Thursday, March 22, 2018

HGB Ep. 250 - Himeji Castle

 
Moment in Oddity -Pope Gregory IX Declares Cats are of Satan

Pope Gregory IX was born Ugolino di Conti in 1145. Unbelievably, he was over 80 years old at the time that he became Pope. But that isn't what is odd about his story. Our oddity here is about a declaration he made as Pope. This would not be his declaration about papal supremacy or that little thing he put into motion called the Crusades or that other little thing, you know, the Inquisition. No, this has to do with his order that called for the wholesale slaughter of cats in Europe. He wrote the Vox in Rama and this declared that cats were the instrument of Satan and thus they were condemned. This led to a decree by Gregory that put a target on the head of every cat, especially the black ones. Now, as if this wasn't insane enough, keep in mind that the Plague was on the scene. And many believe that the Plague was spread by rats. And what kills rats? Cats! Now imagine you have a Pope declaring that they all be killed. So the Pope causes a massive reduction in those evil cats all while the realevil of the plague is allowed to take out the human population and apparently the people of that time were okay with that and that, certainly is odd!

This Month in History - Tolpuddle Martyrs Banished to Australia

In the month of March, on the 18th, in 1834, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were banished to Australia. Tolpuddle was a small village east of Dorchester, England where six English agricultural laborers  formed the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. The leader of the group was George Loveless and under him the trade union rapidly grew in the area. The workers had wanted to form the union after several years of reductions in their agricultural wages. The group declared that they would not work for less than 10 shillings a week. There had previously been a lot of unrest from trade union activities and the British government feared that this group would launch the same unrest. They urged local authorities to arrest Loveless and they did just that, along with five other men. The charge was that the men had made an unlawful oath and an outdated law was cited to back up the charges. The men were found guilty and sentenced to seven years of banishment to Australia’s New South Wales penal colony. The British government was less than pleased with the public reaction. The six men were made into heroes and continual agitation by the public got the sentence remitted. The popular movement surrounding the Tolpuddle controversy is generally regarded as the beginning of trade unionism in Great Britain.

Himeji Castle (Suggested by listener Jenni Watt)

The country of Japan does not usually cross the mind when castles are mentioned. But Japan does have castles and Himeji Castle is the largest castle in Japan. The magnificent structure sits at the top of Himeyama, which is a point 150 feet above sea level. The castle is made up of 83 buildings and referred to as White Heron Castle because of its coloring, which is a brilliant white and the curved roofs resemble a bird in flight. Today, the castle is the most visited castle in Japan and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is also considered to be one of the most haunted locations in Japan with stories of Okiku's Well, the Old Widow's Stone and the death of Sakurai Genbei. Join us as we explore the history, legends and hauntings of Himeji Castle.

The city of Himeji in Japan has found itself to be the center of attention throughout the years. The city was established in 1889, but even prior to officially becoming a city, Himeji has been the center of Harima Province, which is today the Hyogo Prefecture, since the Nara period, which covers to years AD 710 to 794. The Great Kantō earthquake hit in 1923 and at that time the Japanese government started considering whether Himeji would make a better and safer capital than Tokyo. During World War II, the United States targeted Himeji because it served as an important rail terminal and also had two large military zones. The attack would be devastating to the city and occurred on July 3, 1945. Just after four in the afternoon, 107 Aircraft took to the skies over Himeji and dropped 767 tons of incendiary bombs. The raid destroyed 63.3% of the city. But one structure remained undamaged and that was Himeji Castle.

The site where the Himeji Castle now stands was originally occupied by a fort that was built in 1333 by Akamatsu Norimura. The location gave a military advantage because of the high hill. Several years later, it was expanded to include living quarters. In 1346, Norimura's son, Sadanori, demolished the fort and built Himeyama Castle in its place, which was named for the hill upon which it sits. In 1545, the Kuroda clan was stationed here by order of the Kodera clan, and at that time the castle was remodeled and renamed Himeji Castle. The construction was finished in 1561. By 1581, a three-story castle keep had been added. In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu awarded the castle to Ikeda Terumasa for his help in the Battle of Sekigahara. It would be Ikeda who would completely rebuild the castle from 1601 to 1609. This made the castle a large complex. Several buildings were later added to the castle complex by Honda Tadamasa from 1617 to 1618.  One of these includes a special tower for his daughter-in-law, Princess Sen.

The castle was built for defense and fortified with high, thick walls, moats and holes for shooting out arrows and dropping stones. There are 83 buildings and 74 of them have been set aside as Important Cultural Assets. These assets include smaller items like gates and move up to turrets, corridors and even earthen walls. Some of these walls reach 85 feet in height. The castle complex stretches over 2.6 miles in square feet and covers over 576 acres. That's 50 times the size of the Tokyo Dome. Like most castles, there is a central keep and it stands 302 feet above sea level with six floors and a basement that was used for lavatories, which is something not usually found in a castle. There are two pillars that are part of the keep and they were made from wood, one from fir and the other from cypress. The first floor is lined with weapon racks and there were once 90 spears and 280 guns stored here. This floor also has 330 Tatami mats, leading to the nickname "thousand-mat room." These mats were used as a type of flooring, made from a core of rice straw and covered with a woven soft rush straw.

Stone throwing platforms can be found on the third and fourth floors. The fifth floor has what are called "warrior hiding places." These are small enclosed rooms from which defenders could pop out from hiding and strike their enemy with the element of surprise. In the Meiji Period, which dates from 1868 to 1912, many Japanese castles were destroyed, but Himeji Castle survived. It was eventually abandoned in 1871. The castle was later slated for demolition, but an army colonel named Nakamura Shigeto made the effort to spare it. A stone monument honoring him was placed in the castle complex within the first gate, the Hishi Gate. The castle was put up for auction and purchased by a Himeji resident for 23 Japanese yen (about 200,000 yen or US$2,258 today). This buyer also wanted to demolish the castle complex, so he could develop the land, but the cost of destroying the castle was estimated to be too great, so the castle was spared yet again.

Himeji Castle has managed to survive intact for 400 years and this was through the bombings that hit the city during World War II and the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake. Nearly everything had been burned to the ground around the castle and yet it remained. This has caused many of the Japanese people to believe that the castle is divinely protected. A Japanese garden was added in 1992 to commemorate Himeji City's centennial. A few years ago, extensive renovations were done, which included getting the grimy grey roof back to its brilliant white coloring. The castle reopened to the public on March 27, 2015. The castle is like a giant labyrinth and even today, some tourists still find themselves lost within its walls. Could that be why some spirits still seem to be trapped here?

As we have discussed when talking about Japan on other episodes, the stories and beliefs around ghosts in Japanese culture,take on many forms. In America, we often believe that people who commit suicide or were murdered are more likely to have their spirits haunting a certain location. In Japan, these types of spirits are called Yuurei. These ghosts are believed to be stuck because they did not have time to make their peace. Many Yuurei are female-energied spirits looking for revenge., either because they were murdered or committed suicide rashly (defeated warriors in Japan were often forced to commit suicide). Most hauntings by yuurei are of wronged female spirits: the theme common to all yuurei hauntings is revenge. One such tale at the castle claims that a woman who was deeply wronged in life was held in a type of bondage to the betrayal that had killed her and so she haunted a location for over 400 years. This is the story of Okiku's Well.

Okiku's Well

The story dates back to the seventeenth century. There is a well near the Hara-kiri Maru, or the Suicide Gate, which is at the foot of the tower known as the Donjon. This well had a very ominous purpose as its name indicates. Dishonored soldiers would disembowel themselves and bleed out next to the well. The well was used to wash away the blood from the suicides. The well is better known today as Okiku's Well. Okiku was a beautiful young woman who worked in the castle and she quickly became the lord's favorite servant. She was dedicated to him and was secretly in love with him. One day as Okiku was working, she overheard the Chief retainer talking with another man about a plot to overthrow her lord. She ran to her lord and told him. It saved his life and the chief retainer vowed revenge. Part of Okiku's job was to take care of 10 plates that the lord was very fond of and he trusted her with them. The chief retainer had stolen one when he fled and many thought that Okiku had taken the plate. She actually was tried for the crime and found guilty. Her punishment was to be doled out by the chief retainer and the lord gave him permission to torture her. The retainer committed horrible acts on her, including sexual and then her dead body was thrown into the well.

But that was not the end of Okiku. The first to experience her ghost was the lord himself. He would wake up and hear her voice. First, she would sound as if she were counting plates and then the voice would break into bloodcurdling screams. It started to drive the lord mad. Many other people throughout the years claim to hear those terrifying screams in the early morning hours, usually between 2 and 3am. The howls are nearly indescribable and everyone who hears them is scared by them. This story of Okiku's haunting is so well known that it has become a part of the culture and is known as the Kaidan of Banshu Sarayashiki and has been the subject of many movies and books.

The Old Widow's Stone

The legend of the "Old Widow's Stone" dates back to the time when Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a feudal lord in Japan. This was during the 1500s. He had run out of stones when building the original three-story castle keep. An old woman heard had heard about this issue with not enough stones and she gave him her hand millstone. This was precious to her and she needed it for her trade. because of her sacrifice, other people were inspired to offer their stones to Hideyoshi and this sped up the construction of the castle. This legend claims that everyone can see the Old Widow's Stone today because the stone is covered with a wire net in the middle of one of the stone walls in the castle complex. And speaking of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, it is said that his spirit haunts Himeji Castle. His spirit is said to have been subdued by Miyamoto Musashi, who is a ghost samurai that carries two swords. The Samurai's official job was to guard the Osakabe shrine. He was one of the greatest samurai to walk the shores of Japan. He also defeated the spirit of Princess Osakabe, whose spirit haunted Himeji castle back in the 17th century.

The Death of Genbei Sakurai

A folklore story is also associated with Genbei Sakurai, who was Ikeda Terumasa's master carpenter in the construction of the castle keep. According to the legend, Sakurai was dissatisfied with his work on the keep because it keep leaning to the southeast. He became so depressed when he could not get the keep to look right, that he climbed to the top of the keep and jumped to his death with a chisel in his mouth. Some say he still roams the compound, biting on his chisel.

Japan is a country full of legends. Himeji Castle stands as a testament to the country's strong past and represents its promising future. Are there restless spirits wandering the maze of corridors found within? Is Himeji Castle haunted? That is for you to decide!

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