Echizen is famous for washi (traditionally-produced paper). A text dated AD 774 mentions the washi made in this area. Echizen-produced Washi is still the most commonly sold traditional paper in Japan today. Echizen is also well known for its ceramics. It is one of the so-called six old kiln sites of Japan (the others being Shigaraki, Bizen, Seto, Tamba, and Tokoname) and as such it is highly revered in the Japanese and international ceramics community.
The ancient capital is believed to have been in Echizen, but by the Sengoku Period the province was divided among many fiefs. One of the most popular historical figures from Echizen has been Shibata Katsuie, who lived in Kitanosho Castle. In the Edo Period the daimyo of Fukui Domain maintained the seat in Fukui city.
Echizen Province was once part of a larger state, called Koshi Province. At this time, the capital of Koshi was located in the Ajimano area of Echizen City. In 507, during a succession crisis, the king of Koshi was chosen to become the 26th emperor of Japan, Emperor Keitai.
Koshi Province was split into Echizen, Etchū, and Echigo provinces (Etchū and Echigo were later further divided). The center of government was moved from the Ajimano area to central Echizen city (then known as Echizen-Futchū) and it grew into a powerful military and cultural center. Echizen became an important province, as the guardian of Kyoto to the North.
For most of the war between the Northern and Southern Courts, Echizen was under the control of the Ashikaga shogunate. The province was used as a launching point for much of the shogunate's attack against the capital, and Echizen became the stage for many decisive battles of the war.
Shiba Takatsune's victories during the Nanboku-chō war allowed him to become a powerful daimyō, independent of the appointed role given to him by the shogunate. He changed his name from Shiba to Kuratani, and control of Echizen Province became hereditary, remaining in his family for many generations. The capital of the province once again returned to the Ajimano area of Echizen city.
Under Asakura Yoshikage, Echizen enjoyed a peace and stability far greater than the rest of Japan during the chaotic Warring States period, thanks to his negotiations with the Ikkō-ikki. As a result, Echizen became a refuge for people fleeing the violence to the south.
When Oda Nobunaga invaded Echizen, he defeated the Asakura clan, burned Ichijōdani Castle to the ground and re-established the provincial capital at Echizen-Fūchu, divided among his generals Fuwa Mitsuharu, Sassa Narimasa, and Maeda Toshiie. The province remained in their hands only for a short time, after which the three were granted larger fiefs of their own elsewhere. Control of Echizen Province passed on to Shibata Katsuie, who once again relocated the capital the north to Kitanosho Castle in Fukui city.
Shibata himself only held Echizen Province for a few years, after which he was defeated by Toyotomi Hideyoshi's forces. He committed seppuku and burned Kitanosho Castle to the ground, with himself and his family inside of it. Yūki Hideyasu became the new daimyō of Echizen Domain, and it remained in the control of the Matsudaira clan until the Meiji Restoration.
During the early years of the Tokugawa shogunate, many nobles and aristocrats moved to Fukui city in hopes to win the favor of Hideyasu, the second son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was widely expected to become the new shogun. There was great disappointment and resentment when the shogunate passed on to Ieyasu's third son, Tokugawa Hidetada. However, Echizen remained a strategically important military and political base; the Tokugawa shoguns needed loyal daimyōs in the provinces surrounding the capital, and Echizen served as a powerful buffer between Kyōto and the Maeda clan of Kaga, who were not among the fudai (traditional Tokugawa allies).
During the Edo period, the name Echizen was gradually supplanted by Fukui, as it had become known under the Matsudaira as Fukui Domain.
The power and prestige of Echizen, despite being a wealthy province (Fukui Domain was valued at 670,000 koku), gradually declined after the Meiji period. The province had prospered due to its proximity to the capital, and was strategically very important as the guardian of Kyōto from the north. After the emperor was transferred from Kyōto to Tōkyō, that point of prestige no longer existed.
Maps of Japan and Echizen Province were reformed in the 1870s when the prefecture system was introduced. At the same time, the province continued to exist for some purposes. For example, Echizen is explicitly recognized in treaties in 1894 (a) between Japan and the United States and (b) between Japan and the United Kingdom.
- Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Echizen" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 165, p. 165, at Google Books.
- Appert, Georges. (1888). "Matsudaira" in Ancien Japon, pp. 70; compare Papinot, Jacques Edmond Joseph. (1906). Dictionnaire d’histoire et de géographie du Japon; Papinot, (2003). Nobiliare du Japon, pp. 29-30; retrieved 2013-3-26.
- Nussbaum, "Provinces and prefectures" at p. 780.
- US Department of State. (1906). A digest of international law as embodied in diplomatic discussions, treaties and other international agreements (John Bassett Moore, ed.), Vol. 5, p. 759.
- Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric and Käthe Roth. (2005). Japan encyclopedia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0-674-01753-6; 13-ISBN 978-0-674-01753-5; OCLC 58053128
- Papinot, Edmond. (1910). Historical and Geographic Dictionary of Japan. Tokyo: Librarie Sansaisha. OCLC 77691250
Media related to Echizen Province at Wikimedia Commons