Visiting the Geiyo Islands, the Home of Japan’s Largest Pirate Group, Murakami Kaizoku
Do you know the Japanese pirates, Murakami Kaizoku, who were active in the Seto Inland Sea during the Middle Ages? Here are some tourist destinations around the Seto Inland Sea that will make you like Japan even more as you learn about the roles of Murakami Kaizoku that were different from those of typical pirates, and travel around the Geiyo islands, which was their stronghold.
Who are Murakami Kaizoku?
Murakami Kaizoku, which controlled much of the Seto Inland Sea between Hiroshima and Ehime Prefectures during the Sengoku period, is known as Japan's largest pirate group and was designated a Japan Heritage in 2016.
Although pirates are usually thought to be bandits who take valuables from ships crossing the ocean, Murakami Kaizoku actually maintained order in the Seto Inland Sea.
They are also notable for having played a variety of roles, including the enforcer of safety and security of navigation, a navy trusted by famous warrior lords, tradesmen drawing on their strategic location to trade in luxury goods and culture both domestically and internationally, and fishermen making a living from catching fresh seafood.
1. Murakami Suigun Museum
The Murakami Suigun Museum is a place where you can discover the appeal of the Murakami Suigun (Murakami Navy). On the first floor, there is a pirates' library with approximately 700 books about Murakami Suigun and pirates in general, and a reconstructed Murakami Suigun ship. On the second floor, there are two areas consisting of an extensive permanent exhibit and a room for special exhibitions and exhibitions of folk photography. The permanent exhibit consists of five rooms where you can get a comprehensive picture of Murakami Suigun through videos, restored items, and exhibitions of the latest excavations. In the Wakuwaku Taiken ("exciting experience") Room on the same floor, you can try on a standard Japanese armor and helmet or a traditional Japanese quilted silk garment. There is an observatory on the third floor from which you can see the beautiful Seto scenery including the ruins of Noshima Castle. Anyone who wants to learn about Murakami Suigun should visit.
Pamphlets: English・Traditional Chinese
Entrance fee: 300 JPY/adult, 150 JPY/student
2. Oyamazumi Shrine
This is a shrine with an ancient and honorable origin that attracted the veneration of the Imperial Court and warrior lords as a shrine dedicated to the spirits of the mountain, ocean and war. It is said that warriors of Murakami Kaizoku also revered it and prayed for success in warfare and safe naval passage here. If you are interested in learning about Murakami Kaizoku, why not visit here as well?
The Treasury Museum is a particular recommendation. The museum houses and exhibits approximately 80% of all armor that have been designated as national treasures or important cultural properties. The armor of Tsuruhime, the female warrior who was active with Murakami Kaizoku and is often referred to as the Jeanne d'Arc of the Seto Inland Sea, is displayed here as well. It is the only female armor that exists in Japan and is designated as an important cultural property. Many poems read by Murakami Kaizoku warriors are also presented here. You may enjoy thinking about the Sengoku period in this place of worship for the Murakami Kaizoku.
Entrance fee: Free
Oyamazumi Shrine Treasure Museum
Entrance fee: 1,000 JPY/adult, 800 JPY/university and high school, 400 JPY/junior high school, elementary school
3. Kojoji Temple's Three-Storied Pagoda
Official Name: Sotoshu Cho-onzan Kojoji
The Three-storied pagoda stands out in the temple on Ikuchijima, an island sandwiched by Innoshima, which was the headquarter of Murakami Kaizoku, and Omishima, where Oyamazumi Shrine is. It is recognized as one of the most beautiful structures from the Muromachi period (1336 - 1573), and is designated as a national treasure. The architecture is a masterly amalgamation of traditional Japanese styles and Chinese styles. Be sure to note the decorative sculptures. The bold yet detailed sculptures of plant leaves and the bright vermilion color are breathtaking. The temple is inside a park, so the beautiful contrast between the greenery of the trees, the vermilion pagoda, and the blue sky creates a view that is like a painting. Please visit to experience Japan's sense of beauty and its nature.
4. Mt. Shirataki (Statues of 500 Luohans)
This is a popular spot on Innoshima, about 30 minutes by bus from Onomichi Station in Hiroshima Prefecture. When you climb up the mountain and near the top, you will start seeing the Statues of 500 Luohans. They are approximately 700 stone statues of Buddha made by the founder of Ikkan-kyo, a combination of Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism and Christianity, and his followers. Each statue has a different expression and posture, so it is fun to imagine their individual stories. Once you pass through the stone statues, you'll come to an observatory with a 360-degree view of the Seto Inland Sea. The recommended time to visit is in the early evening. The view of the sun shining onto the islands while slowly setting is breathtaking. Although this spot is popular, there are not that many people, so you can relax and enjoy the shimmering gold Seto Inland Sea. There are cherry blossoms in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall, so it is best to visit during these seasons.
5. Amazaki Castle Ruins
The whole uninhabited island of Kojojima off Omijima was a castle, and is designated as a historic landmark of Ehime for being Japan's oldest naval castle. It is usually difficult to get to as there are no scheduled boats that go there or bridges, but a path to the island appears several times a year during low tide and is crowded with history fans walking to the island. Part of the stone walls that protected the castle remains underwater, and also suddenly appears at low tide. The sight of long rows of stones of varying sizes is impressive and gives us the sense of the tension at the time. If you want to visit this island, be sure to check the tides in advance.
By visiting the tourist destinations introduced here, you will not only learn about Murakami Kaizoku, but also experience Japan's history, religiosity, culture, sense of beauty and nature. All the islands introduced here except Kojojima are connected by a road called Shimanami Kaido. It is a beautiful road recognized as one of the world's seven most beautiful cycling courses, so why not rent a bicycle to tour around?
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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