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July 13, 2011

Japan Travel: Nihonmatsu Youth Corps

Everyone in Japan knows the sad story of the Byakkotai, the White Tiger Youth Corps of Aizu-Wakamatsu: during the Boshin War (1868) twenty teenagers of this unit stationed on Iimori Hill mistakenly thought the castle had fallen when they saw smoke rising up from the ramparts and therefore committed suicide (seppuku). A case of too hasty and wasteful loyalty.

[Statues of Nihonmatsu Youth Corps in front of
Nihonmatsu Castle]

The Nihonmatsu Youth Corps did not commit suicide by mistake, but actually perished in battle in the same war. Like Aizu-Wakamatsu, Nihonmatsu was a fief, led by the Niwa clan, that was loyal to the Tokugawa family. It was also a bastion of Confucian ideals and Bushido.

[Minowamon gate of Nihonmatsu Castle (Kasumigajo), after which one of Daishichi's most popular junmai daiginjo sakes is named]

The Youth Corps was led by Kimura Jutaro who had studied in Edo. Interestingly, the corps possessed a Western cannon unit. Ages of the boys were between 12 and 17 - those of 12 and 13 had in fact lied about their real age.

[Graves of the Youth Corps in Dairinji, Nihonmatsu]

In the fierce Battle of Odanguchi, at the western entrance to the castle town, 16 out of 20 teenagers were struck down by the forces of the Meiji government. They now rest in Dairinji, the family temple of the Niwa clan. There are always fresh flowers at the monument near their graves.