Suspended Ceiling Incident at Utsunomiya Castle

宇都宮城釣天井事件

Honda Masazumi

Shimotsuke Province

Tokugawa Hidetada

The Suspended Ceiling Incident at Utsunomiya Castle occurred in 1622.  In this incident, Honda Masazumi, an elder in the Edo bakufu and lord of the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya domain, was accused of plotting the assassination of Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shōgun of the Edo bakufu, by creating a suspended ceiling in the sleeping quarters designed to crush Hidetada during a planned overnight stay by the shōgun in Utsunomiya Castle.  As a result, the Honda were removed from their position as a daimyō family and Masazumi was sent into exile.  In fact, however, there was no suspended ceiling in Utsunomiya Castle and the removal of the family is surmised to have owed to other reasons.

Background

Masazumi’s father, Honda Masanobu, was an elder associate to Tokugawa Hidetada, while Masazumi was a close associate to Hidetada’s father, Tokugawa Ieyasu, in Sunpu.  Ieyasu had referred to Masanobu as his friend and deeply trusted him, without a wavering of Masanobu’s status.

In 1616, after the successive deaths of Ieyasu and Masanobu, Masazumi received an increase to his fief of 20,000 koku so that the Shimotsuke-Oyama domain totaled 53,000 koku.  He then ranked as an elder associate of Hidetada and, later, in the highest position in the bakufu administration known as a rōjū, or member of the council of elders.  Masazumi, however, took pride in the authority he wielded coming from a line of veterans and, eventually, he fell out of favor with Hidetada and other associates.  In the tenth month of 1619, after the removal of Fukushima Masanori from his position, Masazumi transferred Okudaira Tadamasa from the Shimotsuke-Utsunomiya domain with a fief of 100,000 koku to the Shimōsa-Koga domain with a fief of 110,000 koku.  He claimed that this action was upon the wishes of Ieyasu prior to his death.  Meanwhile, he increased his own fief from 53,000 koku in Oyama to 155,000 koku in Utsunomiya.

These actions invited scorn from Kanō-Gozen (the eldest daughter of Tokugawa Ieyasu also known as Kamehime) and others from the Okudaira family and individuals having close relations with the Ōkubo family.  Kanō-Gozen was the grandmother of Tadamasa who was ordered to transfer to Shimōsa-Koga at a lower rank at the same time that Masazumi planned to move to a larger fief in Utsunomiya.  Moreover, Kanō-Gozen’s daughter was the formal wife of Ōkubo Tadatsune, the lineal heir of Ōkubo Tadachika who was removed from his position.

Course of Events

In 1622, Hidetada visited the Nikkō-Tōshō Shrine for the sixth anniversary of the death of his father, Ieyasu.  Thereafter, he planned to spend one night at Utsunomiya Castle so Masazumi had a palace room constructed for him to stay.  On 4/16, when Hidetada headed toward Nikkō, he received a secret message from Kanō-Gozen (his older sister and grandmother of Okudaira Tadamasa) that there was a defect in the construction at Utsunomiya Castle.  He made plans to confirm the veracity of the warning another day and, on 4/19, on the pretext that a message came informing him that his mother was ill, Hidetada changed his plans, by-passing Utsunomiya Castle and lodging instead at Mibu Castle in the Tsuga District of Shimotsuke.  On 4/21, he returned to Edo Castle.

In the eighth month, in connection with the removal of Mogami Yoshitoshi of the Dewa-Yamagata domain from his position, Masazumi headed-out on behalf of his lord to take possession of Yamagata Castle.  While Masazumi was on this route, Hidetada thrust upon him a document containing eleven criminal charges including the secret manufacture of arquebuses, unauthorized repairs to the stone walls of the inner citadel at Utsunomiya Castle, as well as a plot intended to crush Hidetada to death with a suspended ceiling in the sleeping quarters of Utsunomiya Castle.  Itami Yasukatsu and Takagi Masatsugu were sent to conduct questioning of Masazumi with respect to the charges to which Masazumi responded without hesitation.  However, he could not respond to three more charges added by Yasukatsu.  As a result, his landholdings were seized but, owing to the loyalty of his predecessors, he was granted a fief of 55,000 koku in the Yuri District of Dewa.

With no intention of rebelling, Masazumi firmly refused the grant of 55,000 koku.  This angered Hidetada whereupon he ordered the Honda family removed from their position.  Masazumi was taken into custody by Satake Yoshinobu, the lord of the Kubota domain.  He was then exiled to Yokote in Dewa.  Later, Masazumi was given a stipend of 1,000 koku and, in the third month of 1637, he died in a lonely state in a corner of Akita-Yokote Castle at the age of seventy-three.

Aftermath

Having no evidence of a plans for a rebellion by Masazumi, on 4/19 of Genna 8 (1622), Hidetada ordered Inoue Masanari to conduct an inspection to confirm there were no irregularities in Utsunomiya Castle.  The reasons for the allegations against Masazumi are said to have been drawn from a plot by Doi Toshikatsu who did not care for Masazumi or based on the resentment of Kanō Gozen (Hidetada’s older sister).

From the era of his father, Hidetada wielded significant influence in the cabinet of the bakufu, and there is a theory that he was adverse to Masazumi who did not share the same views.  With respect to the punishment meted out to Masazumi, Hidetada took the uncommon approach of addressing the situation with other daimyō individually instead of communicating to them as a group at Edo Castle.  After receiving the explanation, Hosokawa Tadatoshi, the lord of the Buzen-Kokura domain, noted in a letter to his father, Hosokawa Tadaoki, that his (Masazumi’s) manner of public service was poor.

This event became widely known.  In correspondence to their respective countries, Richard Cocks (the Director of the Chamber of Commerce of England) and Leonard Camps (the Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Holland) characterized the event as a plot by Honda Masazumi.  This also served as the raw material for storytelling and kabuki theater.  The portrayal of this event was also influenced by another incident involving a suspected rebellion by Matsudaira Tadanao, the lord of the Echizen domain, in 1623.

Anecdote

Until dumplings known as gyōza became a local specialty, this incident was often cited in connection with the image of the city of Utsunomiya.  After the gyōza became prominent, there was a decrease in those who associated the city with this incident.

In modern times, this event continues to be the subject of movies and television dramas.

Folklore

In the city of Utsunomiya, a folk story known as the Suspended Ceiling has been transmitted through the generations that involves a romantic relationship between a young carpenter involved in the construction of the suspended ceiling and the daughter of a village headman.

Long ago, in the early Edo period, in a village near Utsunomiya, there was a handsome young man named Yoshirō who was a skillful carpenter.  The village headman liked Yoshirō so plans were made for Yoshirō to wed the headman’s daughter named Ohaya.  One day, the headman told him: “The shōgun is going to visit the Nikkō-Tōshō Shrine and you were chosen to build a room for him to stay.”  Yoshirō then went to Utsunomiya Castle.  In the castle, a total of thirty carpenters from throughout Shimotsuke Province were chosen and treated to an elegant banquet over several days.  The carpenters, however, were strictly forbidden from going outside of the castle.  Yoshirō desired to meet Ohaya but could not do so.

The room for the shōgun was completed in less than one month, and then ten particularly skilled carpenters were chosen from among the group and assigned to build a bathroom for the shōgun.  Yoshirō was included in this group, but yearned to meet with Ohaya.  Yoshirō then learned from one of his fellow carpenters named Tomekichi that he heard there is a plan to build a suspended ceiling in the bathroom for the purpose of killing the shōgun.  After hearing this story, Yoshirō fled from the castle during the night and sought refuge in the home of the village headman where Ohaya resided.  Delighted to meet again, Yoshirō and Ohaya talked together until dawn, and as the birds began to chirp in the morning, he entrusted the plans for the suspended ceiling to Ohaya and hurried back to the castle.

Upon returning to the castle, Yoshirō was immediately beheaded.  Once the bathroom was completed, the remaining carpenters were all killed without exception.  Rumors of the incident circulated in the town below the castle and Ohaya also heard the news.  Beset with grief, she left behind an apology for her lack of dutifulness toward her parents along with the plans for the suspended ceiling, and threw herself into a well.  The village headman wept at the altered sight of his perished daughter.  He then took the letter and ceiling plans and ran off at breakneck speed to inform the shōgun of the plot.  Upon meeting the shōgun and his retinue at the Suzume-no-miya lodge, the headman gave the letter to them and conveyed his urgent message.  After hearing of the suspending ceiling, Ietada and his followers returned to Edo.  Later, Ietada sent inspectors to Utsunomiya Castle who found a suspended ceiling and the remains of a carpenter.  Ietada then took control of the castle and Masazumi was exiled to Yuri in Akita.

This folk story is surmised to have been created on the basis of the historical facts that Tokugawa Hidetada suddenly changed his plans to lodge in Utsunomiya Castle and, soon thereafter, Honda Masazumi was removed from his position.  The lead character of this story is referred to as Honda Masazumi but the shōgun is often identified as Tokugawa Iemitsu (the third shōgun of the Edo bakufu) instead of Tokugawa Ietada (the second shōgun of the Edo bakufu).