Monday, July 11, 2011


It's interesting just how many memorials there are in Kagoshima, and just how obscure some of the locations are. This one is for the priest Shunkan, who had lived in Kyoto, but had been expelled to Mishimamura-Iwojima (not the same island where the WWII battle took place), departing from the pier that used to exist in the middle of what is now the Tenmonkan shopping district. The memorial is sandwiched between two shops in the block between the west edge of the Tenmonkan and the east side of the Honganji temple. Just behind it are air conditioners for the two shops. Apparently there had been a moat for the Tsurumaru castle running through this space (a few blocks from where the Reimeikan history museum is now) with a pier on it, leading out to the bay. As mentioned in the history marker, the moat was filled in some time during 1898.

From the marker:
Memorial of Buddhist Priest Shunkan
Priest Shunkan of Kyoto conspired to overthrow the oppressive Heike Clan in the latter part of the Heian Period. He held a meeting with Taira no Yasunori and Tanba no Shosho Naritsune at Shishigatani, Kyoto, but they were discovered and all three men were exiled to Kikajima (present Mishimamura Iwojima) by Taira no Kiyomori.

They were sent from this place where the pier used to be, in 1898, the moat called Shunkan Bori was filled in.

It turns out that this is a very famous event in Japan, having been related in the story Heiki Monogatari and in the Noh play Shunkan. Essentially, the military general Kiyomori, a member of the Taira family, took control of the clan after his father's death, and became a politician. By marrying relatives into the Imperial family and assigning others key governmental positions he essentially created the first administrative government run by samurai and carrying more power than the Emperor himself. However, he made a lot of enemies and Shunkan, who himself was a member of the samurai Minamoto clan, and a Ninna-ji sect Buddhist priest, met with a number of other men to overthrow Kiyomori. Unfortunately, one of the men was a spy for Kiyomori and the plot was unmasked. Yasunori, Naritsune and Shunkan were exiled to an island about 4.6 square miles in size and with an active volcano spewing sulfur ash. In the same year, Kiyomori's consort was pregnant with the future Emperor Antoku, and was suffering physical difficulties. Believing that the problems stemmed from the angry spirits of the conspirators, Kiyomori granted amnesty to Yasunori, Naritsune, and most of the other exiles that had already been living on the island. However, Shunkan was the only one not named in the document. Two years later, a monk from his temple came to the island, and Shunkan had sunk so far into despair that he soon after committed suicide by starving himself to death, in 1179 AD. The monk then returned to Kyoto carrying Shunkan's cremated remains with him.

Shunkan memorial

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