I visited this castle in 2004 (see previous post). At the time I did not know the history of the castle or of Aizu. It was after reading about the fall of the Tokugawa Shogun's and the restoration of the Emperor that I realized the importance of the Aizu domain. The domain of Aizu was actually one of the principal players during the turmoil of the 1860s and the Meiji Restoration. Aizu was on the losing side.
However, Aizu fared much worse than other domains that had sided with the Shogun. After the fall of the Shogun at the hands of the Imperial forces, most domains pledged there allegiance to the Emperor. A few Northern domains resisted longer but they to eventually surrendered. None of these domains were treated harshly however. Except that of Aizu.
Why was Aizu treated so harshly? During the turbulent 1860s, the heart of the conflict between the Loyalist for the Emperor and the supporters of the Shogun was centered in Kyoto. Violence was spiraling out of control. Assassinations were an almost daily occurrence. And most of the violence was directed at the supporters and officials of the Shogun.
Aizu, as a most loyal supporter of the Shogun, was asked by the Shogunate to become the "Protector of Kyoto". It was Aizu's job to bring order to the ancient capital. Aizu decided to fight fire with fire. One of the things they did was create a special police force under the direction of the Lord of Aizu. This force was called the Shinsengumi. The Shinsengumi and other forces under the command of the Lord of Aizu used whatever means were necessary to crush the rebellious ronin that were roaming the streets of Kyoto. Many hundreds were killed at the hands of these police squads during this time.
For this reason, the victorious Imperial forces, and in particular the domains of Choshu and Satsuma, had bitter hatred for Aizu and they punished them severely.
This is a relatively short book but it was enjoyable. Shiba was only 10 when the Imperial armies came to Aizu. He escaped to his aunts home where he later learned that as Aizu was being overrun, his mother and sisters committed seppuku. Shiba's samurai brothers and father were fighting at Aizu castle. He thought they all had been lost. But the castle defenders actually eventually surrendered.
All the Aizu samurai men including ten year-old Shiba and his father and brothers were sent off to prison camps. Later, they were given a new domain in the far North. But it was inhospitable and the Aizu samurai were not prepared to be farmers and endure the harsh winters. According to the book, many died from starvation. No other domain that fought against the Imperial forces had to be subjected to this treatment. Over the years, many of the former Aizu returned to their old domain which had become Fukushima prefecture.
I have read in various places that even into the 20th century, there were those in Aizuwakamatsu that still held bitter feelings toward the Choshu and Satsuma people for how they treated the Aizu.
Shiba later entered military training school. He then had a long career in the Japanese military serving in the Sino-Japanese war and the Russo-Japanese war. And later retiring from the military.
In August 1945 after Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, Shiba Goro attempted suicide and died 4 months later from his wounds.