Birthplace of the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s Industrial Revolution.
This castle town facing the Sea of Japan is the cradle of Japan’s impressive industrial revolution and where influential persons of the Meiji Restoration were schooled in Western thought and political and military theory. It is a town with a rich history, and a large portion of it remains frozen in time.
How Hagi became the birthplace of a modernized Japan can be traced to its role as the center of politics, administration and economy of the Hagi Domain for 260 years. In the final years of the Edo period (1602- 1867), western industrial technology was studied zealously throughout Japan. Hagi’s ruling clan expanded on the town’s existing role and industries and five of sites, including the old castle town, have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
These five sites fall under the larger umbrella of 32 sites known collectively as “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining.” Through trial and error, Japan’s industries modernized at an impressive pace – its iron and steel manufacturing, shipbuilding, and coal mining industrialized in a span of only 50 years, transforming Japan into the first non-Western industrial nation.
A great portion of Japan’s industrialization was due to its iron manufacturing. Ohitayama Tatara Ironworks used the traditional Japanese method of iron making known as tatara. Ohitayama Tatara Iron Works operated three different times in history from 1751 to 1764; 1812 to 1822; and 1855 to 1867. It is the third production stage where most of its iron was produced.
To protect Japan from falling to Western forces as its neighbor China did, the Tokugawa Shogunate called for the construction of large ships in order to reinforce its armaments and the coastal defense of each domain. Subsequently, the Ebisugahana Shipyard was built in 1856, a year after the Ohitayama Tatara Ironworks reopened, and the production of western-style warships quickly began.
While the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites are technological in nature, a fundamental part of the Meiji Restoration was ideological.
Another part of protecting Japan’s expansive coastline from Western invasion called for the construction of cannons. The ruins of the smelting furnace that was used for producing iron cannons remain at the site of Hagi Reverberating Furnace.
While the other UNESCO World Heritage Sites are technological in nature, a fundamental part of the Meiji Restoration was ideological. Under the tutelage of Shouin Yoshida, many great Meiji-era thinkers and politicians were educated in western military arts and politics at Shouka Sonjuku. Perhaps is is a coincidence or a testament to the political influence of Shouka Sonjuku, Hagi is the home of three Japanese prime ministers, including Hirobumi Ito, the first prime minister of Japan.