Protecting and Passing Down Yabakei
From the Meiji Period to the Taisho Period, the wave of modernization cut through the mountains to create roads and raised solid stone bridges over the rivers. Automobiles and steam trains began to run through the area, and, while this brought convenience to the lives of the people there, a new concern arose that the nature of Yabakei might be damaged as a result. Two individuals appeared during this time to preserve the beautiful scenery here while moving along with modernization. Their names were Yukichi Fukuzawa and Hirata Yoshitane. How did they deal with this challenge?
Kyoshuho, in which the Ao-no-Domon (Carved Tunnel of Ao) is found, is a piece of the scenery which Yukichi Fukuzawa, a native of Nakatsu, protected. Yukichi, who advocated for the westernization of Japan and led the way down the path to the modern era, learned that the whole region of Kyoshuho, which he had visited with his mother when he was young, had been put on the market. Fearing the destruction of this scenery due to indiscriminate development, he invested his own private funds to buy the land and protect this scenery through to the end. His activities can be thought of as the beginning of nature conservation and the National Trust movement.
The person who once again made the Yabakei discovered by Rai Sanyo known to the world was a prominent figure of the area named Hirata Yoshitane. Yoshitane, who led Yabakei to become a nationally designated site of scenic beauty in Taisho year 12 (1923), looked out across the environs from the hill behind his home (the Hirata Castle ruins) and thought, “Yabakei will need an observation platform in the future.” The third floor which he built onto his home was exactly such a platform. Windows open wide on three sides, and the scenery of this designated scenic area unfolds like the art painted on the sliding screens of a formal Japanese room. Yoshitane’s home teaches all of us the importance of viewpoint.
Yoshitane, who revitalized industry, opened waterways, and devoted himself to the development of Yabakei also designed the settlement of Hirata where he himself lived. He created a new station, post office, school, and stone bridge, and he even restored shrines and temples. The numerous structures he worked on gently blend into the landscape. The people of the area called Yoshitane, who brought affluence to their lives and helped preserve this beautiful scenery, “Bakei-Ou” (Old Man Bakei) as a way of showing their respect. Yoshitane’s shotokuhi (*1) stands on a plot of land overlooking the settlement, and Bakei-Ou continues to watch over the town from this spot even now.
*1: Shotokuhi – Monuments on which compositions conveying and praising the meritorious deeds of great people are carved.