A History of Violence

A History of Violence

It’s not all cartoon pufferfish in Shimonoseki. It’s position on the western tip of Honshu has meant that it’s seen more than its fair share of extraordinary events over the years.


Battle of Dan-no-Ura, 1185

There’s an old piece of Scottish wisdom that says it is impossible to push your grandmother from large public transport. However, while ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus, in Heian period Japan, there was nothing to stop your granny grabbing you, jumping into a raging sea and killing both of you.

That’s precisely what happened to the unfortunate Emperor Antoku at the age of just six after a colossal battle to decide the fate of Japan went against his side, the Taira clan. Presumably seppuku was a hard sell to an infant, so granny grabbed the little ruler and plunged into the deadly waters that churn between Kyushu and Honshu before the victorious Minamoto clan.

Today, the wee man’s sacrifice is remembered with the huge, green-roofed Akama Shrine in Shimonoseki. It’s a grand place, but that’s probably of little consolation to the child.

The Duel: Sasaki Kojiro vs Miyamoto Musashi, 1612

It wouldn’t have been unreasonable if the legendary swordsman Sasaki Kojiro was at first annoyed, and then over-confident in the moments before his battle to the death with the ronin Miyamoto Musashi. His opponent had turned up late and dishevelled, and Kojiro, known as The Demon of the Western Provinces, was a master of the nodachi. But Musashi was a wily fox and – though accounts vary wildly – it seems that his tactics to unsettle Kojiro worked perfectly.

The duel between the two men, on Ganryu island just off Shimonoseki, has passed into legend but the result is indisputable: a complete victory by way of a form of rope-a-dope for Musashi, death for Kojiro. Having left his opponent dead on the floor, Musashi made a sharp exit and – though he is widely regarded as one of the greatest Japanese swordsmen of all time – he never fight another duel. Whatever happened on that island, it changed him.

The Bombardment of Shimonoseki, 1863-64

Over half a century before neighbouring Hiroshima endured the atomic bomb, Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi prefecture had its own brief conflict with Allied forces. The end of Sakoku, Japan’s period of isolation, wasn’t well received by everyone and, in spite of orders from Tokyo to allow foreigners free passage to trade, Lord Mori Takachika of the Choshu clan decided he didn’t want to play along.

Tensions mounted, a cry of “expel the barbarians!” went up and soon there was battle. Unsurprisingly, against the might of the combined forces of Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States, the local clan didn’t do too well and several hundred people died. Did they make a point? If so, it’s one that history remembers with a few mock canons that are on Shimonoseki’s promenade. If you put ¥100 yen in a slot of one of them, a fake explosion rings out and a little puff of smoke seeps out of the end, which is nice.


Our time in Yamaguchi prefecture was made possible by:

The owners of the excellent Nakakyu Sushi, whose relatives were said to have retrieved the body of the doomed Emperor Antoku from the Shimonoseki straits. Today, the family serve just about every type of fugu imaginable and while it may not be to our personal tastes, people who know better assure us that its excellent. We’re definitely sure that it was very well priced and that their other sushi was excellent, their sake tasty and their beer cold.

The wonderfully friendly Yukimi Yoshida, who I don’t think stopped talking from the moment we met her, and who was incredibly generous during our manic afternoon together in Shimonoseki. We’re grateful to all our guides, but the fact that Yukimi volunteered with only about 24 hours notice and then managed to give us such a wealth of information was really amazing.



壇ノ浦の戦い 1185年

佐々木小次郎と宮本武蔵 巌流島の戦い 1612年

下関戦争 1863-64年