SAMURAI CITY Getting to Know Aizu Wakamatsu

Aizu Wakamatsu is located in western Fukushima Prefecture and has a population of 125,000. It is blessed with a rich natural environment that includes the nearby Mount Bandai and Lake Inawashiro. It retains a strong sense of history as a former castle town of the Aizu domain. The people of Aizu are honest, steady, and persevering, and these characteristics have allowed them to hand down their traditions intact over many generations. There are numerous legacies of the samurai age in Aizu Wakamatsu, a city where the influences of samurai society remain strong today.

The Nisshin-kan School, founded in the early 1800s, was Aizu’s hanko, or a school for educating the sons of samurai. It was reputed to be the best of Edo Japan’s numerous hanko in terms of both scale and academic content. Male children of Aizu samurai retainers entered the school when they turned 10 and were taught the martial arts and discipline required to become a true samurai. They were taught the Ten Rules of Conduct that ended with the phrase “Do not do what you must not.” This steadfast attitude of never swerving from the right translates into the samurai spirit and may be part of the Aizu people’s character today.

When you walk around Aizu Wakamatsu, you will encounter many places that offer glimpses into the samurai spirit. One such place is Tsuruga-jo, a castle that gained fame as an impregnable fortress when it withstood heavy attacks during the Boshin War, which was fought between Tokugawa forces, including Aizu, and the new Meiji Government forces. The castle standing today is a restoration built in 1965. The castle keep with its red tile roofs is a faithful reproduction of its design at the end of the Tokugawa period. Tsuruga-jo is the only castle in Japan today sporting red tile roofs. The castle also has a tea house, called Rinkaku, on its grounds, where visitors can taste matcha tea.

Aizu Wakamatsu has many other attractions, including Oyakuen, a prime example of a landscaped garden typically maintained by a daimyo lord in feudal Japan; the gravesite of the Aizu Clan leaders; and 19 tombs of the Byakkotai, a unit of teenage samurai warriors who committed ritual suicide in the Boshin War.Historical legacies of the region are carefully preserved and cherished so that they may be handed down to future generations intact. Come to Aizu Wakamatsu, where the spirit of bushido, or the way of the samurai, can be felt in a very real way.