|Streets Retaining the Look of the Samurai
Development of Hagi City in north Yamaguchi Prefecture began when a powerful warrior family, the Mori clan, was assigned as feudal lord of this district and moved into Hagi Castle in 1604. Feudal lords in Japan were called "daimyo," and were rulers of a politically and economically independent local domain (i.e. "han") maintained during the Edo Period (1603-1868). Warriors who were retainers of the lord and merchants gathered around the castle and formed a city, and those cities are called "jokamachi" (castle town).
Although many of the current major cities in Japan developed from a castle town, most of them have been totally modernized and only a few retain the original appearance of warriors' residences lining the streets. Hagi, however, was left behind in rapid modernization, partially because the local administrative center was transferred to present-day Yamaguchi City in the late 19th century. As a result, many rare structures built in the feudal age remain and their solemn, dark-gray roof tiles and white walls add to the town's quiet and antique atmosphere. Magnificent samurai (warrior elite) residences and wealthy merchants' estates with large storehouses are still to be seen and remind us of the town's prosperity.
During the tumultuous closing years of the Edo period when the feudal system was collapsing, the town of Hagi produced many men of talent who became the driving force that propelled the country toward becoming a modern state. Scholar Shoin Yoshida (1830-59) laid the ideological foundation of the anti-Shogunate movement; Shinsaku Takasugi (1839-67), who once studied under Yoshida, formed a new-concept, voluntary army with no class discrimination; Hirobumi Ito (1841-1909) became Japan's first prime minister and introduced the cabinet system. The houses where these people grew up and private schools which they attended are also preserved as historic sites and are open to the public.
Photos: (From top) The festival in November features a procession of people in historic costumes walking along the historic earthen walls; earthen walls surrounding samurai residences; a lecture room of Shoka-son-juku, Shoin Yoshida's private academy. (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
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