Saturday, December 13, 2014

Places to Visit in Tokyo: The Mansion of General Maresuke Nogi - Japan's model of feudal loyalty, self-sacrifice and suicide.

I was walking from Roppongi to Aoyama itchome station yesterday when I happened upon a home that looked to be at least 150 years old. That's not so unusual in a country as old as Japan. But a few minutes walk from Roppongi station? That was a bit surprising.

General Maresuke Nogi standing in front of his house in Minato ku. 
You can visit this house today. It's still standing there!

I noticed the sign said that the public was welcomed (do not enter the actual home) so I walked into the grounds. It was the former residence and stables of one of the most famous Japanese in history; General Maresuke Nogi. 

You can see that in the above black & white photo of General Nogi at the top of this article, 
he was posing in front of the steps at the front door, standing just next to the right

General Nogi was the Japanese general who lead Japan to victory over the Russians on land in the 1904 - 1905 war that was the first war in history where an Asian country defeated a European nation. That was an event that was most probably instrumental in building Japanese nationalism and the belief, in some circles, that Japan could defeat western nations.

That war was back in the day of the Big Powers and when militarism was pretty much common practice amongst them all and you know the Japanese military were just as hard-core as the next; probably much more so. As a history geek, I've read much about that and admired General Nogi as he was able to pull off that victory over the Russians - especially since the Russians were in defensive positions - it was trench warfare - both sides had "machine-gun type" of weapons - and the Russian troops had outnumbered the Japanese 2 - 1! 

You know, this Big Power mentality started even before the days of Napolean and, unfortunately, in a few nations, still continuing on to this day.

House to the left and statue. Trail heading to where there used to be a well.

Who was General Nogi and what did he do? Why is he so revered in Japan?

Count Nogi Maresuke was a general in the Imperial Japanese Army and, later, a governor of Taiwan. He was one of the commanders during the victory over China in the war of 1894 - 1895. He was the Japanese General in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 – 1905 who defeated the Russians in a brutal war. 

Satsuma Clan samurai

General Nogi thus became a national hero in Imperial Japan as a model of feudal loyalty and self-sacrifice. He would later become the example of the "dark" Japanese tradition of ritual suicide. In the Satsuma Rebellion, he lost a banner of the emperor in battle, for which he tried to atone with suicidal bravery in order to recapture it, until ordered to stop. 

In the Russo-Japanese War, he captured Port Arthur but he felt that he had lost too many of his soldiers (about 50,000 Japanese soldiers died along with 50,000 Russian troops in a preview of trench warfare for World War I), so General Nogi requested permission to commit suicide, which the emperor refused. 

These two events, as well as his desire not to outlive his master (junshi), motivated his suicide on the day of the funeral of the Emperor Meiji. 

For you folks living here in Tokyo, my wife says that she thinks it is because of General Nogi that an area near Roppongi is called, "Nogizaka" (Nogi hill). Makes sense. 

Trail from home leading down to the garden

I looked up information on General Nogi and the home I was visiting on the "Prominent People of Minato City" webpage. Here's what it says about the home and history of General Maresuke Nogi as a prominent figure from Minato Ku:

Biography 1849-1912.
Military man and army general.
Maresuke Nogi was the third son of Maretsugu Nogi and served in the Boshin War and the Seinan War. After studying in Germany, he took to the field as the Brigade Commander of the 1st Infantry Regiment in the Japanese-Sino War and was the Commander of the 3rd Corps in the Russo-Japanese War.

Nogi shrine is just down the trail behind the house from the street.

Association with Minato City:
From his birth to suicide, his fierce life reflected the times General Nogi, who is referred to as a military man of Meiji, was born in the manor of the daimyo Mori Kainokami of the Chofu clan in Azabu Hidakubo, Edo. His childhood name was Nakito, and he was renamed Marehito as an adult. The grounds of the manor had formerly contained the original “Ubuyu no Ido” (well), where Marehito’s father is said to have poured cold water on the young Nakito, who was crying because of the cold, but in a redevelopment of these grounds it was buried. The grounds of the manor had also contained the bronze statues of General Nogi and Urauri Tsuji, a boy who financially supported his family by selling papers on which was written fortune-telling advice, but they have been moved to the old Nogi Manor. The stone monument that for many years indicated the manor as the birthplace of General Nogi has also been moved, to Sakurazaka Park, which is south of Roppongi Hills. The old Nogi Manor and the stables, which are designated tangible cultural properties of Minato City, are In Akasaka, where Nogi spent his life from 1879. The stables consist of a valuable brick structure, and it is said that the manor was designed by Nogi himself, based on a building of the French army headquarters. Nogi Shrine was built nearby after his death, and the slope in front of the shrine was named Nogizaka. His remains rest in Aoyama Reien (Name of Cemetery).

Breath-taking beauty of old Japan and traditional gardens just 5 minutes walk from Roppongi!

The former residence and stables of General Maresuke Nogi in Minato Ku is a very nice place to visit. You can relive history and see how it was in Japan 120 years ago. As I walked back out the entrance to the huge busy street in front of the home, I could imagine what this place had been once: a small shopping street and there would have been a parade and streamers flying when Nogi returned a national hero after defeating the Russians.

It was the apex, or at least one of them, of Japanese military power and something that indirectly lead to World War II. 

Visit yourself! See what Japan looked like 120 years ago, just a short walk from Roppongi station. Entrance is free! Information below. I think it might be a great quiet place to eat my bento lunch and enjoy the trees, the birds and nature... Right in the middle of Tokyo.

*Birthplace of General Nogi (Roppongi Hills, 6-9 Roppongi) 
*Old Nogi Manor and stables (Nogikoen, 8-11-32 Akasaka) 
*Nogi Shrine (8-11-27 Akasaka) 
*Tomb of Maresuke Nogi (Aoyama Reien, 2-chome Minamiaoyama)
*Map (Sorry, Japanese):

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So many disconnected things to comment amount. Tokugawa shogunate outlawed this type of suicide as antiquated in 1663. It would be interesting to see the landscapers who work on this yard.

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