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Hidden Maruda Village

Maruda (丸田) is a small farming village (population 10) perched atop a breathtaking 3,200-meter (10,500 ft or 2 mile) high cliff and swallowed up by cloud cover - The perfect hiding spot for those escaping persecution and the perfect vantage point for spying unwanted visitors.

No road access to the remote Maruda village existed until the 1960s, when incorporated into Iwakuni City (岩国市). It is located a little over 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from the Akinada Sea between Shikoku Island and Honshu, hidden within a narrow valley atop a formidable 53 degree angle mountain - about the same incline as the Great Pyramids of Egypt - straddling Yamaguchi and Hiroshima Prefectures. Even today, Maruda does not exist on any maps. There is only one sign to indicate where Maruda is located at the entrance to the concealed village.

The high ground location is reminiscent of the 2000 B.C. Son Tsu (Son Shi Hei Ho in Japanese) compilation on war philosophy, which states that the higher ground is always preferred in battle.

Having driven up to the top one recent misty May morning, it is difficult to imagine how long it must have taken for our ancestors to reach Iwakuni - the nearest city - only 5 kilometers (2.2 miles) below the southern face. The winding drive along the narrow road leading up to Maruda seemed almost mystic, as I imagined our ancestors one-hundred years ago, walking out of their luscious green mountain hiding spot for the first time in many generations and down the lush green moss and bamboo covered forests along the streams to the cities below. Our mid-November visit contrasted greatly, it was a beautifully day and weI could clearly see the Sea of Japan to the North.

Upon arriving at Maruda on our first trip, we got out and approached each of the half dozen homes built at the bottom of an indentation in the mountainside and patches of vegetables grow. We first talked to a Mrs. Yamaoka, a very old lady in her late 80s, living by herself. She was sitting outside her home, just staring out into the distance. She was nearly deaf, whom we had to yell at point-blank in order for her to hear our questions. She indicated that the Tanaka family used to lived right next door to her in the center of this village, but their house was torn down many years ago after they left Maruda.

There is another house directly above hers at the top of the village owned by a Bunmei Tanaka, who grew up in Maruda and is probably a third or fourth cousin of our mother. They were classmates in at Iwakuni Junior High School, near Sekido. Bunmei indicated that it took him about one hour to walk from Maruda to his junior high school using mountain roads (山道) that emerged from the mountainside at Mizunoguchi (水口) at the top of Sekido (関戸) on the now paved roadside and only a 15-min. walk from where our grandmother still lives.

A few steps below the house of Yamaoka, we encountered an 83-year-old woman named Takishita and lived in a relatively large house. All of her family has passed away and she now lives by herself as well. She talked about her son and daughter, whom once lived in the U.S. for eight years, but now lives in Hiroshima and apparently, brings her food every day. Takishita speaks a local dialect and could not understand our Tokyo intonation, so our grandmother interpreted on the first trip and our mother on a subsequent trip. Mrs. Takishita seemed quite astute with regards to recollections of the local history. She recounted families talking about the Tanakas and Nakamuras, but the family moved long before she arrived she says. She did recall our gr-grandfather coming to visit as a kid though.

We asked Takishita if she had any pictures of Maruda from when she first arrived, hoping to find a picture of the old Tanaka grass thatched home, but says that no cameras existed there when the house was still standing. She then suggested we maybe visit the Ohaka where many Tanakas are buried. She told us of a secret path leading to the Ohaka from the backside of Maruda. The Ohaka is situated atop another hilltop, only a 20-minute walk away, but also the road continues up to within a 10-minute walk of the Ohaka before continuing onto yet another small village called Mochigatao.

We also asked her about local ties to the Heike and her only knowledge was based upon a Koujinsama (mountain or fire spirit) in the village. Next visit, I would like to see this Koujinsama and inquire as to exactly what is it about the Kouijinsama (荒神様) that makes her think it is tied to the Heike.

According to lifetime locals Takishita and Yamaoka, five or six families have a history of many generations in Maruda, including the Tanaka/Nakamura (田中,中村), Morimoto (森本), Okabe (岡部), Sakurada, Yamaoka (山岡) and Takishita (滝下) families. However, we found over 30 different family names in the Ohaka.

The Ohaka
There are no visible markings on the road to suggest where the Ohaka is located, but from the road to Maruda it is only 3 minutes by car to a little turnout on the right-hand side of the road. You then have to get out and walk the remaining bamboo forested 10-minutes, along a mountain ledge to a clearing where you encounter a stately tall black statue, used to mark the Tanaka clan patch, as noted by the Tanaka name found inside the statue. The Ohaka is divided into two parts. To the right of the Tanaka patch is many new and old graves mixed together with worn headstones that appear to be several hundred years old. Then, on the left hand side, there is a very old section with few dozen more graves that are all overgrown with vegetation and have not been tended to in what looks like decades, with many markers knocked over. In total, I would guess that there are several hundred graves in this Ohaka; however, many probably lost to weather and the elements.

During the November expedition,

No Nakamuras are found to date buried in the Ohaka, implying that our
gr-gr-grandfather was the progenitor that changed the family name from Tanaka to Nakamura and from who knows what before that. It is our guess that as the first Tanaka to leave Maruda in many generations, he wanted to avoid persecution for having familial ties to the war-defeated Taira (Heike clan), which I will explain in the following Fallen Samurai section.

From the information we have found, I am guessing that our family probably all moved from Maruda sometime during the 1930s or 40s.

None of the original homes no longer exist in Maruda, but the plots where they stood are still identifiable by the stone retaining walls that protected them from the encroaching hillside. Although some were old enough that under the new tin fabricated roofs, under the eaves you could still see the staggered lengths of bamboo supporting the original grass thatched roofs that contrasted greatly with the classic Beethoven coming from the Bose speakers inside.

Mochigatao (持ヶ峠)
Just up the road from Maruda, less than half a kilometer up the winding road is Mochigatao (population 13), whose residents are said to descend from the fallen once-mighty Heike (平家落人).

According to a local historian, in Iwakuni-shi, there are four locations that are said to be the locations the remnants of the Heike from the Dan no Ura fight escaped to: they are Rokuroshi, Mochigatao, Ootani, Goninjyo (六呂師、持ケ峠、大谷、五人代). Mochigatao and Goninjyo are near Oze.

The close villages of 丸田 (Maruda)、持ヶ峠 (Mochigatao)、樋の口 (Hinokuchi) were all once known as小瀬村 (Ozeson or Oze Village - meaning “little stream village”)

During our November visit, we met several local women and a man by the name of Muraoka. He indicated that Mochigatao once had a population of over 200 farmers prior to the Heike arriving ca. 1185. According to legend past through the generations, when the Heike arrived, they worshipped to a different temple than did the indigenous farmers and a conflict soon ensued. Although it is believed that the Heike Samurai had won, I believe it more likely to be the opposite would be true. If you think about it logically, if the Heike were on the run, they probably would not want to antagonize the locals, who could easily turn them over to the Genji clan.

Thus, if anything, perhaps it was the Heike that moved out from Mochigatao - maybe even establishing Maruda.

Muraoka stated that two large ships from the Heike were once kept behind the house where he now lives. Possibly they were brought there by the Heike to wait a bit and reorganize in preparation for the next battle.

He also mentioned that an old Heike temple that was brought to the village is now located in an Iwakuni municipal museum.

Prior to the 1600s, we have not been able to determine what Mochigatao did as a community, other than farming. By the 1600s, however, Mochigatao was regionally renown for making Washi and was commissioned by the local feudal lord that built and lived in Iwakuni Castle, to create the handmade paper for the clan.

When asked about his knowledge of Maruda, Muraoka says he knew almost nothing. Although, he did recall that Maruda was once famous for making Bows and Arrows (弓と矢) and the Maruda name came from Yumi-zaiku, Ya-zaiku (弓美細工、矢細工)

Local villagers indicate that until recently all locals here once spoke an ancient style of Kyoto Ben (Kyoto accent).

Hawaii cousins
It is interesting to note that according to the Nokotsudo (Buddhist church) where Saichi/wife and Takichi/wife 's ashes are kept is of the Jyodo-shinshu sect, which is the same as the Tanaka/Nakamura clans still in Japan.

Fallen Samurai
Local lore dictates that the five or six families of Maruda are remnants of the Taira (Heike) clan and probably moved to Maruda to escape persecution about 800 years ago, immediately following their loss in the most famous Japanese battle - Taira (Heike) and Minamoto (Genji) Wars that were fought for control of Japan. Several branches of the Taira clan that somehow managed to escape the throngs of the Minamoto and one more renowned branch can be traced to Saga in Kyushu, where they too remained hidden in the mountains for many generations.

The last battle of which unfolded at Dan-no-ura (檀の裏の戦い), in the Straits of Shimonoseki, located just on the other side of the mountains northwest of Maruda but still within Yamaguchi Prefecture. The wars are best described in the classic historical novel - The Tale of Genji.

Based upon circumstantial only, this suggests that all six Maruda families were Samurai descendants of the losing Heike side.

The implication is that all those from Maruda were probably interrelated after 800 years in seclusion.