Category Archives: Japan

Interactive Tour of Tsurugajo

Aizu Wakamatsu’s Famous Castle
[1384-, 1590-, 1639-1874, 1965-present]

These are the notes that I would use to tell the story of Tsurugajo when I did a tour of the castle. The questions were used to make the tour more of an interactive activity than a lecture.

This castle was originally the office of the leader of the local clan. However, the castle that you see today is just one reproduction in a long line of castles that have stood on this ground. (Most castles in Japan are reproductions of the originals which were destroyed in battle or in restorations.)


You will hear the castle being called both Tsurugajou and Wakamatsujou. Originally the castle was named Kurokawa Yakata by Ashina Naomori. When Gamou Ujisato reformed the castle, he named it both Tsurugajou and Wakamatsujou. In 1934, when the castle grounds were designated as a national historical site, the name on the register was Wakamatsujou. Both Tsurugajou and Wakamatsujou are now in current use, but almost everyone refers to the current castle Tsurugajou. (Sometimes the ruins of the older castles are referred to as the ruins of Wakamatsujou.) Tsuru means crane.


(1384 – ASHINA NAOMORI) The original castle was built by a feudal lord named Naomori Ashina. The moat dates from this time, but there were no rock walls.
(1590 – GAMOU UJISATO) Ujisato Gamou added the walls, a seven-storey castle, and several interior buildings.
(1639 – KATOU AKINARI) Akinari Katou rebuilt the castle with five storeys and added the walls and gate at Ootemon. The castle built by Ujisato Gamou was damaged in an earthquake in 1611, necessitating this new building.
(1965 – WAKAMATSU-SHI) The city of Wakamatsu rebuilt the castle which was demolished by the Meiji Government in 1874 after the Boshin Civil War.

QUESTION: Why are there marks on the wall?

QUESTION: Why is the gate placed here?


The main entrance of the castle used to be where ROUKABASHI (the red bridge) is. However, during the Edo period, the main route to Tokyo (Edo) was changed from Seaburiyama to Takizawa Touge. At that time, Akinari Kato changed the main entrance of the castle to Ootemon when he fortified the area in front of Taikomon and Tsubakizaka. Ootemon means “main entrance”. Originally, the area in front of Tsubakizaka was just an open field, but Kato added rock walls and a gate called Ootemon. You can see marks in the rock walls where the gate used to stand. An example of such a gate is KUROGANEMON on the other side of the castle. Three pillars support each side of the gate. The gate is placed in a corner so that it cannot be attacked directly. However, this gate can be protected from several spots within the castle — on top of the rock walls, across the moat, etc. Enemy who tried to attack this gate would quickly find themselves surrounded and forced to jump into the moat where they can be easily attacked. Right now there are a lot of trees in this area, but during the Edo period, they wouldn’t have been here. The view would have been clearer. The walls that surround the castle not only protect the castle, but serve as a vantage point to check the actions of the enemy. The castle was put to great use during the Boshin Civil War of 1868. It is a great marvel that the structures designed during the peaceful Edo period could be put to use in a war over two hundred years after they had been built.


A demaru is an open space that can be used to reinforce defences. At Tsurugajou, there are four demaru (Kitademaru, Nishidemaru, Ninomaru, Sannomaru) and one Honmaru (the innermost circle). If you add all of this space together, you will get 290,000 square meters, which is six times larger than the Tokyo Dome. The walls that surround the demaru are the oldest remaining part of the castle.


These walls are known as Wakamatsujoushi, which means “the remains of Wakamatsu Castle”.

QUESTION: How much did Endo buy the castle for? (Find the answer on the sign board.)


In 1890, a man named Keishi Endo bought all 28.935 hectares of the castle ruins for 2500 yen and donated them to the local lord, Matsudaira. A monument stands on the castle grounds to commemorate Endo’s generosity. The castle grounds might not have been preserved without his kind act.

QUESTION: Why is this slope called tsubakizaka?

QUESTION: Why would they build the steps so roughly?


After entering Ootemon, you will pass through an area called Kitademaru and come upon a slope called TSUBAKIZAKA or YOKOTEZAKA. A tsubaki is a camellia (a kind of flower) and saka is a slope. When a camellia wilts the flower flops over heavily and rather ungracefully (unlike the cherry blossom petals that float gently in the breeze when they have finished blossoming). The camellia has been likened to a person who has had his head lopped off. For this reason, the camellia is not a very auspicious flower. This slope is called tsubakizaka because you had to get permission to traverse it. If you started climbing the slope without permission, you were likely to end up being killed, rather ungracefully (and flop over like the camellia). The slope is now covered with asphalt which was put there for the National Sport Meet (Kokutai). Underneath the asphalt, the slope is divided into two sections, one for people and one for horses. The section for people took up about three quarters of the area of the slope and was covered in uneven log steps. Because the steps were quite roughly and unevenly made, an enemy would have to look down to traverse them. This made it an easy slope to defend. Ootemon was not created until 1639 when Katou Akinari changed the main entrance from ROUKABASHI. So, before Ootemon was created, this slope would have been one of the main access points to the castle. The rocks in these walls are the biggest that you will find on the castle grounds. They were all taken from the same mountain, Keizan in Aizu Wakamatsu, so they are all of a similar colour and texture.


A fudoki is a book that describes various details of an area including climate, topographical features, and daily life (perhaps comparable to an almanac). One edition of the Aizu Fudoki includes information about the construction of Tsurugajou.
QUESTION: Why would they call it the rock of the amusing girl?


The largest rock in the castle walls is located at the top of Tsubakizaka. It weighs over 7 tonnes (2000 GAN in old Japanese measurements) and is called YUUJOISHI. According to an edition of the Aizu Fudoki, a beautiful woman was placed on top of the 7 tonne stone to sing and dance and entertain the men while they transported the stone. Because of this, that particular stone is called “Yuujoishi” or the “rock of the amusing girl”.
BONUS: Find examples of usetsusakou on the castle grounds.


USETSU SAKOU As you can imagine, it would not be very sensible for enemy forces to be able to enter Honmaru directly. In order to confuse the enemy, the walls were built so that you have to turn right then go left. This style of castle is called “usetsu sakou” or “turn right, go left”. This was an added defence mechanism for the castle. This rule holds for the three entrances to Honmaru (Nishidemaru, Kitademaru, Ninomaru).


One of the gates is called “taikomon”. A taiko is a large drum and mon means gate. At the top of the gate was a huge taiko drum with a diameter of approximately 1.8 meters. It was brought over from Korea in the 1500s. The drum was probably used to announce the arrival of various visitors, such as the local lord. It also might have been used to warn the people in the castle of an approaching enemy. The tree near the site of the gate would not have been here. The drum was probably damaged during the Boshin Civil War as no trace of it remains.


Honmaru is the central area of the castle grounds, the area that contains the castle itself.

BONUS: Find examples of the different kinds of ishigaki on the castle grounds. Extra points for naming the style of construction.


Three types of rock walls (ishigaki) can be seen at Tsurugajou. The first, and oldest is NOZURAZUMI (literally, “field facade construction”). Gamou Ujisato used this style of building to make the walls that support the castle itself. This style uses rocks that have been taken from rivers and they remain in their natural shapes (they are not cut into squares, for example). The advantage of nozurazumi is that it allows water to seep through the rocks without getting stuck. This makes the wall strong against the elements. The second oldest style is UCHIKOMIHAGI (literally, “hammer and put together joints”). The base was made of large rocks then smaller rocks were stuffed into the gaps. The larger rocks were shaped with tools (hammers), so they would stay together properly. This provides a very strong base. There were no machines for lifting the rocks, so the workers would build a slope, and roll the rocks up to the top, then pile up more sand. As the walls got higher, the slope got longer. They would eventually remove the dirt from the slope and grind the surface of the wall to get rid of parts that stuck out. Even now, you can see the vertical traces of this cutting and grinding that they did in the Edo period. This style of construction tends to trap water, so there is a possibility that the wall will succumb to water damage at some point. The advantage to this type of wall is that it looks better than the nozurazumi style, which looks quite primitive in comparison. An example of this style can be seen in the walls near TAIKOMON. The third and newest style is KIRIKOMIHAGI (literally “cut and put together joints”) and a good example of it can be seen near Kuroganemon. In this style, rocks are cut and shaped to fit together perfectly.

BONUS: Find examples of the different kinds of mushabashiri on the castle grounds. Extra points for naming the style of construction.


“Musha” means samurai and “hashiri” means rushing or running. When you put them together, they become mushabashiri, which is the word used to describe the stairs in the walls around the castle. These stairs were used by the defending samurai to climb up the walls in case of an attack. There are three styles of mushabashiri. The rock wall just inside honmaru is made in the “AWASEZAKA” or “AIZAKA” style, which means a pair of stairs facing each other in a V-shape. The stairs on one side of the V have been repaired, but the other set remain unrepaired. This style allows lots of soldiers to run up to the top of the wall quickly. (The tree on top of the rock wall at the top of the awasezaka is a keyaki (zelkova) which was not planted, but just started growing one year.) Another type is “GANGIZAKA” which is a long, steep staircase. The stairs that lead to Kanetsukidou (the bell tower) are a good example of this style. The third style is “KASANEZAKA”, but there are no examples of this style on the grounds of Tsurugajou.

QUESTION: Is this building a shrine or a temple?


This shrine is for people who need an extra bit of help with their schoolwork and tests. Just before “test season” in March, hundreds of school-children and their parents flock to this shrine to pray for good results. Foxes are said to be servants of the gods, so this shrine and the Kasama Jinja located on the other side of the castle are sometimes mistakenly called “Kitsune Jinja” or Fox Shrine. For some reason, foxes are said to like aburaage (fried tofu), so many people leave some after they make their wish.

QUESTION: How is this castle different from European castles?


The commander controlled his troops from inside a thin, rectangular area called the “obikuruwa” which means “belt-like enclosure”. The obikuruwa at Tsurugajou is very similar to the same structure in Osaka Castle. This area is the last line of defence before the enemy reaches the weaker buildings within the castle walls. Japanese castles often had very strong stone outer walls, but very weak, wooden buildings on the inside. This is in direct contrast with European castles, which often consist of one large, strong building surrounded by a moat.


WEAK BUILDINGS, STRONG WOMEN The emperor’s forces (SEIGUN) bombed the castle with cannons from Odayama. Occasionally, there would be as many as 2000 cannons firing. However, the castle and the buildings in the courtyard rarely burned down. The reason for this was that putting out fires was the job of the women at the castle. The moment a cannon landed, women would rush out with wet blankets, futons, or straw mats to cover the cannon before it exploded.


There used to be an old rock wall here but it was taken down. It also follow the rule of USETSUSAKOU.


WALL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE OBIKURUWA On the top of this wall, there used to be wooden/metal wall through which soldiers could fire their weapons.

QUESTION: Who is Kayano Gonbei? (They will only be able to answer if they have had the Iimoriyama tour first.)


MONUMENT TO KAYANO GONBEI This is a monument to Gonbei Kayano, one of the clan elders during the Boshin Civil War. He took responsibility for the Boshin Civil War by killing himself by ritual disembowelment. The citizens of Wakamatsu erected this monument to the memory of their Gonbei in 1934.


Honmaru contains about 29000 square metres (8840 tsubo in old Japanese measurements). There used to be many buildings in this space. There were two chambers called DAISHOIN and SHOUSHOIN (they included 86 and 48 tatami respectively). In the exact centre of Honmaru, there was a GOZASHO, room where the feudal lord could conduct political business or study. On the left hand side, behind the tonosama gozasho, there were two houses in a row. A courtesan (TSUBONE) lived in one of these houses, called NAGATSUBONE.

After the Boshin War, many of the ruined buildings were bought by local temples. Gosankai and one of the genkan (entrance halls) were bought and moved to Amidaji in Nanukamachi. Tonosama Gozanoma (the rooms for the local lord) were taken to Chomeiji in Nisshinmachi. Unfortunately, two to three years later both the temple and the repaired building were burnt to the ground. The Hashirinagaya was moved to a sake store called Tsurunoe in Nanukamachi. Some of the ruins of a building from Honmaru were used in building Koutokuji, which includes Ujisato Gamou’s gravesite, on Shinmeidori.

BONUS: Find a cross on this wall.


There are cross marks in about 10 different places at the castle. Most of them can be found on the outside walls of the ishigaki, but occasionally one can be found on the inside walls. They are almost impossible to see if you aren’t looking for them. There is no record or explanation of where these marks came from or why they are there. Some people suggest that they were left by Christians (Ujisato Gamou, the man who rebuilt the castle in 1384, was a Christian. His Christian name was Ujisato Leo). Others suggest that perhaps the men who built the walls were trying to leave their mark on them.


Gosankai means “three floors”. This building was used for secret conferences. From the outside, it looks like the building only has two floors. In fact, in between the first and second floor, there is another, small, secret floor. Once the last person enters the hidden room, the stairs can be taken away by the people inside the room. Spies could be detected easily because the corridor was built in a way that the floor boards creaked when someone walked on them. In 1874, this building was bought and moved to the temple grounds at Amidaji in Nanuka-machi, where it still stands today.


On the wall beside the moat, there are steps that were put there to stop the soil from draining away during heavy rain or from snow melting during the spring thaw.

QUESTION: Why did they take the roof off the bridge?


Roukabashi (meaning corridor bridge) is the red bridge leading to the castle from Ninomaru (where the tennis courts are now). The bridge used to have a roof, but it was removed because the soldiers couldn’t see the enemy well enough. The bridge was built so that not very many people could get across the moat at once. Legend has it that pulling a certain board out of the bridge made the whole thing collapse, if necessary.

QUESTION: What kind of castle is Tsurugajou?


The three types of Japanese castle grounds are YAMAJIRO (castle built on a mountain), HIRAYAMAJIRO (castle built on grounds with mountains and plains), and HIRAJIRO (castle built on a plain). Tsurugajou is considered to be a hirayamajiro because it was built on sloping grounds. This can be proven by the fact that the water level of the moat is different on opposite sides of the castle.

QUESTION: What do you think the biggest problem would be about being at the castle during a war?


During the Boshin Civil War, around 5000 people were trapped in the castle for about one month. There were about 600 to 700 women included in those numbers. Imagine that you are stuck in a place with 5000 other people, especially when that place was only built to hold a few hundred people. What do you think the biggest problem would be? Toilets! Kikuko Mizushima, a member of the women’s fighting force, wrote about her experiences during that time.

QUESTION: How would you solve the problem of water supply?


Anyone of the people trapped inside was willing to give his or her life to protect the castle. Nevertheless, there were three problems with being confined to the castle grounds. The first was how to dispose of human waste, the second was how to get clean water, and the third was living with lice. The living conditions were disgusting. They came up with a clever way to solve the problem of getting rid of waste and getting clean water. The water was pumped in through an earthen pipe. If you go to the castle and look at the water on either side of Roukabashi (the red bridge), you will see that the water level is different on either side. This difference in water level is called “mito chigai”. It may seem like there is just one moat, but that is not the case. The moats are actually separated and the water in one moat does not touch the water in another. This mito chigai design was originally made so that boats could not sail all the way around the castle and cause a blockade. However, this design turned out to have secondary benefits in that waste could be dumped into one side and water drawn from the other.

QUESTION: Why would they call it ninja otoshi?


This ishigaki is 20 metres high making it the tallest in eastern Japan. Because of the great size of the wall, the original builders realized that it would be difficult to repair should it be damaged. In order to make the wall less likely to crumble, two strategies were used. First of all, if the ishigaki was built perfectly straight, it would probably collapse under its own weight, so it was built with a bit of a curvature in the middle. This also protects the wall from damage from earthquakes. Secondly, the rocks in the wall were put together in a style called “GOBOUZUMI”. (Gobou are long rectangular vegetables.) Long, rectangular rocks were used with the smallest side facing outwards. This made the wall extremely stable. This wall is called ninja otoshi (falling ninja) or ninja kaeshi (tumbling ninja) because it is extremely hard to scale due to its size and anyone who tries to climb it can be shot down easily from the wall that juts out at a ninety degree angle from it (YOKOYA KAKARI).

QUESTION: Why would they build the wall this way?


The rock walls zigzag in three spots. These zigzags are called “yokoya kakari”. This pattern was useful for defending the castle grounds against invasion. If the enemy forces were trying to scale the bank, the defenders could stand on the top of the bank and fire arrows. The zigzag meant that the defenders had a wider range of view to work with (fewer blindspots).

BONUS: Find the seven sumiyagura on the inner walls. Extra points for naming them.


There were eleven sumiyagura (literally corner towers) on the banks of Tsurugajou’s grounds. Now only the bases remain, but there used to be buildings on these corner turrets. Sumiyagura served three main purposes. First, they allowed the soldiers to defend the castle walls. Second, they allowed the soldiers to attack the enemy. Third, they were used for the storage of various goods. Each sumiyagura was given a name so that the soldiers could refer to them quickly. Sometimes the purpose of a particular sumiyagura can be guessed from its name, but many of them remain a mystery. Sumiyagura were also sometimes called MONOMIYAGURA or “observation turrets”. The names of the seven sumiyagura on the inner grounds are: Chatsuboyagura (tea holder tower), Tsukimiyagura (moon-viewing tower), Hoshiiyagura (dried rice tower), Seinansumiyagura (southwest corner tower), Yumiyagura (bow tower [as in bow and arrow]), Kitasumiyagura (north corner tower), Oyumiyagura (bow tower [again, bow and arrow]). Each tower had a structure on top that was made by covering pillars with two coats of black lacquer. The structure was so dark, it was difficult for the enemy to see, so they were referred to as NURIKOMEYAGURA, or lacquered container towers.

QUESTION: Why were the rocks cut like this?


You can almost see Iimoriyama from here. The tea stores were held in the warehouse that used to be at this site. You can see the cut marks in the walls where a wooden or metal wall would have stood. This wall was built to protect the soldiers, but there were holes in the walls so they could shoot approaching enemy.


Ujisato Gamou built the rock walls on the inside of the moat on top of the natural embankments of the marsh. This kind of ishigaki is called “hachimaki ishigaki” or headband-like rock wall. This style of construction can only be found in Tohoku and Kantou (eastern Japan).

HINT: Use the name of this yagura to help people find the koujou no tsuki monument.


Tsukimiyagura means moon-viewing tower. The south-east part of the castle is the best position for viewing the moon. It is also the best place for taking pictures because of the perfect frame of the castle building in the background. If you climb on top of tsukimi yagura, you can see a marsh called “ushinuma”.


There is a monument on which is written a famous poem called Koujou no Tsuki (Moon over the dilapidated castle).


Bansui Doi was a young man who visited the castle in Aizu Wakamatsu on a school trip. At that time, he was a high school student in Sendai. Later in his life, he was asked by the Ministry of Education to write poems for the country. He wrote a poem called Koujou no Tsuki, keeping in mind his memories of Tsurugajou and Aobajou in Sendai. He has given lectures about his thoughts while writing this poem (for example, he gave a speech at Aizu Girl’s High School in 1946).

BONUS: Big bonus points for finding the monument.


The citizens of Aizu Wakamatsu donated their money to support the building of a monument to commemorate the poem, Koujou no Tsuki. There are four monuments of Doi’s poetry (in his writing) in Japan: one at Tsurugajou in Aizu Wakamatsu, one at Aobajou in Sendai (erected in 1950), one at the remains of Okajou in Takeda, Oita Prefecture, and one in Iwate Prefecture.

QUESTION: What is special about these square slots?


There are square slots carved out of the rock walls. They are clearly made to support wooden posts, but they have an interesting extra feature. If you look into the square holes, you will see that there is an opening at the bottom of the hole. This ingenious system allows water to drain out so that the bases of the wooden posts do not rot.


Two buildings are being reconstructed: the Hoshiiyagura and the southern hashirinagaya. The decision to rebuild these structures coincided with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Aizu Wakamatsu City. They are scheduled to be finished in March 2001.

QUESTION: What do you think happened when Sen Rikkyu refused to let the shogun marry his daughter?


Sen Rikkyu was a master of tea ceremony and flower arrangement who lived in Osaka. He was the tea ceremony advisor to Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598), the shogun of Japan. The detailed rules of tea ceremony that he created were so refined that they became accepted as the standard method and continue to be used today. Sen Rikyu had a daughter who was exceptionally beautiful. The shogun, Toyotomi, asked for her hand in marriage, but was continually refused by Sen Rikyu. Sen Rikyu was eventually accused of bribery and made to kill himself by ritual disembowelment. Ujisato Gamo was the leader in Aizu at this time. He was a great fan of culture and knew about Sen Rikyu and his incredibly elegant form of tea ceremony. Gamo also knew that Rikyu’s family was also in danger of being killed (or being asked to kill themselves) and that, should it happen, would mean the end of Rikyu’s style of tea ceremony. Gamo invited one of Rikyu’s sons Sen Shoan to Aizu in order to protect him. Sen Shoan built Rinkaku, the tea room on the castle grounds, and taught and practised tea ceremony for the two years that he was being protected. Ieyasu Tokugawa (a future shogun) and Gamo eventually asked the shogun, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, to pardon Rikyu’s relatives so that Shoan could return to his home. Hideyoshi agreed and Shoan returned to Kyoto to revive his father’s techniques. The three most famous styles of tea ceremony practiced today, Omote Sen, Ura Sen, and Musha Kouji Sen, were created by Shoan’s grandchildren (Sousa, Soushitsu, and Soushu, respectively). All of this happened thanks to a forward-thinking feudal lord in Aizu, Ujisato Gamo. The tearoom remained on the grounds of the castle until after the Boshin War. When Aizu was defeated, the remains of the buildings on the castle grounds went up for sale. A local tea ceremony expert, Zenbei Morikawa, bought the tea room and moved it to his garden. In 1990, it was returned to its rightful place, perfectly preserved thanks to the Morikawa family. Originally, the tea room would not have been surrounded by walls. (The walls were placed there because entrance to the tea room costs extra.)


Uma means horse, arai means wash, and ishi means stone. This is a kind of stone tub that was used to wash the horses. Water was taken from a well.


Baba means “horse place” and this is where the local lord (tonosama) would keep his horses and run them. The same kind of place for horses belonging to the warriors was called Sakura-no-baba (near the current Tsurugajou Kaikan).

QUESTION: Do you think this castle was used as a residence?


The purpose of the castle is threefold. First it is a symbol of the Aizu area. Second, it is useful as an observatory. Finally, it served as a control tower in times of battle. It is an easy mistake to think that it might have been a residence, but the fact that there were no windows is proof that it was never meant to be a comfortable palace like some of the castles in Europe.


Tenshukaku refers to the castle building. The walls at the bottom of the castle are built in the nozurazumi style. These walls are the oldest part of the castle grounds. They were built when Ujisato Gamou restructured the castle and the grounds in 1592-93. The rocks were brought by professionals from Anou in Shiga Prefecture. The walls may look like they were built on top of the earth, but in fact they go four metres into the ground. Because they were built in the NOZURAZUMI style, they are not susceptible to water damage because the water can run through the rocks easily without collecting in certain spots and weakening the wall. The corners are also strong. The strength and good design of the walls was proven in 1611 when a large earthquake occurred in Aizu Wakamatsu. Many rock walls were toppled, but the ones supporting the castle remained standing. The original castle was made of wood, but the current castle is made of concrete.

QUESTION: How much do you think it cost to rebuild the castle building?

QUESTION: Why was salt a precious commodity in Aizu?

QUESTION: How many storeys tall do you think the castle is?


Unfortunately, Aizu was on the losing side of the Boshin Civil War. As a result, the castle was demolished in 1874 (five years after the war ended) by the Meiji government. It was destroyed because it was in a state of disrepair, but also because it symbolized the power of the Aizu clan. It was reconstructed in 1965 with the support of the local citizens. The cost of restoring the castle was 150,000,000 yen (around $1,500,000 US). The rock walls (ishigaki) at the base of the castle are 11 metres tall, and they are from the original castle. The original walls were not built to support the weight of a concrete building, so before the current castle was built, four thick metal poles were put into the ancient walls to support the new structure. The walls of the original building were flush with the wall, but the present castle’s walls are somewhat smaller than the rock walls. Because the walls are the oldest part of the castle, every effort was made to preserve them while construction of the new building took place. Salt was stored in the cellar below the castle because the rock walls could keep it cool and dry. Salt was a precious commodity in the mountainous Aizu region. The 5-storey building above the salt cellars is 25 metres tall. Because of the height of the wall, the total height of the castle would equal the height of an 11-storey building.


Displays inside the castle change regularly. These items may not be on display right now.
1st floor – tomb-period excavations (4th to 7th centuries) and Buddhist materials
2nd floor – antique lacquerware and pottery
3rd & 4th floors – Boshin War items, Byakkotai displays
5th floor – observatory
Southern wing – folk materials


This suit of armor was made of iron, covered with lacquer. At the front of the helmets, they have the symbol of their groups.

The castle has a collection of various “tsuka” or “sword guards”. They served both a practical purpose (to protect the sword) and an asthetic purpose (to decorate the handle). Craftsmen were very proud of their ability to carve detailed patterns on the tsuka.

Shachihoko is the name of the mythical fish that decorate the top of the castle. They have the face of a tiger and the body of a fish. There is one female and one male. They are said to protect the castle from fires. The shachihoko do not appear in the famous picture of the castle just after the Boshin Civil War. However, they do appear in the original plans for the building constructed by Akinari Kato in 1639. It is possible that the shachihoko were destroyed in the war and therefore do not appear in the picture.


A red gate around the top of the castle was a feature of the original 7-storey castle built by GAMO UJISATO in the 1590s. When Akinari Katou restructured the castle into a 5-storey building during the Edo period (1639), he decided to keep the original red gate or “akai kouran”. A red gate is the sign of an old castle – most castles that were built during the Edo period do not have a red gate.


The long structure on the left side of the castle was used as a secondary headquarters when the obikuruwa was invaded. There are no windows on one side. It was also used to store weapons. In the case of the Aizu clan, the soldiers stored their personal weapons here (the structure used to run all around Honmaru). If the castle was suddenly in danger, the soldiers would run here (often in their regular clothes rather than their armor) and take up arms. As a part of the Aizu Wakamatsu 100th Anniversary celebrations, the minami (south) hashiri nagaya will be reconstructed. Since the castle was constructed in the Edo period, an essentially peaceful time, the weapons that were originally stored in the hashiri nagaya were quite dated by the time of the Boshin Civil war (two hundred years later). These old weapons (spears, swords, etc) had become treasures. Unfortunately, after the castle was defeated in 1868, the enemy forces made off with the valuable weapons and they were never to be seen in Aizu again. Unfortunately, the weapons didn’t generally end up in museums, but were hoarded in private collections, so they may be lost to the Aizu family forever.

QUESTION: What kind of wall is kuroganemon built on?


Kuroganemon is a gate made from wood covered in iron. The rock walls beside the gate are made in the KIRIKOMIHAGI style of construction. This style is quite modern and involves cutting the rocks to fit into the walls.


Recently, there was a plan to build new public washrooms in different places on the castle grounds. However, a law in Japan states that no large-scale building can be done without first completing an archeological excavation. During the excavation process, the diggers found the remains of other ishigaki, traces of waterways, and ceramic roof tiles decorated with gold (kinpaku no kawara). The Agency of Culture has ordered the remains to be preserved, so the plans for new washrooms have been put on hold. These kinpaku no kawara were quite common in the Kansai area (western Japan, Kyoto, Kobe area), but they are a rare find in the Kantou/Tohoku areas (eastern Japan, Tokyo and north). The only other example in this area is Numata Castle in Gunma Prefecture. There were records of the gold roof tiles in a book called “Ujisatoki”, but no one was able to prove that they had actually existed until they were unearthed in the late 1998.


The mushadamari is a long thin place where the soldiers could live during battles. It would not have been used during the Edo period after Katou’s reforms to the castle, since by that time, soldiers did not live on the castle grounds.

QUESTION: When is the hanami season?


There are approximately 900 sakura (cherry) trees on the castle grounds. These are the kind that do not bear fruit. Tourists flock to the castle during late April for cherry blossom viewing (hanami). Ostensibly, the purpose of gathering is to view the cherry blossoms, but it is really just a good excuse to relax and drink sake under the trees. There are two specific trees on the grounds that are used to gauge “blossoming” during the cherry blossom season. The cherry trees on the castle grounds were planted in 1908.


The set of stairs near the bell tower (kanetsukidou) were built in the gangizaka style. They are very steep and difficult to climb.


Umezaka means plum slope. There are some plum trees around this slope.


Nishidemaru is a parking lot now, but it used to contain many storehouses. There were places to store many of Aizu’s traditional crafts, such as candles and lacquerware, and the tools to make them.
QUESTION: Why would the bell tower be such a strong symbol of the Aizu clan’s power?
QUESTION: Why would the enemy hate the sound of the bell?


Kanetsukidou is a bell tower. It was built in the 1700s. It used to toll every hour on the hour, but now it only rings at 12 noon. Noon was known as “kokonotsu”, which actually means “nine”. This comes from the fact that the bell would ring three times, then pause and ring nine times, so one could easily tell without listening to all of the rings that it was 12 noon and not eleven. During the Boshin Civil War, the bell tower became a symbol of Aizu’s power because the regular tolling of the bell signalled that the castle was still in the Aizu clan’s hands. The enemy forces, on the other hand, hated the sound of the bell, and thought it sounded like mockery. They often tried (and succeeded) to kill the bell-ringer by shooting at him from the opposite side of the moat, but they were eternally frustrated by the fact that some brave soul would then run out and ring the bell exactly on time anyway. The bell was moved to the castle walls that remain near the City Hall after the war, but it was returned to its rightful place in 1941. (Incidentally, the wall that remains near the City Hall also conforms to the “usetsusakou” form.)


Yumiyagura means “bow tower”, and it might have been used to store bows (and possibly arrows) or other weapons.

QUESTION: When is the Aizu Fall Festival?


This festival is held on the national holiday on September 23rd. It is also known as the “Samurai Festival”. Thousands of people dressed up in costumes from various periods of Aizu history parade through the streets on this day. The parade starts at the castle.

Interactive Tour of Iimoriyama

Learn about the history of Aizu through a role-playing game.


  • Explain the idea. (We will give each of you a character. You will be asked to respond to a question in character. Think carefully about what your character might do in such a situation.)
  • Hand out roles using nametags and props.
  • Direct people up to the cave. Explain from Tennou to Samurai.
  • Interlude – explain Sazaedou.
  • Move to the grave site. Explain from Byakkotai to Fujinbutai.
  • Ask for any final questions.

Character List

  • Tennou 天皇 (1, hat) – Meiji Tennou 明治天皇 (Komei Tennou 孝明天皇 was last emperor of Edo period) [16]
  • Shougun 将軍 (1, wig) – Tokugawa Yoshinobu 徳川慶喜 [31]
  • Daimyo 大名 (1, yukata) – Matsudaira Katamori 松平容保 [34]
  • Karou 家老 (1, dictionary) – Kayano Gonbei 萱野権兵衛 [38]
  • Samurai 侍 (3, swords) – Saigou Tanomo 西郷頼母 [65], Jinbo Shuuri 神保修理 [30], Sagawa Kanbei 佐川官兵衛 [37]
  • Byakkotai 白虎隊 (20, headbands) – Adachi Touzaburou 安達籐三郎, Ariga Orinosuke 有賀織之助, Ikegami Shintaro 池上新太郎, Ishida Wasuke 石田和助, Ishiyama Toranosuke 石山虎之助, Itou Teijirou 伊東悌次郎, Itou Toshihiko 伊藤俊彦, Ibuka Motarou 井深茂太郎, Shinoda Gisaburou 篠田儀三郎, Suzuki Genkichi 鈴木源吉, Tsugawa Kiyomi 津川喜代美, Tsuda Sutezou 津田捨蔵, Nagase Yuuji 永瀬雄治, Nishikawa Katsutarou 西川勝太郎, Nomura Komashirou 野村駒 四郎, Hayashi Yasouji 林八十冶, Mase Genshichirou 間瀬源七郎, Yanase Katsuzaburou 簗瀬勝三郎, Yanase Takeji 簗瀬武治, Iinuma Sadakichi 飯沼貞吉 [15,16 years old]
  • Samurai no Musume 侍の娘 (some)
  • Nakano Takeko 中野竹子 [22]

Total = 28 roles
[number in brackets = age in 1868]


The Edo period is currently recognized as the era of the blossoming of culture in Japan (art, theatre, food). It was a long era of peace and thus was able to foster such arts and attitudes. One of the minor drawbacks of this peace was that the samurai class was all but idol. In order to enhance their positions of authority and respect, the samurai class promoted their code of honour, or “Bushidou – the way of the warrior”. Bushidou included “not only martial spirit and skill with weapons, but also absolute loyalty to one’s lord, a strong sense of personal honour, devotion to duty, and the courage, if required to sacrifice one’s life in battle or in ritual suicide”. All of the people who you will meet in today’s game are bound by the honour code of Bushidou. Please keep this in mind while you make your decisions.
The year is 1868. Japan has a long tradition of emperors, yet the current emperor is just a symbol. The country is really ruled by a powerful Shogun. He controls the local people by keeping a tight rein on the Daimyo or local rulers. Due to the increasingly bad politics of the Shogun and his merry men, a movement has started to restore power to the emperor and make the ruling system more fair and open.


You have just come to power. Your advisors tell you that they want to take the power away from your temperamental shogun and give it back to you. Then they will help you to rule the country in a more fair and reasonable way. Do you agree with their plan?

It doesn’t matter.
– emperor doesn’t really have any power
– daimyos and other advisors have decided that this is the way it is going to be, you don’t have any choice but to agree

TO SHOUGUN (Tokugawa)

The previous shogun has died and reforms are being proposed for the system of government. Do you give up your rule and let the emperor reign with a collection of your inferiors as the basis of the new government?

At first you agree that some changes are necessary, especially because you realize the threat to your safety if many of the daimyo are on the emperor’s side. However, once you get wind of a Rebellion in Tokyo that has taken place in your name, you realize that there are still some very powerful people on your side. You decide to launch a full scale war to resist the emperor.

TO KAROU (Saigou)

You are the advisor to the local daimyo. You know that Aizu has supported the Shougun in the past. In fact, troops from Aizu were called down to Kyoto by the Shougun especially to protect the city. You feel some loyalty to Tokugawa, but you know that supporting him will bring your country to civil war. What would you advise the Daimyo to do?

As an older man, you have no desire to run off and go to war. You understand the “way of the world” and you know that peace is better than war. In fact, because of this same issue, you will have resigned the post of Karou before this question can be put to you.

TO KAROU (Gonbei)

You are the new advisor to the local daimyo. What would you advise him to do?

You are younger and not ready to give up your power to the emperor’s idea of a central government. You want to fight.

TO DAIMYO (Matsudaira)

Having listened to Saigou’s advice and Gonbei’s advice, what do you do?

You go to war. This war is called the Boshin Civil War. (Boshin is the Chinese reading of the cyclic characters of the year 1868: EARTH+DRAGON) You believe that your men will support you because of Aizu’s past strong alliance with the shougun.

TO SAMURAI (Jinbo, Sagawa)

Would you support the Daimyo in his alliance with the shogun or would you give in to the emperor’s forces?

Jinbo opposes the Daimyo and is told to kill himself for disgracing the clan (which he does). Sagawa co-operates with the Daimyo and lives.

The war is raging on with no end in sight. It is now the end of August. The Byakkotai have been fighting to the east in a town called Inawashiro. They are losing their battle, so they retreat back to Aizu. They follow a cave tunnel to speed their trip home.

[Move to Sazaedou], [Move to gravesite]


Upon arriving home, they look out to see their castle (Tsurugajo) in flames. What do you do? Remember that you have been given strict training in Bushidou.

You all engage in ritual suicide. It is the worst kind of dishonour to submit yourself to the rule of another master. If your castle has fallen, your clan has fallen and you don’t want to live the rest of your life in shame. Seppuku involves holding a short knife in your right hand and making an incision in your abdomen from left to right. This cut is not meant to kill you, only to make you suffer. Your aid is then expected to finish the job by lopping off your head with a sword.


Due to an injured arm, you fail to complete the suicide procedure. Someone finds you and rescues you. How do you feel?

You are very ashamed of your situation. You don’t actually tell the story to anyone until you are about to die (in the 20’s). One of your dying requests is to be buried along with your soulmates.


You are the daughter of a samurai. You see what is happening to your city. What do you do?

You want to contribute to the war effort, but the men do not agree with your opinion. You are given information about a princess who needs to be protected in a town north of here (Bange). You want to prove your worth, so you head out to Bange to protect her. When you realize the information was not true, you rush back to Aizu, but you are killed on the way home. Other women hear of your story and start to make a women’s group of warriors called Joshigun. They become quite skilled in the use of naginata, a long sword.


Tragedy. The truth is revealed to Sadakichi. The castle was not burning. How do you feel about your decision now?

Many in Aizu now still honour the Byakkotai as legendary examples of the samurai spirit. However, there are some who disagree with this idea, saying that the boys were foolish to give up so easily without absolute proof. The war raged on for 2 more painful months and the human toll rose.


Aizu has been defeated. You are a samurai who has been stripped of his land, rights, and privileges. You are given two options. You can continue to stay in Aizu, where you will be put to work as a farmer. Or, you can try to find solace up north, where your former position might still give you a bit of respect amongst “the people”. Which do you choose?

The idea of staying in Aizu to become farmers and toil along with their former subjects was not appealing to this proud group of men. Unfortunately, the Daimyo wasn’t able to choose his own future, as he was imprisoned as a punishment for his loyalties to Tokugawa. He was never able to accept the end of Shogun system. Saigou travelled all over Japan and eventually became a priest at Nikkou, a glorious temple to the south. Jinbo killed himself after the Daimyo ordered him to. Kayano was blamed for the entire war. He was also forced to kill himself. Sagawa became a detective in Tokyo. About 4000 high-ranking people in Aizu fled to Aomori-ken, where they were thrown into the dredges of poverty. Many of them were forced to eat low quality soy-beans, which were usually only fed to animals.


You have lost your title, your rights and privileges, your meaning in life. What do you do?

One would think that Tokugawa would have killed himself after losing the battle and being the cause of so many sacrificed lives. However, life is not always fair. While many of his inferiors accepted the blame for their roles in the war, Tokugawa lived out a pleasant existence in retirement. He moved around the country, staying briefly in Mito and Shizuoka until he finally moved to Tokyo in 1897. He was made a Duke in 1902 and died in 1913, 45 years after so many people gave their life in his name.


How old do you think your character was in 1868?

(see above)


Do you have any questions?

Additional Notes about Iimoriyama

飯沼貞吉 Iinuma Sadakichi

After the war, he moved to Sendai and settled in Henshin-kyoku in Sendai, where he eventually died.. During the 90th anniversary of the fall of the Byakkotai, some of his ashes were brought here. His name was Iinuma Sadakichi, but he changed it to Iinuma Sadao.

弁天洞門 Bentendonmon

This tunnel was built to bring water to the Aizu basin from Lake Inawashiro. It is 200 metres long and it was made around 1935 (Tenpou 6). If we went through this tunnel, where would we arrive? Takizawa village. The Byakkotai, who were fighting near Inawashiro, knew that they would be captured and defeated if they used the main roads between Inawashiro and Aizu. To avoid that, they used the cave as a secret passage. It was Autumn, so the water level was low, propably coming up to their knees. Where does this water come from? From Lake Inawashiro. The boys knew of this cave from playing here when they were younger. They fought hard on the other side, then helped each other through the tunnel to escape. Twenty boys came through the tunnel to arrive in Aizu.

さざえ堂 Sazaedo

Sazaedo is a temple which was built to enshrine 33 images of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The stairs are quite interesting, since they spiral up and down the building, so you can’t take the same stairs on the way up as on the way down. This building is 16 metres high and no nails were used in its construction.

ひよう車 Hiyouguruma

If you turn this wheel, you will hear a sound, and that sound will be sent to calm the spirits of the Byakkotai. Also, according to Chinese tradition, if you stand on the head of the turtle while you do it, the turtle will eat up your bad dreams.

19人の霊像 Picture of the Byakkotai

Notice how they are wearing western-style clothes on the bottom and Japanese-style clothes on the top. Standing in front is the leader of the Byakkotai, Shinoda Gisaburo. There is also a picture of Iinuma Sadakichi. He died on February 2, 1931 (Showa 6), at the age of 79.

墓 Grave markers

In front of you are the graves of the nineteen warriors that were killed in the Boshin Civil War. The Aizu Clan had four groups, namely Genbu, Suzaku, Seiryu, and Byakko. The Byakko brigade consisted of young boys aged 16~17. The 31 tombstones you see on the right are to recognize 31 other Byakkotai warriors. In total, 343 soldiers in the Byakko brigade died in the war. The monument on your left is a stone with a poem about the Byakkotai engraved on it. The poem can be translated as: “However many people shed tears on the stone, the names of the defeated boys will never vanish”.

ローマ市寄贈の碑 Roman Monument

This monument was a present from the city of Rome in 1928 (Showa 3). The column of this monument was unearthed from the ruins of Pompeii. The passage on the monument reads: “City of Rome, Mother of Culture presents the Facsist Emblem to commemorate the eternal glory of the Byakko warriors.”

ドイツからの碑 German Monument

This monument was a present from Germany in 1935. There used to be a Swastika engraved here, but it was erased during the American occupation of Japan in 1953.

飯沼貞吉の墓 Iinuma Sadakichi’s Grave Marker

This is Iinuma Sadakichi’s grave marker and his monument. The grave was moved here from Rinnoji Temple in Sendai, 150 km from here, according to his Will. This coincided with the 90th anniversary of the defeat of the Byakkotai.

20名の自刃の地 The Suicide of the 20 Boys

You can see the castle from here. This is where the boys arrived, after crawling through the cave. They looked at the castle and they saw fire. In truth, a bukeyashiki near the castle was burning, but the boys assumed it was the castle. They were so upset by this, they killed themselves. Only Iinuma Sadakichi survived. He was helped by a woman named Hatsu who found him. Her son was also a soldier in the Byakkotai, so she was worried about the army, hence she came to Iimoriya. The view from this spot features in a “kanshi” (Chinese-style poem) about the Byakkotai.

日新館 Nisshinkan (Samurai School)

The young samurai boys of Aizu entered a school for samurai called Nisshinkan where they began their study of the Japanese martial arts known as Bushido (the warrior ethic). They entered this school at the age of ten. They often encouraged each other in their studies and discussions at school as well as at home. This spirit of dedication helped to foster a sound mind which is an essential quality for a samurai.

武士 Bushido

The art of Bushido is a great part of Aizu’s historical roots. The Nisshinkan school for samurai was very strict. However, the samurai of Aizu trained vigorously in order to always be prepared. It is believed that the samurai of Aizu were able to hold off the superior numbers of the army of the west for an entire month, due to their excellent training.

幕府政治の終わり End of the Bakufu

In 1868, the Tokugawa Shogunate came to an end after reigning for 300 years. The Shogun surrendered to the army of the west at Edo castle.

白虎隊出陣の歎願 Byakkotai Request

As the army of the west approached the boarders of Aizu, the young boys from the Nisshinkan School asked the local military magistrate to let them help defend Aizu.

白虎隊士の門出 Byakkotai Set off for Battle

These dedicated young boys were known as the Byakkotai, which means “white tiger troop”. Sadakichi Iinuma, one of the members of the Byakkotai, received a poem from his mother. The poem read, “Do not withdraw, even when under the fierce attack of the arrow. This is the way of Bushido.”

Parental love is a thing which has remained the same throughout the ages. However, the content of this poem demonstrates the severity in both training and everyday life of this feudal period. Stories such as these often invoke deep feelings of sympathy.

十六橋の戦い The Battle of Juroku Bridge

The army of the west crossed over Mt. Bonari and captured Inawashiro Castle en route to Aizu. The samurai of Aizu destroyed the Juroku Bridge at the Nippashi River. They fought hard against the army of the wast, but in the end, their efforts were in vain.

白虎隊の出陣 Byakkotai Join the Battle

The Byakkotai gathered at Takizawa Village which was a stronghold for the forces of Aizu. From this point they began their journey toward the battlefield in Tonokuchi to support their fellow troops.

戸ノ口原の奮戦 The Ambush of Tonokuchi

As the members of the Byakkotai approached Tonokuchi Village, they sensed that they were heading into an ambush. They then scattered into the brush and when the signal was given, began a volley of gunfire. However, they were gradually surrounded and overwhelmed by the army of the west.

白虎隊の退却 The Byakkotai Withdraw

The Byakkotai withdrew while tending to their wounded and avoiding the enemy troops. Twenty members of the Byakkotai regrouped and retreated to Mt. Iimori, where they stopped at a viewpoint halfway up the mountain.

飯盛山上の自刃 Death at Iimoriyama

When they looked down from the mountain, they saw clouds of black smoke and flames, which appeared to originate from Tsurugajo castle. Believing their castle had fallen to the enemy, they were overcome with grief. As young noble samurai, they chose to take their won lives rather than surrender to the enemy. This story is often told throughout Japan today.

Story of the Byakkotai


  • Edo period – shogunate rule (local lords, no central government)
  • Bushido – samurai were not busy with war, since Edo era was a 200 year era of peace
  • Tokugawa (shogun) was in power, many people didn’t even realize that there was an emperor
  • Meiji Restoration – give emperor real power, centralize government
  • Boshin Civil War – supporters of Tokugawa rebelled against Meiji government


  • Byakkotai are fighting near Inawashiro and losing
  • return, defeated to Wakamatsu — arrive at Iimoriyama to see castle burning
  • seppuku (August 22 (or 23), 1868)
  • tragic twist – castle wasn’t burning, and the war in Aizu continued until November 6, 1868
  • the Boshin Civil War continued for 11 months until June 27, 1869 when Hakodate fell


  • people of Aizu were forced to give up clan system and follow orders of Meiji government
  • two options – stay here and become farmer (lowest class under shogun system) or move north to try to regain influence
  • 4000 chose to move north to Misawa-shi, Aomori-ken — conditions were extremely difficult, farming almost impossible, many former samurai became poor [hato-zamurai] and had to live on food that was normally used for animals

Tajima Restaurant Reviews

Tajima-machi is a wee town nestled in the mountains of Aizu (Fukushima, Japan). It is the largest town in Minami Aizu (south Aizu), and boasts a population of 14,000. As the focal point of Minami Aizu, Tajima is graced with all of the modern conveniences, including a Lion Do, a York Benimaru, and two 7-11s. It is also home to a rather disproportionately large number of restaurants. I could probably go on for a couple of pages about each of the restaurants, but for the sake of time, I will limit my chatter to a couple of words about my two favourites. Both of these restaurants are owned by young, hip couples and eating at their restaurants feels like hanging out at your friends’ place.

BAMBOO (0241-66-2305)

Owned by Takeharu and Junko Baba
15 minute drive from Tajima station
5 minute drive from Aizu Kogen station
Bamboo is a standard kissaten (cafe) that serves the standard fare, including hamburg, spaghetti, curry, and sandwiches. However, these dishes are not like the normal coffee-shop-that-has-to-serve-some-meals-to-make-it-look-like-a-restaurant kind of food. They are really quite beyond compare. Try the cream spaghetti. (In fact, the cream spaghetti is so good that I rarely order anything else.) You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with an assortment of parfaits and crepe desserts. They serve no less than 11 different kinds of coffee and 14 kinds of tea. An English menu is available.

KURIYA (0241-62-5178)

Owned by Takatomo and Ruriko Baba
30 second walk from Tajima station
Some people say it’s Korean, some say it’s south-east Asian, but they’re all wrong. The dishes served at this izakaya (pub/bar) were created by the resident chef, Takatomo, making it 100% original. The open kitchen lets you watch Takatomo perform as he “creates” your order. Try the Popeye Salad and the Onigiri Croquette (breaded rice ball with cheese centre covered in a tasty sauce). The menu changes often as the Babas (no relation to the Bamboo owners) think up new dishes. This is the kind of restaurant that sticks in your mind. You won’t taste anything like it again — until you pay the Babas another visit.

Leaving Home

This article was written for a newsletter in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan. The series is called “Leaving Home” (Furusato o hanare).

I was born in Dunnville, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. When I was quite young, my family moved to Toronto. When I was six, we moved to Whitby, a town of 40,000 people (now a lot more) on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I went to elementary school, junior high school, and high school in Whitby. After I graduated from high school, I went to work in England for a year. When I returned to Canada, I went straight into Queen’s University in Kingston, a two-hour drive from where my parents lived. When I was in my second year of university, my parents moved from Whitby to a small island on a small lake north of the Great Lakes called Scugog Island. Upon graduating from university, I accepted a job on the JET programme as an ALT in Tajima-machi. I stayed in Tajima for two years and then found my present job, as a Co-ordinator for International Relations at the International Association in Aizu Wakamatsu.

So, this is my fourth year in Japan and ever since I arrived in 1995, Japanese people have asked me, “How does this place (Tajima/Wakamatsu) compare with your ‘furusato’ (hometown)?” I always have trouble answering that question, because as you can see, I don’t really have a furusato.

What makes a town a “furusato”? Is it a fact, like your place of birth? In that case, my “furusato” is Dunnville. But I was so young when I moved away from there that I can hardly remember it. It’s just a town like any other town. So, is a furusato about length of residence? If so, then my furusato is Whitby. But even Whitby is becoming dim in my memory, since I haven’t lived there since 1990, and I haven’t even visited it in more than 3 years. Or is it defined by where your parents live – even if your parents live on a strange little island that you have only been to two or three times? Or is it something else?

If I understand it correctly, a furusato is not about facts or measurements or decisions made by your parents. It’s about comfort. It’s the place where you feel the most “at home”. It’s the place where you can walk around and feel like you belong, like there’s a place for you in the town, and that place will always be there for you, no matter how far you may roam.

If we think of furusato that way, then there is one place that stands out above the others for me. You may be surprised, but I would choose Tajima above all the rest! I am pretty fond of Tajima, and since that was where I first heard about furusato, I think of it as my first real hometown. When I am there, I can get that “at home” feeling – where the people at the bank and the post office know me and the guy at the gas station stops and talks to me every morning on my way to work.
So even though we may be very far away from what others would call our furusato, some of us are lucky enough to find another place to call home. So rather than “furusato o hanare” (leaving home), in my case I think a good title would be furusato no hakken (discovering home)!