Tokyobling's Blog

Nogi Shrine – Nogizaka

Posted in Places by tokyobling on December 16, 2013

One of the more interesting recent shrines in Tokyo is the Nogi Shrine in Nogizaka just north of Roppongi. It is an easy walk from Roppongi station, past Tokyo Midtown and not much further. Nogi Shrine is one of the three shrines most associated with the advancement of Japan from a closed feudal society to a modern industrial nation in the late 19th century. It is dedicated completely to the General Maresuke Nogi and his wife Shizuko. General Nogi was born in 1849 to a samurai family and his wife to be was born in 1859 in a physicians family in modern day Kagoshima prefecture. Being born into a samurai family meant that Nogi was destined to become a warrior and in 1871 he was appointed a major in the new Imperial army that took over from the antiquated Shogunate army after the 1866 restoration of the emperor Meiji. His young age at the appointment shows the pressing need the emperor had to fill his new army with fresh, modern thinking officers rather than the old guard of classical samurai.

In 1887 now Major General Nogi was sent to Germany to study modern warfare and he came back with the idea that Japan needed a modern military based on the old samurai code of bushido. In 1894 he took part in the first war of modern Japan, against the Qing dynasty of modern day China. In 1904 he was tested again, this time against Imperial Russia where he became a national hero after the siege of the Lushun fortress in Port Arthur (then Russia, now China). The siege lasted from July 1904 to January 1905 and was one of the first battles that introduced the horrors of what would later categorize World War One: the Japanese and the Russians learned first hand how costly trenches, howitzers, machine guns and rapid firing bolt action rifles would be. It was also the first time that the world saw other technological advancements used in warfare, such as arc lights, naval mines, radios and even radio jamming. It is hard to calculate the number of people killed but probably many tens of thousands.

General Nogi was very chivalrous with the defeated Russians and allowed the enemy officers to keep their swords and their honor. One of the most famous photographs of that era was taken when the Russian and Japanese officers and officials posed together in one of history’s most epic group photographs. It is hard to tell that they had just fought a terrible battle.

General Nogi came back a hero, being responsible for the first victory of an Asian country against a modern European empire with the use of modern technology and warfare. He lost his two sons in the battle though, and to atone for the many soldiers killed he petitioned the emperor for the right to commit suicide. Famously, the emperor forbade him: “Not until I have left this world”. His wife was not one bit less of a samurai than her husband, as during battle she had sent her husband and son each a bottle of perfume, a symbolic gesture to show that she did not expect them to return (the perfume would be used in the funeral ceremony). General Nogi then spent two years touring Japan to show his grief to the many families who has lost family members in the war, and he invented an artificial arm for amputated soldiers. In 1907 he was appointed the headmaster of the Gakushuin school (in Tokyo’s modern day Mejiro, Toshima ward), where he as dedicated as usual, sharing accommodations with his students. During this time he became the personal hero of the young man who would become Emperor Showa (1901-1989).

In 1912 Emperor Meiji died and on the day of the funeral General Nogi and his wife committed seppuku (or harakiri as it is sometimes called in the west). The general used his sword and his wife fittingly used a dagger. In honor of their many sacrifices a shrine was dedicated in 1923, on the grounds where you can still see their home and stables. The shrine burnt down in the bombing raids of 1945 but was rebuilt again in 1957 (the buildings you see in these photos).

I have visited Nogi Shrine several times, it is beautifully laid out with the general’s private gardens still preserved, and it is a very popular spot for weddings. It is also a beautiful place to visit for your Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the new year on New Year’s night or the fist few days of the year. For real history buffs I can also recommend one of the very few Japanese war movies, Hill 203 (203 kochi or 二百三高地), that tells the story of General Nogi, his family and the war against Russia. For a movie from 1980 it is quite interesting, with the master actor Mifune portraying Emperor Meiji and the less famous but fantastic acting by Nakadai as General Nogi.

The other shrines in the classic trio of Meiji related shinto shrines of Tokyo are Meiji Shrine and Togo Shrine, some people would also add Yasukuni shrine to complete the collection.

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10 Responses

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  1. yoshizen said, on December 16, 2013 at 7:42 am

    As a Japanese, we may take it just as the tradition of the samurai ethos and accept though,
    —– just wait a moment, and give a second thought = we realize how bizarre everything here.
    The sword a man used for killing himself, such macabre item was displayed as a symbol of honor.
    And his wife committed suicide together with him following the death of Emperor.
    —– isn’t it sheer insane ?

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on December 16, 2013 at 8:46 am

      I feel that whenever we look at others we should judge them only from their own point of view, and by the standards of the times and societies they lived in. Personally I think that their final act of loyalty was what defined them and gave meaning to their lives. They were nothing, would have been nothing, had it not been for the emperor and his patronage. They lived relatively long, healthy lives, much longer than the majority of people they shared their time on Earth with. I think that General Nogi rightly believed that he should not have been alive after the war in 1904-1905. The last few years of his life was purely dedicated to his emperor and his duty. If we want to discuss what is insane or not, I think that what we, you and I and everyone I know or ever will know, are doing to the planet, to the environment and to each other right now, is much more interesting. Cutting down forests, polluting the ground, the waters, the rivers, the oceans, the air we breath. This is insanity on a scale so massive that nothing else can ever be even near what we are doing collectively to this fragile Earth we share.

      You and I are the insane ones. And it saddens me when I think about it.

      Like

      • pk1154pk1154 said, on December 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

        Suicide has been accepted as an honorable, rational act in various societies throughout human history. I have assumed the Christianized West has mainly been responsible for completely demonized it as always being an insane, selfish and ‘ungodly’ act.

        That the General put aside his own feelings of responsibility out of duty–to pledge continue to bear that for as many years as the emperor lived–that was noble. That he kept his word was honorable.

        Like

        • tokyobling said, on December 17, 2013 at 12:16 am

          All the book religions have this sort of notion toward suicide I think. I totally agree with you!

          Like

  2. yoshizen said, on December 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    As all the sage or philosopher faced the same question = what is right ?
    And on the end it often came to the conclusion = the matter to the common cause.
    —– yet still, a poor man in the Chinese country side, there is nothing else to buy
    other than coal = no tree left. His own survival is the pollution to the environment.
    We may not have a luxury to consider others.
    We have passed the point of sustainability long ago.

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on December 17, 2013 at 12:17 am

      And the sooner we give up the worse it will be for all of us! So let’s keep fighting.

      Like

  3. amadl said, on December 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    I’d Love to waLk through the pathway on spring/summer/autumn.. And hopefuLLy catch a sight of Shinto wedding ceremony, too ^^

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on December 17, 2013 at 12:17 am

      If you go on weekends and the weather is fine I am sure you will! (^-^)

      Like

  4. Dina Farmer said, on December 16, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Ohhh beautiful!

    Like


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