Yusuhara is a small town located in Takaoka District, Kōchi Prefecture, at the western end of the Shikoku Mountains. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, forests cover 91% of the town’s area. The economy of Yusuhara is almost entirely agricultural and forestry. In the feudal period, Yusuhara was part of the old Tosa Domain ruled by the Yamauchi clan from their seat at Kōchi Castle. It was designated as an “Environmental model city” in 2009. Yusuhara has no rail connections is accessible only by road.
Towards the end of the Edo period when low-ranked samurai in Tosa sought to overthrow the Shōgunate, Sakamoto Ryōma, Yoshimura Toratarō and other warriors passed through Yusuhara as they defected from their domain at risk of their lives. Their daring initiative led to the restoration of imperial rule and establishment of Japan as a modern state with representative government in the Meiji period. The paths they took still exist in Yusuhara.
A form of rustic dance theatre called Tsunoyama Kagura has been practised in Yusuhara since ancient times as part of harvest festivals. Performances can be seen around the town in autumn. The main street is dotted with figurines depicting kagura characters.
Although Yusuhara has beautiful buildings dating to the Edo and Meiji periods, it’s best known for its contemporary architecture by Kuma Kengo. Here we look at some of the attractions of Yusuhara.
Gate of Restoration
Yusuhara has a fake Japanese castle on the west side of the Yusuhara River from the main street. Below it is a memorial to the samurai rebels who left Tosa to precipitate the Meiji Restaurant. The memorial comprises eight large bronze statues, including Sakamoto Ryōma and Sawamura Sōnojō who left Kōchi city together, and father and son Nasu Shunpei and Shingo who lived in Yusuhara and guided them on their route. Yoshimura Toratarō , Maeda Shigema and Nakahira Ryūnosuke also crossed the border from this region. Kakehashi Izumi also gave his life to support these aspirants. Six years later, the Meiji Restoration took place, and a modern state was born, but by that time, all eight of these samurai had already died in spectacular fashion.
Home of Kakehashi Izumi
On a hillside overlooking the town is a thatched farmhouse, the home of Kakehashi Izumi. An interesting feature of the house is its secret upstairs room, where people and goods could be secreted. It’s though that Sakamoto Ryōma may have stayed here. Kakehashi later committed seppuku for his part in the rebellion.
Yusuhara-za was built in 1948 in the style of the Taishō period and was relocated and restored at the current site in September 1995. The style is Japanese-Western style, with a modern exterior and a traditional kabuki stage with a hanamachi promenade. It’s the only wooden playhouse in Kōchi Prefecture. Today it’s used as an informal community centre and a venue for plays, kabuki, and film screenings. The theatre was slated for demolition, but in 1987, Kuma Kengo became involved in the campaign to save it. When he visited Yusuhara, he was impressed by the wooden architecture of the theatre and was inspired to create new buildings of similar quality using timber from the town. This was the starting point on his career as a world-renowned architect.
Machi no Eki Yusuhara (Marche Yusuhara)
This building, designed by Kuma Kengo combines a shop selling products unique to Yusuhara with a hotel and café restaurant. Built in 2010, Kuma’s design incorporates a wall covered in thatch, inspired by the traditional thatched roofs in the town. The thatched facade creates a distinctive look, but also contributes to a comfortable indoor environment thanks to its thermal insulation properties. Reflecting the concept of a forest within the town, the interior features many cedar pillars. The spacious rooms have a simple, elegant style.
Yusuhara General Office
The Yusuhara General Office was built in 2006 as a municipal office and base for disaster prevention. It uses large amounts of Yusuhara cedar grown around the headwaters of the Shimanto River. The atrium on the first floor houses a chadō, traditional thatched pavilion serving as a place for Buddhist worship and to welcome travellers.
Library above the Clouds
The library was built in 2008 as the core facility of the Yusuhara concept as a place where people and nature coexist and prosper. The library has a bouldering wall and a café. It features a remarkable system of roof supports creating a uniquely ‘woody’ atmosphere. Note that the library is closed on Tuesdays and the last Friday of every month.
Gallery above the Clouds
Built in 2010, this gallery was designed with the intention of creating a forest-like building that blends in with the forests of Yusuhara. The unique structure represents branches and leaves that spread out and create light and shadows, like sunlight filtering through trees.
This public welfare facility was added next to the library in 2018 as a place where the elderly can continue to live with peace of mind in their own community. The exterior walls are clad with cedar boards from Yusuhara, and the interior uses natural materials such as handmade washi paper produced in the town.
Yusuhara Museum of History and Folklore
This interesting and attractive museum consists of the main building in the shape of a pentagon built in 1974 and an annex in the former town hall built in 1894. Exhibits cover Yusuhara in ancient times, the development of kagura, the story of the Tsuno clan who governed this area during the Warring States period, and Chōsokabe Motochika who conquered the Tosa domain, as well as the samurai who precipitated the Meiji Restoration. There are many examples of traditional clothing and tools, and well-made dioramas.
This fine temple on a hill offers a view over the town of Yusuhara.
At the north end of the main street stands a wooden torii gate and spectacular covered bridge over the Yusuhara River. This is the approach to Mishima Shrine. The path that the defectors took leads into the woods behind the shrine.
Name in Japanese: 梼原町
Address: Yusuhara, Takaoka District, Kochi