Depicting the rapid changes that took place at the end of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji period, a yearlong NHK TV drama called “Hana Moyu (Flower Burns)” will run through 2015.
As you know, the story is set in Chōshū han (Chōshū Domain), modern day Yamaguchi Prefecture. It will be the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration in 2018, so there are lots of related events set to take place in the prefecture.
The port town of Murotsu, which flourished for a long time due to the importance of marine transportation, played a key role in the restoration.
Strolling around the town in the sea breeze, I discovered places like Higoya (an inn at which Yoshida Shōin and Takasugi Shinsaku used to stay regularly), and sword ‘scars’ that were made by Kiheitai (irregular militia, from all social classes).
Unchanged since the Meiji Restoration, “Shikairō” is a wooden western style building that particularly stands out in the town of Murotsu!
The delightful structure features external walls of white plaster, stained glass windows, and elaborate Kote-e* decorations throughout.
*Kote-e: Relief work was created using a masonry trowel.
Built in the early Meiji period to resemble western style architecture, the building’s outstanding architectural style, called “Giyōfū (simulated western style)”, was created using traditional Japanese techniques.
Ogata Kenkurō, a loyal supporter of the Meiji Restoration, built Shikairō.
Kenkurō joined the Kiheitai militia that was organized by Takasugi Shinsaku at the end of Edo period.
The Ōshimaguchi no Tatakai battle was fought between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Chōshū Domain in the Seto Inland Sea area. Kenkurō was involved as a military staff member and distinguished himself in battle.
However, rather than work as a government official after the Meiji Restoration, Kenkurō returned to Murotsu and opened a shipping agency and an inn.
He built this beautiful 4-story wooden building as home-cum-store.
Mr. Sakai Seiichirō, the onetime caretaker of Shikairō, shared some of his detailed knowledge of its history with me.
“Murotsu was a bustling town where people and things continually came and went. As such, it was a place where the latest information was exchanged including rumors from Edo (present day Tokyo) and the current situation in other domains. With access to such a wide variety of information, Kenkurō worked as a loyal supporter of the Restoration, which is why he could build a structure that symbolized westernization. This means that Shikairō is a child of the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s westernization.”
A famous line from the early Meiji period goes:
“zangiri atama wo tataite mireba, bunmei kaika no oto ga suru (If you knock on a head with short hair (no ‘chonmage’ topknot), you can hear the sound of westernization)”
Kenkurō worked as a military official within the Kiheitai militia.
Due to his hairstyle, Takasugi Shinsaku, the founder of the militia and the driving force of restoration, was known as “zangiri atama (short hair)”.
Because of his hairstyle and actions, people with “zangiri atama” (short hair with no ‘chonmage’ topknot) were considered hipsters.
It’s 150 years since the Meiji Restoration, but if you knock on the door of Shikairō, you can still hear the sound of westernization!
Shikairō (An Important Cultural Property of Japan)
Address: 868-1 Murotsu, Kaminoseki-chō, Kumage-gun Yamaguchi
Open: 10:00 – 17:00
Closed: Mondays (If Monday is a holiday, Tuesday will be closed), December 29 – January 3
“Yamaguchi Bakumatsu ISHIN festival” Special Website
This website covers the history of Chōshū, and the people and places connected to the area. It includes special interviews and other interesting content. If you’d like find out more about 2015 Taiga drama “Hana Moyu”, please check it out!
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masashi Fujimoto
Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.
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