History of Akizuki

Welcome to Akizuki, a historic samurai village. Akizuki is a castle village, set into the mountains about 7 km north of the center of Asakura City, Fukuoka Prefecture. The Akizuki clan ruled the area (1203 to 400 years) for 16 generations from the Kamakura period. The Kuroda clan followed this up until the 1800s during the Edo period. The village’s strategic importance as a samurai stronghold in Fukuoka means that it has played a number of important roles in Japanese history. Today it still hosts many different historic sites; including traditional houses, castle ruins, shrines and temples.

Early Akizuki, myths & legend

In Japan’s oldest historic texts – both the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki – a number of stories of Japan feature Akizuki and the surrounding areas. In 200 AD the 14th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Chūai, collapsed (possibly at the hands of a vengeful spirit), leaving his wife Empress Jingū in charge of the nation. It is believed she may also have been directed by the same spirit to invade the Korean peninsula. The records also state that Jingū gave birth to a baby boy named Homutawake three years after he was conceived by her late husband.

Empress Jingū was famed for her military skill but also for freeing Akizuki from the tyranny of a local spirit. Legend has it that the people of the Akizuki area were being troubled by a figure called Hajiro Kumawashi, who was a mix of white eagle and bear. His giant wings allowed him to arrive, cause trouble and quickly escape. The locals called on Empress Jingū to rid them of his troublemaking.

Hajiro-kumawashi’s confidence was his downfall and while trying to mock Empress Jingū, she was able to use her troops to outflank him. After the victory she returned to the southern foothills of Mt. Kosho to announce that she had “Struck down the bear-eagle.” She named the area “Yasu” (Yasushi means ‘peace of mind’) to celebrate the moment of success.

History of Akizuki clan in the Middle Ages(1203-1600)

In 1203, the Kamakura Shogunate awarded the domain of Akizuki to its first feudal lord, Tanekatsu, who founded the Akizuki clan. For 400 years the clan ruled over successive generations but this came to an end in 1587. At this time the Kyoto warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi was on a mission to unify Japan and was moving through Kyushu to unite or combat his rivals. After a number of successes he pressed on to the Akizuki area.

During the preparations for battle, Eri Nobutaka (the vassal of Akizuki Tanezane) was sent to spy on Hideyoshi’s camp. There, Nobutaka was told the Akizuki clan should surrender to Hideyoshi and forsake their alliance with the Shimazu clan. In return, the Akizuki clan would receive the provinces of Chikuzen and Chikugo. Nobutaka returned with the message for Akizuki Tanezane, along with a warning of the strength of Hideyoshi’s army. However Akizuki refused to give up his seven generation alliance with the Shimazu clan. Nobutaka was ridiculed for suggesting surrender and he and his family committed seppuku (ritual suicide) upon a rock in Akizuki, which still stands today. After Nobutaka’s advice was ignored, Toyotomi Hideyoshi swept to victory and entered Akizuki. It is said that when Kuroda Nagaoki arrived in the town, he was so impressed by Nobutaka’s loyalty that he constructed the Temple above Nobutaka’s gravestone.

After seeing his castle fall in just one day Tanezane surrendered power by presenting a famous tea bowl known as “Narashiba Katatsuki” to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The tea bowl was an symbolic relic, which has passed through the hands of many local figures, including Yoshimasa Ashikaga (famed for founding the Ginkakuji “Temple of the Silver Pavilion” in Kyoto).

Shortly after power shifted again in the area, this time for a longer period. Tokugawa Ieyasu gained control of Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s legacy in the battle of Sekigahara (1600). During the conflict Tanezane's child, Tanenaga Akizuki, belonged to the West Army and defended Ōgaki castle, but when the West army lost in the main battle on September 15, the castle rebelled and the Tokugawa forces were granted victory.

As a reward for service in this battle, Tokugawa Ieyasu granted the whole of Chikuzen province (which included Fukuoka and Akizuki) to Kuroda Nagamasa. With this came the end of nearly 400 years of Akizuki rule. This ushered in a new period for Japan (Edo) but also a new era for Akizuki: the rise of the Kuroda domain.

The rise and fall of the Kuroda clan (1600-1868)

In 1600, Kuroda Nagamasa was awarded the domain of Chikuzen (which includes Fukuoka and Akizuki) from Tokugawa Ieyasu, who won the Battle of Sekigahara. Nagamasa formed a castle town called "Fukuoka" there and became the first lord of Fukuoka domain.

In 1623, Nagagamasa's will let Tadayuki, the second feudal lord, give his younger brother Nagaoki 50,000 koku (koku is the area of land that can grow 150kg of rice) around Akizuki. This allowed for the construction of the castle and 400 years of Kuroda clan dominance.

During the Edo Period the Akizuki area became known for its agricultural products. Two of these, kuzu (arrowroot) and kawatake (riverweed), became Akizuki’s offerings to the Tokugawa Shoguns. Both remain in production and can be sampled in the village today.

In 1774 the 7th generation of Kuroda feudal lords, Nagakata, died surprisingly young, at the age of 18. The family hid this fact from the public and only the following year did they appoint the 8th lord, Kōzaburō (the second son of Lord Tanehide Akizuki, the Lord of Hyuga-takanabe domain), who would later become Naganobu.

One of Naganobu’s greatest achievements is still visible today: Akizuki’s Megane (spectacles) bridge, which was completed in the 7th year of the Bunka period (1810). The bridge had been continually damaged by traffic and flooding.

The project was inspired by the city of Nagasaki’s own bridge built over the Nakashima River. Under the management of chief retainer Miyazaki Oribe, construction took nearly two years but the bridge collapsed just before it was completed. Some believe that this incident hastened the death of Naganobu, who was in bed at the time and was never able to see the completed bridge.

The final feudal lord of the Chikuzen-Fukuoka domain was the 12th generation, Nagatomo, who was a fan of Noh (traditional Japanese theatre) and supported many performances. After Nagatomo the Kuroda domain’s control in Akizuki came to an end with the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The age of the samurai ended with the restoration of the emperor and the transfer of power from the Edo rulers of the Tokugawa family.

Akizuki Rebellion: the final samurai battle in history (27th October-14th November 1876)

Shortly after the Meiji Restoration a number of skirmishes were organised with disgruntled samurai. Akizuki played host to the final samurai rebellion against the new Meiji government of these with Akizuki no Ran (The Akizuki Rebellion).

Japan’s former samurai were unhappy with restrictions on carrying swords as well as the country’s new direction. Many felt that the changes were coming from Western influence. Responding to the loss of the substantial status and economic privileges of the samurai, Hyakuhachiro Imamura set up a band of warriors, known as the "Akizuki Party".

Three days prior to The Akizuki Rebellion the Shinpūren no Ran' (Shinpūren Rebellion) occurred in nearby Kumamoto. The Kumamoto army commander and prefectural decree (on the Meiji government side) were killed but the rebellion was put down shortly after this. However, an ambassador from Akizuki, who witnessed only the first day, quickly returned home and reported that "Shinpūren had won."

In response to this news 200 warriors from Akizuki set out to join another uprising near Toyotsu. Two days later, the warriors arriving at Toyotsu found that their allies were already in prison. On October 31, the cornered Akizuki party was dissolved and seven of the leaders committed suicide. Government forces followed the remaining rebels and detained them in and around Akizuki on November 24th. Hirokyu Kuzu Honpo (Akizuki’s arrowroot shop) still has sword cuts in its pillars that are said to have been caused by the Akizuki Rebellion’s returning rebel forces.

On December 3rd, the Fukuoka extraordinary court sentenced the rebels. Imamura and his associate Masuda, who were said to be the masterminds, were decapitated on the same day. 150 more were sentenced to imprisonment or exile.

Akizuki today

Akizuki’s history is rich with clans, legends, myths, key events and rebellion. But this tradition continues today.

The town’s population is just over 500 and, like many rural areas of the country, is experiencing a wave of ageing. Despite this a samurai spirit remains strong and the story continues. Like Akizuki’s cherry blossoms each year, new life is blooming in Akizuki – from tourist visitors to new local businesses.

Any visit to the town reveals a hundred new stories, with a hundred more hidden behind each of them. Please enjoy your time here. By discovering and retelling them, you allow those stories to live.

Ongoing cultural influence: from Kurosawa to Star Wars

Akizuki is the setting of not one but two world famous films. Mount Kosho is the symbol of the region and was the Akizuki Clan’s main castle base in the 13th century, 700 meters above the present village.

This first inspired Akira Kurosawa’s Kakushitoride No Sanakunin (The Hidden Fortress for English-speaking audiences). This then became the inspiration for George Lucas’ blockbuster "Star Wars: A New Hope."

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