Excavations of AKO JOUKAMACHI(赤穂城下町跡の発掘調査)
Excavations of Ako castle and its town
One part of Japanese culture which is shown with pride to the world is the "Edo" culture. Ieyasu Tokugawa started the Shogunate Government of Edo in 1603 and it lasted about 260 years, until 1867. Edo was a feudal society which was divided into four classes; warriors, farmers, artisans and tradesmen. Samurai (warriors) were at the top of this hierarchical society, and as symbols of their power many moated castles or castles surrounded by stone walls were built all over the country. Around those castles, towns were formed and merchants started business with the samurai who worked at the castles. We call this "Jouka-machi", a castle town.
In present day Ako, there are the Ako castle ruins built by Asano Naganao in 1661. The urban area that spread to the northern part of the castle grounds used to be "Ako Jouka-machi", a castle town of the Ako clan. This area has a long history dating back to the Muromachi period. In the Muromachi period (1392-1573) people settled around a fort called "Kariyakojou" for their business and this is the origin of Ako Jouka-machi. After the opening of the Edo period in 1603, the feudal lord Terumasa Ikeda who had his base in Himeji castle built a smaller castle in Ako. It was the first full-scale castle town in Ako. Although it was almost all burnt by a fire in 1621, it was all restored beautifully as you can see in the images.
The feudal lord Naganao Asano governed Ako city from 1645 and established the foundation of the town. Making a lot of money from the salt industry, he built the current Ako castle and made the castle town much bigger. He dug up a new moat, filled in a big pond, and moved many houses. As a result, the population at that time reached about 8,000.
The economic growth, however, did not last so long. In 1701, the 3rd head of the Asano family, Naganori Asano Takuminokami, drew his sword and slashed at Kozukenosuke Kira at Matsu-no-Roka in Edo Castle. Because of this, Asano family lost their territories, were wiped out and Naganori had to commit harakiri suicide that day. Lead by Kuranosuke Oishi, 47 men stormed Kira's mansion and avenged their master. Their attitude held great appeal to the Japanese and the story became very popular as the "Chushingura"story, surviving to this day.
Thereafter the Mori family ruled Ako but their income fell down to half or less because of their smaller territory. On the other hand, people living in Sakoshi, Shinden and Misaki which is not inside the castle town but in the suburbs, had power from the shipping and the salt industry. It means that in the latter stages of the Edo period the center of the economy moved from the castle town to the surrounding area and the castle town has declined gradually.
Although the economy stopped growing, many houses and streets still remain and show us the life of the castle town in the Edo period. The Ako Castle ruins (national heritage site) were left in very good condition, especially the gate of Oishi Kuranosuke Yosio's house and the gate of Kondo Masanori's house (Ako city heritage site) are valuable as buildings from the Edo period. Through excavation, various historical facts were clarified and the gate and the garden have been restored. When you go out of the castle, the first historical point of interest you will see is the complexly bending road. The straight road from JR Banshu-Ako station to the Ako castle ruins is the one made in modern times, but once you enter the alleys you will see narrow bending roads. This is because Ako castle town had a structure which took precautions against war so that the enemy couldn't invade easily.
The waterworks facilities are another noteworthy point. Ako was developed on the delta region where only sea water gushed out when wells were dug. Therefore, waterworks were required and constructed by 1616. The unique point is that the waterworks reached not only the samurai's house but also the houses of the regular citizens. This is very unusual on a nationwide scale and now small parks have been built in various places to praise it.
The Ako Board of Education started the excavation of the Ako castle town in 1998. Everyday materials such as Imari and Karazu ceramics made in Kyushu and Bizen pottery in Okayama were found. Also they found that many building ruins were still there. This report shows just a part of the excavation investigation.
- 1.Many buildings remain in good condition.
- 2.A great deal of important ceramics were found.
- 3.The changes of the ruins were clarified.
The area of this excavation was found cover three houses of the residents in the castle town. The excavated area was too small to know the entire details but according to the investigation, the stones for the foundation of the houses remain very clearly. The inside of houses at that time were formed into two different areas: 'heya', rooms with tatami matting, and 'doma', rooms with only a dirt floor. This pattern was seen very clearly.
It is often the case with excavations in castle towns that a lot of ceramics are found, but this time we found a lot of very unique items, especially a big Imari porcelain plate of over 30cm width, a blue one with a drawing of a butterfly on it, and many other items that were used at the parties of the higher classes.
As stated above, people have been continuously living in the Ako castle town since the Muromachi period, and it was found that up to the present it has risen about one meter. It has risen about two times, and the pottery and ceramics inside that risen soil show us the changes to the rest of the ruins.
Combining this excavation and the investigation of remaining old documents and images, many historical facts of Ako castle town have been clarified. Because of the one meter risen, there is still a lot remaining under the ground. The excavation shows us a part of the life styles of our ancestors and we can learn about the origin of our town and its history. Under the ground where we live now are buried the hardships of the Edo people, and maybe this fact can show how important history is to us who are alive today.