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Battle Scars of Ikeda-ya!

The Ikedaya Incident - If you ever cross Kamogawa by way of Sanjo Bridge you may, if you take a close look, notice blade marks in one the finials atop a bridge post. This is a reminder that in 1864 one of the most famous incidents of the area took place just a short distance away, and evidently spilled out into the surrounding neighbourhood. Ikedaya.

In 1864 the Choushu rebels had planned to set fire to the Imperial Palace and kidnap the Emperor. Their eventual plan was to have the emperor issue a decree to attack the Bakufu and place the Lord of Choushu as Kyoto’s protector. Word of this plan reached the Shinsengumi and other authorities in the city and so on a hot summer night on June 5th, 1864 they began a search of buildings in the area looking for the rebels. They found the them at the Ikedaya Inn where they were upstairs drinking and planning.

Shinsengumi leader Kondo Isami led the charge upon the Choushu men and the fighting is said to have lasted two hours. According to Kondo Isami’s writings, seven rebels were killed, another four later died from wounds, and twenty-three were captured.

In the book SHINSENGUMI – The Shogun’s Last Samurai Corps by Romulus Hillsborough he describes what happened when Shinsengumi leader Kondo Isami and his men arrived at Ikedaya and announced to the proprietor that they had come to investigate the establishment, and what they met with after racing after the panicked owner up the stairs to the second floor “Upstairs, they encountered some twenty men, their swords drawn. “We’ve come to investigate,” Kondo announced. “If you resist, we’ll kill you without mercy.” According to Nagakura’s memoirs (Nagakura Shinpachi was a captain in the Shinsengumi), “All of them trembled with fear and moved back. Just then, one of the rebels, a particularly brave man, suddenly attacked with his sword. Okita (Okita Souji was a captain in the Shinsengumi) killed him with one stroke. Others fled downstairs…Kondo instructed us to follow them.” (This section is reprinted in HIDDEN PATHS - Walking Historical Kyoto Omnibus Edition with the kind permission of the author, Romulus Hillsborough).

It has been said that by foiling the rebel’s plans that the Shinsengumi stalled the handing back of power from the Shogun to the emperor by at least a year. Much of the building was destroyed in the battle but today stands in its place a new Ikedaya themed izekaya restaurant.

As soon as you walk through the door of the re-vamped Ikeda ya it’s clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone in to making the restaurant a place of interest and not just a place to eat and drink. First you are met by a huge manga-style mural of the Shinsengumi on the attack above a staircase leading down to one of the table areas. To the right of the staircase a small kiosk offers Shinsengumi t-shirts and souvenirs for sale; and to the left another imposing staircase leads up. Both staircases are lined with pictures of Shinsengumi members. The ascending staircase leads to a second floor where you can view an excellent display of replica swords, clothing and armour of Kondo Isami, Hijikata Toshizo (Kondo’s second in command) and Sakamoto Ryomo the leading revolutionary of the time (this display will catch the attention for a good while of anyone whether interested in the history or not).

There are three floors to the restaurant in all, be aware though that even though they have plenty of room week day lunch visits require pre-booking, don’t just turn up unannounced and expect to be served. This is not down to the number of patrons but more to do with the fact that they want to know in advance what you will be eating so as to have fresh ingredients.

Looking at the menu everything, even down to the cocktails (expert swordsman Okita Soushi has a blue curacao and peach and grapefruit juice drink named after him) is Shinsengumi themed. Many themed restaurants tend to put more in to the theme and easily forget about the food (hoping that the customer will be so taken with the furbishments) but Ikeda ya have not let up on this area. Main dishes are again named after Shinsengumi corpsmen and the Hijikata course serves up a great example of Japanese food with tempura, sashimi and sushi altogether. For meat-eaters the Okita beef toban yaki is excellent, arriving on a flaming hot-plate. Shamo nabe (cock chicken) is recommended as one of Sakamoto Ryoma’s favourite meals and the restaurant also use a lot of local Kyoto vegetables.

The restaurant is definitely a must visit for anyone interested in the history of that time and is also in close proximity to other Meiji Restoration related locations such as Su-ya (Ryoma Dori just off of Kawaramachi/Sanjo) where Sakamoto Ryoma stayed until just before his death and the site of Oumi-ya (Kawaramachi) where Ryoma and his friend Shintaro were murdered. So if you are on a historical walking tour of Kyoto Ikeda-ya is the perfect place to include for lunch or evening meal.

Please note that HIDDEN PATHS visited Ikedaya before the Covid 19 Pandemic so please take into account current circumstances and we advise to pay a visit when the current situation has improved. (April 2021)

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