Tsuneyama (Mount Tsune) rose in the middle of what used to be Kojima island. The Seto sea near Okayama city sports a number of very large islands. While Kojima may not be the most profitable and interesting of places, especially during the era of warring states, it served as a sort of buffer between the sea and Okayama castle. The Ueno clan decided to take it over in 1486 and spent a few years building a castle there.
The way the mountain raises straight up from the flat land below with a view from the top that includes both ends of the small mountain range and all the way across to Okayama city makes it understandable why it would be the perfect place to build a castle.
Now, however, the sea has been filled in with reclaimed land. Kojima is no longer an island, the canals of Kurashiki no longer can carry goods all the way to the sea, and Tsuneyama castle has been left to rot away under the weight of trees and ivy.
I live at the bottom of this mountain, where the land would have made a sandy beach. According to the "Hazard Map" they gave me when I moved here, I'm in danger of being flooded out if a giant tsunami ever breaches the sea wall. However I think I'm just high enough, and just far away enough from the wall, that I'd have lots of time to run up the mountain before the water got to my house as the rest of the land around me returned to the ocean.
The area I live in is called Utogi, which I've been translating as Cosmic Wisteria Tree. Now, Wisteria isn't a tree, and cosmic isn't really what you'd call a beach with a castle, so I'd been wondering how that came about. Why not, "Tsuneyama town" or "Castle beach" or "Ueno land"? Well I finally found the answer. There's an urban myth that a long time ago a boat carrying a princess washed up on the beach here after she was lost at sea. The old word for "shipwreck" translates more like, "flowed-away vessel" and the term, "flowed-away" stuck as the name of this particular beach. When writing that word down in Chinese characters, there was some difficulty and it ended up simplifying from Utsurougi to Utougi. Which I guess translates as "cosmic wisteria tree" when it really is an abbreviation for "flowed-away." In Kurashiki, which used to be across the sea, a similar tale is told of a princess who went missing. With two similar myths in the same area, and a place-name that fits, it's possible that it's a true story.
There's another princess that's much more famous here. The castle lord Ueno married a princess from Kurashiki named Tsuru. Ueno was in disagreement with his cousins in the Mori clan and sided with Oda Nobunaga, the great warrior general. If he'd been closer to the center of Japan, he might have received stability and protection, but Nobunaga's influence was weak in the area and the Mori's were constantly at odds with Ueno, taking out a brother here or there and bickering about ownership of land. Slowly the Mori's worked their way through the Okayama area taking over castle by castle, causing much distress and havoc to the Ueno family. Princess Tsuru watched her husband as he suffered the deaths of family members which fueled her vengeful feelings and warrior spirit. Finally, the Mori's came to the castle to attack. 1,000 men hid on the rocky, uninhabited side of the mountain and waited for a chance to make their move.
This city is called Tamano which I thought meant, "Field of Treasures." But when I looked up up, it turns out that "Tama" isn't an allusion to treasure, it just means, "balls." And, "No" isn't field, it's the short term for, "Uno" which meant, "expansive space." So basically we've got "Space Balls." Actually the "balls" refer to giant rocks that adorn the mountains of the city like ornaments. These boulders have such interesting shapes and there are a few hikes you can take to get up close to them.
On Mount Tsune, where Mori's 1,000 warriors lay in wait, there are a few of these such rocks. It's called the "Rocks of a Thousand Men." Now it's more like, "the Rocks of a Thousand Species of Lichen" but to each his own. Mori launched his attack from here and took down Ueno's castle quickly. However his men were avoiding harming women as they stormed the perimeter. Princess Tsuru noticed this and gathered 34 women for a last attack on the Mori clan. They donned the armor of their fallen husbands and made a last stand at the top of the mountain. The princess challenged the leader to a duel, but he wouldn't come forward as she was a woman. They were surrounded and then committed suicide to keep their honor.
On the top of the mountain, one can find a monument to those who committed suicide, men and women alike, and the graves of the 34 women, erected relatively recently.
When I arrived here, I was kind of like a washed up princess. I wasn't used to living in this kind of area, and I had no idea that in that mountain of spiderwebs and wild boars was a rich, dark history. It took me a bit to warm up to it, but now this is my new mountain home. It's actually too bad that the exterior is so unassuming. It's quite an interesting place!
Japanese castles are more like forts, in that they aren't palaces where royalty lived in comfort, but rather watchtowers with storehouses for weapons and stalls for the horses. Depending on the castle, the actual living estates of the generals were often elsewhere on more comfortable terrain. The "ruler of the castle" is more like, "the keeper of the fort." It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that Mount Tsune exchanged hands again and again. If I was some relative of a rich warrior, I'd be keen on getting my hands on a castle. If I was sent to some piddly island in the middle of Okayama nowhere, I might be looking to go up in the ranks and ask a brother or cousin to handle it for me while I made money elsewhere. Anyhow, the castle eventually came in to the hands of general Togawa, who basically worked on upgrading it and building higher and higher walls, while he lived peacefully on the shoreline where I live now. He was a Buddhist and had a temple errected which sits on the hill above my house. It's called, "Urin" which means, "Forest Trees." Apparently the inside of it is supposed to be quite beautiful with a painted ceiling and a statue in gold, but no one's allowed inside.
After a while, with Japan being unified in to one country and modern weaponry on the rise, up-keeping castles wasn't really in vogue anymore. The castle fell to ruin and now there isn't anything left aside from the stone walls.
In modern history, man named Ono must have fallen in love with this mountain because he strove to bring it back to life. He had the hiking trail made, the road paved, and each year hosted a traditional dance on top of the mountain to pray for the dead. He worked with the government to set up a few groups that worked together for the tourism and upkeep of Mount Tsuneyama. There is a painting that was made for him showing the mountain and a lot of people going up and down during cherry blossom season. You'll see in the picture that the sea is in both the foreground and the background. After his death, his son took up his fervor and continued to promote the nature and history of the mountain.
After the son's death, the mountain again fell in to disrepair and there are still signs up saying that the hiking trail doesn't go through (it does) and the road has been washed out (it hasn't).
The sea wall was erected in the 50's or 60's. The land filled in and was made in to rice fields. I found an old photo in the library of what it used to look like:
And what happened next?
Well I came along and we'll see what happens from here!!
P.S. Subject is from a bridal company..... why?