(Friday Night History) Episode 28: Mount Aoba, a Short History

Mount Aoba. 203.16 meters in height, its peak has a commanding view of most of modern Sendai. It is home to museums, two major shrines, historic ruins, and some of Sendai city’s old growth forest. Today, much of its significance to Sendai city comes from its history as the site of Aoba Castle, the Date clan’s seat of government and residence during the Edo period. We’ve talked about various aspects of its history over the length of this podcast and its prior history as a Twitter-only thread. It’s to be expected of course, given the Tohoku and Date focus of Friday Night History, but still, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually tried to sketch out an overall history of Mount Aoba itself. So, let’s try and do that inside of the usual timespan of one of these episodes, shall we? Some of what you’ll hear will be familiar, but some will be new.

So let’s talk Mount Aoba.

Interestingly, the fact that it’s now called Mount Aoba at all only dates to 1602! In that year, the house of Date moved a temple from Mount Shinobu in what’s now Fukushima Prefecture to the slopes of this hill inside the Hirose riverbend. By then, the Date castle there was already under construction, and the stonemasons– who also came up with the Sparrow Dance, as we discovered in the episode on the topic– invited up from Sakai to build the castle’s walls. The temple was called Jakko-ji, but its sango, its mountain name, was Seiyozan. Seiyozan is the on-yomi of the characters otherwise read as Aobayama. And thus, Mount Aoba received its name. Also interestingly, this was not the first temple there, nor was Sendai Castle the first castle, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

According to Tohoku University’s campus guide, some of the oldest artifacts found onsite are earthware and stoneware dating back to the Jomon period (14000-1000 BCE) at six locations; the artifacts themselves are between 5000-2000 years old. So, its inhabitation by humans goes a long way back.

By the Nara period, this area and points north were being actively colonized by the Yamato state. Northern Honshu’s original people were the Emishi. There is rich archaeological evidence from digs around Kawauchi– the riverbend within which Mount Aoba sits– that suggests that it continued to be a location of both residence as well as places of worship. The region was under the control of the mixed Emishi-Yamato Northern Fujiwara clan in the Heian era, the clan that merged Japanese and non-Japanese sources of political legitimacy in order to justify its semi-independent rule of the northeast in those years. While they were deposed by the attack of Minamoto no Yoritomo during the Bunji War, the region remained semi-independent, far from the imperial center, and Mount Aoba and the Kawauchi area continued to be actively inhabited and used as a site of worship. Tohoku University notes that there are stone monuments there called Itabi– tall, column-like stelae– dating to the Kamakura era (1185-1333), and still located in the botanical gardens there today.

Edo period map of Sendai Castle and Mount Aoba. To the right is the bend of the Hirose River. (image in PD)

While Sendai Castle’s ruins still dominate the peak of Mount Aoba, it wasn’t the only fortification that’s ever been there. There had been a small fortification there before 1600, whose name is deceptively similar to the modern city’s name, but which was written with the kanji that translate as “a thousand generations.” If you’re listening to the podcast, check out the blogpost to see what I mean– 千代 rather than 仙台․ This was a small fort controlled by the Kokubun family, which was a local lordly family during the Muromachi period. As noted in some past episodes, the Kokubun family eventually became mediated– that is, absorbed via intermarriage– into the house of Date. Also on Mount Aoba at the time was a temple to Kokuzo Bosatsu– the bodhisattva Akasagarbha, bodhisattva of space– and one period source says that the bodhisattva as enshrined there had “a thousand forms”– which is another interesting pun on the later city’s name. “Thousand forms” is “Sentai” 千体 — which scans neatly into 千代 and then 仙台․ Again, if you’re listening to the podcast version of this thread, check out the blogpost– these are three different homophones, three different spellings.

It was there on that hill, still not known by its modern name– that Date Masamune chose to build his new castle in late 1600, when he celebrated groundbreaking with a five-part Noh and amended the place’s name to its current spelling of 仙台 (仙臺 in old-form kanji): “Home of the Immortals.” As Masamune was a lover of the Chinese classics, the name should come as no surprise to those who know their Chinese classics– this is the name of the place in Journey to the West where the Monkey King steals the Peaches of Immortality. Relatedly, a common– although spoken rather than written– name for the area of the city until the mid-20th century was Rakuchu. This is still used to refer to Kyoto, but was also used to refer to Sendai starting in those early days. It positions Sendai as a successor to Luoyang (Rakuyo in Japanese), once a capital of the Eastern Han dynasty in ancient China. So in short, Masamune had grand dreams for himself and big plans for his capital.

While Sendai never quite became the sort of capital for which Masamune would have hoped, it remained the capital of Japan’s third largest feudal domain, after Kaga and Satsuma domains. It was, among other things, the birthplace of Russian studies in Japan, as well as the site of Japan’s first miso factory. Sendai Castle and Mount Aoba were the Date clan’s residence, but they were also a military installation and strategic asset, so they were a location that was off limits to people from outside Date lands. Local historian and folklorist Mihara Ryokichi notes that when the house of Date did receive dignitaries from elsewhere in Japan, any reception would happen at the Matsuyama Estate in Sendai’s Katahira district, which was the residence of the Moniwa family, a senior vassal family in service to the Date. As a family with its own income equal to that of a minor independent lord, the Moniwa’s Matsuyama Estate was quite fabulous in its own right.

The castle remained in Date hands through the end of the Boshin War. Some, but not all, of the Date command during the Boshin War, was coordinated from Mount Aoba, though some of it was also nearer to the battlefront at Shiroishi Castle, in the southern end of the domain. At war’s end, it was surrendered to the imperial government, and the domain-turned-prefecture’s administration was relocated across town to Yokendo, the Date domain school, on whose footprint more or less the prefectural government is still located, at Kotodai Park just north of Sendai Station.

Between the end of the Boshin War and the end of the Second World War, Mount Aoba and the Kawauchi area were for the most part a military base, the headquarters of the Sendai Garrison, which became the Imperial Army’s Second Infantry Division. At war’s end, the US Army took possession of the castle site and the outer baileys became home to the US Army’s Camp Sendai, one of the US occupation forces’ 13 bases in the prefecture. After the US withdrew, the area finally passed from military use. Today, parts of it are a botanical garden, parts of it are a park, other parts are residences. And rather prominently, the core of the old US military base is now the campus of Tohoku University’s Kawauchi Campus.

On the peak of Mount Aoba today sits a museum focused on the Date clan’s history, alongside Miyagi Gokoku Shrine. And there near the edge of the walls on a high stone plinth, the equestrian statue of Date Masamune looks out over the city that still bears the mark of those long-ago grand plans for making a second Luoyang. There was an original statue identical to this one that once occupied the same plinth, but which was melted down during the Second World War for use of its metals. The current statue was recast, in the same mold, after the war. I remember standing in its shadow in 2005, the day I first visited Mount Aoba, and thinking “this is a fittingly sized statue for the man’s personality.”

Sendai City Museum. (image in PD)

At the foot of Mount Aoba is the Sendai City Museum, which still preserves many treasures of the city, the region, and the Date clan. Masamune’s famous armor with the crescent-moon helmet crest “lives” there. And I suspect the man would’ve been proud that so much of the hill that his family called home, is still a place of quiet, contemplation, and culture.


An Appeal: Help Me Grow What I Do

Folks, this is a post to explain the new goal on the Patreon at http://patreon.com/riversidewings and to talk a bit about what you’re making possible and where I hope to take things.

Right now, we’re at $666, and it’s helping me devote more time to creating Friday Night History, my book projects, art, and more. I’ve been able to afford tools like new brushes, a podcasting microphone, and licenses for apps like ClipStudio Paint, where earlier, I’d have had to make do with bare minimum of tools to get by, and focus more on just surviving. You helped make Grey Dawn happen. You helped make Friday Night History go from a thread to a podcast. As I always say, you’re the wind beneath my wings.

I want to keep growing what I do– I want to devote more time to this work. This is my passion, but interacting with you all– here, on Twitter, on Discord, on Twitch, and elsewhere — is also a joy. The more of you sign up here, the closer I get to making this my full-time focus, and doing still more. This is not a hobby. This is how I make a significant portion of my livelihood.

There’s so much I want to do! I’d like to pay to enter my books and podcasts in more award competitions. I’d like to buy a PO Box so y’all can send me books and games to review. I’d like to be able to afford ads on social media. I’d like to travel, and to buy books and make photocopies that I count on for making this content. So truly, your support is bringing me closer to all of that.

With that in mind, an explanation of the next few goals and perks on Patreon.

At $750, I’ll begin a once-a-month cooking stream. The plan is to cook something historical, and to talk in realtime about it, probably on Twitch. Right now, we’re about $84 away from this.

At that point, I will also be able to start looking at buying some modest, initial adspace– all the better to bring new listeners and readers to the podcast and my books. I’ve already begun laying the groundwork for the support I’ll need at that point– the mods I’ve brought onboard over on Twitch and on Discord are part of that.

At $800/month I’ll be able to set up a PO Box, which will give you a place to direct your mail– books you’d like me to review, or video games or movies. Right now we’re about $134 away from this.

It will also make possible physical rewards. Pencil and ink sketches at first, once a month, but also stickers, and other merch.

When we hit $1000/month, this will be close to being my day job! and at that point, I will edit, record, and release pre-2021 #FridayNightHistory threads as podcasts– stuff like The Ninja that Met James Buchanan, or The Gang Goes to War Over a Tree. Right now we’re about $333 away from this.

Beyond that, this effectively becomes my day job, and we can talk further about goals when we get there.

But for now, this is what’s on deck.

So. If you like my work on #FridayNightHistory. If you read #GreyDawn. If you want to see #TheSparrowsDream and other history writing of mine make it to publication. If you want to get early glimpses of my second novel #HomewardStars as I write it: please spread the word.


Thank you to all who have supported me thus far and have continued to support me. The best is yet to come.

And you, friends, are the wind beneath my wings.

(Friday Night History) Episode 27: Coast Defense and International Learning

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at two cartographers of the late Edo period, Ino Hanzaemon and his disciple Mamiya Rinzo: their mapmaking endeavors and those maps’ influence on late 18th century Shogunate foreign policy and border defense, particularly in Ezochi: Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile islands. This week we’re going to look at another facet of the Japanese response to these concerns around foreign interactions, by examining the work of Sendai retainer and military scholar Hayashi Shihei (1738-1793). His story is a bit different than that of Ino and Mamiya. Where Ino and Mamiya enjoyed Shogunal sanction and their work almost immediately became objects of supreme national security, Hayashi– working for a daimyo, speaking a little *too* stridently about national defense shortcomings– ran afoul of the Shogunate and eventually caused his arrest and imprisonment. A modern Japanese saying has it that the nail that sticks out gets hammered down (Deru kugi wa utareru). In all his eccentricity and all his scholarly excellence, Hayashi was the nail that got hammered down. But his observations were solid and his recommendations prescient, and he not only went on to influence late Edo military science and reforms, but also remains a hometown hero in Sendai. I first saw a bas-relief sculpture of him on Mount Aoba, in 2005. Not bad for an adopted child of Sendai! In short, because of the warnings from Hayashi and others, the Shogunate eventually wisened up and began to implement some mapping projects and defensive improvements in response.

But with that said, let’s get this story rolling, shall we?

Hayashi Shihei was born in Edo in 1738, to the Okamura family, a house of Tokugawa vassals. But the elder Okamura left Shogunate service and a modest stipend, and soon went north to Sendai, where his brother, Hayashi Jugo, served house Date as a doctor. He was hired as a Date vassal in 1756, with a modest stipend of 150 koku, which put him near the bottom tier of vassals in this major domain. However, his family connections brought him much more access than would be afforded to someone of such modest means and of non-Sendai roots; his elder sister Nao, later called Kiyo, had originally worked in the Date estate in Edo, and after the family’s move to Sendai, became a concubine of the 6th Sendai lord, Date Munemura. Thanks to her connections to the very top of the domain’s governing figures and samurai society, the family moved to Kawauchi, the area inside a bend of the Hirose River where the estates of senior Date vassals encircle the foot of Mount Aoba, where the Date castle was located.

Otsuki Bankei’s portrait of Hayashi Shihei. (Source)

Hayashi’s two great works are Sangoku Tsuran Zusetsu (An Illustrated Description of the Three Countries), published 1786, and Kaikoku Heidan (A Maritime Country’s Strategic Discourse), published 1792. In both, he outlined the affairs and current state of Japan, Korea, and China, and argued– stridently– that Japan was at risk from the north, from Russian expansionism. Hayashi’s life is almost exactly coterminous with that of Catherine the Great, after all, under whose leadership the Russian empire expanded significantly and during which time Russia also took its first forays into studying the Japanese language and culture, primarily through the aid of Japanese castaways rescued by Russians.

You can read these works online today! If you’re listening to the podcast, check out the blogpost and follow the links for digitized version of both books, in the archive of Waseda University. For Sangoku Tsuran Zusetsu, check out https://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/html/ru03/ru03_01547/index.html for Kaikoku Heidan, check out https://www.wul.waseda.ac.jp/kotenseki/html/ke05/ke05_00654/index.html

Map of Korea by Hayashi Shihei. (Image PD)

In order to deal with the threat posed by Russia, Hayashi urged the Shogunate to bolster coastal defense, and to improve military capability by focusing on unit drill rather than on individual martial prowess. Because of the predilection in some quarters to assume that all samurai were individualistic glory-hogs with no idea of unit-based combat, let me remind you that unit-based drill even under traditional systems of Japanese strategy did exist and were fielded, most famously during the Warring States era. But Hayashi was living in the Edo era, under what Western scholars have taken to calling the Pax Tokugawa– training in military arts was primarily undertaken by the individual and not in units, though as discussed in the episode on falconry, unit based training was implemented at least some of the time, disguised as a daimyo’s falconry trips. As a means toward improving Japan’s military strength and bolstering its defense, he also advocated changes to the policy of national seclusion which would have meant significantly greater and more regular Japanese interaction with the outside world. Of course, in order to do these things, the Shogunate’s and the feudal lords’ finances would have to improve in order to be able to foot the bill. To that end, in a memorial he presented to the Date lord, Hayashi also critiqued the system of alternate-attendance under which daimyo were obliged to travel to and from the Shogun’s capital at great expense. This was designed by the Shogunate to keep them spending on pomp and travel rather than on potentially fomenting uprisings, but in the light of what Hayashi saw as a very clear and very present threat, that wasn’t good enough– priorities needed reorganization in order to adequately provide for the national defense.

But while we can, with hindsight, know that he was right, this is also where he ran into problems. Even if his criticisms and calls to action were valid, even if the threat was real, he had spoken too loudly for someone of his relatively modest station even as a samurai. For this, he was imprisoned in 1793. While in confinement, he famously wrote

I have no parents, no wife, no children, no printing block, no money, but I also have no desire for death.

親も無し 妻無し子無し版木無し 金も無けれど死にたくも無し

And from this short declaration, took the style, or pen name, Rokumusai– “Rokumu” is written “Six No’s”. But after a brief confinement, he died later in the same year. And yet, in time, even the Shogunate heeded his words.

It wasn’t that it had much of a choice, if truth be told. For one thing, the Russian incursions particularly to the north only increased, and together with those of British and later American vessels, this was clearly and obviously a problem that the Shogunate eventually knew that it couldn’t ignore. We’ve talked about these incidents and about some of the Shogunate’s response in past episodes, including its initial halting attempts at building an English dictionary. Russian studies in Japan began under the rectorship of Otsuki Jukusai at Yokendo, the Sendai domain’s academy for its samurai which we discussed in our episode about Kotodai Park. This was a policy instituted in light of how the Date forces constantly bumped into imperial Russian expeditions during coast guard duty in Ezochi, or what’s now Hokkaido, the Kuriles, and southern Sakhalin, but it was informed by some of the very critiques that Hayashi had originally raised. By the late 1850s, in the Ansei era, even the Shogunate had come around, authorizing the re-publication of Kaikoku Heidan for a modern audience that was far more interested in military reform and coast defense, in the face of American and British imposed unequal treaties and military interventions.

If, today, you visit Kawauchi, there’s a memorial you should check out. Go to the treeline behind the Sendai City Museum, which sits at the foot of Mount Aoba, right up against the Hirose River. You’ll find a bust of Date Masamune, patterned after part of his equestrian statue that stands at the top of the old castle walls. But, built into a slab of rock nearby, you’ll also find a bas-relief memorial of Hayashi Shihei himself. Adopted son of Sendai, advocate of opening to the rest of the world: in the end, he was vindicated.

Bas relief of Hayashi Shihei at Mount Aoba. Photo by the author.

And in short, Hayashi Shihei walked so people like Mamiya Rinzo and Otsuki Jukusai could run.


(Friday Night History) Inō Hanzaemon’s Long Walk

80-yen memorial stamp of Inō Tadataka. (Image PD)

Last week, we looked at Mamiya Rinzō, his surveys of Ezochi– the land we now call Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands– and how they aided the Shogunate’s efforts to bolster its control of the march to the north of Honshu. We also learned how this was tied up in the Siebold Incident. Mentioned along the way was Mamiya’s teacher, Inō Tadataka– alias Inō Hanzaemon– and his own epic survey of the Japanese coastline. Unfinished at the time of Inō’s death, Mamiya finished it and saw it to publication. This week, we’re going to explore more of Inō’s story, and round out our appreciation of the man, his career, and his oeuvre. I should note here that last week I kept flubbing his name– it’s Inō, not Ina– this week, I’m getting that right.

Okay, so Inō Hanzaemon was born in Ozeki, a village of Kazusa Province, which today is part of Kujukuri town, in what’s now Chiba Prefecture. He was adopted by a wealthy family of sake brewers and rice dealers of Sawara in nearby Shimosa Province– today part of Katori, Chiba Prefecture– which is how he received the Inō surname. At that level of financial privilege, the distinction between a merchant and a warrior was a lot blurrier than might be assumed, which is important to bear in mind considering that he went on to work for the Shogunate and is often depicted with not one but two swords, which is a well known mark of the warrior caste in Edo period Japan. He was wealthy enough that he was able to use his own funds to provide relief for the local population, which was suffering the brunt of the Tenmei famine, and to have his own wealth not particularly adversely impacted. And, this financial privilege also afforded him the stability and freedom to engage in self-study of calendar making and astronomy.

A word on that point of astronomy. Some of you might remember one of the more popular earlier episodes of Friday Night History– long before it was a podcast– in which I talked about the imperial court’s Ministry of Divination– a sort of real-life Ministry of Magic which existed until 1873. While its purview did indeed center on matters surrounding the occult, it was also the bureau which handled things like calendar making, astronomy, weather forecasts, and more– all of these very real-world sciences were important to how it did its work. So the Shogunate, as with the imperial court, had its own astronomers and calendar makers, who were aware of the work of the Ministry, but had less of an emphasis on the occult. And so at age 49 in 1795 (Kansei 7) Inō went to study with one of them, Takahashi Yoshitoki. Again, it was Inō’s financial privilege that allowed this– he was not only wealthy, but by this point, he’d already retired as a successful businessman, passing on the family headship and business while retaining access to the family’s wealth with which to fund his own studies.

This is the part that I keep getting stuck on, as I research and write this story. The Tenmei Famine killed and impoverished a lot of people, and this was also the era of rice speculators hoarding rice from starving people and triggering the direct action called “smashings” (uchikowashi) where angry, starving people smashed their doors in and carried off the rice. So the thought that Inō had the money to independently do a survey of this magnitude, in a time when so many others were suffering, haunts me.

For better or worse, Inō spent five years furthering his political and scholarly connections in Edo as well as advancing his personal studies. At the end of it, the Shogunate approved his plan to survey the Japanese coastline, and Inō set off on the first of what was eventually a series of ten surveying missions. The Shogunate endorsed the mission, given– as we saw in last week’s episode– the rising threat posed by the Russian Empire’s incursions to the north. It wasn’t long before this, after all, that Russian envoy and military officer Adam Laxman visited Japan in an attempt to negotiate concessions including a trade agreement. But the Shogunate was also dealing with its own recovery from the Tenmei Famine, and I’m sure it was all too glad to let Inō do the survey as long as he picked up the cost himself. These surveys took him and his team around to all the extremes of Japan. Inō surveyed the Japanese coast, as well as much of the coastline of neighboring Ezochi, with surveying instruments of his own invention.

As an example of Inō’s work, let’s take a look at this snippet, which I’ve snapshotted from the maps in the collection of the US Library of Congress. For listeners, check out the blogpost for the image. For reference we’re orienting ourselves with West to the top in the interest of text direction.

Sendai section of the Inō Taizu. (Image PD)

To the top of the image is the spine of the Ōshū Mountains. Below them, along some smaller hills, rise castle walls– Sendai Castle, on Mount Aoba– with the legend “Residence Castle of Lord Matsudaira Masachiyo.” House Date had the right to use the Matsudaira surname, the original name of the Tokugawa clan, as an honorific– Masachiyo was the childhood name of Date Chikamune, the then-lord of Sendai domain.

Below, in a red zigzag, the line of the Ōshū Highway runs left (south) to right (north). Nagamachi at left, Nanakita at right, both part of the modern city of Sendai. The county line between Natori County and Miyagi County is clearly delineated– here, it follows the line of the Hirose River, on the left. Pretty much all of what we see here is part of modern Sendai, and this stretch of the Ōshū Highway roughly overlaps with the line of the Tohoku Shinkansen, the Tohoku bullet train.

Inō’s survey work was so gradual and monumental that along the way, others joined him and even became his students. One of these was Mamiya Rinzō, about whom we talked last week– to get his story, go back and listen to Episode 25: Mamiya Rinzō Goes North. Mamiya came from similar affluent non-warrior roots as Inō, and as we discovered, went north from what’s now Wakkanai with Matsuda Denjūrō in tow to map the coast of Sakhalin, which at the time was thought to be a peninsula connected to the Asian continent, but which thanks to Mamiya’s survey was proven to be an island.

An early pedometer used by Inō. (Image PD)

In 1812 Mamiya returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, together with others of the latter’s friends and students. Inō died in 1818, at age 73, which was extremely long-lived for the time. But the work of Mamiya and others made possible the 1821 presentation to the Shogunate– and original publication– of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s coastal mapping survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big. It’s also apparently one of the most complete surviving collections of the entire series anywhere in the world.

As noted last week, the work of both Mamiya and Inō was crucial to the Tokugawa Shogunate’s development of coast defense nationwide as well as policy on the northern border, in and beyond the march controlled by the house of Matsumae. As such, it was deeemed strategically sensitive information, which is why the Shogunate reacted so severely when in 1828, the Prussian doctor Philip Franz von Siebold, then posted to Dejima in Nagasaki harbor at the Dutch East India Company’s outpost, was found to be in possession of copies of Mamiya and Inō’s maps in what is remembered as the Siebold Incident (Shiiboruto Jiken シーボルト事件). The maps continued to inform Japanese cartography for nearly a century, well into the late Meiji era.

Inō’s former residence is preserved as a museum in what’s now Katori, Chiba Prefecture, where across the street can be found the Inō Tadataka Memorial Museum, which preserves documents as well as some of the surveying equipment from this monumental undertaking. If you’re in the area, or are listening one day when it’s possible to enter Japan again, go and take a look!


(Friday Night History) Mamiya Rinzo Goes North

Today, Japanese maps (and world maps) take for granted that Hokkaido and Sakhalin are islands. This is not surprising. But there was a time when a common understanding of geography in Japan had it that the islands we now call Hokkaido and Sakhalin were connected to the Asian mainland. This week, we’re going to talk about the survey that changed that understanding with regard to Sakhalin, how it can challenge our assumptions about the Edo period, and how it laid the groundwork for Japan’s current borders.

First and foremost, we need to bear in mind that in the late 18th century, the Shogunate knew about, and was concerned about, the growth of Russian imperial influence to the north. There was an earlier strategic concern in the 17th century of potential Manchu invasion from the north, but by the 18th, the threat had shifted to the Russians, whose ships often appeared there during survey missions and amidst colonial expansion. While the Shogunate’s policy of national seclusion remained in effect, even diehard supporters understood that something needed to be done in order to ensure the security of the northern border.

Mind you, there was Japanese settlement and even a feudal domain across the Tsugaru strait in what we now call Hokkaido, but this was not part of Japan proper at the time.

Let me say that again.

Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper at the time, and modern Japan– the modern imperial state that wasn’t the patchwork of semi-independent feudatories anymore– didn’t exist yet. Hokkaido wasn’t annexed until 1869.

Okay, I hear you ask, so what was it until then?

Let me introduce you to the concept of a march. A march is a borderland. It’s a concept that’s well established in European history and beyond. In the Edo period, the Matsumae controlled territory of what we now call southern Hokkaido was not part of Japan proper but was a march. Elsewhere in Ezochi, the Shogunate asserted direct control, and had the domains of northern Honshu, most notably Sendai, Aizu, Akita, and Morioka domains, administer territory on its behalf as their people and resources had less of a distance to travel.

In other words, to the Shogunate, the lands where Japanese people lived and where house Matsumae ruled, was a march. And be that as it may, it was still deemed to be at potential danger from Russian incursion. And while the land around the Matsumae territory was pretty well known, points further north were less clearly and reliably surveyed, and the Shogunate wanted to assert better control over those territories. This was especially the case starting in the early 19th century, when encounters with Russian vessels became a little more common, and the house Matsumae proved itself to be less trustworthy than the Shogunate would have desired. So I should take a moment here to do due diligence and say, let’s be real, while national defense was part of the equation here, empire building and colonization was also a motivation. We’ll come back to that in a little more detail later.

One of the most important things for planning an effective defense is knowing the terrain. While there were increasingly accurate maps of the main islands (Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu) and the smaller islands around them, maps of Ezochi– Hokkaido and Sakhalin and the Kuriles– were less accurate. Inō Hanzaemon’s work in mapping the Japanese coastline helped significantly improve that, but his work– unfinished at the time of his death– was completed by Mamiya Rinzō, one of his students, whose work is going to be our focus today.

Mamiya Rinzō. (Image PD)

Mamiya Rinzō (1780-1844) was born into a peasant family in Tsukuba county of Hitachi Province (modern day Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture), but was elevated to warrior caste by adoption, owing in part to his distinction as a student of mathematics and surveying. He was assigned to the Shogunate administrative offices in Hokkaido in 1800, where he became a student of Inō Hanzaemon. Mamiya surveyed Etuworopsir (better known by its Japanese name of Etorofu-tō) in 1806, but in 1808, departed from what’s now the city of Wakkanai with his assistant Matsuda Denjūrō to survey Sakhalin, to the north. They split up at the southernmost point, with Mamiya going up the eastern coast and Matsuda going up the western coast, meeting at the northernmost tip. Though Mamiya had a decent amount of skill in the Ainu language, the further north he traveled, the less people he found who spoke the Ainu he would’ve known– i.e., the Ainu of what’s now Hokkaido– much less any Ainu at all. This is unsurprising, as he would’ve also been encountering Nivkh and Orok people, that far north. At the point they met, and confirmed that Sakhalin was an island, Mamiya and Matsuda erected a marker that read Dai Nihon koku Kokkyo National Boundary of Great Japan.

Yes, this didn’t go unchallenged– Imperial Russia eventually colonized Sakhalin too. Yes, in practical terms, there wasn’t much the Shogunate could do to enforce that kind of mindblowingly bold claim to all of Sakhalin. But again, let’s be clear. This wasn’t exploration for the sake of exploration, and it wasn’t simply a matter of defense. Mamiya worked for the Shogunate, and he was contributing to its expansion of power to the north.

After setting up that marker, Mamiya crossed the strait aboard an Ainu vessel, and went to the mouth of the Amur River, entering its estuary and further confirming that Sakhalin was an island and not part of the continent itself. In 1812 he returned to Ainu lands to finish the unfinished work of Inō, making possible the 1821 publication of Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu, Inō’s survey. You can check out Inō’s Dai Nihon Enkai Yochi Zenzu here, digitized and viewable in the collection of the US Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2001620020/ — for the podcast listeners, check out the blogpost and follow the link. It’s big.

Hakodate, in what’s now Hokkaido, as mapped by Inō Hanzaemon. (Image in PD, archived by LOC)

Shogunate policy in Hokkaido and points north benefited from both Mamiya and Inō’s work, but oddly enough, Mamiya’s work also became involved in an international incident in fairly short order. Philip Franz von Siebold (1796-1866) is a man who honestly deserves an episode of his own, and I’ll probably do that down the road. But for now, let’s give the brief summary: he was Prussian, in Japan with the Dutch trading mission at Dejima in Nagasaki, where he served as physician and taught Shogunate retainers about Western medicine while conducting observations and some of the first European cataloguings of Japanese flora and fauna. But thanks to his professional contacts with Japanese scholars he also obtained Japanese maps of the northern frontier, including the then-recent work of Mamiya and Inō. von Siebold had planned to smuggle these maps out of the country when he left in the autumn of 1828, but the ship that was to carry him was wrecked in a storm immediately on leaving harbor. von Siebold and the other survivors returned to Dejima, the Dutch enclave and trading post in Nagasaki, and their ship’s cargo was salvaged and inspected by Shogunate authorities, which is when the authorities discovered the map. If von Siebold thought he was homebound at the time, he was sorely mistaken, as the Shogunate confined him to Dejima for the ensuing year while its court case wound its way through. By the end, von Siebold was deported from Japan for having nearly compromised national security, though he was allowed to take his collection of local flora, fauna, and books along with him, first to his residence in Jakarta (which was then called Batavia), and thence to Holland.

Philip Franz von Siebold in older years (image PD)

The Shogunate ordered Mamiya to take part in a number of other projects focused on national security, though closer to home, in the form of coast defense for the waters around Edo. You might recall some of the earlier episodes where we talked about the intentional American missions and accidental British incursions into the waters at the mouth of Edo Bay, in the 19th century– this is some of what concerned the Shogunate at the time. Mamiya died in 1844, 9 years before the Perry mission and the subsequent dramatic shift in Shogunate priorities regarding foreign policy, coastal defense, and national security. Like his mentor, Mamiya is commemorated with a bronze statue, though Mamiya’s is in Wakkanai, where he departed together with Matsuda Denjuro, on his famous trip that confirmed Sakhalin was an island. 

The border between Japan and Russia has often changed since Mamiya’s time, as have the governments of both countries. Hokkaido was, as noted above, annexed in 1869, and has remained Japanese territory ever since. For about 40 years, from the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905 to the Soviet invasion just prior to the end of the Second World War in 1945, Sakhalin from the 50th parallel on south was controlled by the Japanese Empire, which also controlled the Kuril Islands. Today, there is a lingering dispute over the Southern Kurils, but Russia administers all of that territory.

And yet, one of the common names for the strait separating Sakhalin from the Asian continent and the Amur River estuary– sometimes called the Strait of Tartary– is still Mamiya-kaikyo. The Mamiya Strait.


(Friday Night History) “Noh and Noh Accessories”

Kanze Sakon performs the Noh play Okina in 1939. (image PD)

Noh, a traditional form of Japanese theater that derives from an older form called sarugaku, is pretty well known in the world– it’s one of the most recognizable elements of traditional Japanese performing arts. Some people conflate it with kabuki, so let me begin by offering a simple way of remembering which form of traditional Japanese theater or dance is which.

  • Kabuki has facepaint and lots of acrobatics and slapstick. Its orchestra includes shamisen.
  • Bunraku has similar musical accompaniment to kabuki but features puppets and a chanter.
  • Kagura is the ritual dance associated with Shinto shrines.
  • Kyōgen is comedic, has some slapstick and no masks, and is performed on Noh stages in between the longer, more serious Noh plays.
  • Noh has masks, a lot of slow movements and chanting, and its musical accompaniment is flute and drum.

We cool? Good.

The thing is, Noh wasn’t just a performing art for the sake of a performing art. It was also possessed of spiritual significance, as it was one way of performing rites that would pacify restless spirits. It had any number of occasions where it might be performed, as it does today. In that regard it sometimes overlaps with what we’d consider to be kagura today. At any rate, keep that in mind– it’s important to what we’re going to be talking about in this episode.

Alright. So. Noh in the Edo period was overwhelmingly the domain of the warrior caste and its hangers-on. It was expensive even at the time, so this isn’t too surprising– your average Taro the farmer is going to be more likely involved in kagura at the local shrine, rather than putting on a Noh play. While not everyone was trained enough to be able to perform the dances, as Nishiyama Matsunosuke points out, “a large warrior-class population learned the chants and instrumental accompaniments.” And for our case study, we’re going to look at Noh in the house of Date, and not only because that’s our usual purview.

House Date, which was the fourth wealthiest power in Japan after the Shogunate, house Maeda of Kaga domain, and house Shimazu of Satsuma domain, was one of Edo Japan’s most preeminent patrons of Noh. Just how preeminent do I mean? Think back for a moment to our episode about daimyo. In that episode, we learned that the general definition of a daimyo, despite how conditional it often was in practice, included in theory anyone with yearly income rated at over 10,000 koku. The Date income was about 625,400 koku, and of that, they spent about 10,000 a year on Noh alone. That should offer some sense of scale here, in terms of how extravagant was their patronage. They spent a lot on Noh, from the beginning of the Edo period through the end, but house Date was interested in Noh for quite a long time even prior to that.

Date interest in Noh is believed to date roughly to the mid Muromachi era. By the late 16th century, Date Masamune himself was so skilled with the drum that he himself appeared in Noh performances, attended by other daimyo and sometimes even the shogun. While Masamune and his descendants pursued instruction by the heirs of the major lineages of Noh– most notably Okura, Kanze, Konparu, Hōshō, and Kita– what they also did was send their own retainers to go study and pursue licensure from those schools of acting, music, propmaking, and set design. In doing so, house Date ensured that it had a cadre of professionals who were already on the rolls of their vassal-band, who could be easily and reliably called upon for the staging of different performances wherever there was need of a play or a series of plays.

In fact, Noh was there at the founding of the Sendai castle town. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new and expanded Sendai Castle on Mount Aoba included the now famous poetry writing where Date Masamune gave the city its current name. But there was more that was part of the festivities. In the orthodox history of the clan, Date Chike Kiroku Volume 2, 18th century historian Tanabe Marekata writes:

12/24 (Keichō 5 [1/28/1601]), Hour of the Dragon. His Lordship went to the groundbreaking at Sendai Castle. He changed the castle’s name spelling to 仙臺 (wizard’s platform). Once there had been a Thousand-form Buddha beside this castle, thus it was [originally] spelled 千體 (thousand forms). Later the spelling was changed to 千代 (thousand generations). This castle was said to be the ancestral residence of the former Kokubun lord, Sir Noto-no-kami Moriuji. That evening, there was a party for the groundbreaking. Five Noh were performed: Takasago, Tamura, Nonomiya, Yōrō, and Jōjō.

Clearly, it had an official role to play in the domain’s life.

A particularly noted example of a Date retainer who became a Noh expert and founded a lineage is that of Sakurai Hachiemon (alias Sakurai Yasuaki), one of Masamune’s pages who was sent to study with Okura Ujinori (1590-1665), the third son of Azuchi-Momoyama era Noh master Konparu Yasuteru (1549-1621) who was famous for having taught Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Hachiemon was trained and licensed by Okura Ujinori, and Hachiemon’s descendants became a lineage of Noh masters. Interestingly, the Sakurai line became one where every successive generation was an adoptee selected for mastery of the family Noh tradition– inasmuch as adoption to continue a lineage was common in the Edo period, a line composed entirely of adoptees was uncommon. Hakugoku Zenbe’e (alias Hakugoku Kototsugu) and Kō Gorōjirō, contemporaries of Hachiemon, specialized in the taiko drum. Meanwhile, Hiraiwa Kanshichi became certified in fue, the bamboo flute that is a central part of the musical accompaniment to any Noh performance. Hakugoku, Kō, and Hiraiwa, like Sakurai, started out as pages in service to Masamune.

This cadre of performers and other specialists was divided between three geographic centers– Edo, Nara (actually some in Nara, some in Kyoto), and Sendai– putting it in easy reach of the Shogun’s capital, the imperial capital, and the capital of the Date domains. Owing to the Date domain’s decentralized organization, the family’s cadet branches, which formed the highest tier of Date vassals, also sponsored Noh actors and performances of their own. This multicentric arrangement of house Date’s Noh personnel and assets had an impact on other fiefdoms’ Noh as well as on modern Noh.

These people were, of course, paid stipends by the domain. But as with all retainer stipends in the Edo period, these tended not to rise for anything, even for cost of living. So to fill that gap, some of these Noh specialized Sendai vassals took students from other domains. This not only helped make ends meet but also spread Date Noh influence, and it positioned these families for adapting to the changes wrought by the coming of the Meiji era and the abolition of the feudal domains.

Just before that abolition, Sendai domain under the Date was defeated during the Boshin civil war of 1868-1869. As part of the punishment which the Empire imposed, two thirds of Sendai domain’s landholding was confiscated, which thus affected the domain’s income, and so the clan had to radically slash and reorganize its expenses. People like Noh actors were not justifiable expenses in this new regime. Those of the Noh professionals who were based in Sendai, whose work mostly involved other Date retainers, were shit out of luck. But those based in Edo or Nara, who already derived most of their income from private students, stayed in the Noh business. And as it turns out, some of them still exist today or existed well into the modern era. The Hiraiwa school of fue flute, for instance, was one such tradition that had once been in service of house Date; it existed until the mid-Meiji period and the death of its last inheritor. Other traditions once associated with house Date survive to this day.

In modern Sendai, Noh and Noh performances continue thanks to an organized group of devoted performers and their supporters. When I lived there in 2005, I remember seeing advertisements for free public performances of Noh, though I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend them. If you’re in Sendai, or can manage to go there one day once it’s allowed to enter Japan again, you can find more information from the homepage of what’s now called the Sendai City Association for the Promotion of Noh (Sendai-shi Nōgaku Shinkō Kyōkai) at https://sendai-nogaku.org


Date Masamune’s letter to Tadano Sakujūrō

Translated by yours truly. (Source)

# # #

I just received your unexpected letter and pledge of love. Truly I feel embarrassed, and whatever I can think to say seems foolish. What could I have said to you last night while we were drinking? I’m really troubled by the fact that I can’t remember. Besides, if I doubted your feelings, I could easily get Denzō or one of the inspectors (yokome) to get you to give up, but it doesn’t seem like that’s possible. I don’t feel like I said anything, but what could I have possibly told you last night over drinks? I’m really stumped and can’t recall.

A while back, one of the attendants who serves me at mealtime dropped a note, and it looks like he’d fallen for you. I have no idea what happened to this attendant, though, so I can’t help you any further on whether or not it’s true.

I asked myself, and it’s not that. It’s that I know you almost too well, and so I could hardly contain myself in wanting to be certain of your feelings. So driven by drunkenness I must’ve slipped up and said something that I hadn’t meant to say.

You must feel angry at me, since I’m saying that this was all because of drink. I don’t blame you feeling this way. To think you slit your arms to seal a pledge of love to me in blood. I keenly, keenly feel your emotion.

If I’d been there, I would’ve stopped you with my sidearm…

I thought about simply slitting my finger and not my arms or my thighs, but that would hardly be a worthy response to what you’ve already done to pledge your love to me. Anyway, I’ve already grown old enough to have children and grandchildren.

People don’t know how to keep their mouths shut, and when I bathe, these scars would be visible to my pages, who would certainly gossip among themselves, saying “Still doing things like this at an age when he should know better.”

If this were to happen, I feel it’d be an embarrassment to my children, so instead, I only live hot-bloodedly by emotion.

As you know, when I was young I slit my arms and thighs when sharing drink, to offer blood for pledges of manly love. This much ought to be plainly obvious about me. But with the world as it is today, it’d make me a laughing matter, so I must refrain.

I swear to the myriad gods of Japan, this is because I detest marring my arms and my thighs further. It is not in the least a matter of shying away from you.

You  know my arms and my thighs, do you not? There are few places upon them that are unscarred. Though that is proof of my onetime pride in the way of manly affection, I can’t help the changing times.

You must certainly be feeling like this might be unreliable news, so I am writing this letter and sealing it in blood, as Denzō watches.

Please forgive me, and leave it at this. If you could please understand my feelings, and if I could have your compassion, then my gratitude to you would be deeper than the ocean and higher than the mountains.

Furthermore, I’ve told Denzō to relay my feelings on this.

Sincerely yours,

1st Month, 9th Day
Masamune (signature)

I am truly, truly embarrassed. Please understand my feelings.

(Friday Night History) Gesaku

There’s a rule for good satire: punch up.

This was no less the case in the Edo period. And one of the major genres through which this happened is called gesaku. While a lot of what we usually focus on in this podcast pertains to the warrior caste or those immediately adjacent to it, gesaku was primarily the domain of everybody but the samurai. These commoners used it as an outlet through which to talk romance, satire, religion, comedy, and much more.

In the first place, gesaku is actually an umbrella term. It means “playful writing,” and has a wide range of subgenres, most notably senryu poems, kibyoshi, dangibon, sharebon, kokkeibon, ninjobon, kusazoshi, and yomihon. Kokkeibon and kibyoshi, in particular, translate well to modern form. Kokkeibon is a gesaku subgenre, usually illustrated, and telling the story of commoners’ lives with a heavy focus on humor. An especially notable example of kokkeibon is Jipppensha Ikku’s Tokaidochu Hizakurige, which was translated into English by Thomas Satchell in 1960 as Shank’s Mare. Hizakurige is a lively slapstick story of two friends from Edo, Yaji and Kita, who travel west along the Tokaido Highway on pilgrimage to Ise Grand Shrine. Hijinks ensue, and continue through a sequel. Kibyoshi, on the other hand, are illustrated– think of them as proto-comic books– where text was woven into the images. These ranged from ten to thirty pages.

But remember, folks, this was the Edo period, where although the commoners held an increasing share of the country’s wealth, it was still the warrior caste that was in the exalted position in the societal hierarchy, and which possessed a monopoly on government and state-sanctioned violence. So we need to sidebar and talk about a daimyo named Matsudaira Sadanobu here.

Self-portrait by Matsudaira Sadanobu (image in PD)

Matsudaira Sadanobu was the son of Tayasu Munetake, one of the sons of the 8th shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune. Tayasu Munetake headed one of the Gosankyo or 3 Lords, the families that held daimyo-level income but who were not daimyo, instead being tasked with producing a ready supply of alternate heirs should the main Shogunal lineage die out, as it had before Yoshimune’s time. Sadanobu was adopted out to the Hisamatsu-Matsudaira family of Shirakawa domain in northern Honshu. The Hisamatsu-Matsudaira family was a cadet branch of the Tokugawa clan, and while it wasn’t too powerful in its own right, it still had that prestige by osmosis– however, it was also in the grip of financial crisis when Sadanobu was adopted in. He attained fame in his domain as well as in Edo for getting the domain’s finances back into working order, and used this fame as well as his birth family’s connections to get an appointment as the Shogunate’s chief councilor in 1787. In his tenure as chief councilor, he championed a series of political reforms called the Kansei Reforms, which aimed to straighten out the Shogunate’s faltering finances, make contingency plans for future disasters in the form of granaries, stabilize the population (and thus the tax base) in the countryside by sending peasants who’d moved to Edo back home to their villages, and more. But it had a darker side, in which it also attempted to legislate morality, by cracking down on gesaku and its authors.

So against the backdrop of these reforms, we need to talk about one of the most notable authors of gesaku, a late 18th century author and artist called Santo Kyoden.

Portrait of Santo Kyoden by Chokyosai Eiri, circa 1795 (held by Metropolitan Museum of Art, image in PD)

Kyoden was born into a family of lumberyard pawnbrokers, but became a skilled ukiyo-e artist and prolific author. It was Santo Kyoden who, in a 1788 gesaku work, defined the characteristics of the Edokko, the quintessential Edo townsman, as follows– translation as appearing in Gerald Groemer’s translation of Nishiyama Matsunosuke’s book Edo Culture:

1. He receives his first bath in the water of the city’s aqueduct; he grows up in sight of the gargoyles on the roof of Edo castle.

2. He is not attached to money; he is not stingy. His funds do not cover the night’s lodging.

3. He is raised in a high-class, protected manner. He is quite unlike either warriors or country bumpkins.

4. He is a man of Nihonbashi to the bone.

5. He has iki (refinement) and hari (strength of character)

But as Nishiyama observes, these characteristics were more imaginary than based in fact, as they don’t mesh with the realities of life in Edo. For example– Nagoya, not Edo Castle, had gargoyles (shachihoko) on its roof, and the aqueducts of Edo had dirty water, not anything to bathe in. Nishiyama argues that this has more to do with poking fun at hoity-toity people from the Kansai region (central Japan, the greater Kyoto-Osaka area) than anything real about life in Edo for people from Edo. At any rate, what’s certain is that Santo Kyoden was a renowned, beloved author and artist, and apparently one of the first to turn writing from something simply done for the love of it, to a career on which one could base a living. And he did not spare the powerful from his satirizing, not one bit!

Kyoden first satirized the Kansei reforms in Nitan no Shiro Fuji no hitoana kenbutsu, and modeled the plot of Jidai Sewacho tsuzumi after the murder of Tanuma Okitomo. He poked fun at the Reforms again in Koshi-jima toki ni aizome, and then drew illustrations for Ishibe Kinko’s kibyoshi work, Kokubyaku mizu-kagami.

At this point, the authorities felt that they’d had enough of this uppity townsman who wouldn’t stop making fun of them, and fined Kyoden. But in response, Kyoden released 3 more books, after which Matsudaira Sadanobu personally ordered Kyoden placed under house arrest and manacled for fifty days.

But Matsudaira Sadanobu had a secret: he was a Santo Kyoden fanboy, and he was an author of gesaku himself!

Hypocrite, much?

Yes, Sadanobu had Kyoden put under house arrest and manacled, but he also made sure to get an autograph from the man. And much more surprisingly, Sadanobu himself was the author of Daimyo Katagi, whose first half is in kibyoshi style and whose second half, written in sermonizing dangibon style, is a gesaku rant par excellence, about daimyo being posers! Historian Haruko Iwasaki even argues that Sadanobu was an avid reader of gesaku beyond the work of Kyoden alone, and that his work is particularly influenced by a then-recent work called Kyogen-zuki Yabo Daimyo (The Naive Daimyo Infatuated with Kyogen), which was written by Kishida Toho and illustrated by Kitao Masayoshi, published in early 1784. Kyogen is the comedic theatrical form that provides the lighter interludes that punctuate a longer series of Noh plays. Sure enough, the unnamed, hapless lord in Daimyo Katagi becomes obsessed with theater, falling asleep on-stage after a rehearsal one day, only to be visited by a Chinese sage in his dreams and yelled at. The sage’s rant is so incandescent that at times it seems worthy of Lewis Black’s rants. His invective tears apart everything from the daimyo’s meaningless pursuit of martial arts without understanding of what fighting actually is, to the lack of practicality of people who claim to understand military engineering without due diligence to matters of logistics and personnel, and even issues of medicine, religion, and decorum don’t escape the sage’s tirade. It’s really quite something, and I encourage you to follow the link and read Haruko Iwasaki’s translation for yourself. She translated it in 1983, and you can read it here– if you’re listening to the podcast, follow the link.

While Sadanobu went to great trouble to hide it, his personal attendants discovered Daimyo Katagi among his papers after his death, and they and their descendants were responsible for seeing it to publication in the Meiji era.

While the Kansei Reforms had a chilling effect on the freedom of non-warriors to poke fun at those in power, gesaku came back in force a few decades later. And even today, gesaku continues to revereberate via modern adaptations: Hizakurige got an outlandishly surreal, slapstick-heavy, anachronism-heavy movie rendition in 2005 as Mayonaka no Yaji-san Kita-san. I think Santo Kyoden would’ve approved.

Bans pass, politicians pass, but satire is eternal.

The Tokugawa Shogunate is dead. Long live gesaku!


  • Hibbett, Howard. Chrysanthemum and the Fish. (Tokyo: Kodansha, 2002), p. 91.
  • Haruko Iwasaki, “Portrait of a Daimyo: Comical Fiction by Matsudaira Sadanobu.” Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 1-19. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/2384009
  • Matsudaira Sadanobu, “Daimyo Katagi.” tr. Haruko Iwasaki. Monumenta Nipponica Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1983), pp. 20-48. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/2384010
  • Nishiyama Matsunosuke, Edo Culture. Translated by Gerald Groemer. (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997), p. 51.
  • Ooms, Herman. Charismatic Bureaucrat. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 141.
  • Totman, Conrad. Early Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 415-416.
  • ___. Politics in the Tokugawa Bakufu. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), p. 225.

From “Passing of the Armies”

Have they all passed, — the Fifth Corps? Or will it ever pass? Am I left alone, or still with you all?

You, of the thirteen young colonels, colleagues with me in the courts-martial and army schools of the winter camps of 1862:

Vincent, of the 83d Pennsylvania, caught up in the fiery chariot from the heights of Round Top; O’Rorke, of the 140th New York, pressing to that glorious defense, swiftly called from the head of his regiment to serener heights; Jeffords, of the 4th Michigan, thrust through by bayonets as he snatched back his lost colors from the deadly reapers of the wheat-field; Rice, of the 44th New York, crimsoning the harrowed crests at Spottsylvania with his life-blood, — his intense soul snatched far otherwhere than his last earthly thought — “Turn my face towards the enemy!”; Welch, of the 16th Michigan, first on the ramparts at Peebles’ Farm, shouting “On, boys, and over!” and receiving from on high the same order for his own daring spirit; Prescott, of the 32d Massachusetts, who lay touching feet with me after mortal Petersburg of June 8th, under the midnight requiem of the somber pines, — I doomed of all to go, and bidding him stay, — but the weird winds were calling otherwise; Winthrop, of the 12th Regulars, before Five Forks just risen from a guest-seat at my homely luncheon on a log, within a half hour shot dead in the fore-front of the whirling charge. These gone, — and of the rest: Varney, of the 2d Maine, worn down by prison cruelties, and returning, severely wounded in the head on the storm-swept slopes of Fredericksburg, and forced to resign the service; Hayes, of the 8th Massachusetts, cut down in the tangles of the Wilderness; Gwyn, of the 118th Pennsylvania, also sorely wounded there; Herring, of the same regiment, with a leg off at Dabney’s Mill; Webb, then of the corps staff, since, highly promoted, shot in his uplifted head, fronting his brigade to the leaden storm of Spottsylvania ; Locke, adjutant-general of the corps, — a bullet cutting from his very mouth the order he was giving on the flaming crests of Laurel Hill!

You thirteen — seven, before the year was out —shot dead at the head of your commands; of the rest, every one desperately wounded in the thick of battle ; I last of all, but here to-day, — with you, earthly or ethereal forms.

Waes Hael!’ — across the rifts of vision — “Be Whole again, My Thirteen!”

–Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Passing of the Armies.

(Translations) the Naoe Letter

This is the Naoe Letter, named for its author, Naoe Kanetsugu (1559-1620), who was a senior vassal in service to Uesugi Kagekatsu (1556-1623). It was written 421 years ago tomorrow, as I type this!

17th century portrait of Naoe Kanetsugu. (Image in PD)

He wrote it in response to a letter sent to Kagekatsu from Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) via the monk Seishō Jōtai (1548-1607). This was in the lead-up to the Battle of Sekigahara, where Ieyasu was at the center of one faction and his rival Ishida Mitsunari (1559-1600) centered a different faction.

Historic portrait of Seishō Jōtai. (Image in PD)

I see the Naoe Letter as Kanetsugu throwing down the gauntlet pretty hard. Unfortunately for him, the Uesugi clan lost in the Sekigahara Campaign, during which they were faced and contained by the armies of the house of Date, at the Battle of Hasedō.

* * *

I have this day received your letter of the first of the fourth month, which arrived yesterday, the 13th. I was most pleased to receive and to read it.

ITEM: Regarding our province, there are many false rumors circulating at present. So there isn’t much we can do about the Interior Minister (Ieyasu) holding reservations. Furthermore, as these rumors are now spreading it Kyoto and Fushimi, there isn’t anything that can be done. Aizu is a distant country, and my lord Kagekatsu is young, so naturally he is the target of rumor . We aren’t worried, so please be reassured.

ITEM: Regarding why Kagekatsu will not come to Kyoto, all manner of things are being said. Barely two years ago our fief was transferred, and in no time we went up to Kyoto, returning only on the 9th month of last year. Even so in this years first month we were again ordered to report to Kyoto. When can we be expected to care for our own lands’ affairs? This land is snow country, so from the 10th to the 3rd months nothing can be done. If you ask anyone who knows this land, they’ll understand. So given our request to delay our trip to Kyoto, you’ll understand that the rumors that Kagekatsu is traitorous are misunderstandings.

ITEM: You’ve said that if Kagekatsu harbors no traitorous motives then he should submit a vow affirming this. We have sent several written pledges since the Taikō’s death, but they’ve all been ignored. So sending in another document is pointless.

ITEM: Since [his service to] the Taikō, Kagekatsu has been known as an upstanding person- this has not changed. This is contrary to the world’s fickle ways.

ITEM: Kagektasu is absolutely not harboring ulterior motives. If you do not investigate and expose these evil words of strangers, and assume that he is treacherous, then it can’t be helped., Otherwise we would ask to have the chance to face our accusers and ascertain the truth of the matter. If not, then the Interior Minister is being dishonest.

ITEM: As regards Lord Hizen-no-kami of Kaga (Maeda Toshinaga), things have been settled between him and the Interior Minister. We assume this is because of the Interior Minister’s influence.

ITEM: As for Mashita Nagamori and Ōtani Yoshitsugu’s promotions, we’ve heard about it in detail. It is truly most felicitous. Sakakibara Yasumasa has acted as official go-between. And even if Kagekatsu’s stance of opposition was public, hearing opposing viewpoints is part of what’s right as a warrior. This would also serve the Interior Minister. It is better if it is known whether or not somebody is a loyal or treacherous vassal.

ITEM: First, as the matter concerns baseless rumors, we refuse to come to Kyoto. Our reasons are as stated above.

ITEM: Second, It’s been said of our gathering of weapons and materiel that we’re preparing for rebellion. These actions are the same as when warriors of central Japan gather tea implements, charcoal scuttles, and gourds. Please consider we backcountry warriors gathering spears, guns, bows and arrows as simply a difference of culture.  Even if he was planning action, what could someone in Kagekatsu’s position do? Isn’t making this into a problem a judgment that is unbecoming for the realm?

ITEM: Third, regarding roads and bridges, this is to make travel more convenient. It is the duty of one who rules a province. When Kagekatsu ruled Echigo he did the same; those bridges and roads are still extant. Here in Aizu we already built roads that go to Kōzuke, Shimotsuke, Iwaki, Sōma, Masamune’s territory, Mogami, Yuri, and Senboku, and nobody on the other side of those borders said anything. Incidentally, only the Lord Kenmotsu, Hori Naomasa, has feared this construction and spread various lies that betray a lack of understanding of what befits a warrior. The fact that only Hori Kenmotsu has made an issue of this road construction shows that he is a thoughtless person who knows nothing of the warrior’s way. If Kagekatsu had any evil intent, then Hori would’ve run into border security and adequately prepared defenses. If you doubt this, send messengers to check our border crossings from other provinces, and I believe you will understand.

ITEM: The third month of this year was the requiem for Lord Kenshin. Kagekatsu planned to come to Kyoto after that, in the summer. As he readied his arms and administered his lands’ business of government, messengers came from Ōtani and Mashita, relaying the Interior Minister’s demands that if Kagekatsu had no treacherous aims then he should come to Kyoto. But as you’ve relayed these false charges to us, if you look closely then you’ll know we harbor no deception.

Yet even though we’ve said that Kagekatsu has no traitorous intent, to receive the retort of “if you don’t, then come to Kyoto” is to be treated like a child. This world, where one who until yesterday was a traitor can, feigning ignorance, go to Kyoto and receive a reward, does not suit Kagekatsu. Though the rumors are baseless, if Kagekatsu entered Kyoto in the midst of all these lies about his intent, we would lose all honor earned by generations of Uesugi arms.

So  because you will not confront the people spreading these rumors, then we cannot come to Kyoto.

Kagekatsu is unmistakably right on this matter. We are especially aware that in the middle of the 7th month, Kagekatsu’s vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami left this clan for Edo and then went on to Kyoto. Is Kagekatsu wrong or is Ieyasu dishonest? We will leave it to the world to decide.

ITEM: Many words are unnecessary: Kagekatsu has not a whit of rebellious intent. But we are being set up so as to be unable come to Kyoto, and only be able to come by the Interior Minister’s determination. To remain at home would violate the Taikō’s will, and our pledges have already been ignored. What’s more, it would betray our young master Hideyori. Even if we were to raise our forces and make Kagekatsu ruler of the realm, we would not be able to escape the stigma of being evil men. It would be a shame for all time. Could anyone rebel withour reservations? Rest at ease. But if you believe the words of evil men as being true, then oaths and promises are pointless.

ITEM: Rumors are circulating that Kagekatsu is traitorous. They also claim that he is sending troops to garrison castles, and preparing provisions. These are the baseless words of strangers, so there is no need to heed them.

ITEM: Sending messengers to explain things to the Interior Minister is called for. Incidentally, on both the lies of evil people from beyond our borders, and Uesugi vassal Fujita Noto-no-kami’s betrayal, because Kagekatsu is suspected of treachery, there isn’t anything that can be done. If what I’ve explained above doesn’t clarify things, then there’s nothing more to be said.

ITEM: No matter what, our land is far away, so as you might surmise, the truth about us becomes like lies. It should be needless to say so, but I have written things plainly for your eyes to see.

You know the right and wrong of the world, so I have written this simply. I have voiced most humbly my reservations. To gain your will, I have spoken without concern for any rudeness. Please convey my words.

With reverent esteem.

Keichō 5, 14th of the 4th Month

[26 May 1600]

Naoe Yamashiro no kami

(to) Seishō Jōtai of Hōkō-ji