A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Remembering Short-lived Wakamori Prefecture (若森県) – Which was centered in what is now Tsukuba City’s Wakamori


The old Wakamori Prefectural Office (若森県庁) was built in 1869 and stood in Wakamori Village (now Wakamori, Tsukuba City) for about 3 years – which is how long that Prefecture existed (2 years and nine months, to be exact) before being absorbed by both Niihari (now defunct)  and Ibaraki Prefectures. Wakamori Prefecture was established to administer the various (and disconnected) parts of this region which during the (feudal) Edo Period had not been ruled by major local domains (i.e. Mito, Tsuchiura, Ushiku) but had belonged to HATAMOTO, or distant domains (i.e. Sendai) or had been under direct Shogunal rule (TENNRYO) – and the prefectural officers who worked at this office played a major role in implementing the Meiji Government’s anti-Buddhist policies in the area (under the leadership of Governor Ikeda Tanenori*). None of the dozens of structures which had been built as part of this hill-top prefectural office complex has survived.

By Avi Landau

A signboard explains how the site of the old Wakamori Prefectural Office had been used previously used for at least two fortresses (in the 14th nd 16th centuries, respectively) – and the JINYA for the Hotta‘s (a family of HATAMOTO, retainers closely allied to the Tokugawa Shogunate).

The elevated site was ideally suited for defensive installations. A  “satellite” fortress (among around 40 others) which helped protect nearby Oda Castle ( a couple of Kilometers to the east) was constructed on it by Haruhisa Oda (1300-1352) and the Tagaya’s of Shimotsuma Castle (to the west) refortified the hill again in the early 1570s (after the Oda’s had been defeated). That fortification was then removed after the Tokugawa’s took control of the country, and that piece of land given to the Hotta’s, close allies of the Shogun. Their JINYA was erected on site the f sometime during the Edo Period – but was demolished (for unknown reasons) in 1863, leaving the land upon which the prefectural office complex would be built, vacant.

On Ibaraki Prefecture Day I stood where the Wakamori Prefectural offices (and the fortresses) had once stood and tried to imagine all the hustle, bustle and excitement of ages past – now there are just the trees, a chestnut grove, the grass, flowers, birds…

… and this beautiful old private home (whose owners do not encourage history-walks on its grounds!)

Approaching the site by car (along route 19) it`s hard to imagine that the administrative center of a whole prefecture (overseeing 560 villages and around 150,000 people) had once been located here. Not a trace of the shops, restaurants, inns and offices (including a court, a prison, a tax office, an office for shrine and temple affairs, etc.) that thrived there for a period of about 3 years – from 1869 -1872). After the prefecture was abolished the neighborhood turned into a very quiet residential area, which is now rustically charming.

Approaching the thickly wooded site (surrounded by rice fields) from Hojo (to the north) via Kimijima. The High Energy Physics Laboratory (KEK) lies a couple of km to the west, and the Sakura River a couple of hundred meters to the east

A headless statue of Jizo. Besides collecting taxes, helping the poor and needy, listening to appeals and petitions, and bestowing awards and honors for longevity, acts of filial piety and other good deeds, the officers who staffed the Wakamori Prefectural Office worked hard to implement the reforms of the new Meiji Government – one of which was the separation of Buddhism and Shinto (which involved the widespread destruction of temples and Buddhist images – some very, very dear to the locals whose urgent appeals to stop the carnage went unheeded). The most dramatic destruction took place on  Mt. Tsukuba, where the Chisoku-in Chuzenji Temple was forcibly turned into a shinto shrine. One hundred and fifty years later, this headless jizo statue laying in the dirt near the site of the old prefectural office is a reminder of what happened.

Some Buddhist images, though, can still be found in the immediate vicinity – like these wooden statues of Kobo Daishi (Kukai)

A quiet pond near the site of the old Wakamori Prefectural  Offices.

…and a rustic Kashima Shrine

in the woods…

where a temple had once obviously stood. Here is another statue of Jizo , which while having its head still on its shoulders, is ironically buried chest high!

* Ikeda Tanenori (池田種徳) 1831-1874, was born in what is now Hiroshima Prefecture, as the first son of a doctor. Preferring Confucian Studies to Medicine, though, he went to Kyushu to become a disciple of Confucian scholar Hirose Tanso. He then moved to Edo to further his studies. There he became friends with several men who would become active in the movement to overthrow the Shogunate and restore the Emperor to a position of power – and he was actually thrown into prison for a spell for listening to anti-shogunal propaganda. Surprisingly, he was still made a leader of the Roshigumi, a group of body-guards whose job it was to protect  Shogun Iemochi during his 1863 visit to Kyoto. He left this group quickly though, after he realized that the Shogunate was not doing enough to “expel the foreigners (barbarians)” from Japan. He was then taken in and given shelter by anti-shogunal activists from his native area (Hiroshima) and worked with them (and many other from around Japan) to help bring about the Meiji Restoration.

Under the new Meiji government he became a very busy, you could say indefatigable, bureaucrat – first as Governor of Hitachi Prefecture (1869) and then Wakamori Prefecture (in the same year). Then in 1871, he became the first governor of Niihari Prefecture (with had just absorbed Wakamori Prefecture). He went on to serve as a magistrate in Shimane Prefecture (1872) and Iwate Prefecture (in the same year!) In 1874 he was sent to Aomori as a magistrate, but because of poor health he went to seek treatment in Tokyo, where he passed on later in the same year.

Apparently, Ikeda personally selected the spot where the prefectural offices would be built and he selected Wakamori over two other candidate locations – in Niihari and Kangori. It was probably the availability of that unused hill, the site of former fortresses (with a nice view of Mt. Tsukuba) touted by the Wakamori village headman that tilted the scales in favor of Wakamori.

Ikeda Tanenori, governor of Wakamori Prefecture (who oversaw the destruction of the great temple compound on Mt. Tsukuba)


The old Niihari Prefectural Office