Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 5 -- Of Demons and Heroes...and Mundane Historicity

Monday, January 20, 2014

Getting Reacquainted 5 -- Of Demons and Heroes...and Mundane Historicity

Kibitsu Shrine as seen from Kinojo Castle
      It has always fascinated me how myth or legend and history become so intertwined that you can't tell where fact and fiction begin, or end for that matter. History, after all, is a story with “Hi-” in front of it--like high story or tall tale, maybe? Basically, history is whatever the writer says it is. Two different versions of the same event can have a very different interpretation depending on the writer's point of view. Both can agree that an event happened but can differ dramatically on the causes and effects of that event.

the demon Ura
Devil's Pot (probably a cast iron bathtub from an old inn
In the previous post I discussed the legend of a prince Kibitsuhiko, the son of legendary Emperor Korei (2nd Century BC), who governed the district of Kibi from where the 吉備津神社 Kibitsu Shrine was later built on the site of his castle. The legend is that he battled with a demon named Ura who lived in a castle called 鬼ノ城 Kinojo (Devil's Castle) on a mountain across the valley from Kibitsuhiko's castle. The story goes that Ura was terrorizing the countryside and abducting people, some of whom he used as concubines, some as slaves and some he simply cooked in a big iron pot (called the Devil's Pot) and ate. He, being a demon of supernatural prowess, was able to shoot arrows three kilometers across the valley at Kibitsuhiko's castle. Not a very nice character whose aberrations called the prince to do battle and restore law and order to the area. Eventually, the demon was subdued and peace returned to the Kibi district. Kibitsuhiko eventually became the kami (deity) enshrined at Kibitsu Shrine.

part of the panorama seen from Kinojo Castle

But, where does this legend come from.

wall restoration with the
West Gate on lower right
wall foundation stones
It was known historically that there had been a castle/fortress on the mountain across the broad valley from the Kibitsu Shrine. In 1974, archaeologists began to excavate the area where this fortress called Kinojo had been built. Parts of an ancient wall and large flat stones used as foundations have been exposed and some reconstruction work has been done on the site. One thing led to another and we decided to take a little day trip to have a look at the archaeological site that is associated—in legend at least—with Kibitsu Shrine. The site is actually not far from Road Buddy's family home and she told me that she had walked to the site as an elementary school student on school excursions. That's a considerable uphill hike since the site sits high up on a mountain ridge.

foundation stones for probable 
          barracks or storehouse
reconstructed West Gate         

diorama of Kinojo Castle and its surrounding wall
Kinojo is said to be one of 30 castles in a chain of fortresses built in the 7th Century from Kyushu to Osaka (23 confirmed by archaeologists). Japan at that time was allied with one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea during the Yamato Period and apparently there were blood ties between the royal houses. China, meanwhile, wanted to expand its territory to include the Korean Peninsula and was taking advantage of the strife among the three Korean kingdoms and allied with one of them. The then Yamato Emperor sent a fleet of Japanese ships to aid his Korean ally, but was defeated at the Battle of Baekgang-gu (Japanese name, the Battle of Hakusukinoe) in 663 AD by the better equipped and trained Chinese ships. The Emperor feared an assault by the Chinese and wanted to defend western Japan from retaliation for the incursion by the Japanese “navy” to aid its Korean ally. Kinojo and its sister forts were built to protect the capital at Nara from a Chinese attack that never came. 

model of a watchtower and its foundation stones
Somehow these historical events morphed into a legend of heroes and demons (much like dragon slayer legends of Western Europe) that is a great deal more colorful than what "really" happened. Of such stuff are children's dreams made and probably those of many adults as well. At any rate this legend certainly got the imagination of this day-tripper going.

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