Maebashi’s history dates back to the Stone Age, when the first settlers came to this region. In fact, traces of the Old Stone Age have been recognized at the site of Kuma-no-ana, discovered in Nishiomuro-machi.
The Jomon Period began about ten thousands years ago, and ruins of houses from that period have been discovered in the northeastern and western area of the city.
In the Yayoi Period, about 2300 years ago, a local ruling family began to rule the region, and many burial mounds were built. About eight hundreds ancient tombs were discovered in the city.
During the Nara Period, the Kozuke Provincial Government was placed in the area that is Moto-soja-machi now, and the Kokubunji Temple was built. Since the area prospered as a center of politics in eastern Japan, it was called “the Nara of the East”.
At that time, there was a stall (“Umaya” in Japanese) where travelers rest their horses on the Tozan Street, which connected the East with the capital. Since there was a bridge (“hashi” in Japanese) near the stall, the area was called “Umayabashi”, and then changed to “Maebashi” in the Edo Period.
Maebashi was involved in the wars in the capital. One of the examples was the occupation of the Kozuke Provincial Government by Masakado Taira in 939. As a result, Maebashi was devastated from the end of the Heian Period to the beginning of the Muromachi Period. After that, a strong society ruled by samurai family gained power.
In the beginning of the 15th century, the flow path of the Tone River changed as that of today, and the Umabayashi Castle was built in 1475. During the Sengoku Period, Kenshin Uesugi moved into the Kanto region and chose the castle as a base. Later on, lords of the castle changed rapidly as those in power at that time were continually deposed and defeated.
When Ieyasu Tokugawa, who won the battle of Sekigahara and conquered the whole country, ordered Tadashige Sakai, his chief retainer, as a lord of the Umayabashi Castle in 1601, it is said that Tokugawa told Sakai that he gave Sakai the best area in the Kanto region. The area of the castle was about 50 hectares, twenty times larger than that of the Green Dome Maebashi. It was known as one of four great castles together with the castles of Utsunomiya, Kawagoe and Shinobu. The Sakai family continued to rule the area for nine generations, under which Maebashi was flourished as a castle town. The name of the town, Umabayashi, was changed into “Maebashi” around 1649. Especially, Tadakiyo Sakai, the fourth lord, became a great steward of the Edo feudal government, and gained power as “Geba-shogun”.
In the late Edo Period, Japan actively traded silk, as the Yokohama Port was opened. Since Maebashi had a large silk growing district, they raised the silk crop. Soon, Maebashi's silk became famous because of its high quality and the town flourished. Maebashi clan also protected silk merchants, and promoted the development of silk industry, setting up a direct sales store of silk in Yokohama.
Right after the Meiji Restoration, Maebashi called over engineers from abroad and also built the first yarn-making factory in Japan. That made Maebashi famous as one of major silk-growing areas in Japan. At first, the prefectural office was built in Takasaki. Howerver, it was officially transferred to Maebashi in 1881 after silk merchants like Zentaro Shimomura promoted donating huge amount of his own funds to build quarters and schools. In 1892, Maebashi was given city status, and Zentaro Shimomura became the first city mayor.
In the Taisho Period, the yarn-making industry in Maebashi was flourished at its highest in the postwar economic boom, and Maebashi prospered as a silk city. There was a forest of factory chimneys in the city. Being ahead of its times, Maebashi became culturally rich, thanks to favorable economic development. It produced a lot of major modern poets including Sakutaro Hagiwara due to its liberal culture.
In the Showa Period, the transportation system got extensive; the entire portion of the Jomo electric railway and the Joetsu line opened, and the road network was improved. Besides, civil engineering projects for rural development and river improvement works were done, and Maebashi grew further. However, even though Maebashi was prosperous as a silk city, it had to switch to war industry as a national policy, as the silk export was dramatically decreased during the Pacific War. In 1945, most part of the city was destroyed in an air raid. However, the city recovered from the war's devastation. It started developing silk industry again after the war, but it didn't go well as foreign silk was risen into the market. Maebashi actively started attracting car and electric appliance factories by improving industrial complexes. The city of silk changed into a well-balanced city in the field of industry, commerce and agriculture. The Green Dome Maebashi was built in 1990, and The World Cycling Championships and The IAAF World Indoor Championship were held there. Today, Maebashi has lots of visitors from home and abroad as “an international convention city”.
◆ Historical Chronology of Maebashi
Bibliography : “history of comics Maebashi” (Maebashi issue)