Sengen-tsutsumi and Legend of Matsui Magoemon’s Self-Sacrifice


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[Sengen-tsutsumi (Levee)]

Built in 1748 by the residential community of Yamada (Yoda)

Among the four remaining auxiliary levees extending from the main levee of the Miyagawa-tsutsumi, the Sengen-tsutsumi is the first one from upstream: those auxiliary levees are also called “tsukidashi-tsutsumi” (literally, “protruding levees”) because they protrude obliquely downstream from the main levee.

The name of the levee has something to do with the Shinto deity Sengen (also called Asama) enshrined at Mt. Fuji: according to legend, a practitioner of ablutions built a small shrine there and then prayed for protection from flooding in the direction of Mt. Fuji.

This levee, with a length of approx. 155 m, is the longest of all the auxiliary levees of the Miyagawa-tsutsumi. It was designed and built to protect the main levee by weakening the flow of the Miyagawa River in the event of flooding. Even today, it still functions adequately as originally designed, and therefore, was designated as a “ civil engineering heritage site” by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers in 2016.

Matsui Magoemon-sha is a Shinto shrine found on the levee, which was built by nearby residents to enshrine the stone monument made to console the soul of Matsui Magoemon, a local community leader in the Edo period (1603–1868) who sacrificed his own life to protect his community from flooding: it has been said that the stone monument and the shrine were built at the site where his coffin had been buried. This levee is also called the “Matsui Magoemon Hitobashira-tsutsumi (literally, “Matsui Magoemon Human Pillar Levee) based on the legend shown below. Annually on August 25, the Association for Honoring the Achievements of Matsui Magoemon holds a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of his death because he is believed to have died on that day. His spirit of self-sacrifice shown to protect the Miyagawa-tsutsumi has been still remembered and admired by local residents there.


[Legend of Matsui Magoemon’s Self-Sacrifice]

Reference source: Historical Material on Ujiyamada City

In the Edo period (1603–1868), the levees of the Miyagawa-tsutsumi were not so sturdy as they are today. Therefore, they used to break easily every time the Miyagawa River flooded, and people living along the river ended up losing their houses, etc. Matsui Magoemon, an old man from Aza-Nakano, Nakajimacho, made a decision to sacrifice himself as a hitobashira (literally, “human sacrifice”) to appease the wrath of deities of nature and then protect his local community from flooding.

He intentionally wore a patched hakama, a type of traditional Japanese skirt, when he visited the levees to check them with government officials. On the levees, he told the members of his local community that human sacrifice would be needed to protect people from flooding and therefore he would choose someone wearing a patched hakama as a hitobashira. Everyone there turned pale at his words and checked his or her hakama. When Magoemon’s turn came, they found that his hakama was patched. He looked convinced and then accepted his fate as a hitobashira.

He entered his own coffin after saying good-bye to everyone around. His family members connected his coffin buried underground and the world on the ground with a long bamboo tube so that they could send him some food and he could keep breathing as long as possible. During his wake, held prior to his funeral, people heard the sound of the bell he rang through the bamboo tube. The sound of his bell gradually became weaker, and no sound was heard any more on the third day. After confirming his death, people removed the bamboo tube from the ground in tears.

February 2021

Ise City Board of Education