Tuesday, 22 July 2008

萩 Hagi

As promised yesterday (http://dwellingindreams.blogspot.com/2008/07/yamaguchi.html) Kimura-san picked me up in front of the university gate and drove me all the way to Hagi. On the way we talked more about the teachings of 吉田松陰 Yoshida Shouin, Buddhism and Philosophy. Japanese people don't really follow the teachings of Buddhism anymore or have any more interest in it than performing meaningless rites and festivals. They also lack the idealism that drove the 志士 (shishi, rebelling samurai driven by their ideals of a better world, where everyone would be equal). We were both happy to visit a town that produced men, that had all that and revolutionized Japan entirely...

萩 Hagi

Hagi is a really small town and its incredible to believe that not only was this the political center of the Choushu Province, but also the place were the revolution started, the place were Yoshida Shouin was born and taught, the place were most of the first Japanese politicians in the Meiji Era including the first Japanese Prime Minister came from.

Apart from its heavy history, the town is simply beautiful. Not a lot has changed since the 19th century and most parts of the city look just like back then. The inhabitants of Hagi are very eager to preserve both the look, as well as the history of Hagi and therefore started a guide organization, that takes care of the buildings and offers free guides and explanations throughout the city. Kimura-san knows such a guide personally and asked her, if she could show us around. So I ended up with two guides and many more local guides, my journey to Hagi was really blessed.

松蔭神社 Shouin Shrine

Our first stop was at Shouin Shrine, a shrine entirely dedicated to this remarkable man Yoshida Shouin. The shrine was built around the house, where he taught, inspired and inflamed the 志士 Shishi that carried on his word and ideals throughout Japan. It is incredible to see how tiny the house is. Also the same house was his prison, when he was first punished for improper teachings from the Shogunate. At this time his only outlet were books he got from oversea, which he studied eagerly.

in here Yoshida Shouin teached his wisdom

and in this small chamber he was confined

伊藤博文旧宅地 Old Residence of Ito Hirobumi

image from Wikipedia

Ito Hirobumi was the first prime minister of Japan. In his Youth he was a student of Yoshida Shouin and inspired by his visions. He joined the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnou Joui a league to restore the Tenno in power and expel foreigners from Japan. However he soon realized that Japan is lost without foreign knowledge and relations as Yoshida Shouin predicted and decided to secretly slip out of the country and study western science in London.

長州五傑 Choushu Five

All together five clever and courages students were chosen for the trip to London. They were called 長州五傑 Choushu Five. At this time the 鎖国 Sakoku (closed country) was still active and thus leaving the country was a heavy crime punished by death penalty (切腹 Seppuku). Still Ito Hirobumi, Inoue Kaoru, Yamao Yozo, Endo Kinsuke and Nomura Yakichi secretly set out on a ship from Yokohama going to Shanghai and from there to London. All of them studied different fields of western science and returned unharmed to Japan.

The five of them brought a gigantic leap to the science state of Japan and most formed important statesman, foremost Ito Hirobumi as the first Prime Minister of Japan. It must be fantastic to secretly study in a foreign country for the revolution in your own one, I admire and envy those five students!

Inside his house you can find tables with photo albums from the 幕末時代 (Overthrowing Of The Shogunate Period) and the beginning of the 明治時代 (Meiji Period). Also this being his residence, when he already was appointed prime minister, shows how simple the first prime minister chose to live.

photo albums of the time before and after the revolution

吉田松陰誕生地 Birth Place Of Yoshida Shouin

Yoshida Shouin was also born in Hagi and his family rests here. So our next stop was a little hill outside the town perimeters where Shouin grew up peacefully in a tiny house with a large family. The area is really beautiful and you have a good view over the town from the Shouin house. The house no longer stands and only its perimeters are marked. But the graves of his family still stand, and a statue of Yoshida has been placed next to them. The statue is looking at the ocean seeing into the future, bringing the western world into Japan.

the outlines of the Shouin Family House

state of Yoshida Shouin

here the Shouin family is burried

萩城城下町 Hagi Castle Town

The urban area close to the castle remains relatively intact and offers wonderful aspects into how Japan looked 200 years ago. Many of the old Samurai residences are now open for visits and contain one of the afore mentioned free volunteer guides inside, others have been transformed into (also free) museums for local art.

The small valleys and distinctive houses and high walls are really eye catching, but they also served a purpose. The outline of the Castle Town was constructed to easily repel enemy attacks. For that for example the town contains many 怪曲がり (kaimagari = tricky corners) small alleys surrounded by high walls leading to a key like opening. A enemy approach from the alley can easily be ambushed from both sides (above the walls) and blocked at the key position.

怪曲がり kaimagari a trickery corner

木戸孝允 Takayoshi Kido

image from Wikipedia

Next we visited the residence of Takayoshi Kido, one of Yoshida Shouin's students, who became a leader of the Meiji Restoration. In his home there is much to discover if you ask one of the nice volunteer guides to show you around. For examples the outer planks around the garden are one of the famous "singing planks", natural wooden planks that make it impossible to walk over them without producing loud sound. Another example is a light show created below the ceiling. There you can find carved wood the produces wonderful shadow plays, when a fire is lit in the room.

to get into the house from these gardens, you have to walk over "singing planks"

this carving produced wonderful shadow plays, when a fire is lit

Kido's house is also an example for a house being used as museum. Inside you can find modern screaming sculptures made by Korean students in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

萩城跡 Hagi Castle Ruins

After starting the revolution, going through several wars and civil wars Choshu and Hagi could no longer afford to sustain a castle. That is why only ruins remain of the castle today. However having seen enough castles on my stay in Japan, seeing the ruins is actually nice for a change.

Also the area around the castle now is a really nice park and from the remaining castle walls you can enjoy a wonderful view over the sea, which inspired so many men in this city...

the sea



萩博物館 Hagi Museum

After we enjoyed some buffet with vegetables grown by farmers in Hagi, we continued to Hagi Museum. The museum is big and you can find many things related to local festivals and flora and fauna. However we were most interested in history and went straight to the history section (Again the museum is also free of charge).

高杉晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku

The historic part mainly deals with 高杉 晋作 Takasugi Shinsaku, the hero of Choshu Province. Born in Hagi he was one of the most passion burning students of Yoshida Shouin and soon became his favorite student. Later he tried to help Yoshida to get on board the 黒船 Kurofune (Pery's black ships) and tried to free him later, when he was imprisoned.

from left to right: Tatasugi Shinsaku, Yoshida Shouin, Kuzaka Genzui

Later he visited Shanghai to investigate on the rumors that western powers had turned the gigantic Chinese Empire into a mere colony of slaves. His visit was during the Taiping Rebellion and he witnessed the devastating effects of western power and the state life in China had degraded to. Upon his return he passionately joined the 尊皇攘夷 Sonnou Joui (league to restore the Tenno in power and to expel western occupation from Japan) and became, despite his young age, the most influential military leader in Choshu Province attracting people even from other provinces to join him.

His military rule proofed very successful. Following ideals of Yoshida Shouin he treated people equally independent of their society class and upcoming and therefore formed a militia consisting of all the people of Choshu, not only only of Samurai. Later he formed an elite military unit which he called 奇兵隊 Kiheitai. Its consisted of about 300 men, of whom no more than half were Samurai and the rest ordinary people inspired by his charisma and ideals.

After the first attack of Choshu Province against Kyoto (御門事変 Gomon incident) failed, Choshu Province leaders temporarily had to imprission him not to interfere in national politics.

However only a little later when Choshu's main port 下関 Shimonoseki bombarded western war ships, an invasion of four western powers: France, England, Dutch and American ships destroyed Shimonoseki and invaded Choshu. This invasion proofed even the most stubborn leaders of Choshu that the Japanese army at its current state is no match for western powers. Seeing their defeat they released Takasugi, entrusted him the prime military rule as well as the peace negotiations with all four western powers.

His victory however was again short lived when the Tokugawa Shogunate started a punitive expedition against Choshu as revenge for the Gomon incident in Kyoto. Takasugi had to flee the province together with later prominent figures like the first Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi.

When the expedition ended, he returned to a defeated Choshu again loyal to the Shogunate. He immediately attacked the conservative forces of Choshu and started the Choshu Civil War. His 奇兵隊 Kiheitai and military tactics proofed far superior than the traditional samurai way of fighting ans he had an easy victory. However Choshu Province was severely weakened after the Civil War.

When the Shogunate saw the end of the Civil War in favor of the 尊皇攘夷 Sono Joui they decided to launch a second punitive attack against Choshu and asked the loyal 薩摩藩 Satsuma Province, who helped fighting Choshu in the Gomon Incident to lead it. However 土佐脱藩者 坂本竜馬 Sakamoto Ryouma, who fled his home province (a crime punished with 切腹 seppuku) had good relations both to Yoshida Sounin's students Takasugi and
中岡 慎太郎 Nakaoka Shintaro, as well as to Satsuma warlord 西郷 隆盛 Saigo Takamori (the last Samurai) and was after much effort able to form an alliance between both parties who were archenemies and hated each other to the core to this day. The alliance was called 薩長同盟 Sacchou Alliance. This alliance would eventually proof strong enough to lead the Meiji Revolution to a success.

image from Wikipedia

the second master mind or revolutionizing Choshu: 中岡 慎太郎 Nakaoka Shintaro

Alas Takasugi Shinsaku never saw the fruits of his labor. He suffered his whole live under tuberculosis and died only one year before the Shogunate was overthrown. It can clearly been said that without this man, the revolution never would have happened...

When his tuberculosis took the upper hand over his health, he appointed one of his most trusted disciples 山縣 有朋 Yamagata Aritomo as his successor in leading the 奇兵隊 Kiheitai. The same Yamagata Aritomo would become the field marshal of the Japanese army and twice Prime Minister of the new Meiji Japan.

image from Wikipedia

山縣有朋 Yamagata Aritomo

Yoshida Shouin Museum

At the highway border to Hagi on our way back we crossed the Yoshida Shouin Museum, that had opened recently. It contains a recreation of Shouin's teaching room made a life with figures.

As for afore mentioned Sakamoto Ryouma, this guy has become my personal hero in the Japanese Revolution and we will learn more about him on my next stop: 長崎 Nagasaki...


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