Sunday 17 February 2013

Yae no Sakura

Hello everybody,
Every year NHK puts on a historical drama. It lasts a whole year, 50 episodes. Is there any other country that does this? It really is amazing. I got hooked a few years ago. What I've learned is that you have to start with the first episode in January and keep watching (and sometimes watch the repeats). There are so many characters, plots and sub-plots that you get lost if you miss a few episodes. The language isn't easy either but I've found that watching it on digital TV with subtitles is a great help. (Unfortunately they're only in Japanese. Please give us English ones, NHK.) I gather from people who know their history that there's quite a bit of artistic licence but for someone like me it's a great opportunity to learn more about Japanese history.

This year's drama is very special for us in Fukushima. 'The Double Cherry' (八重の桜 Yae no Sakura) , tells the story of Iijima Yae (1845-1932) who at the age of 22, with her hair cut short, dressed as a man and shooting a rifle, helped defend Aizu castle in the Boshin War of 1868. She's been dubbed a samurai Joan of Arc. After the surrender she moved to Kyoto, married Iijima Jo who was fresh back from America, and they set up Doshisha College (now a famous university). After Jo died, she served as a nurse with the Red Cross in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars. Quite a lady. Not only is this a remarkable story of recovery from disaster, but it's hoped it will be a much-needed boost to tourism. Among a myriad initiatives the Chambers of Commerce in Kyoto and Aizu have agreed to a year of exchanges and ANA has covered a jet in  Yae livery!

This is the poster that appears in every shop in this part of the world
We have seen six episodes now so it's time to form an opinion. The series opened, surprisingly, to scenes of the American Civil War. The point being that guns from that war found their way to Japan and into the hands of those trying to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate and open the country to the outside world. We were introduced to our heroine (a delightful child actor) who was a tomboy and fascinated with guns. (Her family are gunsmiths and her brother has studied the 'Dutch Learning' in Edo, Tokyo.) We are introduced too to the 'Aizu spirit' inculcated in young boys at a special school where they chant a set of rules, the last one being 'naranu koto wa naranu' - that which is wrong is wrong. This school (日新館 Nisshinkan) was rebuilt and opened as a tourist attraction a few years ago but I'm ashamed to say I've never been. An omission I must rectify soon. The first two episodes were a compelling study of what it means to come from Aizu (and by inference Fukushima). Stubborn, proud, extremely loyal. It seems to have gone down well here. I'm also told that the accents are spot on.

Now it's got a bit more complicated. Yae has grown up into an excellent markswoman. But these are turbulent times. Perry's 'black ships' have come to Japan demanding that the shogun end 200 years of isolation and open the country to trade. The country is split between the revolutionaries from Choshu and Tosa in the south who want to give power back to the emperor and open the country, and those loyal to the shogunate. The revolutionaries begin to commit acts of violence and murder in Kyoto and the shogunate organises a kind of secret police to keep order. It's at this difficult time (1862) that the Aizu clan are ordered by the shogun to go to Kyoto, keep order and protect the emperor. Last week's episode showed the daimyo of Aizu, Matsudaira Katamori (the actor bears an uncanny resemblance to the old photo you often see of him) agreeing to the order although he knows that Aizu will get dragged into the war at great cost. An order is an order. Aizu people, you will remember, put duty above all else. 

That's as far as we've got. Still to come is Yae's finest hour, and then the action will move to Kyoto. Yae survives but Aizu is treated extremely harshly by the victorious imperial forces which form the new Meiji Restoration government. Old wounds heal slowly and as recently as 1986 Aizu refused a twinning offer from the city of Hagi in Yamaguchi prefecture (the old Choshu domain). But all is now well. Hagi made generous donations at the time of the disaster -  and much was made of the Mayor of Hagi shaking hands with the Mayor of Aizu.
Anyway, here's a link to a trailer to give you a taste.
Yae no Sakura trailer (Youtube)
My family know not to Skype me until after 9 pm on a Sunday night and it looks as if the same will be true this year too.


  1. Dear Anne,

    I am with you all the way on this drama!

    Best Wishes,


  2. Watched to episode 21. Completely hooked! The last drama I liked as well as this was the most excellent JIN - which I heartily recommend.


  3. I am having difficulty following some of the political machinations in the show. why was sir shuri ordered to commit suicide

    1. while i might be a bit late to respond seeing you posted in 2015...some might want to know if they comme accross your comment.

      when the lord decided to follow the shogun, sir shuri saw that the lord fled...he tried to stop him and went after him. Sadly the other retainers, when they saw the lord and shuri missing concluded that he was the one who dragged the lord away since it was inconceveable to them that he would abbandon them. Sir shuri being a samourai who could not accept that the lord's name be sullied prefered to take the blame and sacrifice himself rather then having the retainers loose faith in their lord. the lord knowing he was in the wrong couldn't go against his retainers because he also knew that they would not bear it to know he abandonned them.