Dates: 1809 to 1876
Name in Japanese: たか女
When you visit Fukuromachi, the fascinating old licensed quarters of Hikone, you’re sure to encounter a beguiling and conspiratorial-looking lady in a kimono looking down on you from a lantern affixed to an eating and drinking establishment. This is Takajo, or Murayama Taka, also known as Murayama Kazue.
She was born in 1809, in a Buddhist temple at Taga Shrine. Immediately after birth, she was entrusted to a samurai named Murayama who was serving the temple, and at 18, she became a maid of the lord of Hikone at that time, Ii Naoaki.
At the age of 20, she went to Kyōto and became a geisha in Gion, where she learned to play the shamisen. At that time, she gave birth to a boy, but because it was an illegitimate child, she returned to Hikone near her hometown. Here she met Ii Naosuke, a devotee of the shamisen, who lived in modest quarters within Hikone Castle, and apparently became his lover. A few years later, she also had a close relationship with Nagano Shuzen, Naosuke’s tutor and counsellor. Takajo taught shamisen to the geisha of Fukuromachi. The two parted ways when Naosuke went to Edo.
Ii Naosuke became chief counsellor to the Shogun, and in an attempt to quell the faction that sort to replace the shogunate with imperial rule, Naosuke carried out the Ansei Purge, executing a number of his peers. Takajo became a spy, sending information about the rebel forces in Kyōto to Edo. She’s known as the first female agent of the Japanese government to ever be named.
After Naosuke was assassinated in 1860 outside the Sakurada Gate of Edo Castle, she was captured in 1862 by samurai of the imperial restoration faction. Although her life was spared as a woman, she was tied to a stake in public for three days and three nights in Kyōto. However, her son Tada Tatewaki was killed by feudal retainers of the rebellious Tosa and Chōshū Domains in place of his mother.
After that, she became a nun at Konpuku-ji Temple and died in 1876 Her grave is located at Enkō-ji, the main temple of Konpuku-ji, and there’s a memorial at Konpuku-ji.
For a long time, the specific relationship between Taka and Ii Naosuke was unknown, but at the end of 2011, a letter from Naosuke to Taka was found at the Ii Art Museum in Kyōto. The letter is thought to have been written by Naosuke in his late twenties, and it expresses his painful feelings when he was unable to see her due to the opposition of his family.