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       Over the Spectacle Rock, which forms a part of Sensuijima, floats Bentenjima, on which  

	a two storied pagoda stands.      Tomonoura harbour bustles with fishermen's boats and cargo boats. On the shore stand 

	a stone light house and old wooden warehouses with white plastered wall.

Above left : Woodprint that depicted Bentenjima by Ukita Gendō,  the 21st priest of Iō-ji

Above right: "Harbour in Tomonoura" by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1930


Tomonoura is the name of a small harbour town located at the centre of Japan’s Inland Sea. Its name literally means “the Harbour of Tomo” and it is commonly referred to simply as “Tomo”.

Three of Japan’s main islands, Honshū, Kyūshū and Shikoku, surround the Inland Sea. The latter has served as a major waterway connecting the country’s western provinces to the central cities of Osaka and Kyoto. It was originally named the Seto Inland Sea. The term “Seto” means “straits” in Japanese. Straits are known for their fast tidal streams. When the tide rises in the Inland Sea, tidal streams come in from both the east and the west. These two streams meet offshore from Tomo. When the tide recedes, the streams depart again in both directions. Map

In the days before ships had engines, those who visited Tomo by sea relied mainly upon the flow of the tides to navigate, with some small help from winds and rowers. To leave Tomo for either the east or the west, the travellers simply waited for the tides to turn. The headlands, bays and islands close to Tomo form a picturesque scenery that would cheer up travellers weary from their long sea journeys. These geographical features also made Tomo an ideal natural harbour with calm seas.

In centuries past, those who travelled through Tomo included samurais, court nobles, monks, poets and heroes. They came from all over Japan, from Korea and even from Europe. Upon their departure they all waited here for the tides to turn. For some travellers, facing crucial periods in their lives, Tomo was not merely an episode in their voyage. It was the place where they waited for the “tide of life” to turn. Many of these visitors left behind writings, poems, even temples, that added to Tomo’s cultural heritage.

The tidal streams carried not only travellers, of course, but also cargo. Tomo flourished as a commercial harbour where trading vessels were constantly loading and unloading merchandise. Numerous merchants vied with each other to build warehouses in town and accumulate wealth. Some of this wealth was used to support shrines, temples and other cultural buildings.

Thus, Tomonoura’s long and rich history was built through the close interaction between local residents and the town’s travellers.


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The Man’yōshū (the Collection of a Myriad Leaves) is the oldest existing collection of Japanese poetry, having been compiled sometime in the Nara or early Heian period. It has made Tomonoura famous throughout Japan. Professor Shimoda Tadashi, who was teaching Japanese literature at Fukuyama Municipal Women’s Junior College, explained the literary role of Tomonoura in the following contribution in the following article, published in the Chugoku Shimbun.

"The Ashida River, to the west of Fukuyama city, flows as sedately as time. Travel south along the river and you will come to the tip of the Numakuma peninsula, where Tomonoura is located.

This is the centre of the Inland Sea, where the receding tide flows out to both east and west, and the rising tide flows in from both east and west. Tomonoura, therefore, is a natural safe harbour.

A poet stopped in Tomonoura in the second year of Tempyō (731 AD) on his way home to the capital. His name was Ōtomo no Tabito.

Wagi moko no mishi Tomonoura no muro no ki wa tokoyo ni are do mishi hito so naki
This juniper tree / Still stands at Tomo no ura / My wife is gone / Who once saw it too.

Iso no ue ni ne hau muro no ki mishi hito wo izura to towaba katari tsugen ka
Will this juniper tree / Creeping roots on the rocky shore / Tell me, if asked, where she is / Who once saw it too.

Ōtomo no Tabito had travelled three years before to Dazaifu (in Kyūshū) to take up a new post as Governor-General. Very soon after his arrival there, his beloved wife passed away due to a disease. He was inconsolable from the grief of losing his wife at the age of sixty-four, far away from home. Could this grief ever be lifted from his heart? Would the big juniper tree, which the couple had seen together, know where his wife was? “Where has my wife gone? Could the juniper tree tell me if I asked it?”

Although he knew that the tree would keep silent, Ōtomo no Tabito couldn’t stop questioning it. Our hearts are moved by the solitude and loneliness of the old poet. Nothing is sadder for a man than for his wife to die before him. He did not know that a year later he would finally be able to join his loved-one in the afterlife.

Ōtomo no Tabito’s turbulent life ended in his house, in his home village of Asuka, beside the Saho River in Nara, on the twenty-fifth of July in the third year of Tempyō. He passed away on his bed, with visions of the flowers of the bush clover that bloom all over the fields in his village. The amazing scenery of the islands of Bentenjima, Sensuijima, Kōgōjima, etc… floating offshore from Tomo has absorbed the sorrow of this poet who lived twelve hundred years ago. In spite of the passage of time, we cannot stop feeling that the rocks on the shore and the trees on the islands still say something to us.

The stone monument inscribed with the poem “This juniper tree / Still stands at Tomonoura.....” quietly stands at the foot of the high stone wall of Taichōrō in Fukuzenji. It was written and created by a former mayor of Fukuyama, Tokunaga Yutaka."

“Furusato no Man'yo 1.Tomonoura”, Column “Ryokuchitai”, Chugoku Shimbun 1985

*1 English Translation cited from the webpage "Utamakura".

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The Legend of Hyakkanjima

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Around seven hundred years ago, a samurai named Fujiwara Masamichi, who lived in Omi province (now part of Shiga Prefecture), made a pilgrimage to the Itsukushima shrine in Aki province along with two followers.

On the way home from the visit, Masamichi stopped in Tomo and was deeply moved by the mountainous scenery of Mukae-jima island, now called Sensui-jima. He became obsessed with the idea of ferrying over to the island and arranged with some villagers to take him there by boat.

As the boat was being rowed toward its destination, Masamichi became entranced with the beauty of the smaller Hyakkan-jima island, which reminded him of a floating tortoise. A wave, which had rebounded from the smaller island, struck the small boat, causing it to rock. Masamichi did not notice that his treasured sword, which had been leaning against the edge of the vessel, had slipped overboard. He was horrified by this loss. It seemed unlikely that his sword could be recovered, as the sea was deep and the currents were strong. He panicked and ordered his boatman to row back to land.

Upon getting back to Tomo, Masamichi gathered the villagers around him and said: “I want one of you to rescue my sword and I will give a hyakkan (a hundred kans) to whoever does it”. Not one of the fishermen volunteered. They all knew that sharks inhabited the sea in summer and that they attacked and killed people.

Masamichi became extremely irritated with the fishermen’s hesitations. He shouted: “I have heard that Tomo has long been a land of strong and able seamen. What cowards you all are.” One young man stepped forward and said “I don’t want the hyakkan, but nothing is more precious than the pride of our village. I will risk my life. If I should die, please take care of my parents who will be left behind.” Worried villagers tried to restrain the man, but he pushed them away, got in his boat and rowed out to the place where Masamichi’s sword had fallen. He then jumped into the sea.

The villagers watched the scene holding their breaths. Very soon the young man rose to the surface with the sword in his hand. The sea, however, was coloured ruby red. The astonished people asked “Why? Was it a shark?” Several villagers hurried to pull the young man out of the sea, only to find that one of his legs had been bitten off at the thigh and that he had lost a large amount of blood. They rowed swiftly back to shore but the young man passed away.

Even though Masamichi was a samurai, he had been frightened as he observed the tragedy. He understood now the reason the fishermen had hesitated. He deeply regretted that his carelessness in dropping his sword had resulted in the young man’s death. Soon afterwards, Masamichi held a Buddhist service and, using the reward money, he built a pagoda in memory of the young man. When Masamichi returned home, he left one of his retainers behind to conduct memorial services for the soul of the young man during the next forty-nine days.

*1 Kan (or Kan-me): A money unit
*2 Forty nine days is the duration of the intermediate state between death and reincarnation in Buddhism.

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The Ashikaga Family Rose in Tomo

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There is a saying among the residents of Tomonoura that “the Ashikaga family rose in Tomo and was ruined in Tomo”. Members of the Ashikaga family ruled Japan as shoguns during the Muromachi period, from approximately 1336 to 1573.

It was while in Tomo in 1336 that the future founder of the Muromachi Bakufu (military government), Ashikaga Takauji, received an imperial edict from Jimyōin, the retired Emperor Kōgon, which allowed him to return to power after a period of uncertainty.

In 1333, Takauji had been ordered by the Kamakura Bakufu to put down the Genko Rebellion and capture the banished Emperor Go-Daigo, but he had become increasingly disillusioned with the regime. Instead, he changed sides and joined Go-Daigo, who then overthrew the Kamakura Bakufu, seized Kyoto and took the throne from Emperor Kōgon. Go-Daigo then began what is known as the Kemmu Restoration, a process whereby he sought to take power away from the warrior classes and returning direct rule to the imperial throne.

The exclusion of the warriors from political power caused much upheaval. The Restoration process began to unravel as the country descended into anarchy. Sensing the discontent, Takauji pleaded with the Emperor to do something before a full scale rebellion broke out. The Emperor, however, did not heed his warnings. Takauji left Kyoto to fight off a counterattack from the remnants of the Kamakura Bakufu and remained in Kamakura after he had subdued them. Go-Daigo, fearing the revival of military rule, branded Takauji as an enemy of the Court and dispatched Nitta Yoshisada to defeat him. Instead, Takauji trounced Yoshisada and attempted to capture Kyoto. He was repelled, however, by Kusunoki Masashige, an ally of Yoshisada, and was forced to escape to Kyūshū.

Takauji felt that his defeat was partly attributable to the stigma of being designated as an enemy of the Imperial Court. Before embarking at Hyogo to escape by sea, Takauji sent a messenger to Jimyōin, the emperor who had been unseated by Go-Daigo, in order to obtain an imperial edict that would give him permission to punish Nitta Yoshisada.

The moves of the warriors and the battles of this period have been recorded in detail in two chronicles, the Taiheiki and the Baishōron. The Taiheiki, written in the 14th century, has been translated into English by Helen Craig McCullough. Regrettably, the English edition does not include the events after Go-Daigo began the Kemmu Restoration. The Baishōron is thought to have been written in the middle of the 14th century by a close associate of Takauji, therefore it shows a tendency to describe him in a favourable light.

On March 28, 1336, Takauji pitched camp at Komatsu Temple in Tomo. The Baishōron describes his delight when he received the eagerly awaited imperial edict. Jimyōin had commanded Takauji to defeat Nitta Yoshisada, now himself designated an enemy of the Court, and bring back peace to Japan. This news encouraged his partisans. Takauji sent commands to his generals that their troops could carry the imperial banner. Great anxiety remained, however, regarding the prospects for success.

"The unexpected and distant expedition was, in simple terms, painful. Also, the Shogun and his brave warriors were as yet unaccustomed to navigation. They felt uneasy, as if the august boat, together with all the other boats in the fleet on that vast expanse of sea were being absorbed into the clouds in the semicircular heaven.

Stormy whitecaps were forming on the sea along the route to the unknown destination. Fast moving clouds hung over the ships wakes from their homes to far ahead. Strong winds blowing through the pine trees on the shore disturbed the travellers and allowed them no sleep. They were unable to forget the sky in their homeland, and while their lives were in danger, their distress was hard to express."

The Baishōron Vol.32

Even in Kyūshū, where Takauji had sought to rebuild his strength, there were many who were loyal to Go-Daigo. On April 13, 1336, the rival armies met and fought violently at Tatarahama in Northern Kyūshū. Takauji's army, though smaller in numbers, was victorious due to the high morale of the troops. This success brought Takauji new allies.

After a month long stay in Kyūshū, Takauji marched on Kyoto. He came to Tomo again on June 14 and held a strategy meeting in the Komatsu Temple where he had stayed three months before. Since then, the situation had turned in his favour. According to the Taiheiki, which has a tendency to exaggerate, Takauji commanded his brother Tadayoshi to proceed by land with two hundred thousand soldiers. Takauji would come by sea, taking with him his forty family members, eighty other relatives, as well as a hundred and sixty new allies and their troops in seven thousand five hundred ships.

The same chapter describes the omens of victory in the forthcoming battle:

"A strange thing occurred when he [Takauji] was about to leave Tomo in Bingo. The Lord had a dream while he was dozing in his barge. The Goddess of Mercy, radiating rays of splendid light, flew to the barge from the south and stood on the bow. The scene seemed as if the Goddess was forming a bodyguard with twenty-eight followers, each having a bow or sword. When he awoke from his dream, a wild dove was on the roof of the barge. He believed the dream must be a prophecy that he would win a victory with the powerful and divine protection. He had twelve dozen sheets of mulberry paper cut into reed shaped pieces, upon which he drew pictures of the Goddess of Mercy, and had them attached to the masts."

The Taiheiki Vol. 16: The Lord went up to Kyoto: The auspicious dream

On July 4, at the Minato River, Takauji’s army defeated Kusunoki Masashige in a fierce battle. Masashige had been dispatched to rescue Nitta Yoshisada. When Takauji entered Kyoto, he was visited secretly by Jimyōin, the retired Emperor Kōgon, who had issued the edict so crucial his victory. Jimyōin’s son became Emperor Kōmyō, while Takauji had himself appointed shogun and established a new military government. It was the beginning of the Muromachi Bakufu.

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The Ashikaga Family Was Ruined in Tomo

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During the era of the 3rd shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368 – 1408), the Muromachi Bakufu was able to control Japan’s central provinces, but it gradually lost its influence over the outer regions. By the middle of the 16th century, the influence of the Ashikaga shoguns and the government in Kyoto was almost null.

Ashikaga Yoshiaki was born as the second son of the 12th shogun Ashikaga Yoshiharu in 1537. He was sent to the Kōfuku-ji temple in Nara, where he received ascetic training and grew up to become the abbot of the temple. An unexpected incident, however, was to change his life. A political rival killed his elder brother, the 13th shogun, Yoshiteru, and set up his cousin, Yoshihide, as the 14th shogun. Yoshiaki opposed Yoshihide. Fearing for his life, he left Kōfuku-ji temple and made it known that he intended to succeed his brother. Having no power himself, he started looking for a patron.

In that period, several of the most powerful warlords in Japan were competing for control. One of them was Oda Nobunaga, whose aim was the unification of the whole country. His slogan was: “Spread the military over the land”. He needed a strong and forceful bakufu in order to consolidate his rapidly expanding territory. In 1568, Nobunaga started marching towards Kyoto in response to a request from Yoshiaki. Very quickly, he drove out the group responsible for the killing of Yoshiaki’s brother. In November of that year, Yoshiaki was made the 15th shogun.

The honeymoon between Yoshiaki and Nobunaga did not last long. Nobunaga had no intention of being anything but his own man. In January 1570, Nobunaga issued a set of directives regulating Yoshiaki’s activities as shogun, sparking a feud between the two men which would turn them into archrivals. Nobunaga’s use of power was unrelenting. He killed anyone who would defy his rule. In 1571, he razed the powerful Enryaku-ji temple, hunting down and slaughtering every monk, man, woman and child who had lived there. Yoshiaki sent secret letters to Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple and to other warlords, urging them to exert pressure on Nobunaga. The chief abbot of Ishiyama Hongan-ji, Kennyo, called upon Ikko sectarians all over the country to resist Nobunaga.

In July 1573, Yoshiaki began a rebellion against Nobunaga at Makishima Castle in Uji. He was quickly defeated and driven into exile. He wandered from place to place, from patron to patron, seeking shelter. In February 1576, Yoshiaki disembarked at Tomo harbour with the assistance of Mōri Terumoto, who was a powerful feudal lord and ruled the Chugoku region. He entered Komatsu Temple, the same temple where Ashikaga Takauji had received the imperial edict all those years previously.

Yoshiaki set up the Tomo Bakufu, based mainly in Tomo Castle, which stood on the hill overlooking the harbour. He had several residences in and near Tomo. Just a little distance from the castle, on the east side of the harbour, was Ōgashima Castle, also known as Taigashima. Here lived Murakami Sukeyasu, a member of the Innoshima Murakami family, which controlled a powerful navy. To the north of the castle was Bingo Ankoku-ji Temple where Ekei, the abbot of Aki Ankoku-ji, often came to stay. He was renowned for his intelligence and insight.

The Ashikaga shogunate is generally considered to have been destroyed in 1573 when Oda Nobunaga ousted Yoshiaki. However, Yoshiaki retained his title as shogun until January 1588. The research work of Fujita Tatsuo, Professor of Medieval History, has brought the Tomo Bakufu to people’s attention. Previously, it had been known only to a handful of historians. Prof. Fujita has revealed that Yoshiaki played a far more important role in the resistance movement against Nobunaga than is commonly acknowledged. (Ref.B7)

The Tomo Bakufu’s administration consisted mainly of shogun Yoshiaki himself, the vice-shogun Mōri Terumoto, the shogun’s bodyguard Murakami Sukeyasu, the messenger Ankokuji Ekei and close relatives of Mōri Terumoto’s family. It also included relatives of former warlords whose lands had been confiscated by Nobunaga. The Tomo Bakufu, thanks to Mōri’s power, had enough military force to fight Nobunaga.

The first military action of the bakufu was the Battle of Kizugawaguchi (located at the mouth of the Kizu River). Yoshiaki sent Terumoto to support the fortress of Ishiyama Hongan-ji temple which had come under siege from the forces of Nobunaga. Terumoto dispatched a large convoy of six hundred transport ships and three hundred escort ships. Murakami Sukeyasu also took part in this mission, together with his brother who was leading the Innoshima Murakami navy. Nobunaga’s admiral, Kuki Yoshitaka, had cut the Hongan-ji’s sea lanes and had blockaded Kizugawaguchi. The Murakami navy had acquired excellent skills from navigating the fast flowing currents of the Inland Sea. They were able to swiftly approach Kuki’s ships and set them ablaze with explosives. Terumoto was able to successfully relieve the fortress. In 1578, however, the Murakami navy was driven away by Kuki Yoshitaka, who had returned with huge new battleships protected by iron plates. Supply lines were once again broken.

Yoshiaki kept on plotting to form an anti-Nobunaga alliance, sending letters to warlords to persuade them to join his side. He may even have succeeded in gaining the support of one of Nobunaga’s trusted servants, Akechi Mitsuhide. In 1582 Hashiba (later to become Toyotomi) Hideyoshi entered Bitchu province and confronted Mōri Terumoto’s army. Nobunaga ordered Akechi Mitsuhide to assemble troops and march west to assist Hideyoshi. Instead, Mitsuhide marched to Honno temple, where Nobunaga was resting, and killed him on June 2nd. The reasons for Mitsuhide’s coup have long been a source of controversy and speculation. One of the most significant outcomes of Professor Fujita’s research work on the Tomo Bakufu is the theory that it was Yoshiaki who ordered Mitsuhide to kill Nobunaga.

Mitsuhide had written a letter to Tsuchihashi Shigeharu, a member of the Saika mercenaries, opponents of Nobunaga. The letter was long thought to have been written several years before the murder of Nobubaga, but Prof. Fujita has revealed that it was, in fact, written just after the incident. It includes the following sentence: “I’m grateful for your offer to co-operate with the superiors will”. The professor has reasoned that the “superior” was a person of higher rank than Mitsuhide, therefore the string-puller must have been Yoshiaki.

With the death of Nobunaga, Yoshiaki had fulfilled his long-cherished ambition. However, Hideyoshi negotiated with Terumoto and hastened back to the capital. He defeated Mitsuhide at Yamazaki, only eleven days after the murder of Nobunaga. Following this event, Nobunaga’s supporters divided into two groups. One was led by the clan leader, General Shibata Katsuie, while the other group supported the “upstart” Hideyoshi. Katsuie needed the support of Yoshiaki and as many warlords as possible to defeat Hideyoshi. Yoshiaki, who could see that it was Hideyoshi’s ambition to become shogun, secretly sided with Katsuie.

On April 21, 1583, Hideyoshi defeated Katsuie at Shizugatake. This deprived Yoshiaki of his remaining political authority and he was no longer able to influence the warlords. The Tomo Bakufu was over, as well as the two hundred and forty years old Ashikaga shogunate. Yoshiaki reconciled himself to the fact that Hideyoshi’s success was inevitable and he renounced the world. His turbulent life came to an end in Osaka in 1597.

Traces of the Tomo bakufu remain to this day in Tomonoura. In a corner of the Tomo Castle ruins, there is a rock garden named Shinmeitei that is said to have been part of Yoshiaki’s palace. The area in the small valley north of Nanzenbō, where Yoshiaki and his followers spent much time is still reverently referred to by the locals as Kushodani, which literally means “the Valley of the Nobles”.

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