Aizu Wakamatsu Castle was originally constructed in 1384 by Ashina Naomori and called Kurokawa Castle. It remained in the Ashina family until the late 16th Century, when it was first seized by Date Masamune and then surrendered to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
The castle remained a stronghold of the Tokugawa shogunate in the Tohoku region until the Battle of Aizu during the Boshin war in 1868. During the month-long siege, the castle was damaged beyond repair and was razed.
The current castle tenshu is a replica of the castle as it was in 1868, a concrete structure built in 1965. It houses a museum with many artifacts and documents related to the Boshin war.
The restored Rinkaku tea room on the castle grounds is an Important Cultural Property.
Oyakuen was founded in the 14th Century and soon, with the encouragement of Ashina Morihisa, the local lord, became a medicinal herb garden for the community. The current landscape, meant to show nature in miniature, was designed by Meguro Jotei during the Edo period.
The garden surrounds a pond, Shinji no Ike, in the shape of the character 心 kokoro (heart), in the center of which sits the Rakujutei tea ceremony cottage. A larger tea house, Ochayagoten, adorns the near end of the pond and it was here that visiting nobles were formerly entertained.
Oyakuen was left in ruins after the Boshin war of 1868-9, but was restored to the point that it was named a nationally renowned garden in 1932.
Aizu Bukeyashiki is a reconstruction of the 38 rooms of the residence of Tanomo Saigo, the last Edo-period samurai of Aizu. Included at the site are the bailiff’s office, an Important Cultural Asset, and the Reinan an Rinkaku tea house that originally stood on the grounds of Tsurugajo castle.
Among the scenes depicted is the collective suicide of the women of the household during the attack of the imperial forces during the Boshin war, in order that they would not be a burden to their fighting husbands, fathers and relatives.
Aizu Sazaedo is a three-story wooden pagoda constructed in 1796 to house 33 statues of Kannon and featuring double-spiral internal wooden ramps which wind around from the entrance to the top of the 16.5m structure and back down again. Visitors who reach the top, cross the taiko bridge inside and return down the opposite ramp are said to have completed the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage to 33 Buddhist temples.
The signature double-spiral ramp structure about a central core gives the structure its name (“Sazae” is a horned turban sea snail) and causes many to wonder if the design was influenced by Leonardo da Vinci’s Château de Chambord in France, but there is no evidence this is the case.
Sazaedo, an Important Cultural Property, can be found on the flank of Iimoriyama, famed burial ground of the Byakkotai.
Iimoriyama is a cemetery and memorial for the Byakkotai soldiers who committed ritual suicide at this spot overlooking Aizu during the Boshin civil war. These 20 soldiers, all 16-17 years old and sons of samurai, had regrouped at Iimoriyama after becoming separated from the main body of their troop. Seeing flames and columns of smoke engulfing Aizu during the siege of Tsurugajo castle, the boys believed that the castle itself had been torched and that all was lost. (In fact, the castle held out another month before Matsudaira Katamori surrendered to the imperial forces.)
While the imperial government initially ordered that the bodies of the young men remain exposed where they fell, locals secretly retrieved and buried their remains. Later, the government relented, and the remains were reinterred where they had fallen. In later years, the young warriors came to be upheld as an example of Japanese spirit for their sacrifice for their lord’s honor.
While the hilltop memorial is now a peaceful place for contemplation, some will take away a different impression than others from visiting the site. This is exemplified by the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” present to one side of the cemetery, just a few paces from the Roman column surmounted by a statue of an eagle. This latter is a gift from Benito Mussolini, who found the tale of the Byakkotai’s sacrifice to be an inspiration for fascism. It is also uncertain what message is intended by the manga-fied representation of children as soldiers (as seen at the Iimoriyama website) and the vendors at the site hawking toy katana, apart from one of sanitizing this message of “Japanese spirit” for a new generation.