Ancient temples in central Kyoto such as Genkoan, Shodenji, Yogenin and Myoshinji, or Hosenin Temple in Ohara, Jinouji in Yawata, Koshoji in Uji … have special things in common. Those are all chitenjo – or bloody ceilings. Coming to some temples in Kyoto, visitors will find the ceiling streaks of blood, fingerprints, and footprints. Behind this somewhat frightening relic is the historical story of Japan.
These dark streaks look like standing water, but look closely you will see the footprints or fingerprints.
Fushimi Castle in Kyoto (Japan) is one of the last places of fighting in “Warring States period” – a period of bloody and persistent civil war in Japan, lasting from the mid-15th century to the beginning of the century 17. This period ended when Tokugawa Ieyasu gained power, founded the Tokugawa shogunate, and unified Japan.
Before that, he had to defeat supporters of Toyotomi Hideyori, the 5-year-old son and heir to the lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. When the lord died in 1598, the five regents began to vie for power. Among them, Tokugawa Ieyasu is the strongest.
Ieyasu captured Fushimi Castle from Toyotomi Hideyori and gave General Torii Mototada, a samurai as a trusted ally. Not long after, Ishida Mitsunari – warlord opposing Ieyasu – gathered an army of 40,000 people, flocked to Kyoto to retake the castle.
Mototada was informed in advance, but even though there were only 2,000 people, he remained. Over the next 12 days, they fought back but were ultimately betrayed, and Mitsunari entered the castle. Mototada and the remaining 370 boxers killed themselves.
Mototada’s actions had a great impact on Japanese history. Over the next few weeks, Ieyasu gathered 90,000 troops and defeated Mitsunari in the decisive battle at Sekigahara. He became the first princess of the Tokugawa shogunate – a reign of Japan for 268 years.
In 1623, Ieyasu ordered the demolition of Fushimi Castle. Areas that have not been destroyed or burned have been retained, including the floors where General Mototada and his soldiers committed suicide. Their blood seeps deep into the wood and leaves a permanent trail.
In tribute to Mototada, these wooden planks are used as ceilings for many castles and temples throughout Kyoto.