Japan Travel Guide
The Yamasa Institute
Edited by: Declan Murphy
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Matsumae played a key role in the trade and warfare with the Ainu tribes of the island, and in the subsequent conquest of Ainu territories that led to the aggressive colonization of the rest of Hokkaido when the Kaitakushi was established. Matsumae also played a role in the Boshin war of 1868-69. After Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate and other new cities grew rapidly in the late 19th century, Matsumae shrank to become a small coastal town, and by escaping the bombings of WWII managed to preserve much of its cultural and architectural heritage.
Wajinchi: The story of Matsumae and the area known for centuries as the Wajinchi is a story about climate and climate adaptation. The climate explains the role of Matsumae in the history of Hokkaido. For several centuries prior to the arrival in the late 16th century of the Kakizaki clan (a minor branch of the family of Takeda Shingen), small groups of Japanese settlers established themselves on the peninsula, surviving the bitter winters by relying on fishing and through trade with the Ainu. The rice seeds available at the time were marginal at this latitude and the growing season short - scientific agriculture was unknown, cold climate farming techniques limited, and food supply tenuous. Relying on wet rice agriculture meant that crop failure was a constant threat and these economics prevented northern expansion at anything above an incremental pace. The area occupied by the Japanese was called the Wajinchi, and the frontier between the settlers and Ainu (who lived in the area known as Ezochi) was fluid, moved constantly (sometimes south in hard years), and involved continuous interaction (both cooperation and conflict) between the two peoples.
|Approach to gate|
Hideyoshi confirmed the control by the Kakizaki over the Oshima peninsula and nearby areas, and this feudal fief was later confirmed by Tokugawa Ieyasu. Over time Yoshihiro and subsequent daimyo were able to build a castle (Fukuyama Castle, now called Matsumae Castle), fund the construction of major temples and shrines such as Matsumae Jinja, invest in public works including the harbor and create a castle town from which they could rule the area of the Wajinchi.
During the next 250 years, the Wajinchi gradually expanded as seed selection slowly improved crop yields. Improved fishing techniques, the gradual inclusion into the Wajinchi area of more salmon runs (sometimes through military force), and the gradual exploitation of mineral and forestry resources helped turned Matsumae into a growth town. The main spur to growth though was trade with the Ainu.
|Teppozama and Yazama in the walls|
Amongst these goods were items that had been obtained through trade with the Ainu, including items such as Chinese brocaded garments that the Ainu themselves had obtained through their separate trade with mainland Asia. The Ainu had extensive trade links both amongt themselves and other northern peoples including those of the Okhostk and Kurile islands, northern China, and later with Russian traders who from the 17th century were in contact from Siberia. As part of the tightening by the new Tokugawa shogunate of the policies regarding foreign trade, it was decided that only the Matsumae clan would conduct trade and other relations with the Ainu, in much the same way that relations with the Ryukyuu Kingdom and Korea would be left to the Satsuma and Tsushima respectively. This exclusive license to trade provided a financial windfall for the Matsumae, to the point where later generations of Matsumae daimyo would be accused by daimyo in Tohoku of neglecting their role as samurai in favor of business interests.
To facilitate and to control trade and relations with the Ainu, the Matsumae established the Taikan. This was a building north of the castle where tribal chiefs could make representations, and goods and services be traded. The major products sold to the Ainu were rice, tobacco, sake, and some manufactured goods. These were not necessarily useful, but within the Ainu hierarchy could be used as gifts and were therefore held in value.
From 1669 to 1672, the Ainu warrior Shakushain led a rebellion that destroyed most of the outstations and terrorised the Wajinchi. Slashing their way
towards Matsumae, the Ainu tribes took a heavy toll on miners and foresters, Ainu who collaborated with the Matsumae, and finally
approached the castle vicinity. The samurai had become urbanised and their military efficiency questionable. It was not until
the fighting reached cleared agricultural areas, and reinforcements from Aomori had arrived that the Matsumae were able to use steel
and firearms to reverse the struggle. Shakushain was betrayed and killed. Those Japanese who had survived the original
onslaught through collaboration were also killed, and on the orders of the Tokugawa Shogunate the retribution was carried deep
into Ezo. The Ainu never recovered, and further loss of hunting grounds, and the spread of veneral diseases such as syphilis through
rape and prostitution (both from Ainu traders visiting Japanese prostitutes and Japanese fishermen visiting Ainu prostitutes) would
later facilitate full conquest.
After the declaration of the Ezo Republic, Enomoto's new government based in Hakodate demanded the surrender of the Matsumae clan's Fukuyama Castle. The Matsumae had remained aloof of the civil disturbances and its leadership had not yet declared their position. The primary reasons for the surrender demand was the need to deny the forces of the new Meiji government a potential bridgehead across the Tsugaru strait and to obtain civil control of the district for taxation purposes. With approximately 30,000 inhabitants, by the 1850s Matsumae was the largest town in Hokkaido. The people of Matsumae were neither consulted nor participants in the rushed "elections" held to confirm the leadership of the Ezo Republic, and under the guidance or direction of the Matsumae daimyo, the castle and town resisted the demands of the forces of the "Ezo Republic" and war ensued.
Things to see and do: Although a small town, there are many things to see. The winter is basicallyy the off season where the seafood, wild coastline and snow scenery and the major attractions.
How to get there:
|Graves of the Matsumae clan|
Study in Hokkaido - It is now possible to study Japanese in
Sapporo either during the Sapporo Summer Japanese Course
or the winter, including Study Tours.
Click here for more information regarding studying Japanese in Sapporo.
Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visit Matsumae.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.
Photographs and contributions
|Rough seas in the Tsugaru strait near Matsumae harbor|
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