Sanso-dori is a street that runs from Ozasa to Hirao in Chuo-ku. The name is derived from Hiraosanso, a thatched-roof hut located nearby. This was the home of Botoni Nomura, a female poet active in the Late Edo era, for 21 years. The hut is located in middle of the city today, but in Nomura’s time, it was off the beaten path. Surrounded by nature, she lived a quiet life with her husband writing poems.
But her life changed dramatically after her husband’s death. She became a nun, assumed the name Botoni (her given name was Moto) and traveled to Kyoto to study literature. There she witnessed the efforts of Choshu (now Yamaguchi) and Satsuma (now Kagoshima) leaders trying to bring about the Meiji Restoration and soon found her self working for the pro-Imperialist cause. Given its out-of-the-way location, Hiraosanso was the perfect place for loyalists to come and go without being detected. Shinsaku Takasugi, a Choshu samurai loyal to the Emperor, spent 10 days in hiding there.
The Fukuoka Domain got wind of Botoni’s activities and exiled her to Himeshima (now Itoshima City) at the age of 60. She lived in a tiny cell with no heat or light, which took its toll on her. One year later, she was rescued by other loyalists under the supervision of Shinsaku Takasugi, and she lived until the age of 62 in what is now Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, never to return to Fukuoka again.
The area around Hiraosanso is now a park, and some of the plum, maple and cherry trees there are said to have been planted by Botoni and her husband. Hiraosanso is famous for its beautiful fall foliage as well as its plum and cherry blossoms. The office at Hiraosanso also has some documents pertaining to Botoni on display. Every November 6, on the anniversary of Botoni’s death, local residents gather to hold a memorial service for her.
Originally published by Fukuoka Now (October 2013).