Yae no Sakura


Official Website

Sundays, 8.00 – 8.45 p.m. from 6 January 2013


In September 1868 (Meiji 1), a female fires at the new government army led by Itagaki Taisuke with the new Spencer gun from Aizu’s Tsuruga Castle. She is Yamamoto Yae, later Niijima Yae. Born to an artillery instructor of the Aizu domain, Yae looks up to her well-informed older brother and shows more interest in guns than in sewing. She has been brought up as an Aizu female – taught the seven Aizu principles on the education of children, ‘Juu no Okite’. In 1862 when Yae was 17, the appointment of the lord of the Aizu domain, Matsudaira Katamori, to be Kyoto military commissioner was to be the start of Aizu’s tragedy. Kakuma and the Aizu army together with the Satsuma troops led by Saigo Takamori, crushed the Choshu army in Hamogurigomon Incident. Then Satsuma betrayed and various domains made opportunistic moves. Yet through it all, the Aizu remain loyal. However, they were defeated by the shogunate army in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi and Aizu was treated as a rebel by the new government army. The difference in power with the new government army is evident. As numerous women and children in her company die one after another, Yae disguises herself as a male at Tsuruga Castle and fights to the end with her husband Kawasaki Shonosuke. However, after the regrettable deaths of the Byakkotai and separation from her Shonosuke, she accepts the Aizu defeat. Amidst the immense feeling of loss, Yae puts aside guns, which had been something she lived for until now. Called bad names by society, she and her Aizu comrades search for a new way of life. She goes to Kyoto at another request of her brother and finds a new sense of purpose in life: knowledge. Even though the weapon in her hands has changed, Yae, who holds onto the Aizu principles, steps up her presence even in Kyoto. She charms the westernised Niijima Joe and they marry. When the Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War breaks out, Yae and her comrades volunteer as nurses. In an era where it is unthinkable for females to go off to war, they boldly take action.

Ayase Haruka as Yamamoto Yae
The daughter of Yamamoto Gonpachi, an artillery instructor of the Aizu domain, and his wife Saku. She married Kawasaki Shonosuke who was born in Tajima Izushi domain (present day Toyooka City in Hyogo Prefecture) and served as a professor at the Aizu domain’s school, Nisshinkan. However, they later separate. Because she cut her hair, disguises as a male and fights bravely armed with the newest artillery weapon, the Spencer, during the battle at Tsuruga Castle in the Battle of Aizu, she would later be called the “Joan of Arc of late Tokugawa period”. After the war, she goes to Kyoto at the request of her older brother, Kakuma, who is active as an adviser to the Kyoto government. There she meets Niijima Joe who would become the founder of Doshisha University, and they get married. In an era where females are expected to obey males, Yae, who wishes for gender equality, uses her husband’s name without the proper form of address and ‘Ladies first’. People around her perceive that she does what she likes, and society speaks ill of her for her way of life, but she seems not to take notice.

Nishijima Hidetoshi as Yamamoto Kakuma
Yamamoto Yae’s older brother. He studied at the Aizu domain’s school, Nisshinkan, at the age of 9 and mastered the samurai arts of archery, horsemanship, spearsmanship, and swordsmanship. In order to study Western-style artillery, he left for Edo at 22 and after learning at the school of the strategist, Sakuma Shozan, he started a school in the studies of Western knowledge in Aizu. In 1862, he proceeded to the capital with his feudal lord Matsudaira Katamori who had assumed the post of Kyoto military commissioner. He established a school dedicated to the study of the West and taught not just the members of the Aizu domain but also other domains and even the Shinsengumi, Western-style artillery. In the Kinmon Incident in 1864 where he fought against the Choshu domain, he distinguished himself by leading the artillery troops, but sustained injuries and later lost his eyesight. He was captured by the Satsuma forces in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The blueprint which he wrote for a new country and government while in imprisonment becomes highly regarded by Iwakura Tomomi, Saigo Takamori and others.

Hasegawa Hiroki as Kawasaki Shonosuke
Yamamoto Yae’s first husband. Born in Tajima Izushi domain. A young, capable scholar trained in Western studies and chemistry. He was charmed by Yamamoto Kakuma whom he met at Sakuma Shozan’s school in Edo. He came to the Aizu domain to serve as a professor at the school of Western knowledge studies and stayed at the Yamamoto residence. Kakuma wanted to promote Shonosuke to be a vassal, but the conservative old vassals of the domain refused. Thinking that the path to entering government service will open up if Shonosuke became a member of the Yamamoto family through marriage with Yae, Kakuma let the two of them marry even though their relationship is more like brother and sister. Feelings of a married couple gradually grew between Yae and him through little incidents. Together with Yae, he takes charge of the artillery troops in the battle at Tsuruga Castle.

Ayano Go as Matsudaira Katamori
The adopted son of the former feudal lord of Aizu, Matsudaira Katataka. In 1862 (Bunkyuu 2), he received an official appointment as Kyoto military commissioner. He is more faithful than anyone else to the “family house code”, what might be called the Aizu domain’s constitution which was enacted by a forebear, Hoshina Masayuki. “Take up the weight of honour now without debating future advantages and disadvantages. Be prepared to make Kyoto the resting place.” It was a readiness that he and his vassals were in accord with and he entered Kyoto. A symbol of the Aizu spirit, he earns the esteem of not just his vassals but also his people. However, his high integrity brings about tragedy for the domain.

Odagiri Joe as Niijima Joe
Yamamoto Yae’s second husband. Born and raised in Edo as the eldest son of a Joshuu Annaka domain samurai. His real name was Shimeta. He became interested in Western books and studies early on and studied at the shogunate’s military academy. Impressed by America’s new knowledge and the bible, he decided to risk his life and stowaway. In 1864 (Genji 1), he succeeded in getting out of Japan. He was called Joe on the ship and even Joseph after this. He got baptised and earned a Bachelor of Science at university. While in religious school, he was recognised by the Japanese minister-counselor to the United States to be an official foreign student and joined the Iwakura delegation. After returning to Japan, he set about establishing Doshisha University. He becomes acquainted with Yamamoto Kakuma which leads to his fateful meeting with Yae. They marry. Although people gossip behind Yae’s back that she is a bad wife because of her behaviour, he sticks up for her by saying, “It’s a handsome way of life.” He died in 1890 (Meiji 23) at the age of 46.

Ichikawa Somegoro as Emperor Komei
The 121st emperor who reigned during the end of the Edo period. The father of Emperor Meiji. Although he is determined to expel foreigners, he does not have the will to be radical and to overthrow the shogunate. Because of that, he let his younger step-sister Princess Kazu-no-miya marry the 14th shogun Tokugawa Iemochi, advancing the union between the court and the shogunate. He has complete faith in the loyalty of Matsudaira Katamori who is committed to the law and order of the chaotic capital, and as proof of this trust, he gives Katamori a personally written letter and song.

Goriki Ayame as Hinata Yuki
A younger childhood friend that Yamamoto Yae cherishes. They were neighbours whose homes were separated by a fence. Yuki’s mother died when she was 3. During the Battle of Aizu, she is unable to enter the castle. Evading bullets with her grandmother, stepmother and younger siblings, they are taken into the care of a farmer’s family in the outskirts, and move from place to place. She stealthily searches for the bodies of her father and older brother who died in the war behind the backs of the new government army. After the war, her family goes to Tonan in Aomori where they experience hardship. She later moves to Hokkaido, marries the development commissioner who is a Satsuma-born samurai and does not go back to Aizu again. In 1887 (Meiji 20), she is reunited with Yae, who has come to Hokkaido for missionary work.

Hasegawa Kyoko as Yamamoto Ura
Yamamoto Kakuma’s wife. She has a submissive and gentle personality but also has a tough side where she puts her life on the line to protect her husband from an assassin’s sword. When their only daughter, Mine, was just seven months old, Kakuma accompanied the lord of the Aizu domain, Matsudaira Katamori, who had received the official appointment as Kyoto military commissioner, to the capital and never returned to Aizu again. Kakuma’s arrest and execution by the enemy in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi reached the family and she fights with Yae in the castle seige. After the fall of the castle, the family decides to go to Kyoto to determine Kakuma’s fate, but Ura alone refuses and entrusts Mine to Yae. She is later reunited with them when Yae returns to Aizu with her second husband, Niijima Joe.

Oguri Shun as Yoshida Shoin
A professor in military strategy at the Choshu domain’s school, Meirinkan. When he travelled to Edo, he joined Sakuma Shozan’s school where Yamamoto Kakuma also studied. He was called “Shozan’s Two Tigers” along with Kobayashi Torasaburo, the future grand councillor of the Nagaoka domain. Journeying to Tohoku, Shoin visited Aizu and came to see the domain’s school, Nisshinkan. After that, he was shocked at the arrival of the Black Ships and failed in his attempt to travel abroad on one of the ships. Implicated in the stowaway incident, he and his teacher Shozan were placed under house arrest and the school was wound up. While confined at home in his hometown of Hagi, he opened Shoka Village School where he taught young Choshu samurai. Following Shoin’s execution for plotting rebellion in 1859, his students shaked up the Choshu domain’s politics and triggered the Meiji Restoration. Ironically, his favourite students would be completely hostile to the Aizu.

Inamori Izumi as Teruhime
An adopted child like Matsudaira Katamori, she is three years his senior. In 1842 (Tenbo 13), she was adopted into the childless Matsudaira clan, but the following year, Matsudaira Katataka’s concubine gave birth to Toshihime. In 1846 (Kouka 3), Katamori was also adopted. Teruhime was 16 and Katamori was 13. She had already been acquainted with calligraphy, the tea ceremony, etiquette and the art of incense in her teens, and in particular loved classic Japanese poetry and the koto. She is devoted to Katamori and even taught her step brother classic Japanese poetry. She married Okudaira Masamoto, the lord of the Buzen Nakatsu domain, at 18. At 23, the union was dissolved but the reason was not clear. It was attributed to her being childless, but in the end, also presumed to be because she was worried about the Aizu domain and Katamori’s future.

Nishida Toshiyuki as Saigo Tanomo
He hails from a family that has served for more than 200 years as vassals of the Aizu domain since the first generation. He proposed that his lord, Matsudaira Katamori, decline the appointment as Kyoto military commissioner. Because he proceeded to Kyoto right after the Kinmon Incident to offer his opinion on resigning from office, he was dismissed as a vassal and ordered to be confined at home. During the Battle of Aizu, he was reinstated, but suffered a crushing defeat in the Battle of Shirakawaguchi. 21 members of the Saigo clan including Tanomo’s mother, wife and daughters commit suicide while beseiged. This is followed by the tragic death of the Byakkotai. Having argued against war from the start, he takes this opportunity to counsel that Katamori and all present to be defeated honourably, and is expelled from the castle. Running away from Aizu, he joins Enomoto Takeaki, the former admiral of the shogunate’s navy, and heads for Hakodate. In 1899 (Meiji 32), he returns to Aizu.

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About jadefrost

This blog contains information and musings on current and upcoming Japanese dramas but is not intended to be comprehensive.
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