Hirosaki - the Sacred and the Profane : Hirosaki town and Hirosaki Castle - 1
(Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan)

One of the favorite scenery in Hirosaki is a cut of the five-storied pagoda of Saisho-in Temple as the important cultural property seen from one of the Tohoku's major entertainment districts, Kajimachi. An elegant and neat pagoda silhouette emerges at the eye stop of the messy streetscape with protruding billboards and wires.

Hirosaki is a cultural and educational city in a healthy guidebook and is depicted as a cultural tourist destination that represents the Tohoku region, blessed with cultural assets from Western architecture in the Meiji and Taisho era to modern architecture in addition to temples and shrines built in the Edo era. Meanwhile, many bars are gathered, and if you look into the net, you must find quite suspicious places, so it is not only a pure and good city but seems to be a not-straightforward town.

The amplitude of its sacred and common parts that create complicated delicacy for Hirosaki overlaps the scenery of Saisho-in's five-storied pagoda seen from Kajimachi.

The town of Hirosaki began in the early Edo era.

During 1571 and 1588, Takenobu Ohura, who was a subject of the Nambu domain, took advantage of the internal conflict of the domain and took hold of the Tsugaru region, which had been inadequately guarded. Later, in 1589, he gained the approval of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the power of the time, and established the rule of the land.

In 1603, Tamenobu Ohura, who changed his name from Ohura to Tsugaru, started building a castle in Takaoka, a point of great strategic importance on the hill surrounded by the Iwaki River and the Tsuchibuchi River. The first completion was in 1611. In 1628, the time of the second lord Nobuhira Tsugaru, Tenkai, who was known as a mysterious monk and gained confidence of Nobuhira, gave the name of Hirosaki, based on esoteric Buddhism.

Nobuhira founded the structure of the town to protect the castle physically, in consideration with topography, the form of the castle, the arrangement of samurai residences, and, at the edge of the castle town, disposed temples and shrines closely, based on Fang Shui, to protect the town perfectly by sacred power.

The Hachimangu Shrine and Shinmeigu Shrine were located in the northeastern direction corresponding to the demon gate, the temple district and the Toshogu Shrine, which enshrined Ieyasu Tokugawa, were established in the east, and, in the south, the Minami Tameike reservoir (currently the ground of the medical school of Hirosaki University) conscious of Sijin So-ou (an ideal topography for the four Taoist gods) were dug, mobilizing 10,000 people. In the southwest as the back demon gate, another temple district, where 33 temples of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism including the Chosho-Ji temple were collected, was built, and, in the west direction toward Mt. Iwakiyama as the holy mountain of Tsugaru region and the symbol of the religious faith, the Kakusyu-Ji temple with the mausoleum of Tamenobu, the Takateru Jinzya shrine which enshrined Nobumasa as the fourth lord and the Iwakiyam Jinzya shrine which object of worship was the Iwakiyama Jinzya shrine were lined up almost in a straight line.

The Minami Tameike reservoir had an actual defense function as well as the temple district “Zenrin-gai” was planned as an emergency defense base “Kamae” which built empty moats and earthen walls by cutting mountains and established a square bearing block “Masugata”. The facility arrangement based on Feng Shui had not only “sacred” meaning but also a realistic function.

As a result, many of the temples and shrines that were created are now designated as national cultural assets as a good example of architectural design in the Tohoku region of that time. However, it seems that it was not as simple as a serious religious spirit. That had a negative side that the Tsugaru domain utilized positively culture and religion to conceal the dark background on their origin and to ensure legitimacy. Not only the Tsugaru domain but culture oneself is also a manifestation of such a “profane” will.

The construction of the Toshogu Shrine in Hirosaki to enshrine the first shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa of the Tokugawa Shogunate was succeeded to that in Nikko, which was first built, and was earlier than that built in Edo. For the outward, it seems to have been a proof of loyalty towards the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo by the Tsugaru domain meanwhile, for the inward and the nearby domains, it seems that the Tsugaru domain intended to show the Tokugawa Shogunate prestige to ensure the legitimacy.

And the creation of a castle town of this size in a short period in a place where there had been nothing is the ultimate expression of the Tsugaru domain’s legitimacy.

The town of Hirosaki seems to be a town where sacred and profane things had overlapped since its establishment.

Even so, Hirosaki is wide.

Since temples and shrines are placed on the borders of the town to protect the castle town, visiting it is to go around the outer edge of Hirosaki and make people feel the town more spacious. The castle is also huge. 480,000 square meters, compared to 300,000 square meters of the Morioka Castle as the home of the hostile Nambu domain.

It may be because of exhaustion that the size of the townbeyond the walking distance and the size of the castle seemed to be a common will to show the power of the Tsugaru domain. What I felt when I walked in Hirosaki was the fear of the speed of a car that ran through a narrow road. Compared to other towns, it was too rapid. Overcoming the size of the town of Hirosaki at high speed may be a modern and profane interpretation of the town.

To Japanese Version

Google Maps

From Tokyo to Hirosaki
by train
: 3 hours 20 minutes from “Tokyo Station” to “Shin-Aomori Station” by Shinkansen (high speed train), one service per one hour. Then, 30 minutes from “Shin-Aomori Station” to “Hirosakii Station” by local train connected with Shinkansen, one service per one hour.
by air : 1 hours 20 minutes from Tokyo Haneda Airport to Aomori Airport, about 6 services ecah day. 1 hour by bus from Aomori Airport to Hirosaki Station.

From “Hirosaki Station” to “Hirosaki Castle” and “Hirosaki Park”
20 minutes by bus from “Hirosaki Station” to “Shiyakusyo-mae Koen Iriguchi” or “Siyakusyo-mae”, frequent service in the daytime. The site is only a short walk from the bus stop.

Hirosaki City Office
Hirosaki Tourism And Convention Bureau
Hirosaki Inofrmation RIng-O Web

Aomori Sightseeng Guide

Acoommodations in Aomori

"青森県の歴史散歩" (青森県高等学校地方史研究会編, 山川出版社, 2007)
"図説青森県の歴史" (成田稔・長谷川成一, 河出書房新社, 1991)
"角川日本地名大辞典" (角川日本地名大辞典編纂委員会, 角川書店, 1985)
"日本歴史地名大系 青森県の地名" (虎尾俊哉他, 平凡社, 1982)
"江戸時代ひとづくり風土記2青森" (農山村漁村文化協会, 1992)
"郷土資料事典 青森県" (人文社, 1998)
”弘前城築城400年”(長谷川成一, 清文堂, 2011)
"トランヴェール2009年3月号-美しき弘前を旅する" (山本明, JR東日本, 2009)
"トランヴェール2011年4月号ー城,町,人の歴史絵巻をめぐる" (JR東日本, ,2011)

2018.01 Photos in English version, and photos and text in Japanese version

2019.09 Photos and Text in English version and photos in Japanese version 

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Hirosaki Town

Photo by Daigo Ishii