Tue, Nov 26, 2019

Hino-shuku Waki Honjin in Tokyo: A testament to Japan’s samurai past

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

Entryway leading to the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin
By Linnea Willing / CIR for Hino, Tokyo

Japan today is known for cutting-edge technology and modern media, but its days of samurai warriors aren’t as distant as you might think! Hardly a century and a half have passed since the Boshin Civil War of 1868-69 toppled the shogunate and closed the chapter on Japanese feudalism. Now, one of the places Tokyoites and visitors to the capital can learn about this dramatic period of Japanese history is the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin, a building which played a unique role in preserving Japan’s samurai past for generations to come.

The Hino-shuku Waki Honjin, a historic building in the city of Hino in Tokyo, was designated as cultural property by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in March, 2010. It was constructed after a fire on Jan. 18, 1849 burned two important local facilities: Hino’s honjin and its waki (“subsidiary”) honjin. Honjin, special high-class inns, had a big job in the feudal Edo period. Dotted along Japan’s five major land routes in rest stop towns called shukuba, honjin provided accommodations to lords and government officials traveling to and from the shogunate capital, Edo (modern Tokyo).

Hino-shuku Waki Honjin as seen from the front

Through the 1850’s and early 1860’s, a replacement for Hino’s burned honjin was built over the waki honjin’s remains. It was used thereafter as the area’s primary honjin, so it is typically referred to as the Hino-shuku Honjin without the waki designation. In the Edo period, Hino was one of 44 shukuba along the Koshu Kaido route. Now, honjin remain in only three of the towns. Additionally, the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin is the only honjin still standing in Tokyo.

The renovated honjin welcomed many distinguished guests, including Emperor Meiji in 1880, but it is best known for a group of seemingly more modest visitors – the users of a dojo located on the honjin property. Sato Hikogoro, chief of Hino-shuku and owner of the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin, took self-defense very seriously. After the 1849 fire, he enrolled in the Tennen Rishin Ryu school of sword-fighting and consequently opened a dojo training hall at his home, the new honjin. The Sato Dojo’s users included several men who would go down in history as founding members of one of Japan’s last samurai corps, the Shinsengumi. They included Shinsengumi Commander Kondo Isami, Vice-commanders Hijikata Toshizo and Sannan Keisuke, and Captains of the First and Sixth troops Okita Soji and Inoue Genzaburo.

The interior

In 1863, the shogun contacted sword-fighting schools around Edo to recruit bodyguards for a trip to Kyoto, and many Sato Dojo users responded. Upon arrival in Kyoto, Kondo and several other bodyguards formed the Shinsengumi, Kyoto’s special samurai police force. When the first battle of the Boshin Civil War broke out in Kyoto in 1868, the Shinsengumi joined the fray.

All the while, Sato remotely supported the Shinsengumi as a major financial backer from his home at the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin. He had personal ties with a number of the group’s members as Tennen Rishin Ryu peers and, in Hijikata’s case, as family. He especially kept in touch with Hijikata and Kondo, who sent him souvenirs and letters explaining Shinsengumi affairs and the political state of Kyoto. These correspondences have provided historians with invaluable information about the Shinsengumi’s internal workings. It is also believed that Hijikata sent his photograph to the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin before the battle he correctly predicted would be his last.

Decorative rabbit nail cover over a door frame

Many of the artifacts originally sent to Sato and the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin remain in Hino, carefully preserved in the city’s handful of historical museums. Several can be found at the nearby Sato Hikogoro and Shinsengumi Museum run by Sato Fukuko, a descendant of Sato Hikogoro. Others can be seen on display at the Shinsengumi Furusato Historical Museum, which also maintains the honjin itself.

In addition to its historical significance, the Hino-shuku Waki Honjin is also a place for locals to celebrate Japanese culture the good old fashioned way; the Edo structure serves as a venue for various traditional calendar events. One example is Hina-matsuri, when the honjin hosts an exhibition of Hina dolls, and community members gather to teach visitors about the holiday, its history, and local traditions.

Hina-doll exhibition

The Hino-shuku Waki Honjin is open to the general public year-round, and offers complementary tours in Japanese with admission.

(Photos courtesy of Linnea Willing)

(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)

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Linnea Willing

Linnea is a Southern Californian currently living in Tokyo, where she works as Hino city’s Coordinator for International Relations. In Hino, she has been writing about local history and events since 2017. She has been studying Japanese for over 10 years with a focus on translation, and also enjoys translating literature as a hobby.

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