by Yumi Ryujin
Kawagoe Goodwill Ambassador for Tourism

§ No.11

The Great Fire of Kawagoe, which occurred during the era of the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, and afterward

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 the Great Fire of Kawagoe, which occurred during the era of the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun, Iemitsu, and afterward. This is number eleven in the series of stories about Kawagoe.
The Great Fire of Kawagoe in 1638
The wind was blowing from the northwest from early in the morning of January 28, 1638. A fire broke out in Kita-machi between 8:00 and 10:00 am. Buffeted by a gust of wind, it spread to the south through Kita-machi. Houses in the east of the town also caught fire. However, as it stopped, the people felt relieved. Around noon, though, another fire occurred in a samurai residence located to the south of the Hikawa Shrine. Flying sparks ignited still another fire in Kawagoe Castle and caused it to go up in flames and the samurai residences in Kubo-machi, south of the castle, were also burned down. The buildings of the Kita-in Temple and the houses near them were all reduced to ashes. Thus, Kawagoe lost most of the castle and the town because of this Great Fire.
"Reconstruction of the Kita-in Temple and
the Semba Toshogu Shrine"
They say that the main gate of the Kita-in Temple, which was built in 1632 under the orders of Supreme High Priest Tenkai, remained unburned. You can see this main gate called "San-mon" to the east of the current Kita-in Temple.
'San-mon' to the east of the Kita-in Temple
"San-mon" to the east of the Kita-in Temple
I cannot imagine how deeply discouraged Tenkai must have been. He was more than 100 years old at that time and had devoted all his time and energy to the restoration of the temple so far. Immediately, the 3rd Shogun, Iemitsu, ordered the reconstruction of the Semba Toshogu Shrine, where the 1st Shogun, Ieyasu, was enshrined.
HOTTA Masamori, the then Lord of Kawagoe, was transferred to Matsumoto, Shinano (now Nagano Prefecture) on March 8 of the same year. I assume that it was necessary for the Tokugawa Shogunate to have somebody bear the blame for the great loss. However, he was ordered by Iemitsu to rebuid the Toshogu Shrine and the construction started in July. It was completed in 1640 and the exsting buildings were designated as Nationally Important Cultural Property soon after World War II.
In the same year that the Great Fire occurred, Iemitsu had some buildings in his Edo Castle dismantled and transported to Kawagoe by boat, using the Arakawa River and the Shingashi River. The three current buildings of the Kita-in Temple, the “Guest Room Building,” the “Drawing Room Building in the Shoin Style” and “Kitchen Building,” were built from the transported materials.
The "Room Where Iemitsu Was Born" and
the "Dressing Room for His Nurse"
When you first enter the Kita-in Temple, you are in the Kitchen Building. "Please go straight ahead and you will enter the "Guest Room Building," including the room where the Buddhist alter is placed. Next to this, you will find the "room where Iemitsu was reportedly born."
The 'Room Where Iemitsu was Born'
The "Room Where Iemitsu was Born"
by courtesy of the Kita-in Temple
At the back of the building, you will find a bathroom and a toilet with tatami mats. It is interesting to imagine what kind of lifestyle the shoguns had at the beginning of the Edo Period.
The "Drawing Room Building in the Shoin Style" includes the "dressing room for Iemitsu's nurse." Her name was Kasuga-no-tsubone. She was one of the most famous and influential women of the Edo Period.
The 'dressing room for Iemitsu's nurse'
The "dressing room for Iemitsu's nurse"
by courtesy of the Kita-in Temple
These three buildings, the "Guest Room Building," the "Drawing Room Building in the Shoin Style" and the "Kitchen Building" are all that remains of Edo Castle where people at the beginning of the Edo Period lived. They are National Important Cultural Properties.
The Kawagoe Lord, "MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna"
In 1639, the year after the Great Fire occurred; MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna became Lord of Kawagoe. What he had to do first of all was to restore the castle and the town.
New Castle Town Built by MATSUDAIRA Nobutsuna
Nobutsuna enlarged the castle area to nearly twice its size. They say that the total area amounted to approximately 152,000m2, excluding the moats and defensive walls. This Kawagoe Castle is classified as a flat castle. Differing from Himeji Castle and Hikone Castle, etc. (National Treasures), it did not have a high donjon nor huge stone foundations. One of the reasons would be that the Age of Civil Wars requiring strong forts had finished and people were enjoying quite peaceful times. Another reason would be, I imagine, that a flat castle would have prevented enemies from finding the donjon easily.
He also had a new town built, separating the areas for the samurai and those for the townspeople. He gave priority to defending the town; you will notice winding or T-shaped roads even in the current Kawagoe. In our present society with vehicles, you may feel some inconvenience. However, this surely presents the history of Kawagoe.
Please visit Kawagoe again! We welcome you!
©Yumi Ryujin   All rights reserved.

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Illustration of Kawagoe