Aizuwakamatsu has another more tragic facet of history connected to the castle. During the Boshin War siege a small group of young samurai who were members of the White Tiger Corps (Byakkotai in Japanese) retreated to a hill overlooking the city during a battle. They looked back at the castle, and seeing the smoke from the burning town wrongfully assumed that the castle itself had fallen.
This would have meant that their lord, his retainers and many of their own samurai fathers were dead. Thinking that their cause was lost, the twenty young men, most around sixteen or seventeen years old, committed suicide. The story is known because one failed in his attempt at an honorable death, and was rescued by a local farmer.
All twenty were buried at the top of the hill, and today Iimori Hill is one of the main sights in Aizuwakamatsu. There is a cluster of souvenir shops around the bottom, and then a series of shrines and temples line the path to the summit.
The snow that had fallen the day before covered the path and made the paths up the hill a much more treacherous proposition. About half way up we came upon a tower with two spiral ramps to the top, one for the ascent and one for the descent. Hidden in the core of the tower are Buddhist statues of Kannon, the goddess of Mercy.
Nearby was an automated omikuji dispenser. Omikuji are small paper scrolls that tell your fortune. They usually cover the general outlook on life as well as specific details for love, business, tests and more. There are many levels of luck that you can receive, from the very best to the very worst. If you get the very worst fortune, you tie the paper off nearby so the bad luck won’t attach itself to you. My fortune this time was for uncertain luck, so some was good and some was bad.
At the top there is the graveyard of the Byakkotai and a monument to their sacrifice. Interestingly enough, in the late 1920s Benito Mussolini heard the story and was so touched by it he donated a pillar from Pompeii topped with an Imperial Roman Eagle. The Eagle is still there, watching over the hilltop.