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Visiting the "Oni Castle" (Kinojo)


In the town of Soja in Kibi Province (present-day Okayama Prefecture) stands a castle called Kinojo that was first built more than 1,000 years ago. It was believed to have been inhabited by oni, and the castle, which has largely been rebuilt, still stands there today.


It stands atop a 400-meter-high hill. Climbing up a steep mountain path takes you to a 2.8-kilometer stone wall surrounding the castle. There are four gates, one each in the east, west, south, and north, and the remains of buildings that are believed to have been storehouses for food and weapons also stand there.


The view from the top of the hill is breathtaking. You can see not only the Seto Inland Sea down below but also across the sea to the island of Shikoku.

This part of the country is famous as the setting for the popular folktale about how Momotaro, or the Peach Boy, slays oni who were causing people much hardship:

Once upon a time there lived an old man and woman. When the old woman went to the stream to wash clothes, she noticed a large peach floating downstream. From inside the peach a baby boy was born. The boy was named Momotaro and was raised with loving care by the old man and woman.

Momotaro grew into a strong, courageous boy, and he set out to Onigashima (Oni Island) to slay the demons that lived there. The old woman made millet dumplings for him to eat on the way. Before he reached Onigashima, he befriended a monkey, a pheasant, and a dog, who agreed to help him if Momotaro shared the dumplings with them.

This story of Momotaro defeating the ogres on Onigashima is a popular tale that everyone in Japan learns in childhood. This story is also believed to have originated in Okayama Prefecture, and local kids take pride in the fact that Momotaro hails from their region. Okayama is famous as a peach-growing area, and the Japanese word for millet, kibi, has the same pronunciation as the prefecture's old name (Kibi Province).


Millet dumplings are a popular souvenir item in Okayama. They are made by mixing millet powder with rice, sugar, and syrup. These bite-sized, soft sweets are so good that you can't stop eating them!


There is a museum in the city of Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, that features mechanical Momotaro dolls reenacting various episodes from the famous folktale.