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Ten Wonders of Umoregi-no-ya

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1) Ridge-end tiles, a spiral and a chrysanthemum

Umoregi-no-ya is located in front of a row hose on the stone wall of a Hikone castle. Its solid samurai gate stands on stone stairs with long white walls. The tile-roofing roof and pillows are broad, and the wooden doors are thick. Different types of ridge-end tiles are fixed on both sides of the gate, a spiral design typical for samurai gates on the outside, and a chrysanthemum flower design on the inner side. The chrysanthemum is widely used in temple gates. Naosuke is a person who mastered the Zen spirit. When he was living in the house, the base of his life and discipline was Zen Buddhism. Therefore, the chrysanthemum tile stood for his mind inside of Umoregi-no-ya. But once he went out, he must behave as a samurai, in particular, as a brother of the Hikone lord. The spiral design might stand for his decisive mind. Anyway, the design of the ridge-end tiles is the sublimation of Naosuke’s deep spirit.

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2) Two parallel diagonal corridors next to the porch

Please refer to the map of Umoregi-no-ya. If you enter the patil, you will find white mud walls on both sides, each of which has a wooden door to enter the premises. You cannot come to the garden or a kitchen door directly. There is a sliding door consisting of four thick wood boards at your front in the entrance hall. At the left of the door, there is a corridor to the guest room, but strangely, they are about 40 degrees diagonal. A professional of the architecture said, “This is a clever idea. A visitor at the entrance cannot see the rooms, so he does not know who is or isn’t in the guest room. It was safe if the house might be big, and the corridor to the guest room is long enough to hide the inside. But Umoregi-no-ya is relatively small, and the corridor is short, so the wisdom is necessary. What a valuable house!” Now that the 2nd wonder of Umoregi-no-ya was solved. The other diagonal corridor leads to the inside rooms from a guards’ shed through a maid room, so it was used by retainers. The main one was used by a host and his guests only.


3) No Nijiriguchi (small entrance) in a tearoom Juroken

In a tea ceremony, Naosuke named himself as “Sookan” or “Munemi” at the time of Umoregi-no-ya and mastered Sekishuu school. The central place of his activities was a tearoom Juroken. He wrote a famous book of tea, “Ichi-e-shu,” and developed such unique concepts as “Ichi-go-Ichi-e,” “Yojoo-Zanshin,” and “Dokuza-Kannen” (please refer to this page for details). Juroken is at the corner of the passage from the front room to the back room. Strangely, the tearoom does not have a Nijiriguchi (a small entrance to a teahouse that requires participants in a tea ceremony to bend low to enter). Naosuke was an impoverished samurai when he was living in Umoregi-no-ya. If he were rich enough, he could have built a beautiful, graceful tearoom in a secluded garden. He genuinely thought of how he made a budget tearoom, and then he made it at a corner of the corridors of the main house with a water room. The ceiling of the room is oblique and looks beautiful at first glance, but in reality, it is just an extension of the main house’s roof. He could manage to make the water room, but Nijiriguci does not exist.


Nijiriguchi is the sliding door at a size of 1-meter square, but it is not all. If you have the Nijiriguchi, you must set a stepping-stone, build a waiting area, and prepare a sword deposit room for a samurai, etc. As a result, the construction cost should rise. He left out Nijiriguchi and alcove, too. Instead, there are two entrances in Juroken. One is a sliding door at the side of the corridor of the main room, being next to the water room. A host and staff will use it. The other one is the entrance to the side of the living room. A decorative branch is fixed at the top of the door, so it is likely for the guests. We recognize that Naosuke did not like a luxury tearoom, but he put a value on a tea ceremony and its spirit. By the way, there is a tearoom in the Hikone castle, but it does not have a Nijiriguchi, either. (I heard above from a tea master of Sekishuu school, Maeda Tekisui.)

4) Decorative nailhead covers in Zen meditation room – two rabbits

Naosuke frequently went to the Seiryooji temple to learn Zen Buddhism, and finally succeeded a Buddhist stole and the essence of Zen from the master. He did Zen meditation every day in Umoregi-no-ya. The south building has a Buddha room and a Zen meditation room. There is a horizontal piece of timber frame in the place where you can find several nails and the decoration to hide them. The decorative nail-covers are elegant, two rabbits design made of metals. They are lucky rabbits and make you calm down. As Naosuke often wrote poems about a moon, he seemed to hold an image of “a rabbit in the moon.”

5) Garden and earthen jar to produce a sound

“Suikinkutsu”- is one of the facilities in a garden. It is an earthen jar buried in a garden that produces a sound when water drips into water at the bottom.

Please take a look at a map of Umoregi-no-ya. Though the garden is also frugal, there are three Suikinkutsu (marked as “☆” on the map). At the corner of a tearoom, at the edge of a living room and a Buddha room. Furthermore, between a kitchen door and a guards’ shed. When it rained in summer, Naosuke was surely relaxed to hear the dripping sound in a tearoom or a living room. At the same time, he was attentive to others and set a Suikinkutsu for his retainers. The host of the house intended to share the elegance with others at the time of raining. He was a real man of refined taste and culture. Even now, when it starts raining, the sound of the Suikinkutu comes to our ears in a quiet Umoregi-no-ya.

6) Naosuke’s symbol of heart – willows

Willows – This tree fascinated Naosuke with its submissive figure that did not resist the wind. He loved it much and took it as a basis of his heart in Umoregi-no-ya. He named the house as “Yanagi-no-ya(A house of willows),” and wrote many poems about willow trees. His haiku collection is “Yanagi-no-Ochiba(Fallen leaves of willows),” and waka collection is “Yanagi-no-Shizuku(Drops of willows).”

A lot of poems he wrote in Umoregi-no-ya are about moon, plume grass, and willows as well. Naosuke always liked the poem “Frustrated and returned home, and there was a willow tree in a garden” written by Ryoota Oshima. Even if he felt frustrated by various matters outside, he came back to Umoregi-no-ya and saw a willow tree. Then, he was relieved by the willow’s submissiveness and regained composure. A willow tree is standing at the side of the main gate even now.

7) Many kinds of medicinal herbs in the garden

It is often said that “Those who like flowers are generous.” Umoregi-no-ya was modest, and the garden was small as a house for the son of the lord. But Naosuke was satisfied with it and lived there for 15 years and devoted himself to learning and training. Through this life, he cultivated a generous mind. In a tea ceremony, poem, and Zen Buddhism, he almost reached the master’s level, while he seemed to expand a range of his knowledge about plants and trees in the Umoregi-no-ya’s garden. As I am living in Tokyo, I asked a chief manager in Hikone to be in charge of the service and maintenance of the house. Mr. Yoshio Tsutsumi (ex. branch manager of Shiga banking corp.) warked for us for 18 years, and he took many years to observe a lot of flowers in the garden and recorded it in the chart.

flower chart.jpg

The number of kinds is surprisingly many, and we can imagine Naosuke was cherishing flowers in the garden throughout the year. But more astonishingly, plants in the garden include a lot of medical herbs. Naosuke seemed to know about medicine and pharmacy, so excellent! It was an old friend Miura Hokuan, a doctor who introduced Nagano Shuzen (who became a brain of Naosuke later) to Naosuke in the time of Umoregi-no-ya. Besides, one of Naosuke’s 17 best pupils of a tea ceremony, Nakajima Sootatsu, was also a doctor. Naosuke could often talk with them on medicine and treatment, then, planted medical herbs and trees in the garden.

Finally, I would like to explain about medicinal herbs in the garden. Regarding scientific knowledge about herbs, I especially thank Dr. Shinhan Sha of Musashino Gakuin Univ. He referred to various original Chinese medical texts and provided me with valuable information. Anyway, it is quite astonishing that Naosuke owned a high level of knowledge about medicine and pharmacy.

Farfugium japonicum

Boil down >>> wet compress, skin disease, a bruise, a swelling

a cold, cough medicine, phlegm


Japanese andromeda

Improve liver function, bowel movement

Toxic(Asebotoxin), can be used as an insecticide



Painkiller (chest, stomach, heart)

The cortex can be used as a vermifuge



Houttuynia cordata

detoxification, diuresis, cough medicine, resolution, antidiarrheal, pneumonia, hemorrhoids, gonorrhea



Leaf, fruit, stem, and root are all crude drugs for cough, asthma, bronchitis

Nandina tea >>> antipyretic, stomachic, cough medicine


Japanese rohdea

antipyretic, detoxification, hemostasis, cardiotonic drug, diuresis, cough medicine, painkiller



Hemostasis, hematemesis, trauma, odontalgia, antidiarrheal, menstrual irregularity, burn, vermifuge



Gastroenteritis, Acute diarrheal, hypertension, diabetes, cough medicine, dermatitis



8) Small shrine for a smooth delivery

Please refer to the map of Umoregi-no-ya. Next to the Zen meditation room is a delivery room. A metal ring is hung from the ceiling. Passing the cloth through the ring and pulling it, a woman in labor strain herself to give birth to a baby. A bathroom is next door, so it is convenient for delivery. Naosuke’s concubine Shizu gave birth to the 2nd daughter Yachiyo on January 16, 1846. Naosuke built a small shrine in front of the delivery room in the garden and prayed for safety delivery every day. But he had to leave for Edo just after the successful delivery in February, so there was not enough time to see the baby. He often sent rapid letters to Shizu from Edo to inquire after her health. A good father also told her to bring up the baby modestly as a daughter of samurai. Yachiyo grew up nicely and finally got married to Matsudaira Yoritoshi, a successor of the Takamatsu domain. Shizu and Naosuke had only one daughter Yachiyo. All the other girls were between Naosuke and concubine Riwa. A lawful wife was Masako, a daughter of Matsudaira Nobuatsu, a lord of Tanba-Kameyama domain. They got married after Naosuke took the office of the lord of Hikone domain.


9) Seven wells in a residential site

Please take another look at the map. A well is marked as a sharp (#⃣) on it. There are two between the main gate and the entrance of the house. It was used to give a horse drinking water or to wash the legs. Another two wells are in a vast space near a kitchen door and a shed, and one in a dining space. A total of four wells surround the dining, which means they took particular caution to fire, said a specialist surprisingly. Besides, there is one near a living room (used for tea ceremony as well) and another one in the back garden. In total, seven wells were dug for Umoregi-no-ya.

10) The direction of the frontal screen of a lavatory pan

Umoregi-no-ya has four lavatories. They are for the main room, the living room, a bathroom, and for retainers and guards. From now on, a story told by an architecture specialist. He said that the direction of the frontal screen of the lavatory pan near Naosuke’s living room was unusual. It faces the entrance, which is reversed direction. He added that it is because the lavatory user could immediately take action to protect himself even if an assassin attacked while doing his needs. Is it true that a samurai brings a sword and makes it ready in the lavatory?

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