of us in the human world. To appease these ghosts, the people of Montaira began holding this special ceremony just for them, bringing them to the edge of the town like honored guests on the point of departure. The festival acquired its name because, once these spirits were satisfied, they would quit sending bugs to lay pestilence upon the crops.
Mountain Forts of the Warring States Period
The period from 1467 to roughly 1600 is typical referred to as the Warring States Period, or Sengoku Jidai (戦国) and is marked by a collapse of central authority and the rise of autonomous military states across the country who constantly vied with each other for territorial control. A number of great generals are remembered from this time, among them one Takeda Shingen (武田信玄), who became active in the area around Castle Peak towards the end of this period. For those of you who have followed this blog, you might be interested to know that he was the ruler of the old state of Kai (甲斐), where a certain Peak of the Colt (甲斐駒ヶ岳) is located.
By 1569 Takeda had established control of western Jōshū (上州), whose southern border happened to be the mountain range on which Castle Peak sits. During that same year he pushed further south, crossing the Kanna River (神流川) into that range (which was then part of Musashi (武蔵) province), where he established a line of forts to secure his frontier. Among the many that he built, the best remembered today are Bellclad Castle (Kamekake-jō, 鐘掛城) and the lookout on Mt. Castle Peak, both of which are located along Section IX; Kanasana Mitake Castle (金鑚御嶽城) Kamikawa Village (神川村); Tiger Hill Castle (Tora-ga-Oka Jō, 虎が丘城) and Kanao Stronghold (Kanao Yōgai Sanjō, 金尾要害山城) in Yorii Town (寄居町); Highpine Castle (Takamatsu Jō, 高松城) and Dragon Valley Castle (Ryū-ga-Tani Jō, 竜ヶ谷) in Minano Town (皆野町).
Near the end of the Warring States Period, rival daimyo managed to capture one of the castles in Takeda’s line, and after Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s unification of the country their reason for existence was lost, so they fell into ruin. Today, only their earthwork portions remain.
More to come!
There was quite a lot of information about this section, more than could fit in a single post. Stay tuned for next week’s post, where we discuss more about the history of the area. Until then, please enjoy some of photos from my visit!
Trail at a Glance
The Path for Seeking Masakado Legends (Masakado Densetsu wo Saguru Michi, 将門伝説を探るみち)