Special histrical site Umoregi-no-ya

Umoregi-no-ya is the place where Naosuke Ii (1815-1860), the 13th load of Hikone domain and a top official of Tokugawa Shogunate, spent his younger days for 15 years at the age of 17 to 32, and now was designated as a national exclusive historical site. Naosuke was the 14th son of the 11th load Naonaka and was not a successor of the clan. When Naoaki became a load of Hikone, Naosuke had to leave a house in the castle and live in the humble house outside of the castle. He was unsuccessful in the adoption of other loads, so he had to live poorly for life in this house. Naosuke compared his life to Umoregi, a buried and hidden tree in the ground, so this humble house was called “Umoregi-no-ya,” home of a hidden tree. He devoted himself to the training and studies of swordplay, equestrian, politics, foreign affairs, furthermore, poetry, tea ceremony, and various scholarships. This effort at a time of Umoregi-no-ya formed his personality and character as a top official of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

No one knows when Umoregi-no-ya was built, but a tile with an inscription of 1759 was found in the recent demolition work of the house. The house was constructed assumedly at least 70 years before Naosuke’s stay. In the demolition work, the poach broken by the earthquake in the Meiji era was restored to the original shape of Naosuke’s time.

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Umoreginoya
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Let me explain the layout of Umoregi-no-ya. Looking at the entrance from the road along the moat, the right hand is a row house, the left is a high wall, and the center is a gate. Walking two steps up into the entrance, you are in a courtyard surrounded by white walls. There are small gates to the inner garden and the kitchen door. The patio is covered with gravels, and there is a well in the center, which they say was for a thirsty horse to drink water when it came back home. A porch is 4-Joo (“Joo” is a unit of the size of Tatami mat), and two corridors lead to the room inside. The right side of the hallway is two rooms. One is 4-Joo, and the other is 4 1/2-Joo. The main building extends in an east-west direction, while a south building in the back extends in the orthogonal direction. Another building, with dining rooms, continue parallelly, so the whole look like “π” shape. In the left hand of the poach is a front room, a parlor, with 8-Joo and an elevated alcove. The next room is also 8-Joo, and these two rooms face a corridor covered with Tatami mats. A small garden seen from here is so frugal with ordinary stones and trees.

On the way to a back room on the corner is a famous tearoom “Juroken.” This name comes from a phrase of the Lotus Sutra. The place is 4 3/4-Joo with 1 1/2-Joo washing room. There are two entrances to the room, one from a parlor and the other from a back room, so it does not have a crawl-through doorway. The ceiling is about 2 meters high,  flat and sloped-roof part. You can see the washing room from Juroken, so all staffs in the backyard also need to feel the tension and behave appropriately. It includes spiritual training, which is Naosuke’s favorite style of a tea ceremony.

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When you walk around the outside of Juroken, you will reach a back room. It is a private room where Naosuke daily read books and studied. The main one is 8-Joo with an alcove, and the next room is the same size. There is a 5-Joo storage room between these two back rooms and the tearoom. At the back of these rooms is an inner corridor. In front of it is an intimate garden with beautiful bush clover flowers Naosuke loved. Stones look better than those in the front yard, the view is more extensive, and it has a taste of the zen-style garden. There used to be a willow tree Naoske loved. He loved willow trees very much, and he called Umoregi-no-ya a house of “King of willow,” but one willow tree in front of the porch only remains now.

In a south building, a 4-Joo middle room, an 8-Joo buddha room, an 8-Joo zen meditation room, and a delivery room are located in a row. You can view trees of the garden from a wooden corridor at the side of the garden. There are a dressing room and a bathroom in the end. This building is nearly 300 years old and was damaged a lot. Finally, it collapsed due to heavy snow, and then it was completely restored with the expense of Yen 600 million(about US$5.6 million) and the time of 6 years, then the refurbished house was open to the public in April 1991. There are some more rooms other than the above, row house, and a stable. There are seven wells in this house, a small temple, a small shrine, ruins of martial arts gym, and ruins of kiln stove, all of which show a wide range of Naosuke’s interest. Above is the outline of Umoreginoya.

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Okubo families now possess Umoregi-no-ya. The Okubo families had been one of the top members of the Hikone domain and supporting loads of Hikone. Kozen Okubo was contributing to 3 loads of Hikone domain, the 12th Naoaki, the 13th Naosuke, and the 14th Naonori. In 1871, the owner of Umoregi-no-ya, Naonori II, gave it to Kozen through a local government to reward his loyalty and activities for the II families. Since then, the Okubo families have been keeping it as a family precept that “We preserve Umoregi-no-ya generation by generation,” and paid extravagant efforts to maintain and keep it.

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Mr.&Mrs. Okubo, current owner

Kozen’s offspring: All-out effort to preserve Umoregi-no-ya

The 1st Okubo Kozen (Photo)

In 1871, Hikone local government presented Umoregi-no-ya to Okubo Kozen as a reward of various great achievements. It was not a gratuitous conveyance but an exchange with Kozen’s own house. In 1875, Kozen was forcefully requested to transfer all the land of Umoreginoya to set up a Shookonsha (later Gokoku shrine), but he refused it. He protected Umoregi-no-ya by the alienation of the property which had nothing to do with Naosuke only. Furthermore, he paid his own expenses to repair the house damaged by a flood in 1896. Besides, Kozen petitioned a Meiji government for the preservation of Hikone castle and saved the beautiful building from the demolition. But after Count Naonori II passed away in 1902, next year, Kozen also died on January 14 at the age of 83.

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The 2nd Okubo Kazuomi

The main building of Umoregi-no-ya tilted, and the entrance gate and the shed were destroyed by the Torahime earthquake in 1909. The owner Kazuomi paid a lot out of his pocket to once take apart and repair them. Umoregi-no-ya had been the only a traditional warrior’s house entirely maintained at that point. The 2nd owner Okubo Kazuomi also devoted himself to the preservation of the house.

 

The 3rd Akihiko

As the Japan-China war became severer, they were giving militarism absolute priority in Japan. Gokoku shrine was to be expanded by pressure from the military, and they set their eyes on Umoregi-no-ya in 1939. One day some of the military police forced entry into Umoregi-no-ya, intruded into the back room with their shoes on, shouted coercively, “You did not donate Umoregi-no-ya to the military, traitors! Now we’re going to crush it by our tank!”. Three Okubo brothers, Akihiko, Sadahiko, Akifumi, wore white attire (white attire is a costume when a samurai perform hara-kiri). They confronted with the soldiers and answered back, “If you like to do so, do it after you cut our heads off!” and defended Umoregi-no-ya to the last. After the incident, Akihiko exerted himself to ask for the assistance of Fumimaro Konoe (prime minister) or to persuade Hideki Toojoo (army minister). Finally, the plan to seize Umoregi-no-ya was abandoned. He was quite prepared to die and guarded the historic house.

The 4th Sadatake

After Akihiko passed away, his younger brother Sadatake succeeded Umoregi-no-ya and maintained it under poverty. Meanwhile, Hikone castle central tower was designated as a national treasure in 1952. At a same time, the newspaper novel “Hana-no-Shoogai (Life of a flower)” that describes the life of Naosuke became a big hit. In 1956, the area of Hikone castle was designated as the special historical sight of Japan, and Umoregi-no-ya was a part of it. It was officially announced on an official gazette on July 19, reported the Ministry of Education. Later, Hikone municipal government made a plan to purchase Umoregi-no-ya, but Sadahiko and Akifumi firmly refused it and protected it out.

The 5th Haruo (current)

Oumi (Shiga prefecture) area was attacked by tremendous snowfall in 1984, and the deteriorated Umoregi-no-ya south building was collapsed by the heavy snow. The complete demolition and restoration work based on the cultural property protection law started next year. The plan was for five years, and the total cost was Yen200 million (about USD2 million). In addition to subsidies from the national and local governments, Haruo also spent more than Yen2 million own money. The entire Umoregi-no-ya of II Naosuke’s days came back in 1990, and it has been open to the public since the next year.

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Though the number of visitors is reducing, 400,000+ people have visited the cultural property since its opening to the public. They see the building with their eyes, experience the atmosphere. They are surprised at Naosuke’s hard work in younger days and his cultural aspect of tea ceremony, poems, and Zen. They also sympathize with his thought of international cooperation, respect Naosuke’s decisive judgment about the opening of the country to avoid war against foreigners. Besides, the banal Naosuke’s image on Ansei-no-Taigoku(a purge of political enemies) and disobedience to the Emperor was the wrong concept. Most of the visitors agree to it and understand that the idea was one-sided by the new government, and went back home.

We welcome your visit to Umoregi-no-ya and share his thoughts and achievements. Cherry blossoms in spring, colorful leaves in autumn. Standing at the gate, you will see a spreading white turret in front of you. A distant view is Hikone castle central tower. You enter the traditional samurai house and say, “Excuse me!” as if you were in the Edo era. Then, you feel the atmosphere as if Naosuke came out of the house and said, “Would you like a cup of tea?”.

 

“Seeing is believing” “Never talk on Naosuke Ii until you’ve seen Umoregi-no-ya.” British poet Martin greeted Naosuke for his greatness and sent the following poem.

 

Little people see the Biwako

Big people see Japan

Great people see the world

 

Great people, Naosuke Ii. He is a real man of culture and politics who see a whole world. (His thought of international cooperation and peace and firm decision saved Japan.)