Iimoriyama: Samurai Suicide in Aizu-Wakamatsu

 During a civil war in 1868, a group of teenage samurai soldiers fighting for the Byakkotai were losing a battle. Cut off from the rest of their troop, they retreated to Mt. Iimori and looked down to the town of Aizu and the castle they had been trying to defend.

They saw fire coming from the town, and wrongly thought that their castle had been captured. Here, they commited harakiri (or seppuku, as is more commonly used in Japan) - suicide by disembowelment. There were 20 samurai on the mountain who attempted suicide, one of which survived. A memorial on the mountain was set up to honor their legacy.

When people think of the concept of samurai loyalty, this example is probably the most referenced; these young soldiers would have rather died than live with the enemy.
 At the beginning of the approach, there is a row of shops selling souvenirs and snacks.
 Shortly after, you can pay to take an escalator most of the way up the mountain. Free alternatives include the steep stairs you see in the middle, or the winding path that starts in front of the white building on the left.
 There are several monuments along the winding path, and it's a nice way to get up the mountain. There are two museums along this route, but due to time constraints I didn't get to visit them. I believe the white building is the better of the two, based on what I read.
 There are tablet monuments along the path, too.
 A shrine near the top is worth a visit. The building is small, but the grounds are very peaceful.
 Granted, visiting on a nice day when Japanese are on vacation (Obon, Golden Week, etc) might mean things can be a bit crowded.
 There are nice bridges and a pond and plenty of trees.
 Here's the small shrine building.
 Next to the shrine, and certainly a unique building, is the Sazaedo Pagoda.
 Outside, you may see children and others spinning a wheel.
 The idea here is that you stand on the animal's head and spin the wheel for good luck.
 I entered the pagoda from the front and started up the ramp.
 It's not the easiest walk, not due to the height but due to the flooring. You make two revolutions as you go up the pagoda.
 The top doesn't seem terribly impressive and the view isn't great. But it's a pretty unique six-storied pagoda. And there are lots of stickers everywhere. You continue down the pagoda down a different ramp and come out the back side. There are supposedly 30 Buddha images in the pagoda.
 Here's the pagoda from above.
 And here's the front of the pagoda, with a view of the entrance arch detail.
 I don't know how practical it would be, but having a house like this with a spiral staircase around the outer walls could be pretty awesome.
 Finally, near the top of the hill, you reach the tombs of the 19 samurai. They each have a marker here.
 The tombs stand alone in a plaza. It's a very nice memorial, especially when you realize the honored samurai were actually fighting against the new government. This was at the end of the Edo Period into Meiji restoration, when samurai were losing their status and reign over the government.
 There is a full cemetery nearb; a statue of a boy looking out upon the town is found out here.
The castle is out there, somewhere. From the hill, there is an awfully large amount of city; it's easy to see how the boys thought the castle itself was on fire.

Iimoriyama is easily accessed by taking the Aizu loop bus to Iimoriyama-shita. The Memorial Hall and Folklore and Historical Museum each cost 400 yen, and are open from 8:00-17:00 April through November, with reduced hours in the winter months. Sazaedo Pagoda also charges a steep 400 yen admission, and is open from 8:15 until sunset April through December, and 9:00 to 16:00 January through March. The shrine, tombs, and lookout point are free, although using the escalator adds a couple hundred yen to your visit.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. I have always been fascinated by samurai related stories. Just another place I need to add to my bucket list.