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.