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Japanese Inn

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  • Author: Oliver Statler
  • First Published: 1961, Random House

Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler tells the history of Japan from 1550-1953 as seen through the eyes of the Mochizuki 望月 family, the owners of an actual inn in Okitsu, a waki-honjuku 脇本宿, [1] called the Minaguchi-ya 水口屋. The town of Okitsu 興津[2], dominated by Seiken-ji Temple 清見寺, lies a few miles east of Sunpu in Suruga province along the important Tokaido Highway. The highway system and the inns that supported it were an important feature of the Edo Period.

Seiken-ji Temple housed nobility who were passing through Okitsu. Tokugawa Ieyasu stayed there as a child according to tradition; Toyotomi Hideyoshi stayed there on the eve of the siege of Odawara castle, as did his teamaster Sen no Rikyû. The shogun Tokugawa Iemochi on his way to Kyoto in 1863, and Emperor Meiji on his way to the new capital of Tokyo also spent the night there.

At the Minaguchi-ya itself, the Itô family (founders of the Matsuzakaya department store) were regular guests by 1691. Among other guests over the years were attendants of Kira Yoshinaka of Chushingura fame, Shimazu Hisamitsu of Satsuma province, who gave the inn permission to use the Shimazu crest, members of the suite of the genro Saionji Kinmochi who had a close relationship with the Mochitsuki family, a member of the US occupation named Oliver Statler, and the emperor of Japan Hirohito (Shôwa). And of course among the many people passing along the Tokaido--samurai, daimyo, plotters, poets, artists, pilgrims, Dutch, gamblers--many of them must have stopped at the inn.

This is written as a popular book.The bulk of the book could probably be subtitled "The Edo Period as the Japanese see it." It describes many of the famous events and cultural figures of the time as could have seen by the people at the inn. Though there is some fictionalizing, its point is to show history and culture. The amount of detail is almost incredible. Even someone who has lived decades in Japan can still come across things first known in that book. This is not a book for historians. Statler writes almost nothing about politics or the economics of the period, though the shogun-daimyo-han system is talked about. Furthermore, he avoids proper names as much as possible (probably a good idea for a popular book), and he uses popular versions of events. For instance, Takeda Shingen is killed listening to a flute. But it is usually easy to tell when he is actually fictionalizing, even without reading his discussion in the afterward.

Unfortunately, the inn is no longer an inn. It went out of business in 1985, and by spring of the next year was being used by an area corporation for its private use. However, there is now a picture gallery open to the public on the grounds.

References

  1. A regular inn that could be called upon to host daimyo or their retinue in case there was not enough room in the honjuku inns
  2. These are all now part of Shizuoka City, Shimizu Ward, of Shizuoka Prefecture.

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