Yasukuni Shrine at Kudan, c. 1910
“Kudan Hill, with its famous shrine and museum, stands at the northwest corner of the Palace grounds, in Kojimachi-ku, and is one of the most interesting as well as elevated spots in the city. Approaching it along the wide, populous, and upward-sloping Kudan-zaka – the Broadway of Kanda Ward – one reaches the crest of the hill at the Tayasu-mon [gate] of the Palace, where the barracks (the noon gun is fired here) of the Imperial bodyguard is located.
“The bizarre building just across the roadway, with a stone lighthouse in the yard, is a Military Club; the beacon was long a guiding light for the junks which sailed up Yedo Bay. The views over the city from the point are fine.”
– Terry’s Japanese Empire, Including Korea and Formosa, Thomas Philip Terry, 1919
From JapanThis!: “In the Edo Period, there was a big hill that led up from Iidamachi. Keeping in mind the Yamanote [mountain hand] vs. Shitamachi [low city] geographical dynamic of Tokyo, Iidamchi was a shitamachi town for commoners; the top of the hill was a yamanote area for samurai. Originally, the hill’s name was Iidamachi Nakazaka. The shōgunate built a residence for officials who were working in nearby Edo Castle. The pitch of the hill was so steep that it had to be reinforced with stone walls and nine steps of stairs and the hill came to be called ‘Kudanzaka’, the Nine-Levels Hill.
“After the Restoration in 1868, the daimyo were evicted and all the shōgun’s holdings in Edo were confiscated by imperial court. The Edo-era Kudan Residence was either demolished or repurposed, and the top of the hill was cleared for the construction of two new important structures. The first to be built was Yasukuni Shrine, the national shrine built atop Kudanzaka to enshrine those who had died fighting in service of the emperor during the Boshin War (1868-1869). The second was the tōmyōdai, a lighthouse built in 1871 to help safely guide fishing boats into Tōkyō Bay and to showcase Japan’s growing mastery of foreign technology.”
“A young officer, his uniform dyed with blood, forced out a few painful words. ‘You know … the song … of Kudanzaka?’
“‘Yes, I like it very much.’ It was a haunting song about an aged mother from the country taking her dead son’s medal to the Yasukuni Shrine in Kudanzaka. She began to sing:
From Ueno Station to Kudanzaka
I get impatient, not knowing my way around.
It has taken me all day, leaning on my cane,
To come and see you, my song, at Kudanzaka.
The great torii [gate] looming up in the sky
Leads to a magnificent shrine
That enrolls my son among the gods.
Your unworthy mother weeps for joy.
– The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945, John Toland, 1970