Namamugi: Town that changed the history of Japan

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

Namamugi, where the Kirin Yokohama Beer Village is located, is a town filled with interesting history and attractions.

Aside from the brewery, Namamugi is home to Soji-ji temple, one of the largest and busiest temples of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

Each of its 26 temple buildings, such as Buddha hall, bell tower and main hall has a unique majestic look with traditional tile roofs and elaborate black wooden walls. The building are old, but very clean and well maintained. Corridors in the buildings were polished to look like glass, which is apparently because monks polish all of the corridors thoroughly twice each day.

There is an abbot (Master of Zen), called Zenji and 200 monks and novices in the temple.

When my wife and I arrived at the main temple hall, fortunately, a morning service by Master of Zen and about 50 other monks in formal attire were just going on, and we were able to observe the solemn liturgy. Books of sutra were handed from monks to others who were standing around Master of Zen, reciting sutras in accordance with sounds of bell, cloud gong and the wooden drum while the Master of Zen was sitting in front of statues of Buddha praying for something.

After visiting the large temple, we strolled along the Namamugi Uogashi Dori (literally, fish market street), filled with countless fish shops. The street was quiet when we got there, but apparently the street is very busy and active between 6 and 10 a.m. during the morning, where you can buy fresh seafood.

This fish market street used to be a part of old Tokaido, one of the main national highways where the historical Namamugi Incident, aka Richardson Affair, occurred in 1862.

According to history, Charles Richardson and three other Britons were travelling by horse on the street while they encountered a large procession of armed retinue of Satsuma clan. Although Japanese feudal rule instructed everybody on horse should dismount and yield to the armed retinue, the Britons continued to travel against the flow of the procession without dismounting, despite being gestured repeatedly to do so. When they reached too close to the main body of the procession, one of bodyguards slashed them. Richardson was killed and other men were seriously wounded. The incident triggered the war between Britain and the Satsuma clan the following year, and expedited end of the feudal system by Tokugawa Shogunate government.

Despite such a historical location, there are no significant monuments aside from a signboard and old stone inscription, which showed the site of incident.


Read a related article: Something a-brewin’: A tour of Namamugi’s Kirin factory

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