178.Noshima Castle Part3

If you have enough time to go there, it may be better to use a bike. This is because the ruins are near the cycling route on Shimanami Ocean Road.


Walking around Second Enclosure

The second enclosure is elevated from the third enclosure and surrounds the main enclosure like passages. It was thought that it was used for residence and lookout point. You can walk around it and see other attractions below. For example, you will see the Funadamari beach which you saw from the boat off the beach. You can sea an artificial ditch which divides the shore and the passage on the beach.

The map around the castle

The second enclosure
The Funadamari beach, seen from the second enclosure
The artificial ditch at the beach

You will also see the enclosure on the northeastern cape, called Yabitsu (directly means “arrow chest”). it was said that the navy soldiers practiced shooting arrows towards Ushima Island from across the sea.

The Yabitsu Enclosure
The Yabitsu Enclosure, seen from the Kareiyama Mountain

Main Enclosure, Enjoyable place both Now and in Past

You will finally arrive at the main enclosure on the top, where you can see an amazing 360degree view! The past soldiers also must have been able to monitor everything that happened in the strait. According to the excavations, there were lookout towers and lots of earthenware dishes called Kawarake. Kawarake dishes were disposable ones which were used for parties or ceremonies. That meant the navy members enjoyed their parties on the top with such beautiful scenery.

Going up to the main enclosure on the right
The top on the main enclosure
The view from the north side of the enclosure (the Seto Inland Sea)
The view from the east side of the enclosure (the Ushima Island)
The view from the south side of the enclosure (the Taizaki Island)
The view from the west side of the enclosure (the Oshima Island)
The main enclosure, seen from the Kareiyama Mountain

In addition, the island has mysterious large holes (about 1m in diameter and 2m in depth) at its seaside. Historians speculate they might have been water tanks. However, my guide said it was interesting if they were used as baths.

The replica of the large hole, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum

Later History

The island was used as fields during the Edo Period after the navies withdrew, but it eventually became deserted as mentioned above. In 1931, the officials started to plant cherry trees on the island. Since then, it became a popular spot for cherry blossoms where other boat tours for the locals were held every spring. However, the trees were all cut down recently because their roots had destroyed the castle ruins. Only their remaining stumps are now used as benches there. On the other hand, the ruins have been designated as a National Historic Site since 1953. In addition, they have been getting popular more and more throughout the country as a castle of the Murakami Navies.

Some of the remaining stumps

My Impression

I had a special experience by visiting Noshima Castle Ruins because I have not visited any castles by boats. The boat tour made me understand how the castle was used and protected carefully. The experience also taught me that there were people who lived in very different ways from others through the history of Japan. Maybe there are also similar people even in the present time. Someday, I hope there will be regularly scheduled ships that tourists can use to visit the castle ruins, if it gets more and more popular.

Murakami KAIZOKU Museum is another attraction before or after visiting the castle ruins

How to get There

Basically, I recommend using a car to get there. For people from the mainland, it takes about 5 minutes from Kita-Oshima IC on the Nishi-Seto Expressway. For people from Shikoku Island, it takes about 15 minutes from Minami-Oshima IC on the Nishi-Seto Expressway. The parking lots at the Miyakubo fishing port or the Murakami KAIZOKU Museum are available.

If you have enough time to go there, it may be better to use a bike. This is because the ruins are near the cycling route on Shimanami Ocean Road. For example, if you are in Imabari City on Shikoku Island, you can rent a bike at Imabari Station and ride it on the road right away.

The cycling route on the Imabari city area

Go across Kurushima Kaikyo Bridges over the Kurushima Strait and go further on the Oshima Island for a while.

The Kurushima Kaikyo Bridges over the Kurushima Strait
The top on the bridge
The cycling route on the Oshima Island

The port is located at the northern edge of the island, which is about 22km from the station.

Arriving at the site by the bicycle

That’s all. Thank you.
Back to “Noshima Castle Part1”
Back to “Noshima Castle Part2”

178.Noshima Castle Part2

Noshima has become a deserted island. You can’t go there by yourself because of the state of the island. If you want to go there, you need to book a boat tour from Miyakubo fishing port on the weekends.


Island looking like Unsinkable Warship

Today, Noshima unfortunately has become a deserted island. If you see Noshima from other places such as the seaside of Oshima Island and Mt. Kareiyama observation park on the island, Noshima looks like an unsinkable warship. This is partially because Noshima Island has been developed by the officials to maintain its original conditions of its castle ruins as they are a National Historic Site. That’s why the ruins don’t have trees and bushes, so that you can see the shapes of its enclosures vividly.

The observation platform of Kareiyama Mountain
Noshima Island, seen from the platform

Going to Castle Ruins by attending Boat Tour

Despite the development, you can’t go there by yourself because of the state of the island. If you want to go there, you need to book a boat tour from Miyakubo fishing port on the weekends. (However, the tour could be canceled due to the lack of participants, if it’s less than 10.) If you board on the boat, the captain will operate it smoothly like a sailor of the Murakami Navies.

The Miyakubo fishing port
Boarding the boat
Going to the castle ruins

The boat will approach around the island in a few minutes. There is another smaller island called Taizaki-jima, like a satellite island of Noshima. It was said that both islands were once connected by a suspension bridge. Taizaki Island still has a small shrine on it, but visitors usually can’t go there because there is no bridge today. In addition, the sea between them is very dangerous because it is too shallow for any ships to pass during low tide.

The castle ruins are coming into view
Taizaki Island
The shallows between the two islands

The aerial photo around the castle

Wild Tides around Island

Your boat will not reach Noshima Island so easily because the tides around it are usually wild. For example, the tide around its northeastern cape usually swirls, which causes ships to turn without professional operations.

The eastern side of Noshima Island
The northeastern cape of the island
The tide is swirling

Your boat will go around north of the island seeing its northern beach called Funadamari (meaning the boat pool). The beach has terraced design with a passage, so It was thought that the Navy members unloaded cargo there. There are also lots of postholes around the shore, called “Gansho(reef) Pit”, which were said to be used for mooring. However, it is still uncertain how the Navies used them because there are over 400 holes around the island including dangerous spots. You may see only a few of the holes as they were buried again for preservation or are covered from the tide.

The Funadamari boat pool
You can see some of the postholes

Going to Third Enclosure after landing

Your boat will eventually come alongside the pier at the southwestern beach, one of the few safe spots of the island. There are shore protections with restored stone mounds and the ruins of a repair shop nearby. That’s why this place was thought to be used as a maintenance yard.

Getting close to the pier
The beach is guarded by the shore protections

The tour guide will introduce you to the attractions of the castle ruins on the island after landing. The tour course is safe and well developed with paths and wooden steps for visitors though there are no castle buildings.

Following the guide

The castle ruins have several enclosures; the main enclosure on the top, surrounded by the second enclosure, the lower third enclosure, and the others on the island’s capes. The tour group will first go to the third enclosure from the beach. Stone foundations were found by the excavation team, which were thought to be used as houses or warehouses. Earthenware jars and valuable chinaware were excavated there, so they might have been stored as a type of fee from travelers’ ships or by the navies’ tradings.

The third enclosure
Looking towards the main enclosure from the main enclosure
The third enclosure, seen from the Kareiyama Mountain

To be continued in “Noshima Castle Part3”
Back to “Noshima Castle Part1”

178.Noshima Castle Part1

Noshima Castle was located on Noshima Island, which is in a narrow strait called Miyakubo-Seto, and part of the Geiyo Islands in the Seto Inland Sea. It was also built and operated by the Noshima-Murakami Clan, one of the three Murakami Navies which were very active around these islands.

Location and History

Murakami Navies, Excellent Guides of Seto Inland Sea

Noshima Castle was located on Noshima Island, which is in a narrow strait called Miyakubo-Seto, and part of the Geiyo Islands in the Seto Inland Sea. It was also built and operated by the Noshima-Murakami Clan, one of the three Murakami Navies which were very active around these islands. Before modern times, sailing along the coast was a major way of transportation. Seto Inland Sea was one of the most important sea routes, which connected central and western Japan. However, the Geiyo Islands area has lots of islands and narrow straits, which made the sea currents fast and difficult. For example, in Kurushima Strait, the direction and speed of the current frequently changes mainly due to the pull of the moon. Ships are still now required to follow instructions from the sea traffic center and its traffic signals.

The Kurushima Strait

The location of the castle

In the Middle Ages, boatmen and pilots, who sailed there, were required to have great competence instead. In addition, sailing alone could be very dangerous at that time as the police power of the central government was still weak. Each area was governed by a local lord or others, such as pirates. People at that time thought travelers should pay a toll when they passed others’ territories. The Murakami Navies, which were also some of the local lords, came out to guarantee safe travel to ships around the islands. The earliest record about them in 1349 says the Noshima-Murakami Clan guarded the sea around Yuge Island. Their system was roughly as follow: they escorted ships which had paid protection money (basically 10% of the value of the cargo), otherwise, they became pirates by chasing the ship using their boats called Kobayabune (meaning “small fast boat”).

The restored Kobayabune boat, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum

Home of Noshima-Murakami Clan

The navies were eventually divided into three clans: the Innoshima-Murakami, Noshima-Murakami, and Kurushima-Murakami Clans. Their territories were based on the northern, middle, and southern Geiyo Islands respectively. Noshima is a small island in the Miyakubo-Seto Strait which is between Ushima Island to the north and Oshima Island to the south. The strait was on one of the shortest paths for ships to pass through the Seto Inland Sea. However, the speed of the current is at most around 10 knots and kept changing constantly. The sea around the island is shallow and kept swirling, which is uncontrollable for regular ships. For the navy members, Noshima is about 300m away from Oshima Island where they usually live, so they could communicate verbally. That meant they could immediately ask or provide help to each other in the event of an emergency. From the top of Noshima, they were able to see the whole strait, beacon fires on mountains of Oshima Island and even Shikoku Island over Oshima between the mountains. Overall, it was suitable for the home base of the Noshima-Murakami Clan.

The diorama of the area around Noshima Island (marked by the red circle), exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum
The Oshima Island seen from Noshima Castle Ruins, can we communicate with voice?
The ruins of Koga Yashiki residence in the Oshima Island, which was said to have been the residence of the Noshima-Murakami Clan

They operated Noshima Castle on the island between the 14th and 16th Centuries. Several enclosures and buildings were built after leveling the land. The navy members lived in or were stationed at the site not only to guard the strait, but also to trade and fish. The defensive systems of the castle were few, excluding artificial vertical cliffs on the sides, because its sea barrier was strong. Instead, they constructed harbors, landing places and maintenance yards at the seaside. On the other hand, the island didn’t provide water, food and other supplies they needed, which had to be brought from other islands.

The imaginary drawing of Noshima Castle, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum

“Largest Pirates of Japan”

The Murakami Navies also often joined battles to support other warlords. In the case of the Noshima-Murakami Clan, it had a good relationship with the Kobayakawa Clan, a branch of the Mori Clan which was the greatest warlord in the Chugoku Region nearby. They needed the superior navy power to survive during the harsh Sengoku Period. Other warlords, such as the Otomo Clan, also invited the Noshima-Murakami Clan. When it once switched to the Otomo’s side, the Kobayakawa Clan, which also had a navy, attacked and blocked Noshima Castle by interrupting the supplies (laying siege) to the castle until it returned to the Kobayakawa’s side.

The portrait of Takakage Kobayakawa who was the clan’s lord at that time, owned by Beisanji Temple (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The power of the Noshima-Murakami Clan reached its peak when Takeyoshi Murakami was the lord during the late 16th Century. The most popular battle his navy fought in was the First Battle of Kizugawaguchi between the Mori and Oda Clans in 1576. In this battle, the Mori’s navies, supported by the Takeyoshi’s navy, who tried to bring supplies to Ishiyama Honganji Temple (currently Osaka Castle), and blocked by the Oda’s navies. Tekayoshi’s navy attacked the Oda’s ships with bombs, which eventually burned and sank. The supply operation was a success. In 1586, a Portugal missionary, Luis Frois visited Noshima Castle while sailing the Seto Inland Sea. He recorded in his book “The History of Japan” that they were the largest group of pirates. His crew was given a passport-flag which would guaranteed his safe voyage considerably.

The imaginary drawing of the First Battle of Kizugawaguchi, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum
The imaginary drawing of Luis Frois‘s visit to Noshima Castle, exhibited by Murakami KAIZOKU Museum
One of the remaining passport-flags, owned by Yamaguchi Prefectural Archives (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Sudden Ending of Navies and Castle

The three Murakami Navies basically cooperated with each other, however, they eventually took different paths. The Kurushima-Murakami Clan switched to the Oda’s side through the invitation of Hideyoshi Hashiba, who would later be the ruler. Therefore, Takeyoshi occupied the Kurushima’s territory. However, this would be a misfortune for him. In the process of the unification of Japan by Hideyoshi, he was asked to return it to the Kurushima by Hideyoshi. He seemed to want to maintain his clan’s independence. However, when the Kobayakawa Clan, which was the current boss of the Noshima-Murakami Clan, was transferred to the Kushu Region by Hideyoshi, Takeyoshi finally had no choice but to leave all his territories including Noshima Castle.

The current Noshima Castle Ruins, seen from the Oshima Island

To be continued in “Noshima Castle Part2”