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Special Feature on Press Trips

A Journey Through Ancient Japan by Teniwoha


Part 1 The Ancient Tohoku Region: The Land of Beginnings – Taga Castle


History is written by the Victors.
This quote by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill seems to contain a certain truth.
Since ancient times, history has been written by the will of those in power.
In order to secure their position, those in power have arbitrarily selected facts to be written down and passed them down to future generations as history.
The oldest example of this in Japan is probably the Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan). It is said that Emperor Temmu ordered the compilation of the Chronicles of Japan. Emperor Temmu is well known as the man who caused the Jinshin Rebellion between Emperor Temmu and his elder brother, Emperor Tenchi's son, Emperor Otomo, and seized the royal power.
Emperor Temmu came to power after killing his nephew. For this reason, he is said to have created the Imperial History of the State in order to demonstrate his legitimacy.
In recent years, however, there has been a movement to reevaluate the person and period through a review of history. With the latest excavations and research, the historicity of the contents is now being considered anew.
The Jinshin Rebellion is not the only one.
To name just one that is fresh in our memories, Akechi Mitsuhide.
Akechi Mitsuhide had long been associated with the image of a "traitor" as a rebel who killed his lord. However, many people may have come up with a new image of Akechi Mitsuhide when he was featured in a historical drama.
The history of other losers is now being reevaluated, including Soga Iruka, who was killed in the Otomi Incident, Ishida Mitsunari, who was defeated in the Battle of Sekigahara, and Tanuma Okitsugu notorious as a bribing politician.
Of course, the "history" and "stories" created by the victors are not without meaning. The "history" that has been accepted by many people has its own reasons. But history is, in fact, a living thing. And facts are multi-faceted.
There can never be just one point of view.
The following is the trigger that strengthened this belief. It is the following description in the Nihon Kiryaku.

Tamanoki Aterui and Iwagu no Moreh were slain. These two prisoners became the heads of the rebels in the interior. When the two prisoners were slain, the Shogun and others said, this time, we will return them as you wish and invite the rebels back.
According to the "Nihon Kiryaku". Partially modified.

This is a description of the final days of Aterui, the chief of the Emishi tribe who had long opposed the Imperial Court forces. The resistance forces led by Aterui were the enemies of the imperial court. However, it is written that Sakanoue Tamuramaro, who had been ordered to conquer the Tohoku region, pleaded with the chief to spare his life.

This sentence greatly inspired me. I spread the wings of my imagination, thinking of the ancient world.
What kind of people were Sakanoue Tamuramaro, Aterui, and Moreh?

This sentence greatly inspired me. I spread the wings of my imagination, thinking of the ancient world.
What kind of people were Sakanoue Tamuramaro, Aterui, and Moreh?

2.Towards Taga Castle

(1)The place associated with Sakanoue Tamuramaro

If you search for information on the Internet about places associated with Sakagami Tamuramaro, you will find a variety of information.
This is probably because Tamuramaro Sakagami was a man of many legends, and it is said that he prayed for victory in various places. However, for the time being, I wanted to visit a place that is related to him as a historical fact, rather than a legendary place.
I thought it would be better to confirm the legend after unraveling the historical facts, so that I could sort out the "facts" and "stories.
The first place that came to mind while researching Tamuramaro Sakagami was Isawa Castle. Isawa Castle is a fortification said to have been built by Sakanoue Tamuramaro and was constructed in Enryaku 21 (802).
However, the conflict between the Emishi and the Imperial Court started much earlier than that. If I were to think about the ancient history of the Tohoku region, I knew I had to visit Tagajo first. I will explain why later.

(2)Volunteer Tourist Guide of Taga Castle, the Savior of Travelers

Let me confide a bit of my personal story here.
I have roots in the Kyushu region and currently reside in Tokyo, but I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to the Tohoku region before. Being a country person, I am also not good at changing trains. Afraid of being late, I always leave home to arrive hours ahead of schedule when I travel to distant places for work.
Furthermore, I am not good at walking around with a map. It sometimes happens that I find a landmark, which is north, but can't reach my destination. For this reason, I was especially careful in my advance preparations this time. Then I acquired some valuable information on the Internet.
If you make a reservation in advance, a volunteer guide will show you a model course!
As I was not familiar with the Tohoku region and had no sense of direction, this was a lifesaver for me. I immediately made a reservation on the web, and a few days later, I received a reply by e-mail.
The email contained the name and phone number of the guide in charge.
The instructions were that from then on, I should communicate directly with the guide to determine the meeting place. It took some courage to call a stranger unexpectedly, but I did so immediately, and it was a really nice person.
When I told him that I would be traveling from Tokyo, the guide immediately gave me detailed instructions.
There are two stations named Tagajo, but from Sendai, transfer to the Tohoku Main Line and get off at Kokufu Tagajo Station. Make no mistake, this is not the Tagajo station of the Sensekisen.
The word "Sensekisen" did not ring a bell, but I scribbled it down in my notepad.
I later looked it up and found that it is written Senseki-sen. At any rate, I was ready to go. I made my arrangements and ran to buy a ticket for the Shinkansen.

At Kokufu Tagajo platform
At Kokufu Tagajo platform
ColumnHow to buy discount tickets.

Prices have risen tremendously in recent years. Therefore, I have researched to see if there is a way to make your trip as "economical" as possible.

① Discounted round-trip ticket
The first thing that came to mind when thinking about how to purchase a Shinkansen ticket was a round-trip discount ticket. Whenever I go back to Kyushu, I always buy a round-trip ticket, so I went to the Midori-no-madoguchi (ticket office) and asked about it. However, I was told that the round-trip discount ticket is only applicable for one-way trips of 601 kilometers or more. Tagajo was not applicable this time, so we gave up the idea.

② Ekinetto Toku Value
I checked out "Ekinetto," a website operated by JR East and JR Hokkaido, and found that Shinkansen tickets can be obtained at 10-50% off the list price. Since the Shinkansen I was planning to take this time was a discount-eligible train, I immediately registered as a member. However, no matter how hard I looked, I could not find any discount tickets.
It seems that the number of seats sold is quite limited. On the official website, there was also a question about how many seats were available, but they said they do not announce the number of seats sold. So, again, we gave up.

③Shinkansen coupon tickets
My employer has a policy of using Shinkansen coupon tickets for long-distance business trips, so I looked around at a ticket store. However, the "Sendai-Tokyo" ticket was listed as sold out. The store staff told me that they did not have any "Sendai-Tokyo" coupon tickets, and that I should purchase shareholder discount tickets.

④Shareholder's discount tickets
As recommended by the owner of the ticket store, I purchased a shareholder discount ticket. The shareholder discount ticket allows you to get a ticket with a 40% discount rate! Moreover, the shareholder discount tickets can be used even during Golden Week and Bon vacation periods. It is quite easy to use. When purchasing tickets from a ticket machine, simply press the "Purchase with shareholder discount" button and follow the instructions. I wish I had known about this earlier!

It was an eye-opener for me, as I had never used shareholder discount tickets before. However, the price of the shareholder discount coupons themselves seem to fluctuate depending on the time of year, so be sure to check them out!

3.Let's go to Taga Castle!

(1)On the way to Taga Castle

On a beautiful sunny mid-April day, I woke up early to go out to Taga Castle. The sky was a beautiful blue, as if the rain of the previous week had been a lie. I felt like I had the weather on my side.
I left home early, expecting to get lost, and arrived at Tokyo Station more than an hour earlier than planned. I immediately went through the Shinkansen ticket gates, but that was a mistake.
There were no stores at all inside the ticket gates of JR East where you could buy ekiben. The JR Tokai ticket gate across the street had many stores selling ekiben, but not at all! I had no choice but to take my time, choose a drink, and head for the platform.
(I learned for the first time on this trip that there are no unreserved seats on the Shinkansen Hayabusa. So, I waited for a while for the Shinkansen).
After leaving Tokyo Station, it took one and a half hours to get on the Shinkansen. It took another 20 minutes to change trains from Sendai Station.
I managed to arrive at "Kokufu Tagajo" on the Tohoku Main Line without incident.

Kokufu Tagajo station bulletin board
Kokufu Tagajo station bulletin board

(2)History of Taga Castle

Why did I decide to visit Taga Castle in the first place?
I would like to touch on the history of Taga Castle.
Taga Castle was founded in 724 by Ohno Azumabito, but what is noteworthy is the reason for its founding. It is said that Taga Castle was a military and political base for the Imperial Court, the government of the time, to expand the nation.
Why was it necessary to expand the nation? To answer this question, we need to go back a little further in history. If you have studied Japanese history, you have probably heard the term Taika-no-kaishin" (Taika Reform).
The Taika Reform was an incident in 645 when Emperor Nakataio (later Emperor Tenchi) and Nakatomi Kamatari destroyed Soga Iruka, who was in power at the time.
What is important, however, is not the destruction of the Soga clan itself. I would like you to recall once again what Prince Nakatahio wanted to do after destroying the Soga clan. What he was aiming for through the Taika Reformation.
It was a centralized state based on the Ritsuryo system, modeled after the Tang Dynasty in China at that time. After the Taika Reform, the Imperial Court expanded its power to the north and built castle fences. The castle fences marked the borders of the centralized state, and the land beyond the fences was out of the reach of the court's power.
People living north of the fences were called Emishi. Naturally, they had no family registers and taxes were not collected. The Imperial Court attempted to incorporate these people into the centralized state.
Taga Castle, built in 724, indicates that by that time, the Imperial Court's rule had extended to the Sendai Plain. Taga Castle was an important base for the capture of the Tohoku region further north than that.
When we reflect on Taga Castle, we realize that the battle between Sakanoue Tamuramaro and the Emishi chief Aterui did not begin abruptly. The two men appear in the midst of a long struggle over the Tohoku region.
History does not emerge if we concentrate on just one point. It is only in the context of what comes before and after that it becomes meaningful and dynamic.
How was the Taga Castle built and how did it disappear? I felt that I would like to look back on the history of the conquest of Tohoku from this part of history.

(3)Around Taga Castle

This time, I went on a tour of a model course of Taga Castle with a volunteer guide for sightseeing in the historical city of Tagajo. There are several courses available to tour the Taga Castle, but I chose the Historical Site Course, which takes visitors through the ruins of the Taga Castle Government Office, the Taga castle Monument, and other sites, while also giving them a chance to think about famous people in history. Let's take a look at the courses in order.

①Tatemae Ruins
If you exit the station and look toward the northwest, you will see a slightly elevated hill. Climbing up the hill, there is nothing to block the view, and the breeze blowing through is pleasant. It is said that there used to be a residence of the national history at this place.

  • Tatemae Ruins
    Tatemae Ruins
  • Tatemae ruins board
    Tatemae ruins board

②Ruins of the South Gate of the Outer Walls
Further ahead, the remains of the outer wall can be seen. Taga Castle is said to have been an irregularly shaped plot of land measuring approximately 900 meters on each side, surrounded by an outer wall.

  • Towards the front, climb up slowly.
    Towards the front, climb up slowly.
  • From a small hill, you can see the remains of the Tsukiji wall.
    From a small hill, you can see the remains of the Tsukiji wall.

③2 Ruins of the outer Tsukiji wall
The South Gate was located approximately 380 meters south of the Tagajo Government Office. Excavations have revealed that the South Gate and its Tsukiji wall were destroyed by fire during the Koreharino Kimiazamaro Rebellion of 780 (Hogei 11).

What was the Korehari no Kimiazamaro Rebellion?

Koreharino Kimiazamaro o was originally from Emishi. However, he participated in the war against the Emishi as a member of the Imperial Court and was rewarded for his efforts. Although he was an Emishi who had turned to the Ritsuryo state, he was so trusted by the court that he was even appointed chief of the Kurihara group, where Iji Castle was located.

However, in 780, Kimiazamaro rebelled.
Kimiazamaro seized the opportunity to enter Iji Castle when the commander-in-chief of the Northeast, Kino Hirozumi, the annexation envoy, and Michishima Otate of Oshika County entered Iji Castle. It is said that Kimiazamaro usually held a grudge against Michishima Otate. After luring the Emishi led by Ki Hirozumi to his side, Kimiazamaro killed Michishima Otate and Kino Hirozumi. He then set fire to Taga Castle and burned it to the ground. This burning of Taga Castle intensified the struggle between the Ritsuryo state and the Emishi.
In preparation for the 1,300th anniversary of the founding of Taga Castle in 2024, Taga Castle is currently undergoing restoration work on the South Gate. Therefore, when I visited the site, construction workers were in and out of the building. Although the gate was enclosed, I was able to see almost the entire structure. The vermilion-lacquered gate was still beautifully freshly painted. In 2010, during the 1,300th anniversary of the relocation of the capital to Heijo-kyo, I had visited the Daigoku-den Hall at the Heijo-kyo Palace site, which had undergone restoration work. It looked similar to the architecture of the same period.
Many of you may remember it because the mascot character "Sento-kun" was chosen for the major event in Nara and took the city by storm. The number of visitors during the festival reached 3.63 million, more than 1 million more than originally planned.
However, I remember that the normal Heijo Palace site, where no events were held, was just as quiet as Taga Castle is today.
I wonder what the future holds for this major project in the Taga Castle next year. I thought of the completed, beautiful South Gate.

Beautiful contrast with cherry blossoms
Beautiful contrast with cherry blossoms

④3 Taga Castle Monument
The Taga Castle monument, also known as Tsubo-no-Ishibumi, has been a popular place for poetry since the end of the Heian period (794-1185). It is one of the three oldest monuments in Japan. On the monument, the distance from Kyoto and other places to Taga Castle is marked, and it is also inscribed that the monument was built by OnoAzumabito and repaired by Fujiwara no Asakari.
The Taga Castle monument was originally built to honor the achievements of Fujiwara no Asakari. However, he was treated as a traitor during the Fujiwara-no-Nakamaro Rebellion. Perhaps the Taga Castle monument was buried in the process. It is likely that a monument honoring a traitor was considered unacceptable.
After a long time, the Taga Castle monument was reportedly dug up from the ground in the early Edo period.
Even at that time, the discovery of the monument was received with great surprise. The haiku poet Matsuo Basho also visited the site in his "Oku no Hosomichi" (The Narrow Road to the Interior) and wrote of his excitement.

What was the Fujiwara no Nakamaro Rebellion?

In 764, Fujiwara no Nakamaro started a rebellion in an attempt to eliminate Emperor Kohken and Michikyo, who were at odds with each other at the time. However, the rebellion ended in failure, and Nakamaro fled Heijo-kyo with his son, Asakari. They attempted to reestablish themselves in the Omi provincial capital, but their lives were cut short. At this time, it was Sakanoue Karitamaro who made a merit in this incident. He was the father of Sakanoue Tamuramaro!
History is connected! I can't help but think that this incident is connected to the history of Japan.

  • It's too bright today, I can't read the letters well...
    It's too bright today, I can't read the letters well...
  • From a small hill, you can see the remains of the Tsukiji wall.
    From a small hill, you can see the remains of the Tsukiji wall.

⑤Ruins of Taga Castle Government Office
Almost in the center of the Taga Castle Ruins, there is a 100-meter-square site of the government office. A government office is a place where important government affairs and ceremonies took place. Today, no buildings remain on this spacious site. But the cherry blossom petals were dancing quietly.

  • Government office restoration model
    Government office restoration model
  • Main hall ruins
    Main hall ruins
  • When you turn around, you know you've climbed up.
    When you turn around, you know you've climbed up.

4.The legend of Sakanoue Tamuramaro

While walking around, I would like to note that our guide told us about the legend of Sakanoue Tamuramaro.


One day, SakanoueTamuramaro, who was serving in Taga Castle as a conquering general, stopped by the residence of the chief Miyakado in the village of Sugaya.
The chief and his wife were so impressed that they invited a beautiful girl called Akutama to serve as their hostess.
Tamuramaro visited the chief frequently, and gradually became friendly with Akutama. After several years passed, Tamuramaro, who had fulfilled his duties, decided to return to the capital. The time came for him and Akutama to part ways.
As a parting gift, the Shogun presented Akutama with a white arrow, a dagger, and a statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy, to commemorate their parting.
At this time, Akutama was pregnant with Tamuramaro's child. On August 1, 789, Akutama gave birth to a son. He was named Senkumamaru and grew up to be a fine child.

Incidentally, Tamuramaro's son also had a boy born in 789.
Whether you believe it or not is up to you; the guide said cheerfully.
The legend of Tamuramaro can be found all over Japan. I found that there are many of them in the Tohoku region. What struck me, however, is that in the Tohoku region, Tamuramaro Sakanoue, who is supposed to be an invader, is not portrayed in a bad light. Can we conclude that this is because he was the victor of history? I was beginning to wonder about the legend of Tamuramaro.

5.Summary: A Visit to Taga Castle

What did the Emishi, who had lived in the area since ancient times, think when they saw Taga Castle, a castle built on a vast area of land with the prestige of a nation at stake?
How did they feel when they saw it burn down without a second thought during the Kimiazamaro Rebellion?
Taga Castle, which still retains many vestiges of its ancient past, was enough to capture my imagination. The Ritsuryo state attempted to conquer the city with overwhelming force. The Emishi, who were united in the wake of the Kimiazamaro Rebellion.
On the hill where a pleasant breeze now blows, I felt a desire to learn more about the battles that took place in the ancient Tohoku region.
On the other hand, it was the legend of Tamuramaro that stirred my heart. What kind of person was the hero of the legend, Sakanoue Tamuramaro? We now know how the battle started in the ancient Tohoku region. Let's make our next journey to a place where the legend of Sakanoue Tamuramaro has been passed down to the next generation.
I returned to Tokyo, excited by the new encounters.


The Mystery of the Taga Castle Burnt Tiles" by Aihiko Ishimori, illustrated by Masaki Kudo, supervised by Bungeishunju.
Pamphlet "Important Cultural Property: Taga castle Monument" (edited and published by Tagajo City Board of Education)
Pamphlet "Special Historic Site: Ruins of Taga castle Ruins Supplementary Temple" (Editorial Publication: Tagajo City Board of Education)
Pamphlet "Kokin Orai Tagajo Biographies" (Edited and published by Tagajo City Board of Education, published by Tagajo City Cultural Heritage Utilization and Activation Executive Committee)

Volunteer guides for sightseeing in the historical city of Taga Castle.