Photo/IllutrationHosshinji temple’s “kago” shown at the prefecture-run Wakasa History Museum in Obama, Fukui Prefecture (Izuru Hishiyama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

OBAMA, Fukui Prefecture--A wooden box hanging from the ceiling of a local temple for over a century was found to contain a palanquin presented by the third Tokugawa shogun to the lord of the Obama domain here.

The stunning find came during renovations of the Hosshinji temple last December. Intrigued by what was inside the box, the temple asked the prefectural-run Wakasa History Museum to examine it.

Experts at the museum said the “kago,” or wooden litter, was almost certainly presented by Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) to Sakai Tadakatsu (1587-1662) when he entered the Obama domain for the first time as its lord in 1634.

The only other Tokugawa shogun kago in existence are ones used by the first shogun, Ieyasu (1542-1616).

According to Fukui prefectural authorities, the palanquin has metal fittings on the edges of its black lacquer-painted shouldering pole featuring the triple hollyhock crest of the Tokugawa clan.

The fittings were believed to have been added during the late Edo Period (1603-1867).

The body boasts an “ajiro” structure comprising thinly woven Japanese cypress wood string. The lacquer work is typical of that carried out for goods commissioned by the shogun.

A cloth used to protect the occupant's privacy features a hollyhock foliage design.

The palanquin, 118 centimeters long, 86 cm wide and 102 cm tall, is large enough to accommodate a male passenger. The shouldering pole is 497 cm long.

The history of the Sakai clan states that Tadakatsu received Iemitsu’s own kago, horses, saddles and other goods.

The discovery of the palanquin underscores the close ties between Iemitsu and Tadakatsu, the shogun’s key retainer, officials said.

Tadakatsu served as the “roju” senior councilor and “tairo” chief councilor of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The kago was kept at Obama Castle until the Obama domain was abolished.

A Hosshinji worshiper then bought the palanquin and apparently donated it to the temple in 1870.

Shinichi Saito, a curator at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Tokyo who specializes in Japan’s medieval history, said he was stunned to learn that Iemitsu’s kago has emerged.

“The exterior and interior designs of palanquins reflect where their owners stood in the samurai hierarchy,” he said.

Saito added that the kago was likely created in the first half of the Edo Period, when kago designs started to be established.

“It is a historically important item because it embodies the class system in the early-modern samurai society,” he said.

The kago is on display at a special exhibition in the Wakasa History Museum through Sept. 9.