Yesterday I mentioned one of the things that the little village of Rendaiji in Shimoda City was famous for – the hot springs. These hot spring were what ultimately led the village to attract its second great claim to fame, as the hiding place of the great Edo period intellectual Yoshida Shoin (吉田松陰) on his grand adventure to hitch a ride with the US Navy for a study trip to North America.
Yoshida Shoin was born in 1830, the scion of prestigious samurai family who traditionally occupied themselves with training of the Shogun military forces. He got an excellent education and soon develop a fatal wanderlust. In 1851 he applied for permission to study in the north of Japan but committed the crime of leaving before his paperwork had been finished. For this he was stripped of his samurai rank and were forced to leave his family. For a few years he made a living teaching until a he by chance learned of the US Navy Officer Matthew Perry having arrived in Japan. His petition to join the Americans and return with them to study the West was denied but this being Yoshida he was not going to take no for an answer. He traveled in haste to Shimoda where the American ships where anchored but due to a bad skin condition he was forced to stop by in Rendaiji where at night he snuck into the therapeutic hot spring baths to try and get his skin a little better. A local doctor found him and put him up in an old inn, which has been preserved. This blog post is about that inn, which still remains today exactly as Yoshida would have found it in 1853. Feeling better he snuck out again at night, and hid in a cave near the American ships until it was dark enough for him to row out to the ships. The American sailors caught him and forbade him to even deliver the letters he had painstakingly written in the old inn (the inkstone and table still remains). He had no choice but to return where he was swiftly captured by the local garrison. After spending a while in prison in Edo (soon to be Tokyo) he was let out to run a little school where he managed to attract some of the most brilliant scholars and revolutionaries of the time. The shogun sensing that there was trouble brewing began rounding up rebel thinkers and in 1859 Yoshida was one of the many executed. A little while later the shogunate was overthrown and power restored to the Emperor and the civilian government, ending over 250 years of Japanese isolation (and peace). But that is a different story.
The house is an interesting visit, not least the bathroom, and the room where Yoshida hid, which is much tinier than it looks in the photo, the ceiling being so low you have to stay on your knees. Of course most of the information is in Japanese and I doubt they have staff at hand who speak English, especially off season.
Just a few photos I took in Ueno when passing through a couple of months ago. The weather in Tokyo recently has been quite bad, so posting these winter photos is not a crazy as it seems. It sure feels like winter right now! Hopefully the spring will come for real next week. Have a great weekend everyone!
The other weekend I visited Yuigahama Beach in Kamakura City to the south of Tokyo. Despite the cold winds and the chilly temperature in the ocean there were lots of surfers – just as usual. It is always interesting to go down there with a longer lens, something you can’t really do in summer for obvious reasons. A curious gentleman crow tried to join but as any beach goes knows, one does not bring for to the beaches of Japan! The crows are not as bad, it is the kites circling above you are more worried about.
Today is the 79th anniversary of one of the last Japanese military coups and one of the most famous acts of political violence in modern Japan, the “2.26 Incident”. The story is far too complicated to tell in a simple blog post, but the short story of it is that a group of young officers in the military decided to try and purge the government and the military of their enemies, and attempt that ultimately failed after three days of martial law in central Tokyo. The coup makers wanted to revive a more imperial era and move away from modern economics and capitalism.
This blog post will focus on just one of the incidents in the event, the assassination of the minister of finance, Takahashi Korekiyo (高橋是清). The early hours of February 26th 1936 saw a lot of snowfall on the capital, and one of the army units that took part in the coup, the 3rd Imperial Guard under 1st Lt. Motoaki Nakahashi, assembled 120 men and marched to the Takahashi family’s mansion in Aoyama, next to where the Canadian Embassy is located today. Arrived they woke up the servants and half the force broke into the house where the two most senior officers found Takahashi in bed asleep, killing him before he even woke up.
The finance minister Takahashi was an incredibly interesting character. Having been adopted at birth into a samurai family at birth in 1854, he studied English at a school in Yokohama nd set of for California in 1867. He was promptly captured by his landlord, an American merchant and sold into slavery by the merchant’s parents but escaped and returned to Japan in 1868. He soon started working at the Bank of Japan and later the ministry of finance. When the Great Depression hit Japan he revitalized the economy by a series of reforms that heavily influenced none other than John Maynard Keynes. As with all reforms his policies created both losers and winners, and this fact together with his policy of reducing military size and influence led him to be one of the coup makers main targets, especially after his 1934 decision to cut the military budget radically.
Had he lived he might have effectively stopped the war in the pacific, the war between the US and Japan 1941-1945.
After the assassination his house was moved to the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum in Koganei, where it is one of the most interesting houses on display, not only because of its history but also because of how remarkably comfortable it seems even to foreign visitors. One of the photos is of Takahashi with one of his granddaughters (whom I think married the grandson of the 1st, 5th, 7th and 10th prime minister of Japan, Hirobumi Ito). Another of his grandchildren, Toyoji, was a forward in the Japanese National Soccer team at the Berlin Olympics later that year.