Interested in the history

The Edo era

Utsunomiya in the Edo era 1

Utsunomiya was an important ground in the aspect of military and transportation for suppressing the daimyos of the Tohoku district. Throughout the Edo era, the successive lords of Utsunomiya-jo Castle were appointed from a fudai daimyo (a daimyo in hereditary vassal to the Tokugawa family), and among them there were some of the daimyos who took office of Roju (senior councilor) or Jisha-bugyo (commissioner of shrines and temples) of the Shogunate.

Hideyuki GAMO, while he served as the lord of Utsunomiya-jo Castle over the period of the Sekigahara Battle, strengthened a structure of Utsunomiya-jo Castle, made Hino-cho for merchants from Hino of Omino-kuni Province, and built Konya-cho on the east bank of Tagawa River, having gathered scattered dyehouses. This was the beginning of a town development of Utsunomiya in the Edo era.

In these days, Ieyasu began maintenance of Oshu-kaido Road and exempted the town of Utsunomiya from Jishi forever that was a tax imposed on the town, while Utsunomiya was entrusted with Tenma-yaku, a compulsory service of supplying post-horses to the Shogunate. In addition, Jinryo fief of 1,500-koku was donated to rebuild a run‐down Futaarayama-jinja Shrine. (“koku” is a unit of land productivity of rice as tax) A Koran-Giboshi (ornamented balustrade of bridge and corridor) still in existence, is a precious relic indicating the history.

Masazumi HONDA became the lord of the castle with 155,000-koku in 1619. While Masazumi served as the lord of the castle for approximately 3 years, he accomplished very significant businesses such as convert of Oshu-kaido Road, maintenance of Nikko-kaido Road, large reconstruction of Utsunomiya-jo Castle, and development of Kiriotoshi (carved-out pathway) of the hill of Mount Futara, and the castle town, etc.

In 1622, the 2nd shogun Hidetada leaves Edo for Nikko. Hidetada planned to stay at Utsunomiya-jo Castle both on his way to and way back, but he suddenly changes a plan on his way back, avoids Utsunomiya-jo Castle, and returns to Edo. Afterwards Masazumi is deprived of Utsunomiya-jo Castle suddenly. Although the clear reason is unknow, it is considered to be a power struggle within the Shogunate after Ieyasu died. This produces a famous legend of a drop ceiling later. At the end he was banished to Yokote and died at the age of 73.

Utsunomiya in the Edo era was positioned as Oiwake (forked-road point) of Oshu-kaido Road and Nikko-kaido Road, and Utsunomiya-jo Castle had the role of accommodating the shoguns for their Nikko visits. Because of this geographical benefit, a lot of daimyos lodged for their Sankin-kotai (daimyo’s alternate-year residence in Edo) and traffic of the common people increased rapidly, which had Utsunomiya flourish very much as a post town and named “Uyo” from its liveliness.

Utsunomiya in the Edo era 2

In 1728 the 8th shogun Yoshimune carries out a Nikko visit which was interrupted for a while. He tried it with rusticity and simplicity in mind, but it was a large-scale procession with 133,000 attendants, 228,000 workers, and 326,000 horses, which indicated an absolute power of the Shogunate.

In the late Tokugawa era, a social uneasiness increased due to domestic fights and high prices of commodities after opening of Japan to the world. Hyakusho-ikki or peasant revolts and breaking-down assaults happened in each place, advocating “changing the world over,” and even in Utsunomiya the merchant’s families such as a wholesale dealer, a honjin (daimyo`s lodge), a pawnshop, a brewer, etc. were aimed at in the attacks.

Many daimyos support a new government in the Boshin War happened in 1868, and many of the various domains in the northern Kanto including Utsunomiya, etc. side with the new government as well.

An intense offense and defense was repeated mainly in Shimotsuke from the middle of April through the beginning of May. Particularly, a fierce battle was developed for Utsunomiya-jo Castle of military importance. By this fight, Utsunomiya-jo Castle and 2,400 houses were burned down, reportedly causing the casualties of more than 300 people and the victims beyond 11,000. Thus one castle town was destroyed by fire.