Aizu Karou Yashiki (Saigou Residence)

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Background

Aizu-Bukeyashiki (Aizu Samurai Mansion), historically known as the Karō-yashiki (Karō 家老 = chief retainer), is a reconstructed opulent residence in the city of Wakamatsu. Bukeyashiki refers to the residential structures of the bushi (warrior) class. Most bukeyashiki in castle towns, at least of those that have survived, are much smaller than this one, comparable to large cottages. The Aizu-Bukeyashiki was the home of no regular retainer, however, but of one of the most powerful men in the daimyate of Aizu-han, an advisor to the daimyō. This was probably the largest residence besides the daimyō’s in the fiefdom (and the daimyō’s “house” was of course the castle, specifically the palaces within the castle). The Karō earned an annual stipend of 1,700 koku. The patriarch of the yashiki was, as mentioned, the chief retainer of the Lord (the Aizu-Matsudaira ruled Aizu-han), a hereditary position held by the head of the Saigō family.

The original manor, located closer to the castle, was destroyed during the Boshin War, but not before most of the Saigō women committed suicide (other Aizu women died in arms on the battlefield). In the Bakumatsu Period Saigō Tanomo lived here. Although he advocated surrender to Imperial forces, the Aizu-Matsudaira Clan ended up fighting with the Tokugawa Loyalists (not surprising considering their lineage). Saigō participated in the defence of the castle town and escaped with other loyalists when the castle was surrendered, continuing to fight on in Hokkaidō. Saigō survived the eventual defeat of the loyalists at Hakodate and went on to become a famed martial arts teacher and shintō priest in the modern era.

The Yashiki stands as it did in the late 18th century, as its layout was recorded at that time. The manor contains some 38 rooms, including bedrooms, offices, weapons stores and multiple reception rooms for guests of differing rank. Today the site is an outdoor museum centered around the manor and further contains two relocated structures: a teahouse built originally at the castle by Sen Shōan, son of Sen Rikyū, the famous tea master, and the (large) thatched-roof residence of a village magistrate, originally erected at Nakahata-jin’ya in Yabuki (the smaller thatched-roof cottage is the tea pavilion).

There is also a workshop with a fantastic contraption whirring away inside: an Edo Period automated rice-polishing plant, powered by waterwheel! It was first built over two centuries ago in Shirakawa (it was known as hanmaiseimaijo 藩米精米所). Turning cogs drive huge stakes up and down to pound rice. It can process 960kg of rice in a single day, which is enough rice to feed six men for an entire year (or over 1,000 people two meals in one day (the Japanese ate two meals per day)). I suppose the rice mill is a forerunner of the many automated Seimaiki vending machines one sees throughout more rural areas of Japan today.

One more noteworthy thing is the grave marker dedicated to Sasaki Tadasaburō, an Aizu man famous as the assassin of Sakamoto Ryōma. Sasaki Tadasaburō and Imai Noburō were both members of the Kyōto Mimawarigumi, a secret police force of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Along with the Shinsengumi (which was primarily made up of Rōnin whilst the Mimawarigumi were “gentlemen” of high-standing), they fought with political opponents in the streets of the Imperial Capital and operated as a paramilitary organisation. The Mimiwarigumi was officially disbanded in 1867 but they kept on fighting into the Boshin War. Imai Noburō was hauled before a military tribunal in 1870 where he confessed he and Sasaki had assassinated the young revolutionary. The veracity of this confession is uncertain, however.

Gallery


Aizu Karou Yashiki (Saigou Residence) Profile
English Name Aizu Karou Yashiki (Saigou Residence)
Japanese Name 会津武家屋敷・家老屋敷・西郷武家屋敷・西郷頼母邸
Year Late 18th Century
Residence Type Upper Class
Designations Registered Tangible Cultural Property
Features Gates, Garden, House, Warehouses
Visitor Information 4-11月: 8:30-17:00; 12-3月: 9:00-16:30
Website http://bukeyashiki.com/guide
Location Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture
Castle Aizu Wakamatsu Castle
Coordinates 37° 29' 8.34" N, 139° 57' 11.63" E
Aizu Wakamatsu Castle and nearby Samurai Homes
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Added Jcastle 2021
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