KOEDO-KAWAGOE

by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism
 

§ No. 1

YOKOTA Gorobei and the history of the building of
Saitama Resona Bank's Kawagoe branch

Welcome to Kawagoe! Kawagoe is an old town whose history can be traced back to the Old Stone Age. I would like to tell you a story about the Kawagoe of olden times. This story is about YOKOTA Gorobei and the building of Saitama Resona Bank's Kawagoe Branch (Map C-3). This is number one in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
 
YOKOTA Gorobei
YOKOTA Gorobei
by courtesy of Kawagoe City Education Board
 
The Yokotas, "Wealthy Kawagoe Merchants"
In the Edo Period (1603-1868), the Yokotas traded in grain and lived in the part of Kawagoe known as Shigi-machi (now Matsue-cho 2-chome and Naka-cho). It is said their ancestors came to Kawagoe from Ohmi (now Shiga Prefecture) at the beginning of the Edo Period.
 
The main business lines of the family were the manufacturing of soy sauce and the brokerage of grain. The family had branches not only in Matsuyama (now Higashi-matsuyama) but also in Edo (now Tokyo).
 
The 9th Yokota contributed a huge amount of money to the Kawagoe Domain at the domain's request. He built his new house on the site of the Kawagoe Domain in Edo with clay-walled warehouses to store rice for sale, and fulfilled his duty in order to maintain the domain. However, since the domain made no attempt to pay it back, the expenditure finally became enormous. In 1819, the domain gave him a rank similar to Commissioner of Finance and promoted him to the samurai class. (There were four classes at that time:samurai, farmer, artisan and merchant/tradesman.) Yokota, who had been a merchant from the lowest class, became a samurai and the finances of the domain were actually put under his control.
 
The Kawagoe Domain during the Last Days
of the Tokugawa Shogunate
In 1853, Commodore Perry came from America and forced the Shogunate to open the country to the world. Then, the Shogunate ordered the Kawagoe Domain to watch over O-Daiba in Edo along with three other domains. It cost a vast sum of money, so the domain was subject to tight financial conditions.
 
Kawagoe Moved Market Prices in Japan!
The 11th Yokota, Gorobei, was born in Kawagoe in 1834. He was extremely rich so his name, 'Kawagoe Yokota' appeared in lists of millionaires for the Kanto region. They say the prices of rice varied every time he set foot in Edo or Osaka.
 
As controller of the Kawagoe Domain, he personally bore part of defense costs worth several billion yen when Commodore Perry came on the black ship. The domain, however, did not repay the money borrowed from him because it ceased to exist when the Tokugawa Shogunate came to an official end in 1868.
 
No.85 National Bank
The Meiji Period began in 1868. Gorobei, along with other rich men, established a national bank in Saitama Prefecture for the first time in 1878. The bank was named the No.85 National Bank. At first he was a director but was later promoted to become the 2nd president.
 
Saitama Resona Bank's Kawagoe Branch
Saitama Resona Bank's Kawagoe Branch
along the "Kura no machi Ichibangai Street"
 
The site on which the Saitama Resona Bank's Kawagoe Branch is currently located was provided by Gorobei, who lived there. This building was built by Japanese carpenters in 1918 during the Taisho Period (1912-1926) as the head office for No.85 National Bank. The designer was YASUOKA Katsuya. (Later the bank name was changed to Saitama Bank, to Kyowa-Saitama Bank, to Asahi Bank and then to Saitama Resona Bank.) Have you noticed its unique and beautiful structure? It is New-renaissance architecture. It was designated as one of the nation's registered tangible cultural properties in 1996.
 
Gorobei also constructed the buildings of "Ryotei Yamaya" now located near the bank as his guest house (Map C-3). If you visit there, you will feel as if you were in the Edo Period.
 
 
Gorobei passed away on May 29, 1892. He was 58 years old. I wonder what he, in heaven, thinks about these buildings. He rests in the Youjuin Buddhist Temple near Kashiya-yokocho (Penny Candy Lane, Map C-2). Please take a moment to pray.
 
 
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
 
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.
 

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Illustration of Kawagoe