It’s a bold claim, but what happened here completely rewrote the trajectory of the warrior class in Japan and Japanese society as a whole. Let’s explore its fabled history together!
Tsurugajo Castle and the Boshin War
The Boshin War was a clash for the future of Japan: The Aizu clan, among others, wanted to get the shogunate back in power, whereas the Meiji government wanted to change Japan to adopt a more Western governing model with the emperor as their leader. The war only lasted two years: 1868 to 1869, and while the Meiji forces were not as numerous as the shogunate’s troops, the advanced technology of the Meiji forces allowed them to swiftly overpower the more traditional weaponry of their foes.
Tsurugajo Castle was one of the last castles to fall that allied itself with the shogunate. Miraculously, it defended itself for a solid month while the shogunate’s forces elsewhere crumbled. The castle is known for mounting a tragic last stand, which included suicide charges and lots of ritual suicide, like the tragic tale of the Byakkotai.
The Byakkotai, or the White Tiger Corps, is shown in the statues above. They were in the mountains outside of Aizu, as part of a reserve unit. When they saw smoke from the castle, they assumed that their leaders had fallen. Facing a cruel fate that awaited them if they were captured by the Meiji government, they instead committed seppuku, or ritualistic suicide. The tragedy here was that their masters had not yet fallen, and their seppuku was done prematurely. It’s a famous story in Japanese history, and emphasized the many tragedies faced in Aizu during the end of the Boshin War.
The war also gave rise to the legendary Nakano Takeko, a respected figure in Japanese history (despite being on the losing side, ultimately).
Nakano Takeko: Samurai Legend
Nakano Takeko faced a lot of ugly assumptions because of her gender. This, however, proved futile, as she charged forward and pretty much did what she set out to do in spite of all the men telling her she shouldn’t or couldn’t.
She was. a martial arts instructor who wanted to join the Aizu army and fight to restore the shogunate. They, of course, said no. So, she created her own all-women’s unit known as the Aizu Joshitai, or the Aizu Women’s Corps.
Her corps went out to help a cannon brigade, which turned out to be their final mission as the emperor’s forces bore down upon them. On the day of the battle, she fought hard, but ultimately fell. She had her sister decapitate her to deny the Meiji her head as a trophy. Her head was buried at a nearby temple, and her weapon, a naginata, was enshrined there. It was estimated that of the nearly 5000 warriors to later surrender the castle, over 600 were women. This is most likely due to the influence Nakano and her family had. It’s an incredible story, and like that of the Byakkotai, it is a favorite of film and TV to revisit.
And that, very briefly, is the reason why Aizu is known. as the last true Samurai city. What do you all think? Do you know of any warriors like the Byakkotai or Nakano Takeko from your area? Let us know in the comments below!