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Suwa - March 2024

Suwa has good hot springs, and the sake is delicious, so I often stayed there as a stopover when driving back and forth from my parents' house. This area is located at the intersection of the Median Tectonic Belt and Fossa Magna, is home to Suwa Taisha Shrine, is home to the rise and fall of the Takeda clan, and is a coveted area for geology and history buffs.


Lake Suwa is a tectonic lake created by fault activity, and was formed about 3 to 4 million years ago in the same way as Lake Biwa, but on a completely different scale. The area is approximately 13km2, and the maximum depth is 7m.

Compared to Lake Biwa, which is about 50 times larger and has a maximum depth of over 100 meters, so it might be only a puddle. While 31 rivers flow from the surrounding mountains, one large river flows all the way through the Ina Basin and into the Pacific Ocean, the Tenryu River. Thanks to a coincidence of tectonic movements in the Japanese archipelago, rain in Suwa flows into the Pacific Ocean, and rain in Matsumoto flows into the Sea of Japan.

Shinano (Nagano Prefecture) is a large country, but for a time under the Ritsuryo system, Suwa was a separate and independent country. Although it lasted only 10 years from 721 (Yoro 5) to 731 (Tenpyo 3) during the Nara period, it is said to have centered on the Suwa region, with Azumino and Chikuma in the north, and Ina region in the south. In addition to the physical difficulties of governing the vast Shinano area from the north of the prefecture, Suwa Taisha Shrine is also one of the oldest shrines in Japan, and there is no doubt that it held an important position in terms of political status. Researching the history of Azumi, which moved from Tsukushi(Nothern Kyushu), and Suwa, which moved from Izumo, has a lot of mystery and romance, and I would like to continue visiting Suwa in the future.

This time, I wandered around Takato Castle and Takashima Castle to get stamps on the 100 Famous Castles that I recently started to collect, but due to the unseasonable snowfall, I had to abandon more than half of my planned visit. On the other hand, there were some unexpected discoveries. At the history museum next to Takato Castle, the house where Ejima (a prominent lady-in-waiting in the Ooku of Edo Castle) was imprisoned for 27 years after being exiled during the Ejima-Ikushima Incident has been restored.

To put it simply, the shogunate suspected the relationship between Ejima and Kabuki actor Shingoro Ikushima, and in order to enforce discipline, Ikushima was exiled to Miyakejima and Ejima was exiled there. Ejima served Gekkoin, the concubine of the 6th shogun Ienobu (mother of the 7th shogun Ietsugu), but Ooku was said to have had a feud with his lawful wife, the Tenei-in faction, and was involved in a political dispute in Ooku. It is common knowledge that the Shogun family was succeeded by Yoshimune of the Kishu Tokugawa family (Ieyasu's 10th son Yorinobu) from Hidetada's male descendants after Ietsugu passed away early.

The deity enshrined at Suwa Taisha Shrine is Takeminakata, and the Suwa clan is a descendant of that deity. In the Kojiki, he appears in the story of the ceding of the country, but the story is that he was the son of the lord of the Izumo province, rebelled against the "ceding of the country", and was eventually cornered by Suwa and surrendered. The Suwa clan was a rare family that served as both a priest and a samurai, and although it was once destroyed by Takeda Shingen, it returned to its ancestral home due to its exploits at the Battle of Sekigahara and ushered in the Meiji Restoration.

It was originally one of Japan's three great lake castles (the others being Matsue and Zeze) and appeared to be floating on the shore of Lake Suwa, but when you look at the townscape of Suwa from the small castle tower, you can see Mt. Fuji in front of you in the opposite direction of the lake. I have to say it's a wonderful contrast.


The Takashima feudal lord Suwa family graveyard (Onsen-ji) is designated as a national historic site, and the view of the lake from here is also spectacular. The graves of former feudal lords are designated as national historic sites in various parts of Japan, but in Japan, where it is extremely difficult for individuals to maintain their ancestors' heritage due to high inheritance taxes, it is difficult to estimate the cost of maintaining these historical relics. It is an eternal question whether we can cover and protect the definition. Perhaps because of the high risk of collapse due to an earthquake, there were many signs posted warning of the danger.

The grave of Izumi Shikibu is also located here. She was a colleague of Murasaki Shikibu who served Shoshi, a woman who had many false names, and a famous poem that was featured in Hyakunin Isshu, but why is her grave located in Suwa? Her father was Echizen no kami and her divorced husband was Kawachi no kami, but they have no connection to Shinano. According to local legend, she lost her parents when she was young and was adopted as a deeply religious woman, and when she was constantly making offerings to the Jizo statue, she was mistakenly thought to be skipping work and had her forehead hit with chopsticks. She was injured, but the Jizo healed her and became a beautiful woman, and later moved to Tokyo.

Izumi Shikibu is a bit of a joke, but Tetsuzan Nagata is a real Suwa person, and a bronze statue of him is placed inside Takashima Castle. In August 1935 (Showa 10), he was killed by a madman of the Imperial Way, but the army lost him, and Hideki Tojo rose to prominence, and the army could no longer control itself on and after that. There is no Nagata before Nagata, and there is no Nagata after Nagata.



Thank you for coming!

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