Niouza is an historical street of Samurai residences dating to the Azuchi-Momoiro period, and is located in Usuki, Oita Prefecture. It was selected as one of Japan's 100 Best Cityscapes in 1993.
Niouza was originally a road on the ashy slopes of the volcano Mt Aso. It is said that the name 'Niouza' derives from the two deva king guardian statues glaring out from the deva gate to the Gion Shrine (present-day Yasaka Shrine) in this vicinity.
Along the road are many temples, remains of stone paving, samurai residences and old ramparts, which together create a tranquil ambience. Places on the way, such as the Old Shinkou Temple and the Inaba-Hidemichi-Yashiki Ruins, are well worth visiting. You can also see the ruins of the battlefield Kiri-toushi and numerous other points of interest.
The Marumou Family Lower Mansion is the symbol of Usuki, a former castle town. It was once the mansion of a high-ranking samurai who had defined its late-Edo period architectural style.
The Marumou family were samurai of the former Mino clan (in today's Gifu Prefecture), and were once in service to Mitsuhide Akechi. After Mitsuhide was defeated by Hideyoshi Toyotomi during the Battle of Yamazaki in the 10th year of the Tenshou era (1582), the family was homeless for many years.
The family made a comeback in the 5th year of the Kannei era (1628) during the Edo period. Because the first leader of the Usuki clan, Sadamichi Inaba, was related to the Marumou family, they were taken in by them. Soon after, the Marumou family came to reign as one of the highest-ranking samurai families in the Usuki clan.
One of the main characteristics of the Marumou Family Lower Mansion is that the house is completely divided by walls into several parts, including an 'omote' for guests, and an 'oku' for living quarters. Not only individual rooms but the entrance also is divided, for guests and family. One can see how seriously the samurai family took tradition and ceremonies.
Ohara-tei is a mansion that belonged to the Ohara clan, the high-ranking chief retainers of the Kitsuki Domain. It is one of the best samurai buildings of Kitadai, Oita Prefecture.
The oldest record of Ohara-tei mentions that Aikawa Tozo lived here in the Horeki period (1751~1764). Later, Oka Saburozaemon named this building 'Keikaro' but he left, then the building was used for samurais. After the Bunsei period (1818~1830), the Ohara clan lived here.
Ohara-tei is valued as the most formal mansion of its kind in Kitsuki. It is distinguished by the dignified gate with row houses on both sides, subtle entrances, thatched roofs, a separation between the drawing room and living room; as well as a shikidai, an entrance for high-ranking persons.
Its neat garden and big pond make us feel that this is an unusual samurai dwelling.
In 1646, Tsugaru Hideyoshi, a younger brother of the Hirosaki clan head, Nobuyoshi, was given about 5,000,000m2 of land to build a mansion, which is the origin of Kuroishi Castle. It was a magnificent castle on a flatland, and is otherwise known as Crow Castle.
The 8th clan head, Chikatari, was given about 6,000,000m2 of land by the So clan in 1809. Therefore, the Tsugaru clan received some 10,000,000m2 land in all and became feudal lords and established a clan. In the fourth year of the Meiji period, because of the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures, the mansion was opened to the public. The Tsugaru family then presented the residence to Kuroishi Town and it was used as the Kuroishi Elementary School. Today it forms Mikyuki Park.
Most of the park is open, but there exist some remains of small clay walls across the moats in the south, which remind you of former times.