The Meiji Restoration is perhaps the most pivotal era in Japanese history, and Hagi is a city that is rich with its legends. A lot of key players in the effort to bring Japan into the modern era has their roots in Hagi and the Shoin Jinja honors one of these men.
The Shoin Jinja enshrines a man by the name of Yoshida Shoin, a scholar and a teacher born to a samurai family, and one of the most outspoken advocates of restoring the Imperial rule from the Tokugawa shogunate during the mid 19th century. For this, he was placed under house arrest and eventually executed at the age of 30, but not before starting up his own private school while under house arrest where he taught all his students, regardless of their social status, about politics and about the military and made sure to continue his own engagement with national affairs. Many of his students went on to become important leaders of the Meiji Restoration, including Shinsaku Takasugi and Ito Hirobumi, Japan’s first Prime Minister.
This school was known as the Shoka Sonjuku private school, and when you visit Shoin Jinja, you can see his classroom with your very eyes.
Not too far from the school, you can also observe the house in which Yoshida Shoin was imprisoned after trying to escape abroad on Commodore Perry’s ships, including the very outdoor lavatory that he used! That, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) I did not get a picture of. Come on, do you really want to see a 19th century toilet?
And then we come upon the shrine itself where we can pay our respects to the late Yoshida Shoin’s spirit. This is not the original location of the shrine; that is a little more north and enshrines Yoshida Shoin’s pupils now. But these grounds are no less significant because of it.
Being that this is a Shinto shrine and that we visited shortly after the New Year holiday, our tour guide informed us that in Hagi, this is by far the most popular shrine to visit. The crowds are always thick in the early days of January. It’s only January 8 when we’re there, so all the decorations are still up, including this neat one of Yoshida Shoin, a pupil (perhaps Ito Hirobumi?), and a snake for the year 2013.
Finally, I leave you with one of the last messages Yoshida Shoin left on earth before his execution, directed towards his parents, as an apology for making them outlive their son.
“A child may love his parents, but the love of a parent is greater
How this news must sound in the heart of a parent.”