Beautiful memorial, ugly history
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.