One of the major highlights of summer in Miyajima is the Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival held on August 14 every year in the offing of Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, one of Japan’s Three Finest Views. More than 100 water fireworks are shot up into the air from the fireworks boats offshore and burst with a bang.
It is famous as a unique fireworks display, and spectators enjoy this fantastic night view from more then 500 boats offshore. Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site, is famous for its Otorii (Grand Gate) standing in the Seto Inland Sea. A lot of photographers, both professionals and amateurs, are eager to take pictures of the vermillion torii gate and shrine buildings fantastically lit up in the night sky.
Koriyama Castle located in Yoshida-cho, Aki Takata City, Hiroshima Pref. was a large-scale castle which covered the whole mountain of Koriyama. The original castle was built on a ridge in the southeastern part of the mountain in 1336 by Mori Tokichika, who was appointed as the Jito (an official to manage manors) of Yoshida manor. Since then the successive heads of the clan had resided at this castle until the time of Mori Motonari, who fortified the castle and expanded the castle area in the whole mountain. In the Battle of Yoshida Koriyama in 1541, the castle was attacked by Amako Haruhisa’s forces with 20,000 soldiers, but the Mori clan succeeded in beating them back. In 1589, the Mori clan shifted its bases to Hiroshima Castle. Koriyama Castle was dismantled in the early Edo period. Most of the castle compounds were destroyed at this time. At the present time, there are about 130 remains of kuruwa (castle compounds) spreading all over the mountain, from which we can easily imagine how large the castle was.
Aokage Castle located in Innoshima Takuma-cho, Onomichi City, Hiroshima Pref. was a fortress built by Murakami Yoshihiro, the head of the Murakami Suigun (maritime warrior clan), during the Nanbokucho period (1336-1392). Since then it had been the base of the Murakami Suigun for 270 years.
As Innoshima Island was the base of the Murakami Suigun, there were a lot of castles or fortresses built in the Middles Ages. Aokage Castle was at the top of Mt. Aokage (277 m) in the mid-western part of Innoshima Island. It is presumed that the castle was built to reinforce the defenses for Dozaki Castle located in the east against the attack of the Kobayakawa clan standing to the North Imperial Court side. After the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, it was dismantled.
At the present time, only the ruins of Honmaru (the main castle), the stone walls and other residences remain in the mountain. Kinrenji Temple to the north of this castle is known as the family temple of the Innoshima Murakami clan. The graveyard of the successive generations of the clan lies in the precinct.
Mihara Castle was located in present-day Mihara City, Hiroshima Pref. The castle ruin is a designated National Historic Site. It was built on the island near the river mouth of the Numata River in 1580 by Kobayakawa Takakage, a son of Mori Motonari. As the castle looked as if it were floating on the sea, it was called “Uki-shiro (floating castle)” or “Umi-shiro (sea castle).” The castle area was about 900 m from east (the Wakuhara River) to west (where Garyu Bridge is presently located) and about 700 m from north to south. Mihara Castle was an important fort, and it is said that Toyotomi Hideyoshi once stayed here. After Takakage’s death, Asano Tadayoshi, the head retainer of the Asano clan, who fought for the Toyotomi forces in the Battle of Sekigahara, was transferred to this castle. The castle was used as a branch castle of the Hiroshima domain until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. It was dismantled in 1871, when the domain system was abolished by the Meiji government. Now the castle area is arranged into a park, where the stone walls and moats remain.
Fukuyama Castle was located in Marunouchi, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Pref. This castle is the most perfect example of the Edo architectural style. It is designated as a National Historic Site and counted as one of Japan’s 100 Fine Castles. The castle was built in 1619 by Mizuno Katsunari, Tokugawa Ieyasu’s cousin and the first domain lord of the Fukuyama domain, under the order of the Tokugawa Shogunate as the bases for defending the western part of Japan. Since the castle had been resided by the successive lords of the domain such as the Mizuno, Matsudaira, and Abe clans till the Meiji Restoration. After the abolition of the han system, the castle was dismantled in 1873. The designated National Treasures of donjon and Oyudono (bathroom) were destroyed by fire due to the U.S. airrade in 1945. In 1966, the donjon, Tsukimi-yagura, and Oyudono were reconstructed. Fushimi-yagura and Sujigane-gomon Gate are designated National Cultural properties.
Sarukake Castle located in the northwester part of Yoshida Basin in Yoshida-cho, Aki Takata City, Hiroshima Pref. was a castle closely related to the Mori clan. It was built during the Meio era (1492-1501) by Mori Hiromoto, Motonari’s father. The castle is well known as the place where Mori Motonari spent his young days till he succeeded the clan. Sarukake Castle stood on the ridge of a mountain facing the Tajihi River running on the border of currently Yakake-cho in Oda-gun and Makibi-cho in Kurashiki City. It functioned as an important base to keep watch on passers coming from and going to the west. After the Battle of Sekigahara, however, the Mori clan lost three provinces including Aki and moved to present-day Hagi, Yamaguchi Pref. The castle became a Shogunal property and later dismantled. Doshoji Temple in Yakake-cho had been the family temple of the successive castellans.
Betcha Festival held for three days from November 1 to 3 every year in Onomichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture is a bizarre festival. This festival is said to have its origin in an attempt to ward off the plague during the Edo Era (1603-1868). Three men wearing masks of Betcha (demon gods), respectively named Shoki, Soba and Beta, walked through the town with another man in a lion costume and drove the plague out of town, which became established as a festival in the later eras.
Today, the three demons and the lion run through the city, dancing to the beat of drums and bells. They chase the children on the streets and Shoki hit them on the head with a bamboo whisk, while Soba and Beta poke them on the body with sticks called “Iwaibo (celebration sticks).” The beaten children are said to be in sound health for the coming year. Toddlers are held by their parents and subjected to a “thrashing,” even though they are frightened.
As it is said that being hit by Betcha makes people bright and a person poked by Soba and Beta will be blessed with children, grown-ups also crowd around the demons. Be it blessing or not, it’s a hard time for the children in town.
Mantokuin Temple located in Kita-Hiroshima-cho, Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima Pref. is a nationally designated historic site. This temple was established in 1575 by a grandson of Mori Motonari, Kikkawa Motonaga, who was a powerful warrior in Aki province (present-day Hiroshima Pref.) from the Warring States period (1493-1573) to the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568-1598). It is said that he built it for purification of his own sin that he had committed as a warrior. He also wished to be buried at this temple. The original building was a small country house in a quiet mountain; however after his death, his younger brother, Hiroie proceeded with a large-scale construction of a temple with the front approach, stone walls, and annex halls so that it should be befitting to his family temple. In 1600, when the Kikkawa clan was transferred to the Iwakuni domain (present-day Yamaguchi Pref.), Mantokuin Temple was also dismantled and reconstructed in a new domain, from which there was only a vacant lot left in Aki province. Now the ruin site has been arranged into a historic park, where stands “Guidance Hall Aomatsu,” which was modeled in full-scale after the main hall of the old temple. The park is visited by a lot of citizens who are interested in history.