Only in Tokyo: Black gate in Ueno (Kuromon)

The black gate in Ueno is an ominous, powerful gate reeking of authority. It is one of two remaining gates of the Edo-era feudal lord mansions in the capital. It is not clear when exactly the gate was built, but the concensus is late Edo period, likely late 18th or early 19th century. This gate is designated as an important cultural asset in Japan.

As I wrote in my article on the red gate at Tokyo University, one of the things that is unique for Tokyo is its history as capital for over 400 years. The Edo policy of sankin-kōtai required each major feudal lord to reside often in the capital for a considerable amount of time, requiring him to build a residence worthy of his status in Edo, as well as in his own territory.

The black gate belongs to the Ikeda clan of Inshū province (also called Inaba province) and Hōki province (currently Tottori Prefecture). They maintained their mansion in the Marunouchi area, and the gate was afterwards moved to Ueno in 1954. In between, it was moved to Takanawadai-machi in 1892 to be used as the gate for the Meiji-era Tōgū Palace, becoming later the residence of Prince Takamatsu (1905–1987, third son of Emperor Taishō, younger brother of Hirohito).

Side view of the Kuromon gate.

The Ikeda clan was not just any clan in feudal Japan. They earned 325.000 koku of rice between 1632 and 1871 (the domain size was not expressed in territory, but the total officially assessed agricultural output of the territory). This is way below the Kaga domain (the domain behind the red gate), but still within the top 10 of important domains. They also had a special position towards the ruling Tokugawa Shoguns as one of their family members married a daughter of the very first shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa (reign 1603–1605).

This gate has a hipped-gable roof construction and is quite straight. At the sides two bow shaped sentry boxes are placed. Everything is done with dark wood, earning its nick name of “Black gate” (kuromon in Japanese). Judging by the style and methods, experts put the construction date in the latter part of the Edo period.

2 persons passing along the black gate.

I felt that this gate, much more than the red gate, conveys authority and at the same time is rather menacing. Mission accomplished if what they were after was projecting power. It makes me wonder what the actual mansion of this Ikeda clan looked like.

You can see the gate from the street side, but if you want to look at it up close and walk through the gate, you will need to go inside of the Tokyo National Museum. The gate is only open on weekends and national holidays.

In practice

13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Closest station:
Ueno station (main station) – 8 minutes walk from the Park Exit (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line and Hibiya Line, Utsunomiya Line, Takasaki Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yamanote Line, Joban Line and various Shinkansen lines)
Uguisudani Station – 9 minutes walk from South Exit (Yamanote Line)

Entrance fee: JPY 620 (Tokyo National Museum entry, museum is free on certain days, check the museum’s website). If you just want to see the gate, you can also just pass by on the street side, which is free.

Opening hours: 10:00-16:00 Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays only (or any time if you just want to pass by at the street side)

Web: http://www.tnm.jp/modules/r_free_page/index.php?id=93

Name in Japanese: