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Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

Dōryō-dō – the Haunted Temple of Hachiōji

In Japanese History on October 15, 2015 at 5:47 am

道了堂
Dōryō-dō (Dōryō Temple)

Dōryō-dō. Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn't have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

Dōryō-dō.
Just a note about pix. Due to Japanese privacy laws, the public doesn’t have access to a lot of pictures related to this story so I had to get creative. Anyways, hope you still enjoy.

I’ve never shied away from the darker side of the history of Edo-Tōkyō. I’ve always been forthright in my lack of a belief in the supernatural. But I have to admit, dark stories about ghosts and things that go “bump” in the night fascinate me. Today we’re going to stay in 八王子 Hachiōji and talk about ghosts. And why not? Halloween is right around the corner!

Wanna read my article on Hachiōji?

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

Road leading to Hachiōji village during the bakumatsu.

An Inauspicious Name

Hachiōji is home to the remains of a demolished temple that Japanese ghost hunters can’t get enough of. It’s called 道了堂 Dōryō-dō. The name means “Temple of the kami named Dōryō,” but it can also be read as “End of the Road Temple.” It was located on a well-traveled highway in the Edo Period, so “end of the road” could have been Edo branding for “stop and eat something or lodge here.” But since 1983, it’s conveyed the nuance that “this is the last place you will be alive.”

Let’s Look at the Kanji

道了
dōryō

end of the road


temple
The so-called

The so-called “Silk Road” in its present state.

Shall We Look at the Timeline of the Temple?

This haunted spot is located on an Edo Period highway that was colloquially called  絹之道 Kinu no Michi the Silk Road.  The route connected 八王子 Hachiōji with 横浜 Yokohama. In the late Edo Period it became a very active trade route.

Dōryō-dō isn’t a very ancient temple. Surprisingly, it was established in 1874 (Meiji 7)[i], when a wealthy merchant named 大塚吾郎吉 Ōtsuka Gorōkichi wanted to split and transfer the syncretic 神 kami deity named 道了尊 Dōryō-son[ii] from another temple in Hachiōji called 永泉寺 Eisen-ji[iii]. The kami was installed into a new sub-temple in the merchant town of 八王子鑓水村 Hachiōji Yarimizu Mura Yarimizu Village, Hachiōji. That temple was named 道了堂 Dōryō-dō and it prospered as a relay point on the so-called Silk Road. In 1890 (Meiji 23), 2 groups of stone lanterns were set up at the top of the stairs. This was to be the last major addition to the temple. The temple flourished briefly and then nosedived due to economic changes.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu.

Yarimizu during the bakumatsu. I assume this picture was taken from the Kōshū Kaidō or the “Silk Road,” but I’m not sure.

Decline of the Silk Road and Dōryō-dō

In 1908 (Meiji 41), the 横浜鉄道 Yokohama Tetsudō Yokohama Railway (today the JR 横浜線 JR Yokohama-sen JR Yokohama Line) opened and connected Hachiōji and Yokohama by faster, western technology. The railroad essentially killed off foot traffic along the Silk Road. Temples and shrines were often built on main roads because travelers and pilgrims would stop by and patronize the religious institutions. This provided a constant source of income[iv], but the rise of the railroads meant that shrines and temples located far from stations saw a sharp decrease in revenue. Relatively unknown temples like Dōryō-dō suffered in particular. People just didn’t know about them.

The once popular temple faded into obscurity. It experienced 3 事件 jiken “incidents” that ghost hunters say resulted in its demise – 1963, 1973, and 1983[v]. We’ll talk about those in a second, but for now the ruins rest in modern 大塚山公園 Ōtsuka-yama Kōen Ōtsukayama Park. For most people, the park is famous for its large population of 兎 usagi cute widdle bunny wabbits. But for those of more macabre interests, the park has a much more sinister claim to fame.

doryodo hachioji

They Say You Can Hear Women Crying in the Park

Maybe it’s because of the legacy of 八王子城 Hachiōji-jō Hachiōji Castle which dates back to the 1590’s, but Hachiōji is apparently ground zero for aficionados of so-called 心霊スポット shinrei supotto haunted places in Tōkyō. Maybe the tradition started there. Who knows. But believe it or not, the ruins of Hachiōji Castle are not the epicenter of “Haunted Hachiōji.” That great honor goes to Dōryō-dō.

I couldn't find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it's a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

I couldn’t find any pix of Dōryō-dō and then I found this gem. I was sad when I realized it’s a Dōryō-dō in Gunma Prefecture, not Hachiōji.

In 1963[vi], an 82 year old woman who was in charge of maintaining the premises was approached by a robber. The woman resisted the criminal and was killed as a result. The temple’s meager savings were stolen and the old woman’s body lay where it fell. Almost from the beginning, rumors began to spread among the locals that if you listened closely, you could hear the ghost of the old woman sobbing in the forest. Some say she was crying because she didn’t want to die. Others say she was sobbing because she failed to protect the temple’s money – the temple would only last another 13 years, the structure itself exactly 20.

old lady

Exactly 10 years later, in 1973, a 4th year female university student had an unfortunate affair with the wrong professor at 立教大学 Rikkyō Daigaku Saint Paul’s University. The professor’s name was 大場啓仁 Ōba Hiroshi. He was a 38 year old professor of 19th century British & American Literature, married with 2 small children[vii] – completely normal by most accounts. He apparently stuttered, but was in good shape and had a cool, brooding look about him that girls who study literature loved.

Their relationship appears to have been genuine, however at the time Saint Paul’s University had a strict policy against sexual relations between teaching staff and students. When word of the relationship got to the university administration, an inquest was begun – one that could have resulted in very strong disciplinary action.

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul's University)

Rikkyō Daigaku (St. Paul’s University)

This was all very complicated. When the 24 year old undergrad[viii] confided in private to Hiroshi that she was pregnant, he wasn’t sure what to do. She began to beg him to divorce his wife so she could marry her instead. Hiroshi’s wife, who was also employed at St. Paul’s, started to get suspicious that he was banging a student and soon became despondent. She started to act out rashly and even attempted suicide in an order to force her husband to break off the relationship. The suicide attempt got his attention and he apparently wanted to reconcile with his wife, yet he continued to stay in contact with the girl[ix].

All of this stress, combined with a medical condition[x], took a toll on the poor girl who temporarily moved back in with her parents in 静岡県甲府市 Shizuoka-ken Kōfu-shi Kōfu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. She returned to Tōkyō for scheduled medical treatment at 慶応大学病院 Keiō Daigaku Byōin Keiō University Hospital. She met some Tōkyō family and friends, stayed in contact with her family in Shizuoka, and then suddenly – no one heard from her again[xi].

ghost

On 7/20/1973, Hiroshi met her at 新宿駅 Shinjuku Eki Shinjuku Station to take her to his country home in Yarimizu, Hachiōji. His plan seems to have been “remove the girl from the equation and everything goes back to normal[xii].” After they arrived at the house, he strangled the poor girl to death. Then, he took her lifeless body up the obscure wooded path near the precincts of Dōryō-dō, dug a very shallow grave, dumped the body, kicked a little dirt and some leaves over it and headed back to central Tōkyō to meet a colleague.

Once he was back in Tōkyō, he met his colleague. But like a dipshit he hinted at the fact that he had murdered the 24 year old. He was vague, but when he asked his friend to tell everyone that they’d been together all day, she knew he was looking for an alibi for something. Ōba began asking other people to swear they’d been together the other day[xiii]. His interactions with other people became increasingly suspicious. He supposedly returned to Yarimizu once more to make sure the body was hidden well and covered it up a little more.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It's said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it's rarely in the correct place... or in one piece.

This is the Headless Jizō. People gave it a new head. It’s said to curse anyone who touches it and anyone who drives to the site in a white car. People move the head and body around the temple ruins so it’s rarely in the correct place… or in one piece.

On 9/6, some fishermen in Shizuoka discovered the corpses of 4 bodies. These turned out to be the bodies of the Ōba family: Hiroshi, his wife, and their 2 small children. The police assumed he either coerced them to jump off a cliff together into the sea in an act of 一家心中 ikka shinjū familial suicide or he threw them off one by one and then jumped himself[xiv]. It’s hard to say what went down that day since there were no survivors. But the mother was known to be despondent and Hiroshi had obviously crossed the line. Many suspect that he realized he hadn’t thought through the killing of his undergrad lover very well and knew his colleagues would betray him sooner or later. After all, the co-ed was still missing. No one – except for Hiroshi (and possibly his wife in the end) – knew for a fact that she was dead at this point. Nonetheless, there was a police investigation and he had exposed himself to trusted colleagues. The familial suicide very well may have been agreed upon by both Hiroshi and his wife as a way to avoid the reality of dealing with his big fuck up. After all, if he were arrested, the family would have been disgraced and his wife and children could have been left destitute.

suicide cliff

Here! I’m Here!!

However, the crime wasn’t solved yet. The girl was still missing. No one knew if she was dead or alive.

Ōba Hiroshi and his family’s bodies had been found, but the 24 year old undergrad was still missing. The police had leads from his colleagues because he had hinted to his transgression. They focused on Yarimizu, Hachiōji but were beginning to give up hope. The area is very rural today, but at the time it was much more so. However, about 7 months later, a woman’s partially mummified body was discovered near Dōryō-dō. One month later, it was determined that this was the body of the missing student from St. Paul’s. After her corpse was discovered, newspapers reported that local people had heard a young woman’s voice call out from the woods ここですよ、ここにいます koko desu yo, koko ni imasu “Here! I’m here!” Her remains were begging to be found[xv].

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hand2

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One final note about numbers. The ghost hunter types like to bring these up, so I might as well mention them. They say you can still hear voices in the area because there might be another body there. The first 事件 jiken incident was in 1963. The second incident was in 1973. The temple closed in 1983. The Japanese word for death is 死 shi which sounds like 四 shi 4. There might have been a fourth incident that is still crying out to be discovered at Dōryō-dō, begging to find peace.

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[i] The temple was actually completed in 1875 (Meiji 8).
[ii] That was the Buddhist name. The Shintō name was Dōryō no Mikoto.
[iii] Established in the 1570’s under the rule of the 後北条 Late Hōjō.
[iv] Let’s face it; this was probably Gorōkichi’s actual motive for establishing the temple in the first place.
[v] Ghost hunters are full of shit and… well, the first 2 dates make sense, but the 3rd date wasn’t a criminal anniversary like the others are. Anyways, I’ll get to all these points and more in due time.
[vi] 20 years before the temple’s demise.
[vii] Ages 4 and 6.
[viii] Because of Japanese privacy laws, none of the names of Ōba’s victims or the people affiliated with his crimes are open to the public. So I will refer to his lover by terms like “undergrad.” In the Japanese media, she is referred to as K子さん K-ko-san.
[ix] Again, it seems they did have a genuine connection. Words like “polyamory” didn’t exist in either English or Japanese until quite recently. Which is sad. Now there are constructs for understanding these kinds of feelings. That said, a traditional Japanese woman of the day was not very independent and – even like some traditional women of today – was willing to take male promiscuity for granted.
[x] Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
[xi] Her family knew she was in contact with Hiroshi which made police suspicious.
[xii] This is called “19th century literary thinking.” Dude was an expert in it – not equations.
[xiii] Idiotically, he had set up alibis in different cities with different people so not a single alibi checked out.
[xiv] It’s somewhat implausible that he threw them over the cliff one by one and then killed himself. The victims would have fled or fought him. The family suicide is the most probable scenario. This speaks volumes of the culture at the time. Hiroshi, his wife, and his lover were all from rural Shizuoka, if I’m not mistaken. They were very traditional people.
[xv] Newspapers were reporting that ghosts were real. Ugh.

What does Oshiage mean?

In Japanese History on August 27, 2015 at 6:09 am

押上
Oshiage (push up)

oshiage station

Whenever I make the arduous journey to and from 成田空港 Narita Kūkō Narita Airport, I pass a station next to Tōkyō Skytree called 押上 Oshiage. Every time I pass it, I think, “hmmmm, I should write about this place name” but then I soon forget because of all the excitement of traveling. Every time I pass it on the way back home, I think, “hmmmm, I should write about this place name” but then soon forget because I’m so exhausted and it takes like 3 hours or some shit to get home from Narita[i]. Today I can finally talk about this place name that I’ve been dying to talk about for a long time.

Most people take a train to the station so they've probably never seen this sign. lol.

Most people take a train to the station so they’ve probably never seen this sign. lol.

First Let’s Look at the Kanji


oshi

push, compel, be diffused (light/water)


age

go up, raise, tide comes in, land a boat
Oshiage in the 60's-70's

Oshiage in the 60’s-70’s

Most of the theories about this etymology focus on the verb 押し上げる oshiageru which means “to push up,” but I included some other nuances of the kanji above that might be useful in understanding the etymologies we’ll be looking at today.

Sadly, I could only find 3 theories, all of which stand on shaky ground, in my humble opinion. All of them are based on the kanji. Kanji usually leaves much to be desired with pre-Edo Period names. But in this case, the kanji seem to be consistent with Kamakura Period documents[ii]. There’s nothing earlier than that.

Today you can visit Tōkyō Sky Tree from Oshiage Station

Today you can visit Tōkyō Sky Tree from Oshiage Station

Let’s Talk Etymology, Baby.

Before 徳川家康公 Tokugawa Ieyasu-kō Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu came into the area, there was already a district called 押上村 Oshiage Mura located on the east bank of the Sumida River.  So where did that name come from? Interestingly, nobody set out to ask and answer that question until the Edo Period – or at least nobody bothered to write anything down until then.

Sumidagawa Shrine

Sumidagawa Shrine which houses the kami (deity) of the Sumida River.
(click the picture to see more photos of the shrine)

The Sumida River Did It

Anyone who has read my articles about the Sumida River and any of the lands[iii] along 江戸湾 Edo Wan Edo Bay knows, the shape of the Sumida River and the shape of the bay have changed dramatically over the centuries. In the days when the river emptied directly into the bay, it’s said that the gushing freshwater torrents would crash into the salty waters of the bay at high tide. The turbulence created at the mouth of the river was said to create 押し上げられた潮 oshiagerareta shio salt water currents/splashes[iv]. Today, the bay is quite some distance from this area because it’s been built up with landfill since the Edo Period until quite recently.

A 2nd similar theory states that the force of the river hitting the waters of the bay created an embankment on the east side of the Sumida River as it pushed up sand, mud, and debris over the years. This 押し上げられた土 oshiagerareta tsuchi pushed up ground eventually became usable and was reclaimed by the locals. Thus the area was named after the land created by the meeting of river and bay.

The first version is interesting because it echoes a sentiment we’ll see in the 3rd theory – a much more mythical story. The 2nd version is interesting because we just saw a similar etymology based on reclaiming land created by the Sumida River in my last article on Mukōjima – located a stone’s throw from Oshiage.

yamato takeru captain japan

Captain Japan Did It

Long time readers should be aware that 大和武尊 Yamato Takeru Yamato Takeru Captain Japan often shows up in Kantō etymologies. He’s a semi-legendary character who is most famous for his 東征 Tōsei Eastern Expedition[v] which is purported to have taken place in the early 1st Century. A famous story that took place during the Eastern Exhibition is when his boat encountered rough waters off the coast of the 三浦半島 Miura Hantō Miura Peninsula[vi]. His concubine[vii], 弟橘姫 Ototachibana-hime Princess Ototachibana, knowing that Captain Japan had fallen in love with another concubine, decided to perform a final act of selflessness. In order to appease the local 海神 kaijin sea god, she committed 犠牲死 giseishi sacrificial suicide, by jumping into the ocean and drowning herself. The local deity was satisfied[viii] with the sacrifice and allowed Captain Japan and his army to pass the waters safely.

Ototachibana’s personal effects were said to have washed ashore in this area and the place where those items 押し上げられた oshiagerareta were pushed up on the beach came to be known as 押上 Oshiage. This etymology is almost identical to the etymology of nearby 吾妻橋 Azumabashi which literally means “my beloved wife” bridge[ix].

Princess Ototachibana drowning in the ocean. (interestingly, this is a common theme in yakuza tattoos)

Princess Ototachibana drowning in the ocean.
(interestingly, this is a common theme in yakuza tattoos)

Interestingly, while I put zero credence in this particular Captain Japan Theory, the rapid, thrusting current of the Sumida River combined with its wide girth pounded hard into the warm, salty waters of Edo Bay when the tide was high[x]. This kind of turbulence would have made traveling through the mouth of the river very hard. A person could easily have been thrown off a boat into the rough waters and their body and personal effects could have easily been discovered at low tide or have washed up ashore as the tide came back in. Some belongings of a woman or a person of either gender could have been found and ascribed to Princess Ototachibana. That, I think, is plausible. Would that warrant a place name? Who knows. But I think this is a very unlikely origin of the place name Oshiage. Still, the proximity to Azumabashi is intriguing.

So there you have it. Did you find any of those explanations compelling?

I found them interesting. But I can’t help but wonder whether or not this is a much more ancient place name and the kanji are ex post factō 当て字 ateji kanji used for phonetic value rather than meaning. This would have happened because the meaning was either forgotten long before the place name was written down or because the place name was actually a word belonging to the people who lived here before the Yamato State took the area by force[xi].

Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji

Tokyo Skytree and Mt. Fuji

If you’re interested, here are a few related articles:

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[i] Not including all the time I wasted going through immigration. I always end up in line behind complete morons who take forever.
[ii] Much of Kantō’s history is shrouded in myth and legend before the Edo Period when the Tokugawa Shōgunate was established in the area. However, the earlier eras aren’t a complete blackhole. The Kamakura Shōgunate left many documents that shine a light on much of the mysterious eastern regions – if only for a moment.
[iii] There are too many to list, but off the top of my head, Tsukuda, Tsukiji & Tsukishima, Shinagawa, etc…
[iv] The connotation being “rough waters.”
[v] This is essentially a literary description of the Yamato State’s eastern conquest of 本州 Honshū, the main Japanese island, which had up to that point been populated by Yayoi peoples described as アイヌ Ainu or 蝦夷 Emishi.
[vi] In modern 神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken Kanagawa Prefecture.
[vii] By some accounts, his wife. I referred to her as his wife in my article on Azamabashi.
[viii] In the earliest texts of Japanese mythology, human sacrifices to sea deities are fairly common.
[ix] There are places all over Japan where her belongings were said to have washed ashore. When they did, the local people buried them in mounds called 吾妻塚 Azuma-zuka “beloved wife mounds.”
[x] And holding on. I’m gonna be your number one♪
(and the waters of Tōkyō Bay aren’t particularly warm, btw).
[xi] The Yamato State, having adopted Chinese Learning, spread kanji throughout their holdings.

Ōedo Line: Aoyama Icchōme

In Japanese History on July 7, 2015 at 2:18 am

青山一丁目
Aoyama Icchōme (Green Mountain, first block)

Aoyama Cemetery. A daimyō residence could cover this much territory.

Aoyama Cemetery. A daimyō residence could cover this much territory.

This area derives its name from the 青山氏 Aoyama-shi Aoyama clan who had their lower residence here. The family originated in Tokugawa Ieyasu’s native 三河国 Mikawa no Kuni Mikawa Province. The western portion of their estate was converted into Aoyama Cemetery. The Aoyama clan’s family temple 梅窓院 Baisō-in Baisō Temple is also located in the area. I haven’t been myself, but I suspect there be daimyō graves in them hills, yarrr. But that’s a story for another day.

The stupidest dog in Japanese history.

The stupidest dog in Japanese history.

Aoyama Cemetery’s most famous graves are those of ハチ公 Hachi-kō the stupid dog at Shibuya Station who didn’t know how to read between the lines and 乃木希典 Nogi Maresuke the suicidal general from Satsuma whom the Meiji Emperor forbade to kill himself until he died; but once the emperor died, he murdered his wife, killed himself, and became a hero of the Japanese Empire. By the way, the Nogi house is preserved as a museum in the area[i] and you can visit it and on the anniversary of the murder-suicide, the curators display the bloodied kimonos they wore on that fateful day. Personally, I’m more interested in seeing Hachi-kō’s grave[ii].

Amuro Namie is an Okinawa native, but here label is based in Aoyama. This is the epicenter of the Japanese music industry,

Amuro Namie is an Okinawa native, but her label is based in Aoyama. This is the epicenter of the Japanese music industry,

Aoyama is interesting, though. While most of the area is skyscrapers and fashionable apartments, you can find some huge residential plots of land with 2-3 story houses and yards if you dig deep. In the business of J-Pop, Aoyama has a huge reputation. Many recording studios are located in the vicinity – many of which have close connection to the Avex Group[iii] which had its headquarters here until 2014.

gogyo ramen

One of my favorite rāmen shops is located here, 五行 Gogyō. It’s located near Nogizaka Station and it serves a kind of soy sauce rāmen called 焦がし醤油拉麺 kogashi shōyu rāmen torched soy sauce rāmen. It’s normal soy sauce rāmen but they light it on fire which gives a deeper and more intense taste to the soup. It also turns it black. This shop is always in my top 3 favorite rāmen shops in Tōkyō.

kaotan

There is another rāmen shop in the area. かおたんKaotan. This shop is located across the street from Gogyō. The drawback is that it’s decrepit to the point that when I brought Mrs. JapanThis! here for the first time, she was hesitant to even enter the shop. Once we got inside, she was pleased to see that like Gogyō it was non-smoking – despite its Shōwa Style image. The rāmen here is considered Chinese soy sauce style. This shop is in my top 10 of Tōkyō rāmen shops not only because of taste, but because of vibe. I’m surprised this shop still exists in a temporary looking shop on such hot real-estate.

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This article is part of an ongoing series that starts here

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[i] It’s called 乃木坂 Nogizakazaka Nogi Hill because he was such a hero to the imperial government.
[ii] I like dogs.
[iii] Arguably, Japan’s most successful home-grown major pop label.

Why is Nogizaka called Nogizaka?

In Japanese History on March 27, 2013 at 3:05 pm

乃木坂
Nogizaka (Nogi Hill)

Sign inside Nogizaka Station

Sign inside Nogizaka Station

Today’s place name is an easy one.

Nogizaka (Nogi Hill) is… you guessed it! a hill.

It’s located in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, a walkable distance from Roppongi and Azabu-Juban and Aoyama Cemetery. Officially, there isn’t an area called Nogizaka, but because the train station is named Nogizaka, the immediate area is sometimes informally referred to as such.

The hill is named after 乃木希典  Nogi Maresuke (1849-1912) who lived on the hill. Nogi was a bad ass general in the Imperial Army. He was born into a samurai family in the final years of the Edo Period and actually participated in the official smack down of the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877. He lost the Imperial Banner in a battle and wanted to commit seppuku to atone for his fuck up, but the Meiji Emperor wasn’t having it. “You’ll have to wait, little Maresuke,” said the emperor, “I need you now.”

General Nogi and his wife, Shizuko.

General Nogi and his wife, Shizuko.

OK, the emperor didn’t actually say that, but he effectively said that. And don’t worry… little Maresuke will get his chance to commit suicide eventually.

Maresuke’s biggest success was forcing Russia to surrender after the Siege of Port Arthur – a battle that I have to confess I know absolutely nothing about.  Well, OK, I know something about it. I know that the Imperial Army faced much harder resistance than expected and took massive casualties. Despite winning the battle, little Maresuke met with the emperor to beg for forgiveness for losing so many men. He told the emperor he wanted to kill himself… again. But this time, the emperor said, “You’ll have to wait, little Maresuke. The battle was an imperial order. You’ll have to live at least as long as I.”

Little Maresuke in fundoshi.

Little Maresuke in happier times…

And so little Maresuke waited and waited and waited.

And waited.

Then on July 30th, 1912, his chance finally came. The Meiji Emperor died and little Maresuke could finally commit seppuku after all. But there was one problem. The funeral wouldn’t be for another 45 days.

So he waited a little bit more.

Then his chance finally came. For real.

After the funeral procession had left the Imperial Palace (formerly Edo Castle), Maresuke and his wife, Shizuko, snuck out the back and headed to their home on the hill (that’s Nogi Hill to you, buddy). They went into a nice room with a view and committed 殉死 junshi (following your lord into death). He “helped” his wife “stab herself” in the neck (seems legit), a ritual called 自害 jigai. Then he performed seppuku by making three slits in his belly.

Shizuko was quite the minger in her day.

Shizuko was quite the minger in her day.

I’m not sure who had to clean up the tatami room after this little escapade, but I’m sure it wasn’t fun. Anyways, the house is still there and you can even visit the seppuku room and see the bloody kimonos they were wearing if you go in September for the special suicide anniversary extravaganza. Nearby in Akasaka is 乃木神社 Nogi Jinja Nogi Shrine where Shizuko and little Maresuke are enshrined along with their 2 kids. If you take a short walk to Aoyama Cemetery, you can visit the couple’s grave. All these sites are accessible from 乃木坂駅 Nogizaka Station.

The Nogi Residence back in the day.

The Nogi Residence back in the day.

Don't worry, they cleaned the tatami mats a long time ago.

The Nogi residence today. Don’t worry, they cleaned the tatami mats a long time ago. There’s no suicide blood anymore.

When we learn about history, we have to take the culture and the ethos of the time into consideration. While General Nogi was unquestionably a great Japanese general in these early days of the Imperial Army and Japan’s modernization and industrialization, he was essentially trapped between two worlds – the world of Tokugawa Japan and the world of Meiji Japan. He wasn’t the only one. Everyone at that time was in the same situation.

The problem I have with little Maresuke is that his junshi (ritual suicide upon a leader’s death) is the first warning symptom we get of the fanatical emperor worship that plagues Imperial Japan and eventually leads to the near annihilation of Japan in WWII. In my mind, there was no reason for him to kill himself and even less reason for his wife to do it (keep in mind he “helped” her). Maybe I’m falling into the trap of looking at this through modern eyes, then again… this wasn’t that long ago. Apparently, opinions on this “double suicide” were divided. Some people who still romanticized the ways of bushido saw it as noble, other saw it as embarrassing – a sign that Japan hadn’t yet joined Western “modernity” or at least wouldn’t be seen as “modern” in the eyes of the foreign powers that forced Japan open in the Bakumatsu.

Whatever our modern opinions of his actions, they are distinctly Japanese. And let’s just leave it at that.

RIP

Little Maresuke and Minging Shizuko’s final resting spot.

Nogi Shrine: http://www.nogijinja.or.jp/

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