Katashiba (潟司馬, ‘Marshal Bay’) is a port city of about 650,000, located on Ise Bay, Aichi Prefecture. It is roughly 40 kilometres south of Nagoya, Japan’s third largest city.

The city has long had a reputation for industry and commerce due to its strategic location. However, it is economically and culturally dominated by Sophia Academy, a massive educational complex in the city’s east. The Academy, which encompasses an elementary, middle and high school, as well as a renowned university. The Academy in total has over 60,000 students, of which 55,000 are university students. An unusually large percentage of the Academy’s enrolments are international students, due to the Academy’s policies and encouragement of international enrolment. This brings a great and unusual diversity to the city.

Geography and Climate

The city is squeezed in between Ise bay to the west and Mount Honga to the east, on whose foothills the city is built. The Ose river runs east-to-west through the city centre. The land becomes steadily lower the closer it is to Ise bay, and roughly half of the city is considered to be built on a flood plain.

Katashiba’s climate is subtropical. It experiences humid, hot, rainy summers and cold winters. The city experiences heavy rains almost all year round, peaking in July. Winters are dry and sunny, and may experience occasional light snowfalls.

Katashiba’s beaches are considered to be fine, and the sea is usually warm.

The city is at risk of typhoons.


The first mentions of Katashiba in records refers more specifically to Mount Honga. Records dating from 1300 mention that a collection of religious settlements had been formed on the mountain, with the two largest being a settlement built around a large Shinto temple called Honga Tenman-gū; and a settlement built around a Zen Buddhist complex. These settlements were joined in the 1400s by a Confucian temple-school, built on the foothills. This temple-school would ultimately serve as the core of what became Katashiba.

Katashiba became a place of economic importance during the reign of Nobunaga Oda (1534-1582). Oda developed the settlement into a seaport, particularly one where trade with European traders could be conducted and advanced weaponry produced. Traders would import saltpetre, iron and other strategic resources into the port, where local workshops would produce guns and cannons for Oda’s army, whilst the docklands produced armoured warships for Oda’s advanced navy. The city thus became critical to Oda’s military efforts.

The foreign trade also brought exotic art and ideas to Katashiba in the form of Christianity.

The Tokugawa period (1603-1868) saw Katashiba’s importance diminish, although the Oda clan remained important local players. The banning of foreign trade and the lack of wars dealt a death-knell to Katashiba’s major industries. It nonetheless remained one of the only places in Japan permitted to produce gunpowder. During this time, the city began to rely much more heavily on its reputation as an artistic and scholastic centre. The national adoption of Neo-Confucianism and the increasing rigidity of local life saw the Shinto and Confucian influences in the city grow, to the detriment of its Buddhist ones. For a period of about eighty years, the confluence of art, culture and sophisticated learning saw Katashiba gradually evolve an ‘ukiyo’ lifestyle- an urbane culture of pleasure-seeking and art, often revolving around a class of women catering to a growing middle class. This culture was at odds with the more conservative elements of the city, leading to tensions that remain to this day. Three key individuals from this period were Yoshu Matsudaira, Tokuro Saitou, and Madame Tomoko. Matsudaira was a prominent Confucian scholar who built up Katashiba’s reputation as a city of learning; Saitou was the head of the Honga Tenman-gū temple, who wanted to restore the city’s religious significance; and Madame Tomoko was a powerful entertainer and courtesan who worked to preserve the city’s artistic culture. The three maintained an uneasy truce, although in popular legend, Tomoko eventually destroys her rivals by using strategies and her charms to turn them against each other.

The city’s fortunes began to revive in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Westernisation of industry and government saw Katashiba’s traditional industries rejuvenated. The city also became a favourite of foreign intellectuals; the Japanese government hired and sponsored ‘oyatoi gaikokujin’, that is, foreign advisors, to assist in the westernisation process. The most famous of these in Katashiba was Maximilian Lӧwe, a German professor who worked to create what would eventually become Sophia Academy. Not allowed to settle in the country past the expiration of his contract, his parting words to his students- ‘Those who know themselves can tame the world’, would eventually be compacted into the Academy’s motto: ‘Know Oneself, Master All’.

The city’s academic institutions came under harsh repression during the Second World War, and the city was predominantly geared towards weapons construction. For this, most of the city was flattened by Allied bombing.

Katashiba recovered quickly in the post-war period. It was in this period that Sophia Academy began to truly flourish. During this period, the Academy placed heavy emphasis on attracting students from all over the world with its comprehensive and generous scholarship programs.
Modern Katashiba is a flourishing, colourful and distinct city, with a population that is generally younger and much more diverse than the Japanese average.


Katashiba can be divided into roughly five distinct regions, with residential areas nestled within or between them

  • Katashiba City Centre. The heart of the city, bisected by the Ose river. At the middle of this is Oda Station, the largest station in Katashiba and the main train route for those leaving or arriving to Katashiba. It is densely built up, with most of its buildings being post-war. It is also home to city hall, the courthouses and the civic police headquarters.
  • Sophia Academy sphere. The eastern third of the city is dominated by Sophia Academy, and most of the industries, services and living spaces serving the needs of the colossal institution. The Academy itself is a giant, sprawling complex surrounded by carefully manicured green fields and gardens, housing the elementary and secondary schools as well as the University, the latter of which is divided into several large campuses catering to various faculties. Each faculty area is equal in size to the elementary and secondary schools combined.
  • Mount Honga National Park. This is a large, mostly undeveloped area surrounding Mount Honga. Most of it is preserved for natural or cultural reasons. The mountain is home to Honga Tenman-gū, the city’s largest and most important Shinto shrine, paying homage to Tenjin, the kami of scholarship.
  • Industrial/Docklands. This space, built along the western coast, is home to most of Katashiba’s dockland and manufacturing. However, in recent years much of the dockland has been repurposed for tourist reasons.
  • Foreign Quarter. Known colloquially as ‘Little Lisbon’, the Foreign Quarter owes its roots to the period of Oda rule, where it served as accommodations for primarily Portuguese and Dutch traders and missionaries. These days it houses most of the city’s extensive non-Japanese population.
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