Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum

Aoyagi Samurai Manor Museum

Welcome to Aoyagi Samurai Manor, one of the best preserved architectural beauties of its kind in Japan. Founded on the rich traditions of the Aoyagi family, the Manor assumed a new facade in 1989 as a complex of open-air museums. The estate features the Main House, the Armory, the Seiryu-an Gallery, the Akita Folk Museum, the Samurai Tools and Utensils Museum, the Antique Museum and Tea Room, gift shops and a beautiful garden.

On display in the buildings are quaint items from the 17th through 20th centuries: samurai swords, utensils, clothing, toys, hanging scrolls, pictures and documents. Some of them have earned the designation as important cultural properties from the national, prefectural or municipal government. More treasures of historic value would join in the exhibition from a sealed family storehouse where experts have been evaluating the contents.

Unlike other museums with facilities specially designed for exhibitions and their collections comprising only items gathered somewhere else, the buildings and their displays have their roots in this Manor – the members of the Aoyagi family built or collected them for their actual daily use. For example, the Main House had been home to the descendants until as late as 1985.

The Yakui Mon gate

The main gate to the Manor, Yakui Mon sports a roof with magnificent decorations, overwhelming other samurai manor gates in town. In feudal Japan, gates symbolized the social prestige of their owners. The Family built the gate in 1860 after the feudal lord of Kakunodate gave special permission as a reward for their contribution to the domain.

The Main House

The Main House with a thatched roof is one of the best preserved samurai residences in the nation. The L-shaped structure has three entrances leading to separate areas, whose use was under tight regulation according to one’s social class.

The ornamented front door (A) and the vestibule lead to the guest room. The area was only for visitors of very high status, and therefore were rarely in use. Wooden verandas border the guest room, allowing the visitors to enjoy the view of the garden.

The middle door (B) leads to the area for family members and close friends. To the right is the room of the head of the family, and to the left is the dining room. The door has grills on either side, allowing the servants to inspect the visitors from inside.
The side door (C) leads to the kitchen and was for the servants.

The Armory

A collection of swords, armors, helmets, guns and wor flags from the 15th through 19th centuries occupies the first floor. Items worth special attention include a triple-barrelled matchlock gun, a double-breasted black-lacquered armor and a folding armor. Also on display are flower-dyed silk kimonos donned by samurai brides at weddings.

The second floor has displays depicting the samurai lifestyle in the Edo period. The collection features clothes, toys and books as well as wooden dolls crafted by Takemura Bunkai, a renowned artist born in Kakunodate. Menuki and tsuba – parts of Japanese swords often carrying beautiful ornaments – are also among the collection. Copper ingots on display were cast from ores mined in the domain under the guidance of celebrated inventor Hiraga Gennai.

Seiryu-an Gallery

This building accommodates precious scrolls, pictures, books and prints discovered in the family storehouses. Exhibits change from time to time along different themes.

The garden

This compact botanical garden always greets visitors with flowers of the season. Hundreds of rare plants, including aoyagi Yae Beni Shidare Zakura (Aoyagi eight-petalled red weeping cerry) – a species found only in this garden – flourish with the tender care of experienced gardeners.

The pond and the Shinmei-sui well feed on five metric tons per hour of clear water flowing from aquifers under the near-by Gendaiji-yama hill.

The Odano Naotake statue

Odano Naotake (1749-80) was a Kakunodate-born samurai and a remote relative of the Aoyagi clan. He rose to fame for his illustrations of the human body in “Kaitai Shinsho,” the first translation of a Dutch book on anatomy published in Japan in 1774. A copy of the first edition is on display in the Antique Museum.

Odano created the anatomical illustrations utilizing western techniques he learned from Hiraga Gennai. They first met in 1773 when Hiraga was visiting a local copper mine upon request from the lord. The inventor taught Odano how to draw in perspective and apply shading, techniques not used in the Japanese drawing methods of those days.

With the publication of Kaitai Shinsho, Odano succeeded to win the respect of many art-loving feudal lords, who called upon him for lessons. He later invented Akita Ranga, or the Akita Dutch-drawing method.

The Akita Folk Museum

A typical farmer residence from the Edo period, this building used to be in a village in Akita Prefecture that has since sunk under a dam. Its sturdy structure incorporates more than 10 kinds of timber so that it can stand the heavy amount of snowfall in the region.

On the first floor is a Japanese antique shop. Household items, furnishings, paintings, prints, pottery, porcelain from days past are for sale. A collection of farming implements and a demonstration of Itaya woodwork also welcom visitors.

A section of the second floor focuses on war history. The exhibits include documents, mementos, uniforms and other items from the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) through the Pacific War (1941-45).
Also on the second floor is the sound Library, a collection of rare antique records and a phonograph.

The Samurai Tools and Utensils Museum

This building exhibits samurai household items and toys from the Edo period. One of its primary attractions is a collection of Oshi-e – three dimensional “pictures” made of cardboard patterns wrapped in silk and stuffed with cotton. Their creators were samurai wives and children, who sold the handicrafts as a means of secondary income.

The Antique Museum and Tea Room

This museum maintains what experts say one of the best collections of western antiques in Japan. Among the items on display are record players such as the original Victor Gramophone and Edison phonograph; cameras including Leica and Comtaflex units; clocks, music boxes, and a 1917 Indian motorcycle.

The tea room with antique interiors on the first floor is for visitors to relax and chat. Items on display in the tea room and in the gift shop on the second floor are for sale.

The Family History

The Aoyagi lineage goes as faar back as to the 16th century. The family founder Aoyagi Touemon first became a vassal of Lord Ashina of Hitach (about 350 kilomters southwest of Kkunodate) in 1570. The Family moved to Kkunodate following Lord Ashina when the shogun overlord transferred the master to the Akita domain in 1603. The Ashina reign only lasted for three generations, and the Aoyagi clan came to serve the second master, Lord Satake-Kita, in 1653. The new lord appointed Aoyagi to the important role of Nanbu Sakaime Yamayaku, or shief of Nanbu-area boundary guards.

In the next two centuries, the Family enjoyed a steady growth, both in income and political importance. Their men climbed up the social ladder and by 1868, when the Edo feudalism collapsed, Aoyagi’s fief gad expanded to become the third largest among those managed by the vassals in the domain.

Although many samurai experienced economic distress under the rule of the new Meiji government, Aoyagi was able to survive as a landlord. In 1902, Aoyagi Tomokichi became the mayor of Kakunodate.

OTHERS

Samurai and the Japanese Feudal System
Samurai were warriors who served either the daimyo, feudal lords, or the shogun overlord, and in return received either land or salary. Unlike vassals in the European feudal system, each samurai held his fief from only one lord.

In their domains, the daimyo were in control of not only samurai but also other residents in lower classes, such as peasants, artisans and merchants.
The shogun reigned over the daimyo, exercising absolute rule under the nominal leadership of the emperor. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descendants ruled the country for over 260 years, from 1603 to 1867. Their reign is called the Edo period after the name of the city where they placed the shogunate – the present-day Tokyo.

the feudal system came to an end when samurai from the southern domains carried out a coup d’etat in 1867 that led to the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Subsequently, Japan introduced constututional monarchy with the emperor as head of state.

Gift shops and stalls serve visitors who want to take home pieces of memorabilia from the museums. Available at the shops are specialties of the town such as cherry-bark artwork, rice wime and rice cookies as well as antiques including ceramics, porcelain, furniture and clothing.

Kakunodate and the Cherry Trees

Kakunodate is renowned for its beautiful cherry trees. Flanking the Buke Yashiki-dori, or “the street of samurai manors,” are 152 weeping sherry trees, designated as precious natural monuments by the national government in 1974. They were implanted from Kyoto, the then capital of Japan, over 200 years ago. The trees come in full blossom at the beginning of May.

The kaba zaiku sherry bark handicraft is a specialty of Kakunodate. They are wood products such as tea canisters, seal or medicine cases, accessories and furniture overlaid with veneers made of barks peeled off yamazakura cherry trees. The technique, invented by samurai over two centuries ago, won the designation as traditional artwork from the national government in 1976.

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